Today we have a special guest blog from our summer intern Holly Keepers, reflecting on her summer here at Whitney Laboratories
Author: Holly Keepers
I feel like just yesterday I was writing a hello message to you all. And yet it's already my last day here! I’ve been studying hermit crab behavior and how they are affected by noise pollution. Doing this experiment meant I needed hermit crabs… A LOT of hermit crabs. In total, I collected about 120 crabs from the shoreline in two days. I kept all of these crabs in two holding tanks in the lab. Sadly, a lot of them ended up dying. I feel like a failed parent. I think I’ll have to hold off on having ACTUAL kids for a looong time considering how many of my “fake babies” died this summer….
Anywho, after I was finished with my experiments, I let them all go back into the sea. I secretly wonder how the other hermit crab’s reactions will be when they are brought back into the wild. They will probably be telling their hermit crab friends I GOT TAKEN BY ALIENS …. And no one will believe them :( Poor guys…. Also how quickly will they change their shells since I painted on them?? Someone who works here has told me she will email and message me whenever she happens to find a labeled hermit on the beach in the future. Maybe I’ll have updates for you later, even after I stop reporting to Julie? Future-vision…. (The line of labeled hermit crabs being released back into the wild! Good luck little guys!)
Anyway, it's been an amazing summer. This is my first time working as a real intern and a scientist! I loved everything I did and I learned a lot. Namely, things don’t always go as planned, and although that may be frustrating, sometimes it all works out for the better. SCIENCE MOSTLY MEANS PERSEVERING. Things go wrong ALL THE TIME. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to have this internship in the first place; I was supposed to be placed in Raleigh, NC. Things fell through and VIOLA! I’m suddenly in the car on the way to FLORIDA?? It's absolutely crazy.
I’m really happy I had this summer to experience what it actually means to be a “scientist”. PLUS most of the people I worked with were women?? That’s super awesome.
I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot, but I can’t help it. Trying to condense my feelings about the summer into a short blog post is really really hard. All I can say is if you have an opportunity to work at the Whitney Lab for Marine Sciences…. DO IT. You won’t regret it.
Author: Julie Walker (with guest appearances from the Osborne Lab interns)
Its field season here at the Whitney Lab, which means it is also Intern season! This year the Osborne lab has been bless with 7 bundles of joy! We are hosting 2 elementary school teachers from the Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers (MRET) and 5 interns from the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. They have been hard at work helping to conduct research, learning, and hopefully having a lot of fun!
Meet the MRET interns...
Hi there! My name is Dekoya and I am a 3rd grade teacher from Orlando, FL currently living in Gainesville, FL. I teach at Joseph Williams Elementary and this summer I had the opportunity to work in UF’s MRET program which is for K-5 teachers to bolster student interest and enthusiasm for STEM fields, and what better way than getting hands-on field experience! This awesome yet intense experience of getting to work with a graduate student at the University of Florida’s Whitney Lab to help with their research was nothing short of amazing. Utmost respect to those who go out in the field, through muddy, swamp and just get in there! While there were long hot days, for research purposes it was well worth it. I am excited to see how all our hard work helps with Julie’s project and her end result.
I am a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and recently received a Master's degree in Elementary Education from the University of Florida, during the school year I teach third grade in Gainesville. In my free time I enjoy cycling, travel, immersing itself in cold spring water, and artistic pursuits. I am participating in the MRET program to gain an understanding of lab practices and field work experience and am going on to use this knowledge to more effectively engage students in authentic STEM tasks.
Want more info about the Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers (MRET)? Check out their website https://www.cpet.ufl.edu/teachers/mret/
And now the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars...
My name is Kristina Rodriguez and I am currently a junior at the University of Florida double majoring in Environmental Science and political science. Born and raised on Miami Beach, protecting marine and coastal ecosystems has become my passion. Interning for Julie Walker on her research, to study the effects of mangrove migration into salt marshes habitats on faunal assemblages, I can’t wait for the summer that’s ahead! Striving to make an impact every chance possible, by becoming President of the Surfrider Foundations chapter at UF, a grassroots organization that strives for marine and coastal protection, to conducting dune restoration and sea turtle rehabilitation in Miami, I love protecting our oceans. I plan to pursue graduate school to specialize in environmental policy. I am also highly interested in sea turtle rehabilitation and would love to help out and volunteer here when I have free time/ on the weekend!
My name is Holly, I am currently a junior majoring in Conservation Biology with an Applied Ecology minor at NC State. I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia and chose to attend NC State due to the Zoology program, but then later changed her major to Conservation Biology. I enjoy studying the wildlife aspect of conservation biology the most, and I hope to one day work for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service! In my spare time I like to read comics, make pottery, and of course watch Netflix. I am also hoping to learn how to surf while she is working in Florida.
My name is Desiree Smith and I attend the University of Florida. I am majoring in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. I am apart of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program. This summer I will be interning with Julie Walker assisting her as she completes her research on mangrove habitats in Florida. I want to see how predator and prey interactions vary in the three different habitats (Red mangrove, Black mangrove and smooth cord grass). As the climate changes Mangroves are shifting their habitat ranges so this research can help show how the animals are adapting to these environments. For example, do smaller prey animals prefer one habitat over another or how predators behavior and techniques can vary in the various environments.
I am a rising Junior studying Environmental Technology and Management with a minor in Environmental Toxicology at North Carolina State University. Some of my interests pertaining to my major are studying how water quality, air quality and soil quality; as well as, plant presence are affected by each other. In addition, I am interested in how pollution affects these fields and ways to minimize and manage problem areas. Outside of school work, she enjoys hanging with friends, volunteer work and watching Netflix.
Hi! My name is Tasha, I am studying Animal Science with minors in Wildlife Science and Zoology at North Carolina State University. Originally, I went to North Carolina State in hopes to pursue a veterinarian career in zoological medicine. I am now planing to combine her two passions through a career in conservation medicine. This summer I am working with Julie Walker through the Doris Duke Conservation Scholar program, with the goal to get more research experience with wildlife and their interactions with the environment. I hope to eventually start my own non-profit to help expand restoration efforts worldwide.
If you would like more information about the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program check out their website https://programs.ifas.ufl.edu/doris-duke-conservation-scholars/
Author: Julie Walker
So this semester, I have been taking a "Creative Scientific Communications" course. Each week we have guest lecturers from different forms of media and communications, journalist, photographers, people who make podcast (is there a noun for people who make podcast? #21stcenturylanguageproblems). It was a good break from more intensive science courses and I would argue equally as important. What good is your science if you can't share it with people? For my final project I made this short video / commercial showing off what our partnership does. Hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did making it, which shouldn't be hard since it is only 47 second long and took me multiple days and a few choice words with apple imovie to make (its harder than it looks and I'm a PC person).
If you want to see more cool videos like this from the partnership follow us on our brand new youtube channel!
Author: Julie Walker
Hey there, to our many avid readers which I am sure there are hundreds of, if not thousands of by now (I am going to go ahead and assume the lack of comments just means that our eloquent writing and novel ideas just leave you speechless?) Anyways, to all of you readers I apologizes for the lack of communication lately.. you see I have been spending the majority of my time this summer trying to catch a fish. Well preferably many fish, but every journey starts with a step right?
Why have I been trying to catch many fish you ask dear reader? Well that is a very good question which I will now answer so beautifully that your words will once again escape you. You see it all starts with Climate Change, like many good horror stories do. Climate change is decreasing the amount of freeze events occurring across northern Florida. These freeze events are what have traditionally kept mangrove trees from migrating northward, so without them mangroves have been cozying up to saltmarshes in their most northern latitudes, and eventually becoming the dominant vegetation. This can cause some difference in carbon storage and storm protection and lots of other things that people really care about. But one thing that people also care about that is surprisingly understudied is fish. Fish feed in the tidal inundated coastlines and hide from predators in the vegetation, surely they will notice when, they go to their favorite intertidal hangout and all of the grass have been replaced by a big woody trees with pneumatophore. So I set out to catch some of these fish in the vegetation at the high tide to see if there was any difference between the types and amounts of fish that would use the marsh and mangrove habitats.
However, fish are a lot smarter than I had originally given them credit for, and have proven time after time, that no matter what methods I use they will not be caught by the likes of me. So for now, you can call me Ishmael.
Me and my illusive white whale
Author: Julie Walker
Now that I have that I am assured that this song will be stuck in your head all day, lets talk about finals. Or as I like to call them caffeine fueled information regurgitation sessions (sorry that sounds a lot grosser than intended). Anyways, like most of you finals are not a foreign concept to me seeing as the we have been subjected to standardized testing from what feels like infancy, yet there seems to be an added level of stress and anxiety that goes a long with finals in grad school. For example, back in the good old days finals use to live up to there name, they where a final stopping point, after you where finally finished with your finals you could forgo future endeavors in that field (now say that five times fast). However in grad school your learn that even when your finals end that doesn't mean you necessarily given the luxury of taking a breath. For example, this semester I have 2 written finals and a final project, not bad right? But add on fieldwork that needs to get done before the holidays, gather field helpers before they all jump ship for the holidays, find new field helpers when they inventively do jump ship, guilt filled phone calls from your mother describing the Christmas cookies she wishes you were home to help her make, and cramming for those caffeine fueled information regurgitation sessions becomes even less appealing. However with that light at the end of the tunnel, a full cup of coffee in my hand and my new found finals theme song (go ahead and press play again, I know you want to) I will take these next couple weeks in stride, crushing those last few test and presentations, doing the fieldwork of 5 full grown men, and earning the heck out of those Christmas cookies. Happy Finals season to you and yours.
Author: Julie Walker
Unfortunately... there wasn't any three legged races, or water balloon fights, but peaked your interest right? Today was my first day in the field as a UF grad student! Seeing as I am still getting my feet wet (quite literally) today we kept it pretty simple with a small scale restoration pilot that may eventually lead to a larger scale living shorelines project, depending on where my future research interests may take me. For today it was just fun getting outside, flexing some muscles, and getting a little dirty.... so it was basically a field day!
Author: Julie Walker
Hi there Reader! This is Julie Walker newly inducted ( there isn't really an ceremony or anything like that but inducted sounded cool ) STRI-UF Marine Conservation Fellow! I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself, but since we are all nerds here... here is what my bio would look like if it was in field guide form.
Name: Julietia Walkerus
Common Name: Julie Walker
Range: J. Walkerus is native to the Maryland, but has recently been introduced to Florida. J. Walker seems fairly well establish in its expanded range and eradication seems unlikely (fingers crossed)
Diet: J. Walkerus is a opportunist generalist feeder however, must forage for coffee daily for survival. J. Walkerus preferred diet includes mac and cheese, reese's, and Cheetos (not at the same time...)
Distinguishable markings: J. Walkerus can be identified by it's unusually short stature which is covered in a large number of small brown dots. Typical vocalizations included a low growling noise originating from the stomach/abdomen area that usually precedes a feeding episode. Similar to a rattlesnakes rattle this growl is a warning to stay back until the Walkerus is full.
Habitat: J. Walkerus is most likely swimming in large water bodies, hiding in the mangroves, or napping on a couch somewhere
Life History: J. Walkerus originated from a little town in Maryland where she spent most of her juvenile stage. During this time J. Walkerus enjoyed being in and around the water, spending much of its time by the Chesapeake Bay. During the metamorphosis phase Walkerus attended St. Mary's College of Maryland where she received a bachelor's in biology. Walkerus adult form migrated north to Annapolis where she spent 3 years working for the Chesapeake Bay Program, working on science and policy to protect the bay and it's waterways. After the end of her three year fellowship, Walkerus was invaded Gainesville, FL where she has taken up root at University of Florida. Walkerus current interests include studying the northern expansion of mangrove in Florida, and spending as much time at the beach as possible.
Author: Julie Walker
Hey there everybody! This is Julie here writing to wish you a happy first day of school! In preparation for the day, I cleaned 3 years worth of dust of the ole backpack, added my shiny new student id to my wallet (with a perfectly acceptable picture that only took three attempts to achieve I might add) and carefully studied my campus map (spoiler alert- I have a horrible sense of direction).
As I waited patiently at the bus stop, I was having flashbacks of first day's of school past filled with braces, bangs, and bad fashion choices (as a reward for actually reading this here is photographic evidence of one such first day of school).
You would think the novelty would wear off after 16 years of school but surprisingly the odd mixture of excitement for all the great possibilities and fear of the unknown that leaves you feeling somewhere between giddy and nauseated hasn't gotten old.
So here's to day one! Here's to not getting (too) lost! and here's to staying on the giddy side of giddy-nausea! Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings, although if you are reading this you are probably either related to me (Hi Mom!), or thought this was the blog of Julie Ann Walker, New York Times and USA Today best selling romantic suspense author (sorry to disappoint you but this isn't getting any saucier), either way I look forward to sharing some of the highs, lows, and somewhere in between's of grad school with you.
P.S. Extra credit for those who can name the rom-com reference in the title *HINT* it rhymes with "You've got Snails"
It has been three months since I started this journey towards my PhD. There are still two months remaining until I officially start at the university. These past few months have been some of the best of my life. One of the most incredible experiences I have had so far has been attending the Mangrove & Macrobenthos Meeting (MMM4). Why after traveling to so many beautiful locations and seeing incredible wildlife that I’ve been dreaming about seeing since a child would a meeting be a highlight? Glad you asked. The MMM4 was a portal to this new world I am becoming a part of. I have always loved and admired mangroves and found them to be extremely fascinating. I have even worked in mangrove systems before but then the focus was on the fish in the mangroves rather than the mangroves themselves. The MMM series are international conferences which occur only once every 4-6 years and focus on understanding and conserving or sustainably utilizing mangrove ecosystems across the globe. The first MMM to be held was in 2000 in Kenya, then it was six more years before MMM2 in Australia, and MMM3 took place in 2012 in Sri Lanka. For the first time this meeting was held in the U.S. and I got to attend. Not only that, but many of the people I had been reading papers by were at the meeting. This was the “who’s who” of mangroves. It was also a great opportunity to meet many of the people I will be working with over the next 5 years and form new connections to build my mangrove network. I was shocked by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. I would sit by someone at the beginning of the day and during the breaks we would start talking, by lunch they would be introducing me to people who could be vital to my research, and by dinner I was making arrangements to go into the field with some of these new connections and getting recommendations of field sites that meet the criteria I’m looking for. Then the following day it started all over. By the end of the week, an auditorium of strangers was transformed into a room of friends and family.
I was glad I brought my laptop to the meeting because each presentation sparked a new idea and I wouldn’t have been able to write fast enough to jot down the important discoveries and future directions without my computer. The presentations varied in topic from genetics, biodiversity, and biocomplexity to ecology, habitat distribution and connectivity, to macrobenthos and marine community interactions, and stable isotope analyses of mangrove forest food webs to microbiome dynamics, ecogeomorphology, ecophysiology, and biogeochemistry to climate change and carbon storage. Even the species of mangrove people were working with drastically differed. Despite the MMM series sounding like a very specific conference, you have to keep in mind that mangroves, as we know them today, occur worldwide in the tropics and subtropics and are found in over 118 countries. The total number of true mangrove species is debated and varies between 54-73 in 20 different genera then there are even more mangrove associates which adds another 86 species from 73 genera. Then this meeting includes every topic relating to any of these species. Even though we had a room full of experts, each had their own niche and language to translate to the rest of us. One of the most surprising presentations to me was by NASA. Yes, the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), you know those people who launch rockets into orbit and take satellite photographs of distant galaxies. Well those same people who brought us the Mars rover are using airborne LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and Radar data to create high-resolution 3-dimensional maps of mangrove forests. I was familiar with radar before because we used doppler radar when I studied bats but LIDAR was new to me. How LIDAR works is it sends light pulses from a laser (ooh science) to Earth from some airborne vessel like an airplane or helicopter. Then a sensor records the reflected light combined with position and orientation data obtained from a specialized GPS receiver so you end up with latitude, longitude, and height data. Point by point you start to develop a picture known as a point cloud. These data can be used to not only study the forest structure and aboveground biomass but also to estimate the amount of carbon mangrove forests can store. Carbon captured by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems is known as blue carbon so carbon stored by mangroves is part of this blue carbon. It is important to understand the role mangroves play in carbon sequestration because mangroves are among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics and deforestation of mangroves generates 10% of the global emissions per year despite accounting for only 0.7% of the tropical forests.
As scientists, the organizers of MMM4 realized that there is a saturation point at which no more knowledge can be absorbed, regardless of how pertinent or fascinating the subject, when you have a week-long meeting. Their solution was to get us all outside and into the field together. In the middle of the week we were given an option of going on a mangrove and marsh restoration tour at North Peninsula State Park and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a kayak tour of the Whitney Marine Lab, or a boat tour of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Even though I was staying at the Whitney Marine Lab and knew the facility fairly well, I hadn’t gotten out on the kayak in the mangroves yet so I went with that option. It was a wonderful experience. We had professional guides who knew the local fauna meanwhile I’m kayaking with mangrove experts who kept paddling up to branches to get a good look at leaves, snails, propagules, etc. It wasn’t a day off from learning but the change of scenery renewed our energy and allowed us to return to the conference refreshed and eager to continue learning. The conference itself was held at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. It was a beautiful campus with stunning Spanish architecture and just outside Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by the Spanish and has maintained its historical feel. It is unlike any other city I have visited in the U.S.
As I leave Florida to continue my adventure, my mind swirls with ideas and happy memories made over the past couple weeks here. It was both a pleasure and an honor to have had the opportunity to meet so many great minds. I am thankful to everyone who helped make my visit possible. The future looks bright and I am excited to return after my first semester at McGill.
May and June, I was in Panama getting familiar with the mangroves and developing research ideas, now in July, I’ve found myself in Florida meeting my collaborators. After several emails back and forth and lots of chaos and confusion, I landed in Jacksonville, Florida to be greeted by one of Christine Angelini’s graduate students, Ada Bersoza. Although we had been planning this visit to Florida so I could meet Christine and Todd Osborne as well as get to know the University of Florida campus in Gainesville and the UF Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, I was meant to visit Florida so that I could meet Christine and Todd Osborne, get to know the University of Florida campus, and the UF Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine. Despite all of this, the final logistics were still fluid by the time I landed so until my layover, I didn’t know whether I was renting a car, getting picked up, or where in Florida I was going first. Ada ended up coming to the rescue and drove three hours to pick me up and bring me back to Gainesville with her. Not having housing in place yet, she then opened her home to me as well. Ada wasn’t expecting the extra body but quickly filled me in on her research that we would be collecting data on in the morning. After getting settled in, Ada started prepping for the field making sandwiches, creating data sheets, packing supplies, and writing out a to-do list for on campus that evening. Kimberly Prince, another one of Christine’s graduate students, came over to introduce herself and organize an evening for Christine’s lab to get together for dinner. On campus, Ada gave me a tour of the Engineering School before we went to Christine’s lab to pick up some supplies.
Ada stayed up late into the night working on her computer, entering data, checking her lists and making sure she wasn’t forgetting anything. I was impressed with Ada's dedication to her research and tenacity. Not being able to contribute to this part, I ended up going to bed knowing that we had to be up by 4 am to drive out to the Guana Tolomato Matanza National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR), which is 2 hours away, to be there by sunrise. At the GTMNERR, we met up with Mathew Monroe, a Florida state biologist, to go over the plan for the day. Both Matt and Ada had their own experiments to check on, but the tides dictated when we would work on the various projects. Matt captained the boat, and we started the day checking some barriers Ada had set up in hopes to recruit oyster spat (i.e., baby oysters) along the banks of the Matanza river. Ada had a quadrat made of PVC that she used to quantify recruitment over the barrier. The soil was extremely soft, so we had to use caution when jumping off the boat into the water and approaching the experiments. Our legs sunk in the muck up to our knees at most places and sometimes up to our waists. We are used to getting dirty, but you have to keep moving in areas like this or the water rushes in trapping your legs. It is difficult enough to move but even harder to get out with all your clothing. My muck boots were put to the limits as I played tug-of-war with the mud. Each step of determination ended with a splosh and was quickly followed by another.
The second half of the day, Ada and I joined Matt on the oyster reefs. Again, PVC quadrats were used but this time they were much larger and marked with string every 10 cm creating a grid. The PVC quadrats were placed on top of the oysters and the number of live oysters, dead oysters, and sediment were recorded per square. This was repeated several times in different areas across the reef. The idea of these surveys is to characterize the population structure of the oysters in northeast Florida. This particular project has several different agencies and universities working together to map oyster recruitment. Results from these surveys help managers decide what areas need more projection and which can be opened to harvesting. While we worked, dolphins circled around us, cocking their heads as if to ask us what we were doing. One of them came within a foot from us and stayed until we moved to the next site.
Covered in mud, we returned to the car to drive back to Gainesville only to return to GTMNERR the following day. Ada said she wished we had just stayed in St. Augustine but housing wasn’t available at the time. Our cheese sandwiches had been left in the truck and melted in the hot Florida sun, so we got to end the field day with grilled cheese sandwiches. Back at the lab, we gathered supplies. This time, it was wooden stakes that Ada is using for her shipworm study. Ada has four wood treatments that she is testing: pressure-treated wooden stakes, copper paint treated wooden stakes, wooden stakes covered in weather resistant tape, and wooden stakes covered in silicone. She is comparing the damage caused by shipworms on these treatments to that of untreated wooden stakes. The next morning was another early one. This time, we brought wooden planks to navigate across the mud in the saltmarsh. Ada had ladders set up in tidal creeks of the Matanzas River constructed of branches from different trees. With these ladders, she is trying to determine how different tree species (i.e., laurel oak, sweetgum, crepe myrtle, and black mangrove) respond to shipworm infestations and how the prevalence of shipworms differs with distance from the sediment. Ada is placing her wooden stakes between the ladders since the shipworms will already be attracted to the ladders, so she can see which treatments work the best to extend the life of the wood. I really enjoyed seeing the variety of work going on in the saltmarsh, but I was most excited when we found the mangroves encroaching on the saltmarsh. In northern Florida, mangroves are typically viewed more negatively than they are further south. The reason for this is that the mangroves are expanding towards the poles with the changing climate. This, in itself, is not a bad thing but saltmarshes are vital ecosystems in Florida, and now, the mangroves are competing for the same area. Mangroves completely alter the habitat and food webs in these systems.
Knowing that part of my PhD research will be conducted in Florida, seeing the mangrove-saltmarsh interactions got the ideas flowing. The connection of the research I could conduct in north Florida to that in Bocas del Toro, Panama was not so clear. Bocas del Toro is primarily red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) meanwhile in north Florida, the dominate mangrove species is black mangrove (Avicennia germinans). In Bocas del Toro, the red mangroves are so numerous that they form entire islands large enough that people live on them. In north Florida, the red mangroves are isolated and the size of small shrubs. Galeta, Panama was primarily black mangrove so I could potentially use it as a comparison site to north Florida, but Galeta doesn’t have saltmarsh. Both north Florida and Galeta have muddy water with no visibility underwater compared to Bocas del Toro’s crystal clear water. I have a lot to contemplate but thankful to have these experiences to learn the systems better instead of trying to formulate experiments in Canada with only literature to inform my ideas.
Before heading to St. Augustine to live at the Whitney Marine Lab, Christine met up with Ada, myself, and Kimberly over dinner to discuss the future of the lab, research, and collaboration. I really enjoyed how Christine’s lab acts like a family and all of the lab members are extremely supportive of each other. Each graduate student in Christine’s lab has a very different project that equally demonstrate ingenuity and a deep understanding of the system they are working in. I found all the personalities of the lab members to be positive and compatible with my own which is extremely important when working together in the field under stressful conditions. I left Gainesville looking forward to the next time I return.
After starting my journey to St. Augustine to meet Todd and spend some time at the Whitney Marine Lab, I was surprised to find out that the Whitney is not actually in St. Augustine. It is actually in Marineland, Florida, a town in Flagler and St. Johns counties. The town is only 0.27 square miles and had a population of 16 people in 2010 across three households. I thought Todd was joking when he told me my neighbor in the research dorm was the mayor. Sure enough, the mayor was a young scientist that lived at the station. She told me of the history of Marineland and the Whitney while we got groceries for the next couple weeks.
The Whitney is a beautiful marine lab. I was impressed by the versatility of the facilities. A wet lab was transformed before my eyes to meet the needs of an incoming researcher. A large new building filled with classrooms and an auditorium provides the marine lab with a wonderful venue for their public lecture series, summer camps, and science education programs. The Whitney also has a sea turtle hospital where they rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtle as well as research some of the issues facing these turtles. One of the largest ongoing investigations at the sea turtle hospital is understanding the etiology of the Fibropapilloma virus (FP) which has been spreading around the world. FP presents in turtles as lesions, but it is much more than cosmetic. The virus alters the turtle’s feeding and breeding, leading to reduction in the already declining turtle populations. The sea turtle hospital has a major focus of educating and involving the community. By teaching the community about sea turtles and why they need our help, we can reduce sea turtle losses. Many sea turtles get lost heading to the ocean because they follow the moon but many beach establishments have lights that confuse the turtles, and they go the wrong way. Hatchlings (i.e., baby sea turtles) only have three days from when they emerge from the sand to make it to the sargassum (i.e., seaweed) floating in the ocean. They need the sargassum to hide in and feed. If they don’t make it in three days, they will starve. When people know this, they tend to be more careful about bright lights near the nesting beaches. Even just knowing the sea turtle hospital exists can save turtles because more people report injured turtles. I spent hours watching the recovering turtle feed. The laboratories at the Whitney were fully stocked with equipment I had never used before and shelves filled with books I had never read. As I waited for Todd to finish a meeting with a graduate student so he could introduce me to his team and explain what I would be doing the next couple weeks, I started furiously jotting down names of books and authors to look up in my notepad. Todd found me doing this and told me I was welcome to borrow any book during my visit. Since it was the end of the work day and everyone was getting ready to go home, after meeting Trent Dye, Todd’s lab manager, and Tracey Schafer, one of Todd’s graduate students, I grabbed a stack of books and headed back to my room. The words from these books came to life and led me on a journey from microbial black boxes to biogeochemical cycles such as soil oxidation-reduction of wetlands and alterations of nutrient cycles. Before I knew it, the sun was setting. I grabbed a fresh mango, walked to the dock, and sat down beneath a mangrove tree to watch the sunset in the estuary. The juice dripped down my hand and small crabs began to emerge from their burrows. Ideas swirled in my head as the horizon glowed bright amber before the sun ducked behind the mangroves.
Today, I went out with Trent and Tracy to collect water samples from the saltmarsh. Todd’s lab had deployed pore water sippers which is basically a tray of water membranes that are inserted into the sediment at the desired depth and then removed. They work through osmosis to collect data on the water in the soil without contamination from the sediment itself. We used a syringe to extract the pore water from the sipper. Pore water can provide data on pH, salinity, alkalinity, sulfides, sulfate, chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, ferrous and ferric iron, ammonium, and nitrate concentrations. The ones that we collected were in traditional saltmarsh surrounded by grasses, in transition zones where mangroves were growing in the grass, and in areas with only mangroves. We came from the land instead of the water so there wasn’t as much sinking in the mud as there was with Ada’s research. I really enjoyed learning about wetland biogeochemistry from Todd and was excited that my skills using a syringe to collect blood from animals could go to good use working with soil and plants in wetlands. Later this week, I will be joining Tracy and Trent in surveying more oysters and seeing what other projects they are working on. I am happy to spend so much time in the field and then relax in the evenings with my stack of books. I am looking forward to this collaboration and what will come from it.