Summer - Fall 2020 Volunteer Spotlight

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Summer - Fall 2020  •  Quarterly Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers

In this edition, we explore the complexities of oyster restoration, contributions from the FWC's Highlands Lakes Volunteers towards a long-term fish monitoring program, as well as wiregrass planting along the Lake Wales Ridge by the Ridge Rangers.

As we mentioned in our Spring-Summer edition, you, our dedicated volunteers are very much an integral part of our daily operations. We continue to appreciate your flexibility and understanding as we navigate best practices to ensure your safety. 

— the FWC's Volunteer Program Team

FWC's Highlands Lakes Volunteers

By Jim Reed

Highlands Lakes Volunteers collecting fish data

Bass tournament teams from FWC’s Highlands Lakes Volunteers collecting data for long-term monitoring of fish populations at Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County. Photo by FWC staff.

Every year, FWC does long-term monitoring of fish populations on many of Florida’s most popular lakes, including Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County. Sampling and electroshocking to measure productivity and fish health are part of this long-term monitoring effort. For many years, some bass tournaments on Lake Istokpoga have been monitored, with a biologist collecting data on the fish brought to the weigh-in. More recently, this work has been conducted by bass tournament teams from FWC’s Highlands Lakes Volunteers.

For the 2019-2020 season the team added a new set of data by examining each fish that came to the weigh-in for any signs of disease or physical problems. Each fish was evaluated and photographed if it displayed problems such as a visible tumor, a sore or fin loss. All this data, including length, weight (if possible) and fish condition, was collected while simultaneously ensuring the FWC work did not interfere with the flow of the weigh-in activities.  In addition, team members helped provide authentication for TrophyCatch-eligible fish and helped the anglers get that credit.

Between January and April, the tournament team usually visits one tournament weigh-in each weekend. However, this year’s activities were curtailed due to public health concerns. In the five tournaments visited in January and February this year, the team recorded data from 207 tournament bass. The data is utilized by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute as part of a long-term monitoring program.

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park Oyster Restoration

Contractors using a crane to lift limestone

Contractors use a crane to lift the limestone rock over the mangroves and place it along the shoreline. Photo by FWC staff.

A collaborative effort to strengthen native oyster populations within the shallow 100-acre Lake Worth Cove estuary at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park has recently been completed. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and volunteers from the West Palm Beach Fishing Club and John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, placed 120 tons of native limestone to restore oyster habitat. Oysters provide numerous ecological benefits, including improvement of water quality, habitat and food for wildlife, and erosion control.

Surveys in the cove have found that hard surfaces, such as pilings and mangrove roots, support much greater densities of oysters than the estuary bottom. This led park managers to believe that the low densities of oysters may be due, in part, to limited hard substrate. A plan was developed to add hard substrate (limestone) to the shoreline at appropriate depths for oysters to colonize. However, the project faced a major challenge because the cove is surrounded by a mangrove fringe with no boat access. The only way to place the rock on the shoreline without causing damage to the mangrove shoreline was by airlifting it over the mangroves by crane. The next challenge was to move the rock to the planned locations and to stack it at the appropriate depths to maximize oyster recruitment. Volunteers to the rescue! Thanks to everyone’s hard work the limestone rock is now resting in its final destination and has already recruited a significant number of oysters that will serve to benefit water quality and wildlife usage within John D. MacArthur State Park and the greater Lake Worth Lagoon.

Volunteers spreading limestone as substrate for oysters

Volunteers spread limestone to create suitable substrate for oysters to inhabit. Photo by FWC staff.

USF Fishing Club Volunteers ‘Get Reel’ to Help Collect Fish for FWC Partners

By Gina Russo

Volunteer catching a redfish

While assisting FWC staff during a fish collection event, one USF volunteer snagged a rod and reel from the bottom of the pond while reeling in this nice redfish. Photo by FWC staff.

When FWC put a call out to the University of South Florida’s Fishing Club to assist Marine Fisheries staff during an upcoming fish collection event, it was no surprise that they did not hesitate!

Over the years, the FWC’s Stock Enhancement Research Facility, with assistance from volunteers and local fishing clubs, have hosted hundreds of catch and release fishing events for kids and adults at their man-made detention pond located in Port Manatee. In some cases, this pond is used to collect fish for FWC partners like Bass Pro Outdoor World, which possess a Special Activity License and seek critters to house in educational display tanks and exhibits. Some of the fish species collected for exhibition are tarpon, red drum, black drum, spotted seatrout and common snook.

Last fall, 13 University of South Florida Fishing Club members and four Bass Pro Outdoor World employees collected six red drum (18-30”) and one common snook (30”) to be acclimated and placed on display at Bass Pro stores in Palm Bay, Dania and Orlando.

Volunteer catching a snook

Another volunteer landed this common snook. Photo by FWC staff.

The Ridge Rangers Assist with Sandhill Recovery


A dibber is used to create a small hole big enough for one clump, or plug, of wiregrass. Photo by FWC staff.

The Ridge Rangers assisted the Florida Forest Service restore sandhill habitat by planting wiregrass at Walk-in-The-Water Wildlife Management Area, part of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. Much of the natural landscape on and around the Lake Wales Ridge has been altered by activities such as cattle grazing, agriculture, development and fire suppression.

The Ridge Rangers have been working with FFS at this site to restore the adjacent scrub habitat by thinning overgrowth to create space for rare and endangered flowering plants, a process usually done by seasonal fires. In the sandhill area the FFS removed large oaks, mowed and conducted a prescribed burn to create conditions similar to the historical habitat.  Wiregrass plugs were installed across the landscape and due to the large, open area we were able to remain socially distanced during the project.

The Ridge Rangers planted over 500 wire plugs during this workday!  Thank you for your commitment to this ongoing restoration project.

Ridge Rangers planting wiregrass

The Ridge Rangers remained socially distanced while installing wiregrass plugs. Photo by FWC staff.

Regional Connection

Regional Volunteer Program Biologists are specialists who bring their biological and citizen science expertise to recruit, train and manage volunteers for research, habitat enhancement and stewardship projects throughout Florida.

Click here to locate your region to identify your regional program biologist.

Brendan O'Connor - Southwest Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Andrea Pereyra - South Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Simon Fitzwilliam - Northeast Region Volunteer Program Biologist


In addition to your generously donated time and talent, we welcome tax-deductible monetary contributions to the FWC Volunteer Program. Visit the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida  to make a donation. Your support will help us expand volunteer opportunities as we work to foster a statewide network of conservation volunteers. Thank you for supporting Florida's fish and wildlife resources!