Granted through the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, the proceeds of 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. Watch a short video to learn more.
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.
Florida Whales Stranding Response, Care & Research -- 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 granted through the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation. This work includes collaborations with state and federal agencies to develop tools and training for large whale disentanglements, and the sharing of data among Harbor Branch marine mammal research programs.
Investigating the Health, Fitness, Behavior & Ecology of Florida Whales -- Through collaborations with other research organizations and the use and further development of leading-edge genome and biochemical process analyses, this project will focus on the immune systems of Florida whales to test hypotheses about the genetic and social aspects of pathogen defense mechanisms and the co-evolution of host-pathogen relationships.
Wild Dolphin Stranding Response, Care & Research -- Under authorization of the National Marine Fisheries Service, FAU Harbor Branch is responsible for providing acute care and triage to stranded dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean between the Sebastian and St. Lucie Inlets. The team also serves as a resource to assist with strandings, transport, disentanglements and rehabilitation of dolphins throughout the state. The sole support for this work, which also includes sharing of data among Harbor Branch marine mammal research programs, is sales of Protect Wild Dolphins license plates granted through the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation.
Epidemiology, Pathology & Population Health -- This research program focuses on the connections between marine mammal, environmental and public health by working to understand health and disease at a population level and identifying environmental factors that contribute to morbidity and mortality. 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.
Investigating the Health, Fitness, Behavior & Ecology of Wild Dolphins -- Through collaborations with other research organizations and the use and further development of leading-edge genome and biochemical process analyses, this project will focus on the immune systems of wild dolphins to test hypotheses about the genetic and social aspects of pathogen defense mechanisms and the co-evolution of host-pathogen relationships. Development of a new “FastGen Cetacean Kit” that enables rapid diagnostics by resource managers, researchers and cetacean care personnel is another part of this work.
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 1,700 Indian River Lagoon dolphins since 1996. This research program has yielded data about population abundance, life histories, family structures and home ranges that are essential to administration of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and to other research efforts.
Assessing the Impacts of Harmful Algal Bloom Tonics on Dolphins -- Some algae produce toxins, and excessive growth of such algae can threaten the health of organisms living in or near the blooms, such as dolphins and humans, respectively. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur in the Indian River Lagoon, and algal toxins have been implicated in the strandings and deaths of dolphins, but little is known about how HABs affect IRL dolphins. This work will begin clearing path toward answers by enhancing the detection and tracking of HAB toxic species and developing tests for HAB toxins in water and the tissues of target organisms.
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.
Ecology and Biochemistry of Harmful Algal Blooms -- Algae are a natural part of coastal ecosystems, but when nutrient levels (e.g., from fertilizer runoff or septic system seepage) in the water become too high, excessive growth can harm or kill other aquatic organisms such as seagrasses. This project continues long-term studies of harmful algal blooms in the Indian River Lagoon and Florida Keys, and includes analyses that help reveal the sources of nutrients fueling the blooms.
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.
Analysis of Sediments in the IRL for Herbicides -- Seagrassses are essential to the development and survival of many species in the Indian River Lagoon, which in recent years has sustained massive die-offs of these aquatic plants. Initial analysis in 2013 of sediments from 13 affected sites, most of which were near drainage canals, revealed a compound that suggests the presence of herbicides, but there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions. To shed light on the die-offs, this project will study the compound in more detail and analyze sediments from the 13 sites as well as from healthy and degraded seagrass beds.