Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Week 2 at FGCU Vester Marine Field Station

     FGCU Vester Marine Field Station     

 Intro Week 
 Week 1 
 Week 2 
 Week 3
 Week 4
 Week 5

After an activity-filled week in the Estero Bay, I can say whoa...this is going by fast! 

Day 1 at VMFS was led by Prof. Savarese from FGCU. He took us to Mound Key where we learned some anthropology about the Calusa people who inhabited Mound Key before they were discovered by the Spanish in the early 1500's. Click here for more information!

We then went to the Horseshoe Keys to do some core sampling! This was lots of fun! Working as a group, we were about to get an awesome sample!

I got to cut the pipe: the most important job ;)  I felt pretty BA... 

Credit: Amanda Schaaf

Credit: Amanda Schaaf

Day 2 was led by Cheryl Clark of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve who took us to Spring Creek in the Estero Bay to help clean up a failed FGCU oyster reef restoration project. The project was basically taking plastic (?!??) mesh bags, filling them with discarded oyster shells and placing them in the creek around a mangrove island to see if the reef may or may not come back to life. Needless to say, it did not and the those-who-must-not-be-named left an absolute mess.

We collected a total of 230 bags! Try to beat that Cohort 2!
We then finished up the day with some bird watching. 

Credit: Corey Corrick

Day 3 was led by Dr. Parsons of FGCU who took us to the Imperial River, around Estero Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico for some plankton trawling. We used two different sized nets to capture zooplankton and phytoplankton which we later looked at under the scope in  wet lab.

I found baby jellies in my zooplankton sample!

Credit: Corey Corrick

Day 4 was led by Dr. Douglass of FGCU who took us around Estero Bay to do some ground truthing. Our objective was to take quadrat samples of two different sizes in five different areas where there is supposed to be an abundance of seagrass. This belief was held by aerial photographs taken of the Bay 10(!) years ago. Sadly, we found that most of the seagrass had disappeared. 

Credit: Corey Corrick

However, we did find some cool juvenile fish who use the seagrass beds as a refuge, like this 
baby puffer fish.
He's so cute!

Thanks to everyone at FGCU VMFS and their interns and grad students for showing us a wonderful time!

Go Ospreys! 

Monday, 30 May 2016

Key's Marine Lab: Cushion Star Fish

A week in the Key’s was just as much fun as it sounds! From the moment we were awake on the first day we were boarding a boat to go snorkeling. The first thing I noticed was the abundance of fish because they were the most obvious, then as the coral was pointed out I began to notice the different species of coral. But what I enjoyed finding the most were the cryptic invertebrates inhabiting the sandy bottom. Each of these strange creatures living in the shallows was enticing, though the one that caught my attention the most was a rather large sea star with a thick center and arms all topped with dull projections. At the time that I saw this beautiful star all but glistening on the shallow sea floor I had very little knowledge of sea stars. When I got back from the boat trip I used one of the field guides coupled with the vast knowledge of Dr. Voss and identified this majestic creature as the cushion sea star, also called the Bahama sea star (Oreaster reticulatus). The cushion sea star is a member of the phylum Echinodermata. This is the same phylum as sea urchins, sand dollars and sea cucumbers. Animals in this phylum have radial symmetry which means that unlike animals with lateral symmetry (like humans) they have multiple points of symmetry. Sea stars also use a water vascular system coupled with their tube feet for locomotion. they force water into the tubes on the bottom of their arms and with the hundreds of feet working together they are able to move across the bottom. The cushion sea star in particular is found most commonly on sandy bottoms and amidst coral ruble. When it comes to feeding the cushion sea star does not seem very picky. They are omnivores and will extrude their stomachs onto sea grasses and algal substrates and digest it externally. They will also feed on slow moving or sessile animals, on occasion they will even feed on other star fish. The cushion star was cool to learn about and the whole experience in the Key’s was great, I’m excited to see what is next in this adventure!

Its a bird! Its a plane! No, its a Lactophrys triqueter!

Good evening ladies and gents!
Today I present to you to the wonderful, the glorious, the outstanding Lactophrys triqueter!

Adult Smooth Trunkfish 

Juvenile Smooth Trunkfish
 I know you must be thinking to yourself, "WHAT IS THIS MAGNIFICENT CREATURE?! I MUST KNOW MORE!" That's amazing because I was thinking the exact same thing when I saw it too and I would love to tell you what I have learned. This species is apart of the 'boxfish' group. What sets this particular group apart from other fancy fishes is that they are encased in a triangular shaped carapace that results in a very distinctive characteristic. They might give off the appearance of stout little tough guys, and that's because they are! Thick scales are tightly compacted to form a hard outer layer for protection against predators, as well as a toxic secretion that oozes out when they become riled up. They are generally slower, sticking closer to their home of choice which are usually coral reefs, and on occasion, grassy or sandy habitats. This individual species is known as the Smooth Trunkfish and is the only known individual in it's family that do not have spines. What attracts the eye about this little guy is not only the shape of it's body, but the unique patterns that it acquires as well. If you refer to the phenomenal photograph located just upward, you can see the bright white spots against the dark overall color, as well as the faded yellow, honeycomb pattern that flows throughout the body. This pattern is original to the Smooth Trunkfish and makes it very easy to identify!
Photo Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss 
It's main food source is composed of small invertebrates that reside on the walls and bottom of reefs, and it obtains these delicious morsels by using a jet-like propulsion of water through their abnormally large lips, which results in the invertebrate detaching from the surface they are infused to.
Their native home is the western Atlantic Ocean and since it's discovery has dispersed through the Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and even as far as Southern Brazil. Lactophrys triqueter are generally a solitary species and have not been recorded to undergo any annual migration.
For our week spent at the Keys Marine Lab, we saw many Trunkfish in mangrove creeks, patch reefs and barrier reefs. There was also one located in the touch tank at the lab that we were able to observe in our free time and it was an intriguing experience!

Photo Credit: Calli Sautter
Photo Credit: Calli Sautter
I hope you enjoyed getting to know Lactophrys triqueter just as much as I did and have a wonderful rest of the week!

Ta Ta For Now!
- Calli

Cheeca Rocks -- Morgan O'Gorman and Mackenzie Farrell

Our first site on Tuesday was the Cheeca Rocks, which is located on the oceanic side of Islamorada, Florida. Cheeca Rocks is a sanctuary protected area or S.P.A. which generally means that it is federally protected and you may not take or touch what lies within its borders.

Credit: NOAA

While visiting this amazing site, we saw several coral, invertebrate, and vertebrate species. This site had the biggest coral reef patch and had the greatest species richness we had seen thus far. There were several Orbicella annularis colonies, which were the main support system for this reef. Due to the abundance of large corals such as these, larger species of fish are able to live around them. We saw several types and sizes of grunts, snappers, parrotfish, gobies, damsels, and barracudas; these fish seemed to be more vibrant than most other sites because they evolved before the corals did so they had no need to match the corals. The visibility was approximately 30 meters, and there was little to no thermocline; which is a sharp change in water temperature. There was some dissolved organic matter and decaying vegetation, but not as many as the mangrove forests, both of which contribute to the turbidity of the water.
Some of these corals were hundreds of years old and covered in various species of tube worm. The combination of all of these large corals created a habitat for various fish and invertebrates, which held such surprises for all of us! It was our first sighting of Southern stingray, great barracuda, and angelfish (pictured right).
We greatly enjoyed this site and would definitely recommend it to others, just remember to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but bubbles! Thank you to everyone who made this possible and for an amazing week and a special thanks to Keys Marine Laboratory, Dr. Joshua Voss, and Dr. Dennis Hanisak for taking us on and showing us around! We hope to see you all again! Morgan O'Gorman and Mackenzie Farrell.

The Midnight Parrotfish

This past week was spent at the Keys Marine Lab (KML) and was such a blast! Everyday was spent exploring a new environment and learning about its inhabitants. One such creature was the Midnight Parrotfish, which I found particularly interesting because parrotfish are commonly known for their variety of colors; however, the Midnight Parrotfish is mostly one or two colors.

When snorkeling off of Cheeca Rocks and Looe Key we first spotted Scarus coelestinus. Though I have only witnessed this species in the keys, it can be found in marine seaward reefs from Bermuda to Venezuela. The Midnight Parrotfish generally has a blue-green beak and a blue body with black patches that grow as the fish ages. Adult male and unsexed Midnight Parrotfish are known to be 77.0 cm in length and almost completely black in color. Due to their unusually large size, they are often targeted by fishermen and are known for being the third largest species of Parrotfish in the in the Caribbean. They generally school and are known to associate with various surgeon fish, following them to scrape algae off of dead corals and rocky substrates. Unlike other Parrotfish, for example the Rainbow Parrotfish, the Midnight Parrotfish are not known consumers of both algae and corals. These fish are a diurnal species, meaning they are active during the day, and will create a mucus ‘cocoon’ at night as a form of predatory protection.  One of the major threats to the Midnight Parrotfish is overfishing; though there is insufficient data on the amount of Midnight Parrotfish that remain in the wild, it is known that they are a larger species and sought out by fishermen. These fish are extremely important because of their unique diet, they allow for corals to attach and colonize without predation concerns from Midnight Parrotfish. 

Though I only saw this beautiful fish a handful of times, I hope to return to the Florida Keys and more closely observe its behavior. Thank you to all at the Keys Marine Lab for taking us in and taking us out on some truly incredible trips around the Florida Keys!  
Credit: Dr. Joshua Voss

Credit: Joshua Voss

Banded Butterfly (Chaetodon striatus)

Banded Butterflyfish

During our many diving excursions, we encountered a lot of different types of butterfly. My favorite was the Banded Butterly (Chaetodon striatus) that is periodically seen in some of the earlier sites in the week. This fish sports vertical black bands throughout its’ entire body. This type of butterflyfish is an easy going and timid reef fish species. The deep black bands are often complemented with light shades of yellow depending on their age. The all have a typical discus body shape with a small mouth used for girding small invertebrates and soft coral tissues, but juveniles have a different look to them. The juveniles display a black ring near the dorsal fin, and their overall coloration has a much yellower hue.

Banded butterflies have been observed to feed in a variety of behaviors: munching on the reef, catching tiny plankton, and even partaking in the "cleaning stations" that happen under the sea. Even with fish that are otherwise predatory to the banded butterfly.The Banded Butterflyfish aren't currently at risk on being put on the endangered list. 

They are commonly found and are home to the Western Atlantic Ocean, all the way up to the Gulf of Mexico. They can grow up to about 6in in length with maturity being about 5 inches. They are definitely a great compliment to all the amazing organisms we encountered during our week at the Keys Marine Lab.

Week 2: FGCU Vester Marine Field Station

Week 2 was another field intensive week. The week started off by visiting Mound Key, and archeological site where the ancient Calusa native americans created the islands by depositing shell, pottery and bone fragments that raised 30 feet above the water's surface. After visiting Mound Key we took a core sample from the Horseshoe Keys with Dr. Savarese . This was the first time I had ever done a core and it was so interesting to see the history within the core sample, which was approximately 4,000 years old. 
Taking a core sample. 
Our first core!! 

Inside the core sample.  
Day two was a look into what the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve administration does, which included cleaning up an oyster restoration project that didn't take and learning about the rookeries in the bay and how they take population estimates. Cleaning up the old oyster project was like a scavenger hunt. The water was so clouded with silt that it made it impossible to see and you had to blindly feel around with your feet for the bags containing oyster shells. We ended up collecting over 200 bags!!
MK, Sydney, and I with our catches. 

Laura and I with a full bag. 
Wednesday was the plankton day with Dr. Parsons. We started way up the Imperial river to and took plankton trawl samples periodically in the estuary on our way out to the Gulf of Mexico. After a long morning on the boat we went back to the lab and counted the different organisms found at each site, we then compared the sites by calculating QS values.

Our last day in the field was spent measuring seagrass coverage and diversity in the Estero estuary with Dr. Douglass. We used quadrats and a Quadzilla to estimate density by quantifying the seagrass fell in out 1 meter squares. The very turbid water again made it difficult to see, I ended up have to get inches away from quadrat just to see anything. 

Trying not to lose my booties

Photo Credit: Corey  Corrick

Vester Marine Lab, FGCU (UNF Cohort)

With the completion of the week at the Vester Marine Laboratory at Florida Gulf Coast University, everyone in our cohort is reviewing what activities were performed this week and reflecting on what they have learned. Everyone has been writing excellent articles, reading them would give readers a good understanding of how important and exciting this program is.

I want to focus the article I write for this week on the other lessons we learned, concerning what is affecting the ecosystems around Vester and what could be done to monitor it.

The main area of focus for Vester Marine Lab, or rather the area that is in immediate proximity to the lab, is Estero Bay. Estero Bay is a large estuary that takes up most of the coastline area of Bonita Springs, Florida, where the Vester Marine Lab is located. The habitats of Estero Bay consist of seagrass beds, algal beds, mangrove forests, mudflats, and oyster reefs. Each of these habitats work together to form a healthy estuarine ecosystem. Even in the 1960's, before the need to protect natural resources became nationally recognized, the residents of the Estero Bay area at this time refused to allow developers to drain the bay for commercial uses. They recognized that the seagrass beds were the main habitat of the juvenile fish whose adult counterparts are a major staple of the fishing industry. However, the interconnected relationship of the different habitats means that a great number of factors influenced by humans and human development affect the ecosystem of Estero Bay.

The watershed of Estero Bay (the area for which water from land drains into a body of water) consists of most of the southern portion of Lee County, and it also extends into neighboring counties. As such, its main sources of freshwater are runoff from the developed areas of Lee County, delivered either by a network of small rivers, or by culverts and storm drains. 

Runoff from developed areas usually has excess levels of nutrients, which can affect the health of the ecosystems in various ways:
  • Phytoplankton and algae are the first organisms to take up nutrients. Some species of these organisms produce toxic byproducts.
  • Seagrasses grow better when nutrients are slowly introduced. Macroalgae (large algae, look like plants) do not directly compete with seagrasses for space, but an expansion of the surface area they cover indicates that the microalgae (microscopic) population has increased. Both microalgae and phytoplankton compete with seagrasses for light, and are more likely to absorb it since they sit at the water's surface, or on the surface of seagrass blades.
  • Organisms that grow on plants without taking nutrients from the plant or eating the plant are known as epiphytes. Microalgae and other organisms acting as epiphytes on seagrass blades block most of the light that seagrass need to absorb to survive.
  • Epiphytes are normally kept in check by organisms such as sea snails or sea slugs, who graze the epiphytes off of the seagrass blades. The populations of such organisms are threatened, leading to overgrowth of epiphytes.
The presence of humans in an environment also affects the health of the ecosystem:
  • Propeller scars and strikes in seagrass or oyster beds are an issue that many environmentally conscientious people are aware of. It takes approximately ten years for a propeller scar in a seagrass bed to heal over properly in the presence of healthy seagrass. This healing process takes longer if the seagrass bed is considerably weakened. 
  • Individual seagrasses contribute to maintaining the health of the entire seagrass bed. If many of the individual plants are removed, damaged, or sickened, the seagrass bed is more likely to severely die off.
  • Watercraft stir up sediment, which reduces clarity of the water and visibility for organisms. The least dense of sediment grains could remain suspended in water for days in perfectly still conditions, but longer if the silt is stirred up again.
  • Mangrove forests are used by marine birds as colonies of nests, or rookeries. We were informed that the boat should not come any closer than 300 feet of the rookery we were observing. Some birds stand on their eggs during incubation, and could crush their eggs when fleeing from what they perceive as a threat.
  • Humans could startle the birds into temporarily abandoning their eggs and/or chicks. Incubation is not only warming the chicks, but regulating the offspring's body temperature, providing protection from the blazing sun.
These are some of the environmental factors that continuously affect the health of Estero Bay.
Learning about the factors that affect the health of even the smallest ecosystem are necessary for helping to protect the natural resources that affect the abundance of natural resources in our nation.

Week 3: KML - Atlantic Tarpon (Megalops alanticus) (Larry J. Eichel)

Atlantic Tarpon (Megalops alanticus)

          There are only two species which belong to the Family Megalopidae, Megalops alanticus (i.e., native to the Atlantic ocean) and Megalops cyprinoides (i.e., native to the Indo-Pacific ocean), hence the simple names. The Atlantic tarpon is a long, robust fish with a slightly upturned mouth, large scales, and a shiny silver appearance (i.e., some phenotypic variation is observed depending on habitat) which have a rather large range that extends from Virginia to central Brazil, along the coast west coast of Africa, and all throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. They are normally found in estuaries, shallow coastal environments, coral reef communities, and occasionally in freshwater (i.e., brackish) systems such as rivers and lakes. Tarpon are rather long lived, reaching terminal ages of 50-65 years old and can grow to be approximately eight feet and weigh up to 350 pounds. In their larval stage, they appear to be transparent, ribbon-like bodied, with fang-like teeth and are about one inch in length.
          Larval stage tarpon due not actively forage, they sequester nutrients from the surrounding sea water using integumentary absorption, early term juveniles normally graze zooplankton but may consume the occasional small insect or fish, late term juveniles mainly feed on insects, crabs, shrimp, and fish in estuarine and other brackish environments, whereas, adults feed nocturnally on midwater prey. They have relatively few natural predators and juveniles generally are at higher risk of being predated upon by many sea and shore birds, whereas, the adults are predated on by crocodiles, alligators, sharks, and the occasional marine mammal. Although, their largest threat appears to be humans (i.e., overfishing) due to their majestic appearance, extreme speed, strength, stamina, and fighting ability they are regarded as a popular game fish in the state of Florida known to fishermen as the "Silver King" warranted by the flash emitted from their silvery sides upon jumping or breaching out of the water. Currently, they are only fished recreationally due to their meat not being very edible and anglers can purchase permit tags if they would like to mount the fish as a trophy (i.e., taxidermy) and the IUCN Red List has them listed as Vulnerable.

Week 3: KML - Koch Key Site Characterization by Christian Fender and Larry Eichel (Larry J. Eichel)

Koch Key Site Characterization by Christian Fender and Larry Eichel
          To start off Cohort 2’s snorkeling at the Keys Marine Lab, we have Koch Key. Unique from the rest of the sites we visited this trip, Koch Key had a large amount of 3D structure as it was in fact an island composed of red mangroves on the outside ring and black mangroves on the inside. These mangroves trap sediment with their prop roots (i.e., reds) and pneumatophores (i.e., blacks) to hold the island together against the effects of wave action and tide changes. The roots of the mangroves also provide a habitat for fish that would not normally be found in such shallow water. There was a large amount of variation in depth depending on where in the Key we were. In general, there was a lot of seagrass (i.e., mix of turtle grass and manatee grass) around the island itself so the water was effectively about 4-5 feet deep. This grass was covered in a fine, silty sediment with a few hydroids we made sure to steer clear of. We saw a lot of smaller schooling fish like silversides in this area as well as a few needlefish.                                                                                                                    
          Leading to the island itself and passing through a small portion of the island was a deeper channel devoid of the seagrass that lined it. This channel was several feet deeper, and though visibility was only 5-6 feet and we couldn’t quite see the bottom, several species of larger fish (e.g., great barracuda, schoolmaster and grey snapper, angelfish, needlefish, sergeant majors, anchovy, snooks, porkfish, yellowfin mojarra, and pufferfish) could be found in the channel and where it met the mangrove’s roots. As far as invertebrates, there were many orange, purple, and blue sponges attached to the subtidal portion of the mangroves roots as well as some barnacles and oysters. Sea slugs, ragged sea hares, several spiny lobster, and various crabs were found between the grasses edge and the beginning of the mangroves. Two coral species (i.e., Solenastrea hyades and Siderastrea radians) and two anemones (i.e., Aiptasia and Condalactus) were also recorded.
A comprehensive, yet not exhaustive list of the species observed at Koch Key is listed below:
Aquatic Plants (i.e., mangroves and seagrasses)
  • Rhizophora mangle
  • Avicennia germinans
  • Thalassia testudinum
  • Syringodium filiform

Invertebrates (e.g., corals, hydrozoans, anemones, sponges, crustaceans, mollusks, etc.)
  • Milleporina alcicornis
  • Sertularella speciosa
  • Solenastrea hyades
  • Siderastrea radians
  • Aiptasia spp.
  • Condalactus spp.
  • Elysia spp.
  • Bursatella leachii
  • Panulirus argus
  • Portunus pelagicus
  • Uca spp.
  • Libinia emarginata
  • Haliclona spp.
  • Aplysina spp.

  • Menidia menidia
  • Strongylura marina
  • Sphyraena barracuda
  • Lutjanus apodus
  • Lutjanus griseus
  • Holocanthus spp.
  • Abudefduf saxatilis
  • Centropomus undecimalis
  • Anisotremus virginicus
  • Gerres cinereus
  • Diodon spp.