Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Good bye students. We wish you luck in your future studies.

We really enjoyed working with all of you during the last week at UNF and the GTMNERR.
It was a long week.

The work was muddy,

sometimes it was difficult to see what was going on around us,

sometimes we just wanted to run and hide,

sometimes we got crabby,

but, we all survived!
You guys were great and I know I learned as much as you did from the week at UNF!


Last but not least

The Last Day of Class
In taking field studies in marine biology I was able to expand my knowledge in a way that could not be done by simply sitting in a classroom. I was able to gain real world experience in a number of ways that would not be otherwise possible if I had not taken this course. As well I was able to meet 11 other students who were just as passionate as I about the world of marine science.
This course definitely helped prepare for the real world of marine science by immersing us in activities that many people will never get the chance to do or see, especially as undergrads. How many other people will get the chance to go on a research vessel in their lifetime, let alone as a student? When do people get the chance to take a sediment core sample and determine the history of that location simply by performing a few tests and analyzing the composition? How many people do you know that get the chance to see some of the most beautiful reefs in the United States and how they are actively being restored? How many chances will you get to spend 24 hours in an ecosystem and see for yourself the changes that can occur? All these things were possible for me to do, but only because I took this course. If I had not, the places would still be there but I would not have the equipment or instruction to perform these activities alone.
Though I took this class hoping that it would point me in the direction of what I wanted to pursue as a career,   it instead opened many more doors. There are so many things that can be done in the Marine Science, as it is  a truly diverse field.
Finally I'd like to thank all the professors who took part in creating this unique course, as well as our graduate T.A. Breanna Korsman for putting up with us and being our only liaison from site to site.
Learning about the Fossil Reefs of Windley Key

Counting and Measuring the species collected in a seine net during our 24 hour Study

Coquina Rock Formations of Marineland

The Genetic Drift 

Canoeing to our site while at FGCU

Analyzing what was found at Ft. De Soto

Learning about Coral Restoration at Mote Marine Lab

The Weatherbird during T.S. Andrea

Analyzing Algae Samples at Keys Marine Lab

Recording Water Quality Parameters during our 24 hour Study

Finding things in the Sargassum at Bahia Honda State Park

Homework Time at FGCU

Sediment Core from FGCU

Dr. Hackney watching the sunset during our 24 hour study

Analyzing Sea Grass off the coast of Koch Key 

Oyster Reefs near Vester Marine Lab

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Final Thoughts: Field Studies in Marine Science 2013

To any future students reading this blog and considering taking this course: My best advice, if you have any interest in marine science, is to do all that you can (within the rule of law) to take this course! This was an unforgettable experience and I think everyone else who did this feels the same way.

You are in a very unique location. There are few places I can think of where a course like this could even be possible.

As you read through our blog just remember that this is just a snapshot of the experience we've had over the past 5 weeks. It would be impossible to encompass everything we've done in a few, or a hundred, pictures and paragraphs. Your trip may be a bit different, but the framework is there. Immerse yourself in everything that you can and you won't be disappointed.

If you think this class may be a bit too expensive, think again. The guidance you will receive and connections you make on top of what you learn and experience will be well worth the price of admission.

The friendships I've made and lessons I've learned during this trip are invaluable.

I can tell a lot of time and hard work went into making this opportunity possible and I'd like to thank everyone involved in doing so. Special thanks to Breanna Korsman for putting up with us for five weeks- couldn't have done it better!



Data collected one the St.Johns River
extensive dunes on Jacksonville's beach

Coquina Outcrops
The first day we went out on the boats and traveled 20 miles up the St.Johns river and recorded salinity, DO, temperature, and conductivity both at the surface and bottom of the water column at different sites on the river. The second day we were able to get a great look at the different types of beaches that we have here in Florida. Some had very large dunes natural dunes while others had man made dunes. Being able to see the coquina outcrops was a really fun experience being able to learn about how they were formed
and see them in person at the same time. The third and forth day we were at the GTM NEER for the 24hr diel study which was an amazing experience where we really got to work as a close knit group. All in all this week was a great learning experience about the different coastal environments in North East Florida.

Andd thats a wrap!

This has been one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life. I have learned much more than I anticipated coming into this course. I have expanded my knowledge base of Florida's common ecosystems as well as gained invaluable field work experience that will likely shape my future career path.  I would recommend this course to any person that is considering biology or ecology as their major or career path. It definitely is eye opening about your own likes and dislikes about each field we investigated.
 This trip is also an invaluable experience to me because of the amazing connections that were formed during the duration of our five week journey, both professional and personal. I look forward to maintaining these relationships and seeing where our adventures take us!

FIO Summer 13 Friends
I have to say one of the coolest things we did was the one I was dreading the most... the diel study. Twenty-five(ish) straight hours in the field, yes, you read that right 25. Twenty five hours of seining every three hours, taking water quality every 30min-1hr depending on your location, and observing the tidal movements. It was one of the most interesting things I've done. To watch as the feeding organisms shift composition as day turns to night and also see the abundance change over the hours was amazing. We had one catch around midnight with over 5000 fishes. If ever given the opportunity to observe an ecosystem like this for a twenty-four hour cycle, TAKE IT, you will learn and see things many people never will.
Seine Dream Team

75-ft Seine net. Somebody had to be delegator...

View of the lake-side of the weir.

Inside the weir

Our catch with over 300 shrimp
Counting, measuring, and identifying said shrimp.
And thats the final farewell!
 Thank you to each professor from the multiple institutions and board member of FIO that made this life experience possible for us twelve students I can guarantee you it is one that will never be forgotten!

The Importance and Function Between Marine Ecosystems

Thank you for viewing this post as it is about to be full of interesting tidbits.
To start off, all ecosystems are important in a variety of ways from the microscopic detritus communities to the expansive and diverse coral reef. Their function as a community varies as much as the settings they are found in. This complements the ongoing list of organisms that live there and the vital role that they play.
In detritus communities usually found in areas with high organic material make home for a multitude of microscopic organisms that specialize in decomposing materials. Near mangrove communities for example, their role is to break down harder to eat substrates such as leaves and twigs in order to facilitate easier digestion for higher organisms. You can even find leaves in every stage of the decomposition process where color and texture can change dramatically from green to black and smooth to leathery. Not only do they assist in providing digestable vegetation, they themselves are eaten along with it for added nutrition. By examining even a small amount of detritus it is very clear that there is more that lives underfoot than anyone would care to think about. These areas are also important for a certain kinds of organisms called nitrogen fixers. The organisms break down the naturally produced ammonia in the form of urea and through many chemical processes turn it into usable nitrogen for all the plant communities to thrive on. Without these organisms there would not be enough usable nitrogen (which is a limiting nutrient for marine plants) for aquatic plants to survive in such numbers.
Open Oceans
How i see it the open ocean is entirely different than any of the other ecosystems, can you guess why? If you said because there are not any trees then you're right. So, where does the beginning of the food chain start if you have a lack of vegetation? Plankton, small and simple. There is a massive variety of smelly, microscopic plankton out there (Trust us it smells....pretty bad too.), and these organisms are responsible for almost all of the primary production of the open ocean. There are some seaweeds and floating alga that are out there but the majority of that bottom block of the food web is plankton. From there smaller fish eat the plankton and bigger fish eat them. In the open ocean there is no place to hide, so organisms that live there have adapted by various forms of morphology and pattern. The most prominent adaptation is coloring and specifically countershading. Animals that exhibit countershading are usually darker on their dorsal side so predators are less likely to see them from above and lighter on their ventral side to blend in more to predators in the deep. Their morphologies are based on who is the fastest. Fish in the open ocean tend to become more streamlined and aquadynamic to allow them to chase down their prey since adaptations are more likely to focus on the ability to outrun predators.
Sea Grass Beds
Seagrasses are a vital part of shallow water communities because of their functions. First they provide shelter to juvenilles that live there. Second, they can increase water clarity. They do this mainly by growing and blocking particles of sediment that are passing by which accounts for the fact they are usually surrounded by soft substrate mounds. They are also the main primary producers of their ecosystem which makes them the building block of the food web. Unfortunately, sea grasses are not very good at surviving deeper water or very turbid waters. This is because they need more sunlight than algae or corals, so typically you will find them where they can be seen from the surface. One of the problems that comes with sea grass is that boats can tear them up and disturb those ecosystems. Sea grass does not grow very fast and once damage has been done it takes a long time to rebuild. They also provide (unwillingly) habitat to epiphytes which grow on the surface of their blades and with enough of them can smother and kill the sea grass. Mind you that sea grass is the favorite food of some turtles and manatee, and you don't want to see them all die, so don't destroy the sea grass beds!
Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystem of our adventures. Their zooxanthellae are the primary producers of the ecostystem and provide the color for the coral . The corals polyps make calcium carbonate skeletons that become the structure of the colony. They feed by harvesting energy from the zooxanthellae's photosynthesis or by using their tentacles to gather drifting food particles. They are very delicate and take a long time to grow. As they grow they provide shelter for a plethora of fishes, rays, sharks, and more. That makes coral one of the most important ecosystem engineers. It's because these organisms have such an effect on their ecosystem that every organism flocks to it. This includes people who want to see and touch the reefs and then take some with them. There are also other functions that coral reefs provide such as wave breakers which during a storm they take some of the energy out of the waves before they reach the shore. They are also key components of water clarity, as they block floating particles from out of the water column.

Overall this has been an amazing experience that I feel we will all remember as we were the first to partake in this class. Thank you all who gave us an opportunity to explore so many places and learn so much in five weeks. I can't wait to see how it will be done next year!

Final Week @ UNF

On day one of this past week we encountered freshwater for the first time during this trip on our scenic St. Johns River cruise (caution: sitting up front on a flat bottom boat is not recommended-lesson learned).

It was interesting to see the differences in water conditions and organisms as we moved from fresh to more saline water and the amount of impact humans have on the river system.

Day two we saw the functionality of a sand dune as protection and habitat at GTM and got to see what a natural inlet looks like compared to an inlet with jetties (see Paige's post below).
Dunes at GTMNERR
 On day three we staked out the GTMNERR for a 24 hour sampling above and below the weir using water quality sondes and seine nets all while observing the changing tide.

Award-winning seine team

Forget the sunset, look at all that beautiful foam on the water's surface created by water and air mixing at the weir