As administered by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, sales of these license plates support innovative and applied research involving animals, ecosystems, and issues of importance to the people of Florida. Some of these research projects are summarized below. Visit your county's tax collector to purchase your plate(s) or click on one of the links below to order online.
Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture -- This long-term research aims to advance land-based aquaculture to new heights of productivity and efficiency with a system that grows multiple animal and plant types in separate but connected tanks. Fish and shrimp receive food, and system circulation enables the other animals and plants to extract nourishment from the water, cleaning it for reuse.
Larval Fish Enumeration and Growth Monitoring Using Light Field Rendering Camera and Active Learning-based Classifier -- An aquaculture operation must be efficient to be profitable, and feed efficiency depends on knowing the number and growth of animals in the system. The goal of this new project is to significantly improve the accuracy of these measurements with a camera that produces images with variable focus depth, making it possible to view all objects in the field of view both close to and far from the lens. The images will be analyzed using software that learns to discern the animals from the background and other objects such as bubbles.
Reproductive Patterns of Cultured and Wild Sunray Venus Clams in Florida West Coast Waters -- FAU Harbor Branch and University of Florida researchers diversified the Florida clam farming industry by demonstrating the culture and market potential of the sunray venus clam, but hatcheries have had varied success growing the species. This new project is comparing wild and cultured sunray venus clams to determine the optimal hatchery conditions for farming success.
Protect Florida Whales
Stranding, Health & Rehabilitation -- Under authorization of the National Marine Fisheries Service, FAU Harbor Branch is responsible for responding to marine mammal strandings in the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean between the Sebastian and St. Lucie Inlets. Authorization is not accompanied by funding, however, and so this work is supported entirely from the sales of Protect Florida Whales license plates.
Genetic Analysis of Florida Whales -- Of the several species of whale that frequent Florida waters, a few periodically become stranded on the shore and die for reasons unknown. Two new projects are designed to build knowledge about these whales and gain insight into the strandings through DNA analysis with a focus on areas such as population structures and genetic response to environmental change.
North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation and Outreach Program -- Although the endangered North Atlantic right whale spends much of the year in the North Atlantic, females come to Florida waters north of Melbourne in winter to give birth. To minimize ship strikes as a leading cause of death, the Marine Resources Council develops public education materials and its beachside Volunteer Sighting Network, a “citizen science” initiative that provides valuable information on whale movement and behavior patterns.
Protect Wild Dolphins
Stranding, Health & Rehabilitation -- Under authorization of the National Marine Fisheries Service, FAU Harbor Branch is responsible for responding to marine mammal strandings in the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean between the Sebastian and St. Lucie Inlets. The sole support for this work is sales of Protect Wild Dolphins license plates.
Epidemiology, Population Health, & Pathology of IRL Bottlenose Dolphins -- This research program examines the causes, effects, and spread of disease in dolphins, and what it can mean for humans sharing the same environment. For example, high mercury concentrations in Indian River Lagoon dolphins prompted a study that found higher mercury concentrations in people who regularly eat IRL fish.
Population Biology, Behavioral Ecology, & Genomic Studies of Bottlenose Dolphins -- With methods that include DNA analysis and studies of movement and behavior, this research program reveals information about family and social structures of dolphin populations, and the ways in which they are (or are not) adapting to their changing environment.
Photo Identification of IRL Bottlenose Dolphins -- Bottlenose dolphins can be distinguished from one another by the appearance of their dorsal fins, which has enabled FAU Harbor Branch researchers to build a photographic database of more than 1,500 Indian River Lagoon dolphins since 1996. This research program has yielded important insights into life histories, family structures, and home ranges that also has been instrumental to other research efforts.
Molecular Genetic Studies of Unusual Mortality Events of Florida Dolphins -- A particularly high death rate among Indian River Lagoon bottlenose dolphins in 2013 and 2014 led to the declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) by NOAA Fisheries. This new project is examining dolphin DNA to help uncover the cause(s) of the UME.
Factors Affecting Indian River Lagoon Dolphin Locational Preferences: Water Quality & Prey Aggregation -- FAU Harbor Branch researchers have been following the movements of Indian River Lagoon bottlenose dolphins since 1996, and these new projects are intended to shed light on the influences of water quality and the spawning of their preferred prey species. Water quality data will be provided primarily by Harbor Branch’s land-ocean biogeochemical observatory units, known as LOBOs. The fish assessments will include acoustic studies to determine if the dolphins are using passive listening or echolocation to find prey.
Save Our Seas
Indian River Lagoon Observatory -- This long-term, multidisciplinary program is designed to address the health of the IRL system by achieving a better understanding of the biodiversity and ecological functions of the lagoon and how they are impacted by the surrounding human population. Primary program features include development of a network of automated water quality measurement stations, studies of seagrass coverage and the causes of harmful algal blooms, and an annual scientific meeting that attracts scientists and resource managers to discuss current research and issues facing the lagoon.
Microbial Source Tracking in the Indian River Lagoon -- Three years of monitoring bacteria levels in water and sediments at six Indian River Lagoon sites from northern Fort Pierce to northern Vero Beach indicate generally poor water quality, but the origin of the bacteria is not well understood. This new project will use tests designed to identify bacteria from human, agricultural, and wildlife sources to begin finding answers.
Ventilation Rates of the Indian River Lagoon through its Inlets -- The exchange of water between the ocean and Indian River Lagoon is an important factor influencing the quality of water in the estuary, which in turn helps determine the favorability of conditions for the growth of seagrass, the development of harmful algal blooms, and the health of resident animals. This new project will employ a selection of underwater, surface, and aerial technologies to shed light on water exchange as well as the influence of precipitation fluctuations due to events and/or seasonal patterns on lagoon water quality.
The Pathogenic Vibrios in the Indian River Lagoon and their Potential Threat to Human Health -- Bacteria in the genus Vibrio are common in coastal waters such as the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and some species are known to cause disease in humans such as shellfish food poisoning and cholera. Because little is known about their presence in the IRL, this new project is designed to detect three species known to cause illness, determine potential sources of infection, and assess whether seasonality is a factor.
Project CLOUD (Comprehensive Landscape Observations via Unmanned Drone) -- The increasing affordability of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones) and high-resolution digital cameras is providing new opportunities for marine scientists whose research interests include shallow coral reefs, seagrass and mangrove coverage, and coastal marshes. This project will test the limits and capabilities of the technology for mapping ecosystems of interest to FAU Harbor Branch researchers with greater resolution and accuracy than other available methods.
Application of Underwater Laser Technology to Track Fish Eggs -- Although the biology of fish spawning is understood, little is known about how ocean currents affect the process due to the difficulty of observing the microscopic eggs. This proof-of-concept project will laboratory-test underwater laser technology developed at FAU Harbor Branch as a way to distinguish fish eggs from other particles based on the distinct way that light scatters after hitting the eggs.