Monday, 20 June 2016

TTFN

I want to start off my not so goodbye post by saying that I went into this trip with high expectations, but yet very few ideas on what to actually expect. Professionally and scientifically, I became familiar and eventually comfortable with crucial scientific understanding on how marine ecosystems function. I performed research with 14 different instruments, some of which we used in multiple locations (i.e YSI) and another 12 that were introduced and were instructed on how to use. That's an outstanding total of 26 instruments that I can now say I am familiar with. I was introduced to almost 7 different marine habitats that are home to an extensive variety of marine species. Some specific and some not so specific. I met some incredible instructors and graduate students that, without ever meeting, I would still be completely clueless as to how the real world of research actually functions. I got to snorkel with knowledgeable and experienced instructors through every type of coral reef in the Florida Keys. I traveled to 5 different cities in 5 weeks and still kicked booty every step of the way because I found out with every day that passed, my passion become stronger and stronger for my love of the water. What other undergraduate in a Marine Biology major can say that?! And I can tell you, the ones that  can say that are some of the best and most outstanding individuals I have ever met. These are things that you can never learn through a textbook, but only by getting out there and doing it yourself and making a difference along the way. This journey, to say the least, was an experience that I will never forget for as long as I live. When I graduate and begin my own research in the field, I will always remember the first time I used a secchi dish, a core sampler and a siene net and recall back to the time I was on my FIO trip. I will remember how much I laughed with everyone while doing it and how a smile was always on my face the entire time. This unique and one of a kind experience is something that cannot be truly expressed through words, but only through memories. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible, and thank you to my new nerd family who made this trip memorable.



Runoff (UWF)

Hola everyone!
Our last week at the University of West Florida was one of the most well rounded and far traveled part of the trip. On this location we focused on watersheds and the impacts of upload runoff, Thallasia Testudinum and Halodule Wrightii sea grass beds, and the very unique dune lake located in Walton County. On our first day we traveled through the Blackwater River State Park and explored, as well as discussed, some controlled burning areas, as well as areas that were burnt from wildfire. We also saw wetlands areas that hosted home to many different species of plants, including the carnivorous pitcher plants that very fascinating in themselves. We also discussed the importance of commercialization and the affect they have on creeks, and saw the differences of healthy and unhealthy examples of them. Our second day we spent our time helping a graduate student with her research project on submerged groundwater discharge on Scenic Bluffs.
Her goal was to map the groundwater input by used a RAD7 to locate radon and thorans that contain a half life of 55 seconds, which made detection easier that longer half lives.  We finished our day with a tour through the Environmental Protection Agency and witnessed current research projects that were dealing with freshwater species, amphibians, and coral tolerability with sediment mixing and ocean acidification. This was honestly my favorite part of the entire trip because I was potentially introduced to my internship for next summer and I could not be more excited to start that next chapter! Our third day we focused on sampling sea grass beds at the Gulf Islands National Seashore with another graduate student and Barbara, a volunteer that spent time working on sea grass habitats and research. Despite thunderous conditions, our group bared through and performed water quality, sediment coring and quadrant monitoring. It was incredible to see the life that resided in this habitat and how everything seemed to piece together to make the other one work. It was great to see these beds in somewhat good shape and also how to properly monitor their progress.
Our forth day was pretty interesting, and dare I say fun.
We went to a selected portion of Pensacola Beach that was being used for research on layout and dune preservation over long periods of time. This seems to be the most important and relevant research for the beach lovers because this research dictates the amount of time a beach coastline expands and reduces from storms and other natural occurrences over decades. We took data that was currently used for the project, ranging from horizontal measuring with a stadiorod, quadrant sampling concerning vegetation growth on the dunes and current mobility and timing with a grapefruit. As well as being useful and learning more scientific instruments, it was just as much a great day on a beautiful beach.
Out last day was spent in canoes and kayaks on the uniquely made dune lakes located in Walton County, about an hour and half east of Pensacola. We walked for about 45 minutes, discussing the plants that grew there (long leaf pine, Palmetta, etc) and their importance in wetland ecology until arriving at an insert into the dune lake. There we suited up and hopped in and explored, as well sampled the waters of this distinctive and incredible habitat. These lakes are very rare and it was a special occasion to have the opportunity to explore one in a lifetime. All in all this week was a great last week and I'm glad to have spent it in the place I call home.

There's a lot left to explore

Wow, what an amazing, exhausting, incredible, and one in a life-time opportunity experiences this has been. I never knew signing up what I would be in store for. I met some amazing people, and made some news that I think I will have for a very long time. Not only did this open my eyes about the different directions you can take Marine Biology, but it fueled my drive to be one even more. We were taken to places, and used equipment that I might not ever see again. The memories and learning experiences we were exposed to are something that I won't ever forget.  The course showed me just how easy it is to get involved, and how many opportunities are out there right at your finger tips. After this course ended, I've already applied for internships and volunteer work that would't have been possible if I hadn't taken this course. I would do it all over again if I could, and highly recommend any student with the passion to be in the ocean to take this course. I can't wait to see how our little marine biology family ends up in the near future.




UWF Final Week

On our final week, we spent our time learning about the effects fresh environments can have on the marine estuaries. We hiked through a long leaf pine national forrest to explore run off areas and pitcher plant areas. Then we took a look at the qualifications that make a river healthy and productive. We also did a sea grass sampling along the coast of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Of course the rain followed us every the entire week, so that was a little challenging to avoid. We had the opportunity to explore the EPA lab down in gulf breeze. The lab was a lot of fun to see all the equipment they deploy, and what it all does. My favorite part was seeing all the test they are doing with various animals. They have fresh water and saltwater fish, as well as different species of amphibians. We got to look at all the different ways they are experimenting with corals like, ocean acidification and pH alterations. This was definitely the most tiresome of all the weeks with the amount of hiking and physical activities done to accomplish each task.

A whole oil change later!

3742.5 miles later the Marine Field Studies Trip I looked forward to all semester has come to an end. Deciding to attend this class was one of the best decisions I have made in my college career. Starting out a a freshman I know I had an interest in science but I was not sure exactly what it was I wanted to do. One of the biggest reasons I attended this course was because I hoped I could find my niche in science and I did! I loved working with the corals and the inverts. Being able to have a hands on learning experience made college more exciting. It was not just learning about the organisms in the book but being able to observe them in their natural environment and interact with them that made this trip a dream!
Being able to work with all the different professors and scientists were an amazing experience. We are able to hear how everyone found their passion in science and how they got to where they were today. We were also able to build relationships with them and learn about grad school opportunities.
I would highly recommend this class to anyone who is thinking about starting a career in the Marine Science/Biology field. You get credit for having fun in the sun and building new relationships with peers and possible professors.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible!








The Last Week

How is it the last week already? It seemed like just the other day I drove to UWF for the introductory week. This week covered wetland ecology and watershed impacts looking at coastal uplands. Monday we took a hike through the Blackwater River State Forest which was home to the long leaf pine. We learned about the different vegetation and how fire plays an important role in the ecosystem. Without the affects of fire, the vegetation would become to dense and would choke itself out. We were also able to see the different types of carnivorous plants that live here, the White Top pitcher plant, Red Top pitcher plant, Yellow Top pitcher plant, Parrot pitcher plant and the Pink Sundew. We also evaluated different creeks and determined how healthy they were. We looked at Juniper Creek, which was healthy and Carpenter Creek, which was unhealthy.

Tuesday we looked for coastal groundwater discharge using a RAD7, radon detector. We specifically scanned for Radon 220 due to its short half life, 55 seconds. A shorter half life makes it easier to detect were a seep is. Later that day we took a tour of the EPA lab, Environmental Protection Agency and learned about there current experiments on fish, amphibians and coral. We also looked at the different types of technology they use in the field to collect data.
Wednesday helped a grad student in her studies by taking seagrass, water, and light data. We used quadrants to observe the seagrass cover and also took core samples of them. We used a PAR to see how much light penetrates the water at different depths. We met back up later on campus to look at the trends of our data.
Thursday we went to the beach! We used a high tech and expensive piece of equipment, a grapefruit, to determine how strong the currents were that ran along the coast. Pensacola is one of the most dangerous beaches to visit due to their strong rip currents that are present almost always. We also looked that the vegetation that lives on the sand dunes.
Friday we took a trip to coastal dune lakes in Walton County, about an hour and a half car ride from campus. We used canoes and kayaks to observe the ecology and water quality around the water.

The Final Blog

At the end of our final week, I didn't realize how much I bonded with this group. I look at the first group picture we took at UWF, when I was still learning everyone's name, and now I see how I have made so many new friends. This course has taught me a lot about myself and what I want to do with my career. I am proud to say that I went into this marine program because I have learned skills that I feel most people don't use until graduate school.


It would be strange to think of where I would be without this marine course. If I hadn't, I believe I would still be questioning what I would want to do with my career path. Although, I have also learned that the path you set out for yourself is not always the path you will end up taking. So for now, I will continue to pursue my interests and see where they lead me. 


Thank you all so much for this opportunity and for giving me a chance to bond with an incredible group of people.