Our week at FGCU flew by! A lot of crazy carpooling and early mornings to get to the Vester Marine Station from the FGCU campus. But everyday we were on or in the water then spent time in the lab working up our samples and talking about the Estero Bay’s organisms, ecology, and even a little bit of the bay's history.
Monday we geared up and drove to Vester, where we had a introductory lecture then loaded the boats. Our first trip on the water we went out to observe oyster reefs and assess their biodiversity. We collected, samples via lift nets, as well as counted all the organisms we could find. We went to multiple different reefs located throughout the bay. It was very cool to see how much of a role these oyster reefs play in estuary type environments.
Tuesday when we got to Vester we had a brief orientation then we loaded the boats. First we went to take a core. We stood on the top of an oyster reef and used a five meter aluminum tube to core into the reef. We had to keep moving the handles up and down while we were turning it. We thought getting the tube into the ground was hard but when we had to take it out we realized how wrong we were. Everyone got muddy and Ryan got sprayed with water when we had to cut the tube down. It was a lot of fun, but it was a very physically exhausting activity. Next we went out to Mound Key, a large mangrove island out in the middle of the bay, and when we got there we hiked up the shell and sediment hills to an active archeology dig. Hundreds of years ago Mound Key was the crown of the Calusa empire. We got to meet some of the grad students working on the dig and also got to see some interesting techniques and see where Marine Biology meets Marine Geography and Archeology.
Wednesday we did our soft bottom benthic organisms survey. We went out and took a 15 cm core sample, sea grass clippings, and a general observation of anything we saw crawling around on the bottom. Then it was back to the labs to identify and record all the little organisms living in the mud or clinging to the sea grasses. We also looked at the different species of sea grasses present at locations throughout the bay.
Thursday when we got to Vester we had a bit of a change of pace, instead of taking the boats we got into pairs of two and took canoes out to observe the bay's currents. We used grapefruits to measure how the water was moving. We recorded GPS coordinates for starting points and where we retrieved our grapefruits ten minutes later. I had probably the most fun trying to chase after our floating fruits in the bulky silver canoes. When we got back to the lab, unfortunately, a few of the GPS units the class was using had some technical issues and most of our data was unreliable. But we plotted the points anyway and tried to get an idea of the current flow, looking at our map and a map from a previous year's study.
Friday when we got to Vester we had a few questions answered and then took our exam. Week three at FGCU was a very physically exhausting week but I learned a lot and got to see a few different perspectives on the Estero Bay and its marine, geographical, and historical significance.