If you hold a seashell up to your ear, it might whisper more than the sound of the sea. Better yet, pass it to Michal Kowalewski, curator and professor, as well as John L. and Beverly A. Thompson, chair of invertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

Kowalewski should be able to tell you if your shell is a recent seashore resident or, perhaps, a prehistoric specimen that he can assess for age, composition and the ecosystem in which it dwelled.

He will be the first speaker at a free, once-a-month webinar, “Nature Coast Currents,” that starts Sept. 21 and wraps up in May 2023. The University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, is sponsoring the webinar and hopes to bring it back each year from now, according to host Savanna Barry.

The webinar grew out of a management plant the state developed for the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve, which is 800 miles of coastal waters, including 625 miles of shoreline, along Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.

Members of the public who responded to the plan told the plan developers that they would like to know more about the scientific research that is going on in the area.

The Extension wants to create more accessibility to science and research in the area, and the webinar is one response, Barry said.

Many of the webinars this year will emphasize applied science, such as how boating affects seagrasses and sea turtles, according to Barry.

One goal is for the public to gain a greater appreciation for the research going on in the area, such as that with habitats, seagrasses and sponges, she said.

As for Kowalewski, his specialty is invertebrate paleontology, meaning he knows about such things as what dead shells can tell us about our ecosystems, Barry explained.

For example, he studies the large mollusks that have lived in the area and can tell from the shells the mollusks left behind their age, composition of their species, and how stable their ecosystem was, Barry said.

A few of the other webinars include one on Oct. 19 about the most recent seagrass mapping results, presented by Chris Anastasiou for the Southwest Florida Management District.

Then there’s one on March 15, 2023, on how boat propellers affect seagrass, from sediment texture to fish behavior, and there’s one on May 17, 2023, on how green sea turtles are disturbed by boating activity in the Crystal Bay area.

All the webinars are from 2-3 p.m. There will be a question-and-answer period following each talk. If you’re not able to attend in person, the webinars will be recorded and posted on the website: https://bit.ly/Nature CoastCurrents.

For more information, or to register for the webinar, see the above website.

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