Monday, 20 June 2016

Week 7: UWF Wetland Ecology and Watershed Impacts (Larry J. Eichel)

Good Evening Everyone,

A photo of the group after we surveyed water quality parameters at one of
Walton County's pristine dune lakes.

          This past week was a great adventure that I will never forget, we observed the coastal uplands and their associated impacts on watersheds. Day 1, we hiked through the Blackwater River State Forest which has a gorgeous long leaf pine (i.e., Pinus palustris) population and learned how to determine whether a specified area is a wetland based on the vegetation that is present. Additionally we got to see five species of carnivorous plants species that are native to Florida which are the Yellow Top pitcher plant, Red Top pitcher plant, White Top pitcher plant, Parrot pitcher plant, and the Pink sundew. Then we examined Carpenter Creek (i.e., a unhealthy system) which was historically rather important to the Pensacola area but has fallen victim to pollution, erosion, and sedimentation and compared it to Juniper Creek (i.e., a healthy system) to see the effects of urbanization on a creek which contributes to the watershed. Day 2, we were assisting in fingerprinting coastal, nearshore submerged groundwater discharge (i.e., SGD) sites by collecting Radon 220 which is a rather stable isotope with a natural decay cycle of 55 seconds with a RAD7 (i.e., an electronic radon detector). Then we visited the Southeast Regional Environmental Protection Agency (i.e., EPA) lab to see the experimental work there currently performing which included herbicide loads on amphibians, the effects and survival rates of coral exposed to highly acidic waters and increased temperatures. We also had a chance to tour their biotechnology/bioinformatics lab and were shown the many different sensors, sondes, and cameras that are deployed long term (i.e., 3 to 6 months) in order to actively monitor water quality parameters. Day 3, we spent the day at a nice section of Gulf Islands National Seashore doing a variety of tests like water quality, measuring the light intensity in the water using a Photosynthetically Active Radiation (i.e., PAR) meter, taking seagrass core samples to determine above and below ground densities, and performing transect/quadrat sampling to determine both total and basal coverage. Then we enjoyed some pizza while going over the statistical trends of our data. Day 4, we went out to a parcel of land owned by UWF that is located on Santa Rosa Barrier Island and we observed current speeds and determined where a rip current was located using a grapefruit, then we did transect/quadrat sampling of the dune vegetation (e.g., Sea Oats, Bitter Panicum, etc.), and finally we learned how use a Engineer's surveying level. Day 5, we went to the coastal dune lakes located in Walton County and observed the unique ecology as well as conducted water quality parameters to determine the thermocline. Additionally, we were guided through the forest by a Florida State Park Ranger who explained the pyrogenicity of long leaf pine forests and the importance of maintaining prescribed burning as well as identifying all the plants found in the coastal uplands.
A photo of Yellow and Red Top pitcher plants that were spotted in the wetlands
of Blackwater River State Forest.

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