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subfield code a T43-000062 USFLDC DOI0 245 J. O. "Roger" Johansson oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Ann B. Hodgson.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.1 600 Johansson, J. O.7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local700 Hodgson, Ann B.710 University of South Florida.b Library.Special & Digital Collections.Oral History Program.773 t Tampa Bay Oral History Project4 856 u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?t43.6
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text Ann Hodgson: Good morning. This is Ann Hodgson with the Tampa Bay Oral History Project. And today Im so pleased to have with us Roger Johansson. Roger was the supervisor of the Bay Studies Group for the City of Tampa for over 25 years. Roger, thanks so much for being with us today. How are you?
J.O. Roger Johansson: Im glad to be here.
AH: Great. Id like to start the interview today by just asking you: How did you become interested in nature as a child? Where did you grow up? How did you first become interested in nature?
JJ: I grew up in Sweden in a relatively small town and my parents always were interested in being out in the woods and picking berries and mushrooms and things like that. And so I think that put a big stamp on me. That, you know, I learned about nature. I became interested in water issues probably in high school. I did a couple of high school projects of some lakes around the area and then that kind of developed.
I was always interested in biology. So I graduated from high school in Sweden in a biological branch and then went off to the Swedish military for 15 months. And then after that I started taking courses at the University of Gothenburg. I had to take some math and physics classes there. And I also took oceanography, and my major professor was actually the head of the oceanography department. And he had an acquaintance over at the University of South Florida in marine science in St. Petersburg, Dr. Humm.And so I was encouraged to apply to the University of South Florida for my masters degree and I was accepted. So thats how I ended up in St. Petersburg.
AH: Wow. That was a dramatic change for you, from Sweden to Florida, wasnt it?
JJ: It was. It was. And there werent very many opportunities to do marine science in the biological branch in Sweden. The university was really focused on physical and chemical oceanography. So I made a professor kind ofIf you want to study biology, you probably need to go some other place, he said.
AH: So when did you start your masters in Tampa, or in St. Petersburg campus, right?
JJ: Yeah. I came over here in 1972 and I graduated in 1975.
AH: And when you did your masters, what was your study focus there?
JJ: Well, the university had a grant with Florida Power that did preoperational studies of the Anclote Power Plant. So I did my work on that preoperational study at the Anclote Power Plant. It was mostly phytoplankton: composition, taxonomy, and primary production. Those were my part of the project.
AH: And then you obviously decided to stay in the United States, stay in Florida.
JJ: Right. After I graduated I got a special visa. For like a practiI dont know. Im not sure what its calledfor practical experience. So I was hired by the Westinghouse Corporation to continue that study at the Anclote Power Plant after the plant had gone online. So I spent a couple of years doing that with the Westinghouse Corporation. And I applied for a residence permit after that and I got a green card. And so then I was pretty much set for the future in the United States.
AH: That was wonderful. After working for the Westinghouse Corporation for that project, did you start looking around for other opportunities? What was your next step?
JJ: The Westinghouse, the department I was working with did all kinds of entrainment studies and impacts on power plants on rivers and lakes. They kept me for another year, and I worked up in Indiana for a year on two power plants in the Ohio River. And that project was winding down, and by the end of the project I got a call from the City of Tampa that they were looking for a biologist to work on their Hillsborough Bay project.
The city was just about completed its expansion from a, pretty much a primary treatment plant to an advanced wastewater treatment plant. It hadnt gone online yet, but they wanted to have some pre-information about the bay before the plant was operational. So I applied for that work and I got the job. So I started there in 1978.
AH: And what were the challenges that the city was facing at that point in time? What were the bay issues that the city was trying to deal with?
JJ: The citys wastewater treatment plant was a primary treatment plant so it didnt really do a whole lot for reductions of nutrients. And that was one thing that had been pointed out earlier in several studies that the nutrient issue in Hillsborough Bay was pretty bad. So the city was kind of put into a position to try to fix that. And they received grants from the federal government to upgrade the treatment plant to a state of the art treatment plant that would reduce almost 90 percent of the nutrients going into the bay. So that was how the city was, kind of, pushed into the situation. But you know, everybody realized it was a good thing to do.
AH: So, when you first started with the city, how did you build that program? Were you brought in to lead the program, originally?
JJ: No. There was, David Carpenter was in charge of the program. But they was doing pretty much what I had done for my masters degree and they pretty much followed my masters thesis for setting up the program, so I fit right in there. And then Dave moved on and I got the position as the supervisor.
AH: So what did the Bay Studies Group do? What did you study? What did you look at?
JJ: Originally, we were mostly interested in phytoplankton because that is really the most important parameter that was obvious there was something wrong with. The bay was like pea soup in the summer time, and everybody understood that. That was something to look at. So we measured taxonomy, all the phytoplankton, how much phytoplankton was there. We measured primary production and of course all the other water quality parameters that goes with those. So that was the original intent with the study was to study the phytoplankton.
AH: And from there the program expanded?
JJ: Right, yes. As the bay was responding to the reductions in nutrients after the plant was upgraded, a few years later, after the plant had been in operation, we started noticing sea grasses in the bay, just sporadic patches of seagrasses. But there was a huge indication that something is actually happening, that we had actually done some impact. So that became a big part of our study later on, that we actually start looking at seagrasses also. We also looked at the benthic animals because they were also impacted by the phytoplankton. And so we kept, you know, did some studies on those to see how they changed over time.
AH: And the area that you worked in then, for Bay Studies Group, City of Tampa was itgeographically, what did it encompass?
JJ: Well, we started out pretty much in Hillsborough Bay. Then we set up another station, middle of Tampa Bay in a few years later, just to get a reference point. And as things changed, we added more stations down into Lower Tampa Bay, and then finally we moved into Old Tampa Bay. So we covered the whole bay pretty much in terms of sampling.
AH: As you developed this program, how did you explain it and relate to the other municipalities and counties around the bay? What was the transition to bring them in to an understanding?
JJ: Well, I dont know if we had a whole lot to do with that except providing data. There used to be a thought that, when you degrade an estuary, some people thought you will never be able to bring it back to any good condition. But our studies show that if you actually do reduce nutrients, you can bring back the system. It might not be exactly the way it was, but you can make huge improvements in terms of all the water pollution issues. And Hillsborough Bay was actually one of the first estuaries in the world where we actually showed that you could change it and it doesnt take forever.
After that plant went online and nutrients were reduced by almost 90 percent, there werethe plant went online in 1979. And still in 1983, the phytoplankton populations and chlorophyll and all that were still high. So we started to be a little bit worried; perhaps its just not working. But the following year we saw a huge decrease in phytoplankton. And then they remained low since then. Theres been a slow downward trend, but the big changes occurred in the early or the mid-1980s. And thats when we also saw the seagrass come back.
So that kind of set the stage for, the other people picked up on that. I worked with the Regional Planning Councils ABM. And we had a special group thatwe try to come up with some regulations for how much chlorophyll we should have in the bay. And so thats where all the other agencies and cities and counties were brought in, pretty much. Everybody kind of understood that we can really change things in Tampa Bay.
AH: As folks became aware of what the problem was and what needed to be done, what role did the Bay Studies Group play? Did you have an educational role? Did you have a political role?
JJ: Yeah, I think a little bit of everything. We were really one of theI mean, Hillsborough County did monthly sampling in all of Tampa Bay, and they created a huge database which has been invaluable for understanding the bay. We did some other, we did more specialized work that the EPC did not do. We did phytoplankton production, we did a little more detailed phytoplankton taxonomy and abundance, and looked at other things, so we kind of filled in some gaps there.
In terms of political, we reported on all our findings. That was a big thing we did. We actually wrote papers, we went to meetings, presented our papers. You know, journal papers, all those things. So we didnt, so our data was actually, you know, it was reduced and people could read it and see whats happened.
AH: So you built a depth of science that really showed what was going on?
JJ: Right. Yea, I think that was our main part. We had the facilities to do such research and then write up things. And I think that was the really important part and then participating at the ABM and at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program when they came to town.
AH: Lets talk for a little bit about the history of the seagrass in Tampa Bay because that has been such a big focus of community interest. Can you take us back to maybe the pre-damage era, what we understood about seagrasses before much development around the bay, and kind of just walk us through stories about that history?
JJ: Yeah. Well, seagrasses, they have adapted to underwater life for 3I think 100 million years theyve been around. And theyre really dependent on how much light they receive, where they grow, what depth. So, Tampa Bay has had a pretty stable sea level since about 3,000 years. So seagrasses, I think, got adapted to water quality conditions over those 3 million years in Tampa Bay. And Im sure the water quality was a lot better in those times, before man came to the bay.
And so when, probably in the early 1900s, when the bay started to develop, the people started moving in, the industry started, the water quality changed really fast. The seagrasses werent just, they werent ready for the big, quick changes that occurred. But seagrasses have limitations in their ability to do quick changes, its just the way they are constructed. And so when we saw the big pollution occurring in the bay, they probably got overwhelmed. The water quality went down, the light went down and they just couldnt adapt to that.
So they pretty much, in Hillsborough Bay, I think, most of the grass was gone in the 1980s. Well, at least 1970s, 1980, period. Other, Old Tampa Bay also had big losses. As you go down bay the losses were less, but the middle of Tampa Bay still had big losses. So, if we assume that before 1900 we had seagrasses, they would have been large amounts of seagrasses compared to what we had in the 1970s and 1980s.
AH: How quickly do you think that that transition really happened? There was a big explosion of the population in the war years, the 40s. Sort of the 40s to the 60s brought a lot of growth. Do you think it was that quick or was it more a cascading effect from earlier?
JJ: I think it was probably going back earlier than that. The fertilizer industry in the bay pretty much got started in the 1920s and that had a big impact on the bay, probably. Also, the city of Tampa at that time didnt have any central collections of wastewater. So it was pretty much just flowing out into the bay. I would say the early 1900s, probably you start seeing this impact.
Now we have the earliest phytoplankton numbers from about 1950. And they show pretty close to what we have now. But thats all we have. We have seagrass abundance from that time, also just based on photographs. And thats what the estuary program at USF target in terms of seagrasses. But there probably were more seagrasses before that. Robin Lewis estimated that there were quite more than that during the turn of the century.
AH: One of the interesting things about seagrass is how it distributes and how the species composition changes. What did we know early on, and what do we know more recently about seagrass through the bay?
JJ: We dont have a whole lot of information from actual field studies in the early days. Ron Phillips did some work around the bay and recorded species distribution. Thats pretty much all we have to go by. More recently we have, at this time we have a pretty extensive transect program. The folks go out once a year and survey like, I think its something like 60 transects around the bay. And those record species composition. The aerial photography and the mapping of seagrasses in the bay doesnt do species composition because its impossible to do, pretty much. So those are the things.
Theres probably been a shift in species composition but we dont really know for sure. There are like, we have Halodule now is coming back big time. And thats probably one of the earliest species you see after things are changing. So there could be that just establishing that Halodule that other species will move in just following the Halodule.
AH: So its like a primary colonizer. And the other species might follow that.
JJ: Right. Theyre more of a climax species. The last one anyways is a climax species. But I doubt if we had a whole lot of Thalassia in Hillsborough Bay. There was probably too fresh for Thalassia in the old days.
AH: Thats been a very big point of study. And one of the things that the Tampa Bay Oral History Project is very pleased about is that Robin Lewis was ablehe had curated Ron Phillips notebooks and he was able to donate those to the project.
JJ: Good. Yeah, thats great. We had those for a while at the Bay Study.
AH: Did you?
JJ: Yeah. There was really interesting information in those books.
AH: And now, of course, because theyve been donated to the [USF Library] Special Collections, theyll be digitized and available for research in the digital commons. Did you ever have a chance to work with Ron at all?
JJ: Not really. I met him several times, but I never really worked with him.
AH: I guess he was the earliest seagrass researcher through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, through the Florida Wildlife Research Institute?
JJ: I think so. Right. Not many people have done any other seagrass work when Ron started doing his work.
AH: I see. And then, over time, he actually broadened his scope of interest and looked at more international areas. I wasnt sure about the history there.
JJ: Im not sure either. I know he left the area, I dont know, about ten years ago.
AH: You mentioned the transect program that Bay Studies Group developed. Can you tell us about that, how you developed it, how you designed it, how you implemented that? And how did you use the information then?
JJ: Well, it was developed as a compliment to the aerial photography to get some ground information, actually on the ground, in the water. Youre facing the water, looking at seagrasses. That was one thing we thought was important, we need to look at species distribution. And that the SWIM program had set up several transects in the bay earlier than that. And we kind of took over that program.
We added some more transects and spread them out in different areas. They werent really random, but we picked large areas that we thought were representative of that particular area. And we just created these transects to go from shoreline to past what we call the two meter contour, which is probably an area where we, in the history of this, we never really had a whole lot of seagrass outside of two meters, especially not in the upper portions of the bay.
So we thought it covered a whole estuarine shelf that way. And we did, in particular intervals on the transect, we did in depth studies of species composition. We did some water quality measurements, and some light measurements also. And we pretty much handled Hillsborough Bay. We had some transects in Old Tampa Bay but other agencies took over and did work in the other bay segments. It was a cooperative effort, which was really nice.
AH: So you used a standardized approach?
JJ: Right. We had a line that we followed. We had intervals every 100 meters. Every 50 meters we had put out small PVC poles in the bay so we knew where we were. And we had a meter square of PVC, a meter square that we laid on specific areas and counted the seagrass and macroalgae all kinds of things.
AH: Over the years, you mentioned that seagrass started to come back. What were some of the most interesting things you observed through your monitoring program?
JJ: Well, I think just the big thing is that the seagrass is coming back, that was really, really big. We didnt really look at any fish populations or things like that to see if the seagrasses have benefitted those communities. But other folks did that and I think they have positive results that shows actually, that the return of seagrasses have really helped out in terms of fish and other animals.
AH: Okay. Well lets take a short break for just a moment and then well be back.
AH: Were back with Roger Johansson, Roger was the supervisor of the Bay Studies Group. Roger, thanks so much for being with us today.
JJ: Youre welcome.
AH: We were talking about seagrass in Tampa Bay when we took our break. And I wanted to ask you, as we tried to put, contextually, as we try to put the history of the Bay Studies Group work in context with bay activities, before the 1970s were interviewing a number of the folks who were scientists active around the 70s and later there really wasnt much science underway in Tampa Bay, was there?
JJ: Well, in the 1960s, 1962, I think, the Fish and Wildlife Service had an office or a laboratory over on the beach, next to the Don CeSar. And they had a pretty extensive network of stations in Tampa Bay. They did water quality work, they actually did a little bit of seagrass work also, and a lot of fish studies. I know they did some benthic work, and Im probably forgetting something. They were actually the first one that had any organized monitoring of the bay. And then when that study wasI dont know the history of the, or the ending of that study but EPC took over a lot of that work when they started sampling in 1972.
AH: Do you recall who was the station leader or the program leader with the Fish and Wildlife Service? I know it was a long time ago.
JJ: I just have a bunch of names. I was over at that lab a couple of times but Im not quite sure. I think they became a part of the FWC. A lot of those folks that were working there
AH: Oh, I see, combined with the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, or Marine Institute? And so their study materials would have moved over to FWC or something like that?
JJ: Im not sure what happened. I donated, to you guys, most of the reports. I think all of the reports that we had from their studies. And it was a pretty complete set of reports. A lot of those came from Dr. Simon, and they were microfiche and hard copies of reports. Original field data, I dont know where that would have been donated or kept.
AH: You have worked on a number of aspects of productivity in the bay. And as I understand, recently youve been working on pulling that together into more of an optical model. Is that your current research?
JJ: Yes, that I spent my time with recently.
AH: Can you tell us in some detail? You mentioned that seagrass, of course, are very light sensitive. How has that whole field of research developed and where is that going now? What kind of things are you focused on?
JJ: Well, you know the seagrasses require a certain amount of light. And those require a certain amount of quality of light. So, its important, and if you want to understand what your management efforts, how they will work the best, you need to know how you affect the light in the bay if your goal is to restore seagrasses. And you can do that by field measurements, but you can also do it by optical models.
And thats what Ive been working on. I havent actually developed a model but Ive been working with Dr. Gallegos from the Smithsonian Institute. And he actually helped a lot to construct the Tampa Bay model. So we can go out in the field and collect a few water quality parameters, put them in the model and we can tell, pretty much, how the light climate is in the bay.
AH: And then does that model predict responses over time?
JJ: Yeah. You can calculate the amount of light at certain depths. What type of light is down at certain depths, and you can relate that to the requirements of the seagrasses. And you can make conclusions that if you maintain that light, that the seagrasses will react to the light and probably grow deeper as you improve the light climate.
AH: Now, the Bay Study Group, then, was closed a few years ago. Was that a regulatory decision? Was that a political decision? What caused that transition there?
JJ: It was a budget shortfall. The city was short. It was during the 2008 period, when the city didnt have the incomes from a lot of sources, there was just, I think, just a budgetary issue.
AH: Were some of those responsibilities shifted to other local agencies?
JJ: No. It was just shut down.
AH: Just shut down?
AH: Was there any ongoing regulatory needs or concerns there?
JJ: No. We had been taken out of the operation permit for the City of Tampas wastewater treatment plant about two years before that. So the city did not have any obligation to maintain our program. We kind of saw the writing on the wall early. We knew that was not a good thing.
AH: So then, without those formal obligations, that meant that there wasnt long-term oversight as far as the water quality goals? That those had actually been achieved?
JJ: Well, I think people reliedthey still had the EPC monitoring to rely on, to see if they respond the way its expected, and that doesnt violate any rule, you know, conditions. Our studies were not really tied into the regulatory, except there were specific studies we did for the wastewater treatment plant.
AH: Oh, I see.
JJ: Yeah. But we were, I guess, we were kind of hoping that we were a pretty good PR source for the city, and that would be our saving grace.
AH: So, as we look forward to the future, over the last 40 years or so, between the community involvement, Agency on Bay Management, the estuary programHolly Greening is going to be joining us, shes the executive director of the estuary program, to tell us about their workand of course, the counties and the municipalities, what do you think is the outlook throughout the bay? What should the citizens expect or what does the scientific community hope for? What will the research that has gone on in the past, how will that influence the future?
JJ: Its of critical importance that the monitoring is continued. And, you know, thats Hillsborough Countys monitoring program, and Pinellas Countys monitoring the bay also. Because that is really how we can base how successful we are in the bay. And also the transect monitoring is very important. Your previous question, and you asked if there was somebody taking over after the Bay Study [Group] was gone. Well, other agencies took over our transect monitoring for those specific locations.
AH: So theres continuity there.
JJ: Theres continuity in those. Right.
AH: And so what should the citizens hope for? Tampa Bay, of course, is such a tourism magnet.
JJ: I think, I hope that the citizens appreciate that the bay is in really good shape now, compared to what it was in the 1970s. And Im sure the folks that were around in 1970 appreciate it. It might be more difficult for new people coming here, but its a really different bay than what we used to have. And its really important to continue the progress and protect what weve done.
AH: Well, thank you Roger so much. We really appreciate your being here with us today. Were going to take a short break and then well be back for just a couple minutes.
JJ: Thank you.
AH: Were back with Roger Johansson. Roger was the supervisor for the Bay Studies Group and has been an oceanographer and biologist here in Tampa Bay for a long time. Roger, lets go back to the early days when you first started working in the bay. And just tell us some stories about what it was like back then, because I think so few people really have a good sense of what Tampa Bay was like before the cleanup efforts started.
JJ: Well, some of my first memories of going out in Hillsborough Bay was that in some areas, when you drove the boat, the sounds from the motor, the propeller got muffled by the phytoplankton in the water.
AH: So, it was just like green hair on the top of the water.
JJ: It was actually like green soup. And that was one of the things I first recognized, I think. We used to do, we did phytoplankton counts; we did primary production. And primary production, you have to bring back to the lab and filter samples in through the filters to capture phytoplankton. And we used to spend time in the lab. We actually didnt go home during the night because the filters got clogged so fast from the phytoplankton, that we ended up spending all night filtering. And recently, in the last few years, that filtered through in a couple of minutes. That was a big thing I remember.
We also used to have dinoflagellar blooms thatwe havent seen some of those species recently. But they kind of, they had a fluorescent species that theyd kind of light up the whole, when youre driving the boat through the water, you just could see the light from these dinoflagellates.
AH: What is unique about dinoflagellates, that they were present then and not present now?
JJ: Theyre still present but I think they were in much higher concentrations in the old days. They usually collect at the surface during the daytime, so they stand out. You know, theyre easy to see. And they actually have ways to migrate through the water using flagella. They follow the light, pretty much.
AH: As you started your work, and as you worked throughout the bay, what was it like when you first saw some of the transitions and saw seagrass coming back?
JJ: We were kind of justwe know there werent seagrasses coming back in Lower, in Middle Tampa Bay. We didnt really see anything coming back in Hillsborough Bay. But in The Kitchen area, which is on the southeastern section of Hillsborough Bay, I think it was Robin that pointed out there were actually some small areas of seagrass growing there. So we went out there and we took a look, and there were, you know, quite athree or four patches of Halodule growing there. And that was a big thing to us. So we got people together and we headed out and showed people that there are actually seagrasses in Hillsborough Bay.
And then as we saw seagrasses there, Walter Avery and I start surveying the shoreline of Hillsborough Bay. And one guy drove the boat, the other guy was hanging on, on a line behind, and trying to see seagrasses that way. And so we did that around the bay. And we found a few more spots. But we got up to Bayshore, north of Gandy, and we saw a spot there. And I said, Well, this cant be seagrass. So, we walked over and looked, and there was actually a spot of seagrass growing off Bayshore. And that was Halodule, so we knew we really had taken a big step forward.
AH: Do you remember about when that was?
JJ: That was probably, Ill say 1985, 1986.
AH: And then, after that time
JJ: Well, we used a little more sophisticated methods to investigate the seagrasses.
AH: Other than dragging the guy behind with a line?
JJ: Yeah. I got help from the City of Tampa Police Department. And it was actually started out as looking for mackerel around the bay, up by Bayshore because there were still some mackerel drifting in there and the city was concerned about that. So the city police flew me in a helicopter around the bay on, pretty much, on a monthly basis for several years. And then we kind of spread it out a little more to become a quarterly sampling. But that was a perfect way to follow the expansion of the seagrasses in the bay.
AH: The Bay Studies Group also had a relationship with Gandy Aerial Photography and the oral history project is really pleased. Weve obtained Skip Gandys archives. How did you use his photography in your studies?
JJ: We used that to, you know, calculate the areas of seagrasses in the bay. In a helicopter, I mean you canttheyre not vertical photographs. You can tell theyre there, but to be able to say how much grass you have, you really have to pretty much high altitude photographs to look at. And Skip Gandy provided us with a lot of his old photos so we could then draw conclusions from what the bay was like in the old days. He was very helpful in that project.
AH: How far back did his early photos go? Do you recall?
JJ: I think, probably late 70s, I think, from the ones Ive seen. They were black and white photos of The Kitchen area that we looked at.
AH: Great. Well, youve given us a huge amount of information today, lots of background and early history. The bay has come a long ways. Anything else that youd like to tell the listeners and the viewers about bay history, about your experiences in the bay?
JJ: Well, I think weve shown that we can fix something that was broken, and I think its really important that we protect what we have done. It cost a lot of money, a lot of effort by people working to fix the bay. And its really important that we dont fall back and we maintain that.
AH: Roger, thank you so much for being with the Tampa Bay Oral History Project today. We really appreciate all of your history, your insight. Thanks for being with us, and well look forward to reading your interview online.
JJ: Thank you.
AH: Youre welcome.
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