For all things outdoors, Mother Nature designed it best.
While Robinson Preserve’s expansion is man-made, the advice from at least a dozen snook researchers helped Damon Moore, an environmental program manager with the Manatee County parks department, cultivate the best habitat for juvenile snook.
At the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Moore will give a talk about what it takes to build a good habitat for the youngsters at the Mote Marine Laboratory WAVE Center.
Snook are a silver fish with yellow features, found in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and are popular to catch.
The species does pretty well in areas with poorer water quality and low dissolved oxygen, Moore said, but they’re susceptible in other ways.
Their eyes are particularly sensitive to light, Moore said. Juveniles also are faced with being eaten by birds, like great blue herons and egrets, and fish like trout and, yes, other snook. The habitat will include overhanging plants to provide shade and hiding spots, as well as more mangroves to create semi-connected habitats — in other words, the small fish can get in, but the bigger ones can’t.
A cold snap in 2010 caused fish kills and manatee deaths throughout the state of Florida. From January to June that year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researchers calculating snook population data in Tampa Bay found about a 74 percent decrease compared to the same timeframe in the previous year. Moore said the design aims solve this by making some parts of the waterways deeper.
“It has to be colder for a much longer time because there’s a higher volume of water in the area,” Moore explained.
The way the water will flow was also curated to be wind protected and have low tidal flow, so the young fish won’t have to expend as much energy fighting currents.
Moore said he had known how to find snook and knew he enjoyed fishing for them, but reaching out to experts improved his knowledge for the project tenfold.
“To me, it was always important to bridge that gap between practice and science,” he said.
But why focus on juvenile snook?
“Like everything else, they’re connected and part of a food chain,” he said. “They’re a part of the larger puzzle.”
The staples that make a sublime snook habitat also apply to many other species, Moore said.
Parks director Charlie Hunsicker said the expansion project’s completion date depends on when the department will receive project funding next year. He said the department has finished “landlocked improvements” near upper Palma Sola Bay, there’s still work to do and about $2.1 million waiting to be received.
“This is not to say we are uncertain about the outcome ... but we are uncertain specifically which quarter of 2018 the funding will be made available, which of course affects the final completion date,” Hunsicker said in an email to the Bradenton Herald.
If you go
What: Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum
Where: WAVE Center at Mote, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota 34236
When: Oct. 12, 6-8 p.m.