Sunday, 11 June 2017

Our Week at USFSP

Our week at USFSP started off with some informative lectures from Dr. Judkins as well as some friendly competitive plankton challenges. It was amusing to see what sort of “plankton” each team came up with and what scientific names they gave them. Although it was a long day full of information, it was nice learning about things outside of my wheel wagon. Out of my class experiences at UNF, I’ve never had the chance to learn about the deep sea so it was a worthwhile day for me.

Group picture on the Weatherbird II
after our tour of the ship
Unfortunately, we got hit with the bad news that we would not be going out on the Weatherbird II for our deep sea 14-hour trip. The ironic part was that it wasn’t due to the weather like we had all anticipated. Instead the death blow for the cruise came with a problem with one of the engines on the boat making it unsafe to use. All was not lost Tuesday, as we did manage to still get a tour of the ship and meet the captain and learn about the instruments they utilize on the ship. The day got even better when we found out we were heading to the aquarium for a lesson on animal behavior data collection. I had always wondered how animal behaviorists turned their qualitative data into quantitative data, and now I know. We were tasked with utilizing ethograms on three species in the aquarium with one being a bird of some kind. An ethogram is a tool in which the field observations made can be quantified for actual data analysis. Although, I wasn’t on the research vessel, it was still fun exploring and identifying the fish and coral all throughout the zoo. Those long days spent identifying fish and coral in the Keys came in handy here.

Identifying a tiny baby
Sargassum crab
On Wednesday we managed to somewhat get out and do field work between rain storms.  By that, I mean we collected plankton samples from the seawall behind the school. I learned my lesson the night before when a few of us helped collect night samples to make sure to grab a net that had a big bottle attached to it. Later that day Dr. Burghart gave us a crash course in plankton counting and identification, however the sheer quantity of plankton still left a few of us overwhelmed. The sheer number of copepods in the samples was also surprising, but honestly this was one of my favorite activities. I’m always left surprised by how complex looking microscopic creatures can appear in their morphology. Although the plankton fun didn’t continue all day, the identification fun did. Dr. Judkins pulled out some specimens from former deep sea cruises for us, which was amazing as we were still able to experience the unique life that exists deep under the surface even if we weren’t able to collect it.

Beautiful day for kayaking
We finally got into the field on Thursday with some kayaking at Weedon Island Preserve. This was by far my favorite day due to the sheer natural beauty of the mangrove tunnels we kayaked down. If I lived here, this would be where I spent most of my time hands down. Now my opinion may or may not be skewed due to the mangrove crabs the covered each mangrove limb and prop root. Along with the beauty came the amusement of watching all the kayak pile ups behind us in the tunnel.

Our wrap up Friday consisted of us finishing up our group presentations that we had been working on utilizing data from previous years and an exam. It was helpful having the presentations ripped apart with constructive criticism so we could learn what not to do in future presentations. All future presentations of mine will have highly specific titles from now on, that is for sure. Overall, the week turned out to be eventful even though a huge curveball had been thrown our way with the cruise cancelation. That can only be attributed to the quick thinking from Dr. Judkins for a backup plan for the week, along with the delicious candy that started to appear in the wake of the Weatherbird II depression. 

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