Monday, 22 May 2017

First Week on the FIO field studies course: University of North Florida

  I have been anticipating the FIO Marine Field Studies course for the past three months now. I can safely say that after only one week, it has been a trip of a lifetime. It started out at UNF in Jacksonville, FL.  Sunday was an introduction day where I was able to meet 16 other students all interested in some type of marine science, ranging from marine mammals to algal blooms to coral reefs. Although our studies of interest are different, we all want the same career; to become a marine scientist. 
  On Monday we went out on the St. Johns River in two different boats. We helped a graduate student named Carissa King with her research. The spots that we stopped in were divided into four quadrats. We listened to the sounds under water with a hydrophone, hoping to hear dolphin communication. The main sounds we heard were snapping shrimp and anthropogenic sounds, such as engines from the boats. Another key part of the trip on the St. Johns River was to measure the water quality. To do this we used a YSI meter, turbidity tube, and Vandorn sampler. The YSI meter measured dissolved oxygen, conductivity, salinity, and temperature. The turbidity tube measured light attenuation, the visibility of the water. We used the horizontal Vandorn sampler to collect samples of water that we brought back to the lab to measure the turbidity with a colorimeter and chlorophyl A with a fluorometer, which shows the amount of phytoplankton in the water. It was extraordinary to be able to finally get a hands on experience in a marine environment.  
Captain Matt, Dr. Kelli Smith, and our GA Sarah on the St. Johns River.
          The difference between Tuesday and Monday was night and day. On Tuesday we travelled down to St. Augustine, FL and Marineland, FL to study beaches and inlets. Our first stop was to the beach in Marineland, FL right next to the Marineland and UF Whitney Laboratory facilities. We walked and climbed on top of the coquina rock formations to look for tide pools that would have organisms living in them. A few of the organisms we found were a Greater Blue Crab as well as a dead Puffer Fish. In our next stop we went to a construction site in Summerhaven where dredging was occurring to build a river for the local community. The dredging was destroying part of the marine habitat as well as the bird sanctuary to the next of it. The next couple of spots were the natural Matanzas inlet and the unnatural St. Augustine inlet. It was an intensive, but informative day. 
Our GA Sarah showing us a Mangrove Spider Crab.

  Wednesday was an interesting day to say the least. Once again, we were split into two groups. My group was the first to go seining in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas Research Reserve. We seined during low tide and caught Greater Blue Crabs, Stripped Anchovies, Silversides, shrimp, and a couple of other species. The dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature was also measured in the water. Halfway through the day, the groups switched and my group was able to go shark fishing. Shark fishing was an incredible experience. I had no idea how Dr. Gelsleichter and his team were able to catch sharks in order to study them. They let out a line with two buoys and an anchor that had 50 hooks on them. The bait used was Boston Mackeral, Unfortunately we were unable to catch any sharks on the boat I was on, but thankfully the second boat did. Overall, it was one of my favorite days of the week. 
Half of the FIO group identifying and measuring organisms after a low tide seining.

At 7 in the morning on Thursday, we made a trek down to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Reserve to walk through the mangroves. The main mangroves that we saw were black mangroves. There were five quadrats with five subplots. To determine the type of vegetation we used percent coverage. After we determined the percent coverage, we examined a single subplot. My group examined quadrant 2 which was the second closest to the intracoastal waterway. We determined the diameter, width, and height of the mangroves in quadrat 2. We had to measure the diameter in millimeters by the base of the mangrove. The height of the mangrove was measure in meters. The width was measured in meters from one leaf to the farthest leaf across on the mangrove. I do not think I want to be a mangrove ecologist, but I am thankful to have had the experience. 
Measuring black mangroves at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Reserve. 

          This trip has been an amazing experience, even with only going through one week. I am learning a lot about myself and the career I want to dive into for the rest of my life. I have already learned a lot of field skills as well as the ability to use scientific equipment I have never even heard of. This trip could not have come at a better time and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be able to be on this field studies. I am ecstatic for the next four weeks ahead. 

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