Our first week of the FIO research introduced us to new methods of data collections in various habitats around the Jacksonville area. Exploring these new areas really allowed for hands on experience that the classroom simply can't provide. Each day we used specific instruments, which allowed for a better understanding of what is required for careers in this field.
Our first day research involved the study of various anthropogenic sounds and how they impacted marine organisms. We used a hydrophone to detect sound waves in the water, although didn't hear any dolphins we were able to record lots of snapping shrimp and an oyster toad-fish that mimicked sound of a small trumpet . also detected boat engines going by and the loading of cargo ships along different transects. These various sounds likely made it very difficult for dolphin’s clicks and buzzes to travel to the other members of the pod. The famous YSI meter was used during our trip to measure dissolved oxygen, temperature, and salinity in different quadrants of the Saint John’s River. I got to use an instrument in which i had never seen before known as the Van Dorn sampler to collect a water samples at each site.
Tuesday was filled with facts of how high and low tides influence tidal pools in the coquina rock formations. We also observed adaptations that allow different organisms to live on a sandy beach environment, such as Ghost Crabs that burrow into wet sand to avoid desiccation and barnacles that cement themselves to the rocks to avoid high wave energy. At the Summer Haven location we got to witness firsthand how dredging effects nesting shorebirds and erosion rates on barrier island, until we were kicked out. Our next stop we observed how jetties affect sediment movement and build up on northern shorelines. Not only did we see a jettie, but also a natural coastal scrub habitat that had salt spray effects on halophyte plants such as Saw palmetto.
On the early morning of Wednesday ,which was my person favorite day, as we started out with a long boat ride down the Tolomoto River, and experienced first hand how this area provided excellent nurseries for shark pups and multiple other fish species. We used a buoy and anchor to hold the bottom line and hooked baited 50 gangion rigs to which we then attached to the rope. On our first attempt we caught a small Scalloped Hammerhead, Sphyrna lewini, which we took a dorsal fin clipping from, for DNA analysis. The second half involved seining at high tide, catching an abundant amount on anchovies, herring, and few other fish species all in one trip. As a group, we measured their maximum standard length to identify juvenile from adult. It was quite interesting to see the differences temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen between high and low tides while using the YSI meter. Seeing the differences in fish species caught and how crabs use low tide to catch prey, was something that I had never correlated until this research trip.
Thursday we went to the GTMNERR black mangrove salt marsh which turned out to be the most labor intensive day of the week. After walking through thick treacherous mud, we split into teams of 3 and took measurements at different plots and subplots. Each team measured percent coverage, diameter, and height of tagged mangroves as well as estimating species dominance of batis, sarc, and spartina plants at different plots . Then the real fun began, as hiked through the thick batis and even spotted one red mangrove along the way. Samples of pore water were taken during the last half of the day with a syringe in different subplots. By taking these samples, we were able to determine how salinity fluctuates between the different plots. Even though the 5th plot was never located, the day was still eventful as well as productive.
The first week was an overall success with many more great opportunities to come. Professor Kelly Smith was a ball full of energy in which you can't help but enjoy. Next week we will be traveling to the Florida Keys to study coral reefs with Dr. Ross where we will be able to assist in ongoing coral research. The first week at the University of North Florida was nothing shy of exciting as we all prepare for avlong upcoming week of snorkeling in the beautiful Florida Keys!