Monday, 19 June 2017

The End of the Sage: UWF

It’s sad to say it, but the last week of this exciting trip has finally come to a close. At least we were able to spend our last week as a group in the beautiful Pensacola at UWF. As a local panhandle native, it was nice to show off our gorgeous white sandy beaches.

The one location were it wasn't
raining that day
Our trip started off rocky with some unfortunate stormy weather Monday that carried through the entire week, but as always with field work, we managed to make the best of it. Storms and all, we still managed to get out in the field and learn about the local research going on at UWF. For our first day, we took a tour of the local watershed and collected water quality samples at each location. This included taking YSI recordings, light meter measurements at deep enough locations, and water samples for nutrient, chlorophyll a and TSS tests. Since it was raining we were able to see how the runoff connects the whole system, which was interesting.

A little rain won't stop us from
 learning about the local
creek system
SOn Tuesday, we set out to explore and learn about freshwater impacts by following Carpenter creek throughout the area. It was saddening to see all the damage our poorly designed infrastructure was causing the system. Comparing the data from developed and non-developed locations revealed trends in human development and poorer water quality. Hearing about how it could easily be solved with a little better planning with the help of scientists and engineers working together, though, was encouraging. I never had really given the importance of freshwater systems such as creeks a large consideration before, but I have come to have a better understanding of the vital role they play in systems after this week.

Trying to scope out fake shorebird nests
Wednesday was interesting and different as we were able study birds for the first time on our trip. We meet up with some graduate students involved in bird surveys at UWF and they helped us learn how to identify some local shoreline nesting birds. We were even able to see the endangered Least Turn, which is a small bird that utilizes the dunes for their nesting site. After trying to spot a fake egg nest in a scope and track a fake bird using telemetry, I realized just how difficult it is surveying birds. Unfortunately, our bird sightseeing was cut short by an incoming storm, but all was not lost. We waited out the storm during lunch after hearing about Radon detection of groundwater and then get back into the field with some seagrass field work. Collecting pore water here was far easier than in the mangroves back at UNF.

Utilizing the Engineer's  Level
to create visual representations of
the local beach profile
Although our last day of field work came to a wrap on Thursday, it was by far my favorite day that week. Thankfully we were able to get out in the field in-between thunderstorms and learn about geomorphology. I’ve always had an interest in dune movement over time, so it was exciting to be able to use their instruments (A-frame and engineer’s level) to map out the beach profile. Then to see those measurements utilized to create a visual representation of the beach area we sampled was exciting. I’d never even considered that as a possible field of research, so it was nice to be able to experience it with people who were obviously very passionate about their work. After we all became experts in reading elevation through the A-frame and engineer’s level, we left the field to take a tour of an EPA lab facility. With all that is going on in politics, it was reassuring to see that the scientists behind the scenes were still fighting to protect the biodiversity and life on our planet. Being able to see and learn about their projects and instruments was one of the biggest highlights of this trip.

After a long rainy week of thunderstorms and near lightning strikes, we managed to walk out alive. It’s saddening to see this journey come to an end, but I know the friendships I’ve made here won’t. I started this trip hoping to come out of it with more hands-on knowledge in the field I truly love, along with gaining support from fellow peers who share a love for all things aquatic with me. I can truly say I believe I accomplished both of these goals. Although there were some downs, as there always will be on a long journey spent with a small group, the ups far outweighed them. From pushing a boat off oyster reefs, to swimming with sharks and barracudas, to all of our hair standing straight up during a thunderstorm due to the electricity in the air, I can say this trip has been an amazing adventure I wouldn’t trade for anything. 
The last group picture

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Week 5: The University of West Florida

My group learning how to use an engineering level.
The final week of this course began in Pensacola. On Monday we were supposed to go kayaking around Bayou Texar, but sadly we got rained out. Instead we drove around the Bayou collecting water quality samples at different sites within the watershed. On Tuesday we explored Carpenter Creek with Barbara Albrecht. She knows everything there is to know about the ecosystem of the creek and has studied how different things affect it. We saw how important the entire region around the creek is to the whole ecosystem and how people are setting themselves up for failure by building in these areas. Creek systems are meant to move and change by flooding and eroding overtime. This has caused problems for the bridges and buildings people have near the creek. I enjoyed learning about the creek system because I didn't think much about how the creek impacts a much larger area than just the creek itself.
Some of the coral being studied at the EPA.
On Wednesday we went to Pensacola beach and met up with some graduate students studying shorebirds. We observed the birds using some high-tech scopes to get a closer look at the them and their behavior. We also did an activity using an H-antenna and a small frequency generator to find a radio transmitter they hid in the sand for us to find. This technique is on to track birds by attaching the tiny transmitter to the bird. Then they can follow the bird to gain more knowledge about its behavior. Then to finish up the day we went to a local park on the water and took some more water quality samples. Thursday was my favorite day of the week. We began the day by going back to Pensacola beach, but we had to wait under a pavilion until it stopped raining to begin our work. This time we were working with a group of students studying beach geomorphology. They showed us different techniques they use to get information about the landscape of the beach.
My van group on our way to different sites
along the creek.
The second half of our adventures on Thursday included going to the EPA lab stationed in Pensacola. We got an inside look at the different projects they are working on, as well as some of the equipment they use out in the field. It was very interesting to see how they do the work they do there and I was quite interested in the current projects they had going on. Seeing how a government run lab operates was something I never thought I would get a chance to see. Then to finish up our last day out in the field a small group of us went seining for fish in some seagrass beds. On Friday we took our last assessment and summed up the whole course. 

Overall this course was an absolutely amazing experience. I met some amazing professors and made some really great friends. This course was an amazing way to gain experience in so many different areas of marine biology. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone who wants to get their hands dirty and learn all about multiple different departments of marine biology. These past five weeks have been some of the best weeks of my college career, and now I know for sure this is the field I want to work in the rest of my life. I have made some many connections and been shown so many opportunities for internship,  potential projects, and graduate programs. I am truly so grateful for this experience and I will never forget it. 

University of West Florida: Week 4

The fifth and final week of this course was at the University of West Florida where we spent a lot of time learning new skills at different locations of Pensacola such as   Pensacola Beach, the Escambia River, Carpenter Creek, and Texar Bayou. This week we looked at the water quality of different bodies of water by recording YSI readings at each location. We also studied Chlorophyll A concentrations, observed how urbanization affected river structure within a watershed, how to identify various shorebirds, and how to use a radio telemetry to locate tagged shore birds. We also explored lagging and how it is used to create sand dune. My personal favorite day included taking a tour of the EPA where we got insight of some of the on going research that is happening right here in Pensacola Bay.

            Overall this course was such an amazing experience, providing me with new field experience at each location, which will make me an even more competitive edge when applying to grad school, and on a resume for future careers. This course has provided me with the chance to see what areas of marine biology I’m passionate about, and what my strengths and weaknesses are, so that I end up in the field that suits me best. This course also expanded my interconnections with other future, and current biology majors that could grant me with opportunities, advice, and positive influence that’ll help me to exceed in the future.
Hope to see y'all sometime in the future, its been fun!

End of the Journey at UWF!

Our last week of the FIO trip was spent at UWF in Pensacola! We spent most of the week observing the watershed around Pensacola and learning about how humans impact its different components. Although the week didn't go exactly as planned, due to rain almost every day of the week, we still learned a lot and had fun! We also learned about the movement of barrier islands and how to survey sand dunes and beaches on Thursday!
Finding different angle elevations on the beach!

Our last week of the course was, of course, very bittersweet. Although we knew the class was drawing to a close, we still tried to make the most of this week. Taking this class has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. Not only did I gain experience with marine field work and meet different professors, I had the time of my life. I want to thank every single person who made this class possible, especially the professors who hosted us and our amazing GA's!

The best thing about this class for me were the friends that I made. It was just great to make friends who saw the world the same way that I did and that wanted to help protect it. I know that I've made friendships that will last a lifetime and I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend 5 weeks of my life. I've been wishing that I could start it all over again and relive everything!
FIO Class of 2017! Gonna miss you guys!

I hope everyone has a great summer, and I can't wait to see you all again!

Final Week: UWF

Searching for inshore seabirds.
     The week at UWF was like no other. We studied freshwater systems and beach geomorphology. On Monday, we travelled around the city with Dr. Jane Caffrey and Dr. Jeff Eble taking samples of water at multiple sites and measurements using the YSI. The next day we travelled around the city again, but this time we specifically looked at Carpenter Creek and how the development of urban areas, such as a Publix parking lot, residential neighborhoods, and bridges, affected the water flow and quality. Barbara Albrecht was nice enough to take us to many different sites of the creek and talk about the dangers that humans have on the natural ecosystem. We studied and looked for inshore seabirds on Wednesday. We also had to look for hidden transmitters on the beach using an H antenna and frequencies. Afterwards, we went to a park to collect more water samples as well as do percent coverage with the seagrass beds. Thursday we learned about beach geomorphology and how, over time, Santa Rosa Island has been shifting from East to West. It was fascinating because I knew that land shifted over time, but did not know how it was measured. The same day we went on a tour at the EPA lab. It was very informative and a wonderful experience to see all of the different environmental projects that go on in the federal government. It was a great week and I am glad to have ended the trip on a high note.
FIO family in one of the two vans at UWF.
     These past five weeks have been some of the best I have had in my short time here on Earth. I loved that I was able to circumnavigate all around Florida and realize how precious our ecosystems really are. The effect us humans have on them can easily be negative, but if we try hard enough and educate the people around us, we just might be able to save the Earth. I have made some marvelous friends and created amazing memories. This trip could not have come at a better time for me. It truly lifted my spirits and helped me realize what is important in life. I was able to hear life stories from a broad range of people. They guided me towards what I need to do to accomplish my goals. They also taught me that not everyone will take the same path in life and that it is okay to take the long, scenic journey to one's destination. I am beyond happy that I was a part of this course and will never forget it.

FIO family at the Rock Quarry in the Keys.

Final Thoughts

These past few weeks have been some of the most memorable experiences of my life. The skills and knowledge I have learned will be invaluable to me in the future as I attempt to turn this passion of mine into a career. We learned so many different things, from simple water sampling, to fish and coral identification, to even just learning how to improvise when plans go to crap. I also got to see so much of Florida's marine habitat, more than I ever have before. I really began to understand just how unique and diverse our ecosystems are, and how important it is to protect these ecosystems. Beyond knowledge, I feel like I have a better understanding of where I want to go and what I want to do more than any other time in my life. On top of that I also met a bunch of amazing people and made some genuine friends. The memories we made are priceless, and for that reason alone I would recommend this course to anyone. I want to extend my thanks to everyone who made this trip possible, and all awesome people who made it memorable.  For anyone who is on the fence for this course, 100% give it a shot. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I don't think i'll soon forget.

Week 5- UWF

By Emily Williams

     This final week at UWF was full of different activities that made this week very memorable. Despite the rainy forecast the majority of the week, we made the best out of it and continued with our planned activities. We traveled to many locations around Pensacola including carpenter creek and Bayou Texar to collect water quality samples. It was very interesting learning the correlation of total suspended solids, nutrients, and chlorophyll a as you move through the watershed (from the start of the creek to the bayou). We also saw the horrible effects of building on a riparian zone and of hardening surfaces. At the first site on carpenter creek, cement was used in order to try to prevent erosion but this project was failing because where the cement ended, the landscape was rilling away and eroding very fast. We also learned about the natural event of fish deaths due to Bayou Texar’s water stratification and hypoxia in the summertime. Another interesting experience this week was learning beach geomorphology and using the engineer's level to map out the dunes.
Me holding a meter stick for a classmate
reading out of the engineer's level to map the beach

Us on the hardened surface at a site along Carpenter Creek

     This week was amazing in concluding this class. Overall this class was such an amazing experience that has taught me so much about the different environments around Florida, organisms within those environments, and techniques to study these organisms and ecosystems. This class also introduced me to the many jobs and opportunities out there that sparked my interest. I am excited to start research within the next year and I think this class has prepared me for some of the classes and research methods to come. Thank you to everyone who made this class possible. This class has made a difference in my life and I am sure many others feel the same way.