Sunday, 19 June 2016

What a Journey

What a Journey   

  This trip has been a whirlwind of new experiences for me. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. In the Keys, I was able to snorkel in amazing reefs like I have never seen before. I was taught to identify the organisms present by their scientific names and realize their significance in the environment. I learned that I am strong enough to swim in “raging” currents and keep calm in the presence of intimidating sharks and barracudas.
     At FGCU’s Vester Marine Lab, I gained a holistic perspective of the Estero Bay, including geology, oysters, birds, plankton, and seagrass. I learned that each part of an ecosystem is connected to all of the others and that the loss of one can throw the ecosystem out of balance. For example, oyster reefs lead to the formation of land and mangrove islands, which provide habitat for nesting birds. This week I learned how to sample with quadrats and also gained an appreciation for plankton and the importance they play in the base of the food web.
     During my week at USFSP I learned all about the open ocean, which is a topic I previously knew little about. We focused on topics such as biodiversity, evolution, deep sea habitats, and sea turtles. One of the coolest habitats I learned about was the brine pools, which are areas of supersaturated saltwater that fall out of solution and form what appear to be underwater lakes. As bizarre as they may seem, they provide a habitat for abundant marine life. On the Weatherbird II I got to examine open ocean fish, sponges, echinoderms, arthropods, and more firsthand. I learned that I am capable of handling large, expensive machinery such as an otter trawl and can be a part of a research ship’s crew. I also realized that I am a thorough data taker and can present data clearly in graphic form.
     At UWF I tracked water starting in the uplands and followed it all the way down into the Gulf of Mexico. I learned about the importance of healthy upland forests and creeks and the factors that distinguish them from areas with human influence. An aspect of the ocean that I never realized until now is that groundwater flows through the soil and into the ocean, and can actually mix in with it and be detected by radioactive isotopes of radon. The most enjoyable activity of the week was studying beach geomorphology, which included mapping both the elevation and vegetation of the landscape. I got to throw a grapefruit into the water and time how long it took to float a standard distance, which can be used to calculate the velocity of water flow. Throughout that day I learned that science isn’t always hard work, but can be fun work too.
   The final week at UNF allowed me to view Jacksonville from a whole new perspective. I took a cruise of the St. John’s River, and got to see what the city looked like from the river, instead of around or above it. I learned to pay closer attention to my surroundings and see the impacts of everyday human development on local waterways. On the 24 hour study in the GTMNERR, I learned how to operate a seine net, identify local organisms by their scientific names, and run more advanced water quality tests. I also slept in a hammock for the first time, which was really comfortable. Throughout that experience I found that I can stay up during obscure hours of the night while maintaining a positive attitude and working efficiently with my team. During the beaches tour I learned a lot about the importance of sand dunes as habitats and protectors of geology. Beaches are highly dynamic ecosystems, and the natural flow of sand determines land formation and inlet position. Human development along the beach interrupts the landscape, vegetation, water and sand flow, and fauna, and cannot compensate for the constant changing of the environment. This week I gained a deeper understanding of the negative impact that humans have on the beaches and coast, and have a passion for the preservation of these delicate ecosystems. 
     Overall this trip has been an amazing experience. I have seen so many ecosystems around Florida, and each one is special. This class has pushed me to work harder both physically and mentally in order to keep up and learn the material. I also have an understanding of what working in the field is really like. Now I know that I am passionate about working to preserve and restore what natural environments are left. I will miss this experience and the wonderful people that I have met along the way. 

*photos courtesy of Corey Corrick

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