Monday, 19 June 2017

The End of the Sage: UWF

It’s sad to say it, but the last week of this exciting trip has finally come to a close. At least we were able to spend our last week as a group in the beautiful Pensacola at UWF. As a local panhandle native, it was nice to show off our gorgeous white sandy beaches.

The one location were it wasn't
raining that day
Our trip started off rocky with some unfortunate stormy weather Monday that carried through the entire week, but as always with field work, we managed to make the best of it. Storms and all, we still managed to get out in the field and learn about the local research going on at UWF. For our first day, we took a tour of the local watershed and collected water quality samples at each location. This included taking YSI recordings, light meter measurements at deep enough locations, and water samples for nutrient, chlorophyll a and TSS tests. Since it was raining we were able to see how the runoff connects the whole system, which was interesting.

A little rain won't stop us from
 learning about the local
creek system
SOn Tuesday, we set out to explore and learn about freshwater impacts by following Carpenter creek throughout the area. It was saddening to see all the damage our poorly designed infrastructure was causing the system. Comparing the data from developed and non-developed locations revealed trends in human development and poorer water quality. Hearing about how it could easily be solved with a little better planning with the help of scientists and engineers working together, though, was encouraging. I never had really given the importance of freshwater systems such as creeks a large consideration before, but I have come to have a better understanding of the vital role they play in systems after this week.

Trying to scope out fake shorebird nests
Wednesday was interesting and different as we were able study birds for the first time on our trip. We meet up with some graduate students involved in bird surveys at UWF and they helped us learn how to identify some local shoreline nesting birds. We were even able to see the endangered Least Turn, which is a small bird that utilizes the dunes for their nesting site. After trying to spot a fake egg nest in a scope and track a fake bird using telemetry, I realized just how difficult it is surveying birds. Unfortunately, our bird sightseeing was cut short by an incoming storm, but all was not lost. We waited out the storm during lunch after hearing about Radon detection of groundwater and then get back into the field with some seagrass field work. Collecting pore water here was far easier than in the mangroves back at UNF.

Utilizing the Engineer's  Level
to create visual representations of
the local beach profile
Although our last day of field work came to a wrap on Thursday, it was by far my favorite day that week. Thankfully we were able to get out in the field in-between thunderstorms and learn about geomorphology. I’ve always had an interest in dune movement over time, so it was exciting to be able to use their instruments (A-frame and engineer’s level) to map out the beach profile. Then to see those measurements utilized to create a visual representation of the beach area we sampled was exciting. I’d never even considered that as a possible field of research, so it was nice to be able to experience it with people who were obviously very passionate about their work. After we all became experts in reading elevation through the A-frame and engineer’s level, we left the field to take a tour of an EPA lab facility. With all that is going on in politics, it was reassuring to see that the scientists behind the scenes were still fighting to protect the biodiversity and life on our planet. Being able to see and learn about their projects and instruments was one of the biggest highlights of this trip.

After a long rainy week of thunderstorms and near lightning strikes, we managed to walk out alive. It’s saddening to see this journey come to an end, but I know the friendships I’ve made here won’t. I started this trip hoping to come out of it with more hands-on knowledge in the field I truly love, along with gaining support from fellow peers who share a love for all things aquatic with me. I can truly say I believe I accomplished both of these goals. Although there were some downs, as there always will be on a long journey spent with a small group, the ups far outweighed them. From pushing a boat off oyster reefs, to swimming with sharks and barracudas, to all of our hair standing straight up during a thunderstorm due to the electricity in the air, I can say this trip has been an amazing adventure I wouldn’t trade for anything. 
The last group picture


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