Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Adventures Begin at UNF

The first week of our FIO Field Studies in Marine Sciences course was located at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. We hit the ground rolling with a meeting Sunday, where guest instructor Clarissa King gave us a crash course lecture on the impacts of sound on the local dolphin population residing in the St. Johns River before our Monday excursion. We then ended the day with a swim test and snorkel lessons before our long but fun week of adventures started.

Van Dorn was utilized to take water
 samples at different measurements
Monday brought us into the heart of the St. Johns River, where we were able to listen to the soundscape of the river with the help of a hydrophone. It was amazing to hear what dolphins and other marine organisms must hear daily. I was amazed by how loud port noises, such as the loading and unloading of cargo, could be. The continuous sound of the snapping shrimp was astonishing as well. Our journey down river also consisted of water quality analysis at the four quadrat sites we stopped at. It was exciting to finally get a chance to handle instruments that are common in the field, such as a YSI. Probes and sensors such as a YSI and fluorometer are expensive equipment you don’t get to handle in regular class settings, so this hands on experience with real field equipment was highly instructive. 

Male Lesser Blue Crab
(Callinectes similis)
Tuesday took us all over different beaches, barrier islands, and inlets. Although it was a long day of traveling and exploring different habitats, it was interesting to see and learn about sandy and rocky intertidal habitats. I had never seen coquina rock before, and it was interesting to learn that they had been formed from the shells of dead coquina clams when sea levels were higher. My favorite part of the day had to be the sheer amount of crabs we were able to catch, which are one of my favorite organisms. These crabs included both the lesser and greater blue crab, along with a type of stone crab, a mangrove crab, and a mottled shore crab.

Fine clip of male Scalloped
 Hammerhead pup
On Wednesday we were joined by Dr. Gelsleichter and some of his shark TLO students to learn about the local sharks in the Jacksonville area, with primary focus on Pine Island in the Tolomato River. After learning about how this area is thought to be a nursery ground for scalloped hammerhead sharks, it was amazing to catch a male scalloped hammerhead pup on the first line of the day. Even better, since these sharks are so sensitive to catch stress, it was great to see it swim away after some quick measurements and a fin clip was taken. Half of the day was also spent seining for possible prey species of the sharks in the area. I never realized how many fish one could catch in a seine net till we had to count out our entire fish assemblages. The one done at high tide I was a part of included over 200 herring and over 200 stripped anchovy, most likely due to us capturing a school of these fish in our net.

Mangrove measurements
being taken in sub-plot
Our last field day involved an early trip to the GTM  NERR to help gather data for their mangrove monitoring project. After trudging through the vegetation and the marsh we made our way to the transect line they had set up for their long-term monitoring project.  It was tiring work measuring all the mangrove shoots and sentinel trees, but it was amazing to see the drastic shift between salt marsh dominated vegetation to black mangrove dominated vegetation. The closer we moved towards the Intercoastal Waterway, the denser and bigger the black mangroves became. The last quadrat was couldn’t even be found, either being washed away from a storm or being overgrown by the vegetation around it making it unfindable.

All in all, it was a great start to our five week field adventure, and I can’t wait for more! Follow us along for our next stop in the keys to learn more about mangroves, coral, and algae. Hopefully my sunburnt free streak continues along with our exciting new adventures learning about field work around Florida. 

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