The first week of the FIO field studies program was in Jacksonville at University of North Florida. Each day we conducted different types of research in different environments. Dr. Smith was the professor from UNF that accompanied us through out the week.
Sunday was the first day that everyone was there and was used for introductions in the morning. We meet our Graduate assistants Sarah and Casey and they introduced themselves and told us about their experience. All of the students introduced themselves and then we went over the schedule for the week. After Lunch we received a lecture from Carissa King, a Graduate student at UNF, who would be taking us out the next on the St. John’s River to listen to soundscapes and tell us how they affect dolphins.
On Monday morning we all woke up bright and early to drive to the dock where we would be getting on the UNF research vessel ‘The Osprey’ and a Boat from GTMNERR called the ‘Jenny’. We then went to four different locations with different distances from the entrance of the river. At each location we measured the turbidity of the water on each boat with a turbidity tube. We also took measurements using the YSI for dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature at each site at the surface and depths of 1 meter, 2 meters, and 3 meters. We used the Van Dorn water collector at a meter depth to gather a water sample at each site. We then brought the sample back to the lab and used the colorimeter to test for the turbidity levels in each sample and we used a fluorometer to measure chlorophyll-a Levels in the water. With the chlorophyll-a measurement we were able to tell if the turbidity was caused by autotrophs and get a rough estimate of how much algae was in the water. While all of these measurements were being taken by half of the students the other half was listening to a hydrophone while Carissa King talked about the different affects that the sounds caused by humans can causes for dolphins. This allowed for everyone to learn how to use all of these tools that are typically vital to testing water quality when conducting research.
On this day we learned about how there are different kinds of sound pollution in the St. John’s River. There is biophony sound pollution which is sound that is caused by living organisms in the water. An example of some biophony would be the snapping shrimp we heard on the hydrophone. There is also geophony sound pollution, which is sound cause from natural occurring events such as wind and waves. One geophony sound we heard on the hydrophone was the waves breaking. The last type of sound pollution is anthrophony, which is sound that is caused by human activity. There were many examples of anthropogenic sounds that we heard on the hydrophone. The most common sounds heard were engines and props from passing by boats and clanks from the near by ports unloading and loading large cargo ships. The reason all of this was important to learn that because the St. John’s river is a black water river it has a high turbidity level that is caused mostly through sources other than autotrophs. Because the water has a high turbidity it is important for the dolphins to be able to communicate through vocalizations in the water. The sound pollution in the St. John’s River is unusually high which causes the dolphins range of communication to be lower and to cause them higher stress levels in the river. The main concern is that the stress gets to be too much for the dolphins and that the resident dolphins of the river will ultimately leave.
On Tuesday we went to four different beach habitats to learn about natural beaches, natural inlets, inlets with jetties, and barrier islands. We visited a different site that covered each topic and while we were there Dr. Smith would lecture in the field about what these environments were and why they were important. The different visits entailed a lot of walking, a little sampling, some swimming, and a lot of discussion. We learned about how the ocean can affect the inlets with jetties and the natural inlets differently. We also learned about how the currents can shape the environment. Long shore currents can cause build up of sand on the northern side of the jetties in an inlet with jetties and cause loss of sand on the southern side of the jetties due to it being carried away. Natural inlets will fill in with sand and the deep parts of the inlet will shift. Rising ocean levels can cause barrier islands to move back slowly and falling ocean levels can cause the barrier islands to move forward.
Wednesday was by far my favorite day. That was the day that we got to go on the shark research vessels. I was lucky enough to be one of the very few people to go on the actual boat that UNF uses for their shark research called the ‘Genetic Drift’. On board were two members of the shark research lab Kat and Amy and the lab manager Sam. Our boat only held five people so it was me and one other lucky class member that got to go on that boat. I say lucky only because we caught more sharks than everyone else on the other boats. On this boat I was allowed to cut the bait, bait the hooks, unhook the catfish by catch, set the line twice, pull up the line once, take a fin clip, tag a shark, and help take blood samples. The experience I gained from this trip alone made this whole course worthwhile to me. I learned so much about how an actual field research team operates and had a lot of fun while doing it. They even let us hold some of the shark we caught and I got to release one! I actually felt like a part of the team that day while doing some interesting work. Since the boat I was on couldn’t get shallow enough to transfer me to the other group conducting seine netting I was allowed to stay on the boat which made me extremely happy since I had done seine netting before and this was my only chance to work with the shark research team. The seine netting was in order to catch fish to see what kind of prey the shark might be consuming. This day was my favorite day by far and will be hard to beat the rest of the trip because I enjoyed it so much and learned a great deal.
Thursday was an interesting day that I actually enjoyed but I had originally thought I wouldn’t. We met with biologists from the GTMNERR site to conduct surveys of black mangroves to monitor their growth and expansion. Black mangroves have been moving into and replacing the marshland. Now as we discussed this isn’t the first time and it is a naturally occurring battle between marsh and mangroves. I got to ask a lot of questions and actually found it very interesting. To me I got to learn about how ecosystems change and got to probe the mind of these biologists and how they conduct long-term studies over several years. My group unfortunately could not find the area that were supposed to record data because it had either been over grown or washed away in a storm. But before each group went to measure their own areas we got to practice on a smaller subsection in one together so I did get to learn the skills of measuring mangrove trees. The best and funniest part of the day was crossing the muddy creek at the end. I had tried to go around where less people had walked in order to not sink down into the mud. Inevitably I still sank into the mud quite deep while everyone watched and it was pretty comical to see the pictures of myself knee deep in the mud.
Friday was much less labor intensive and only involved meeting in the morning to go over everything that we had covered through out the week and going over the data that we had collected. After a short break and lunch we took our skills test. Shortly after the skills test we went to see a lecture from Dr. Ross on corals which is what we will be covering in the Florida Keys.