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Get to know local flora, fauna, history at Seahorse Key open house

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By Samantha Grenrock

grenrosa@ufl.edu

GAINESVILLE — Families who missed the last Seahorse Key open house have another chance to encounter history, wildlife and more on July 8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors will get to see aquarium critters, tour the island’s pre-Civil War lighthouse and learn a bit of local lore.

The last open house held in February attracted more than 250 people to the small island three miles off the coast of Cedar Key in the Gulf of Mexico. Seahorse Key is only open to the public four days a year during these open house events.

As with previous open houses, a pop-up aquarium of “creature tanks” will let families get up close to marine animals from the Cedar Key area.

“The animals are collected the day before, so we don’t know what will be in the tanks until then,” said Savanna Barry, a regional UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant agent. “We usually have a large assortment of sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, decorator crabs, seahorses, sea squirts, file fish, pipe fish, puffer fish, flounder — it’s summer, so we expect to have good diversity.”

In addition to marine life, visitors can snap a photo of diamondback terrapins, an important species in North American coastal marshes, said Travis Thomas, a doctoral student in the UF department of wildlife ecology and conservation. Like Barry, Thomas is based at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station in Cedar Key.

“We will also share information about the threats to seagrass, which supports fisheries and other wildlife on the Nature Coast,” Barry said. “We’ll talk about what people can do to protect seagrass while boating, and we’ll be giving away free “Be Seagrass Safe” stickers,” she said.

T-shirts, water and other items will be for sale, with proceeds going to support the building of a public aquarium at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station.

Seahorse Key is accessible by water taxi or personal vessel. Water taxis are available through Tidewater Tours (352-543-9523), and Cedar Key Boat Rentals and Island Tours (352-231-4435 or 352-278-0065).

Seahorse Key open house events are made possible through partnerships with the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.

When the island is closed to the public, its onsite marine lab host school groups, scientists and artists from around the country. The Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory is managed by UF/IFAS, with contributions from the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Santa Fe College.

To learn more about Seahorse Key events and research, go to the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station web site.