For our week at the University of West Florida, our focus was on the relationship between forest habitats in the watershed and the bays that the watershed lead to.
We started in the forest, learning about best water management practices. We learned how the creeks formed, and how the plants of the forest affect the water quality of the creeks they feed in to. One important aspect of this was learning that the long pine forests need to be set fire to every two or three years in order to maintain the health of the forest communities.
We toured the EPA laboratory, leaning about the history of the facility and the research they are currently working on. They have specialized machines for adding water dosed with chemicals for experiments to individual tanks.
We spent a majority of the third day taking surveys of a sandbar beach to study its ability to recover from major storms. There were five pre-set transects that we were taking measurements of. We had various methods for measuring a variety of parameters, including sieves to measure ratios of different grain sizes, an engineer's level to measure the changes in slope and elevation, and quadrats to measure the percent cover of dune vegetation. Studying the sandbar is important because of the hotel and condominium construction occurring on the same island, which threatens to increase the erosion of the island. The original transects were set up decades ago, and the university has started monthly surveys along the same coordinates as of these recent years.
Our last activity of the week was to study the dune lakes of Pensacola. Dune lakes are unique in that they sit on top of sandy soil without draining out. The dune lakes contain both areas of brackish water and highly saline water, as water from the Gulf of Mexico seeps into the lakes from the soil beneath the lakes. The lakes are able to become habitats for various saltwater organisms, including blue crabs, pin fish, and a unique variety of seagrass.