Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In search of manatees

This picture is an interesting view of what our group of snorkelers looked like on a trip through an ocean water channel near the research lab. We set out for this trip on foot with gear in hand and on head after a tiring day of data collection. The small adventure was optional for our class but everyone opted to go. What motivated me was the possibility of seeing a manatee, even if the possibility was only slim. Frank and I were first to jump in. I could see him swimming in the water just below me, and as he went further down I followed him and began to realize that I couldn't see the bottom even though I'm sure it wasn't very deep. I just saw frank and behind him a dark brown murky abyss that seemed to go on forever. This image was quite surreal. Once the group was ready we moved in formation fighting the current as we swam upstream, observing through both sight and sound. This territory was much different than our data collection areas. The mangroves provided a habitat for many species. The tangle of mangrove roots continued into darkness along the shores convincing me that there was always much more to be seen. After heading upstream for a while we turned around for the easy downstream swim. In the end we never found a manatee but did experience a new environment where our limited sight left much to the imagination.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

CMR in the Keys

Over Fall Break, Clemson's Conservation of Marine Resources team traveled to the Florida Keys and asked the question, "Does Structure Increase Biodiversity?" We had several sample locations including the Keys Marine Lab, Long Key, and Bamboo Key. Data was collected at these sites and we were looking at the types of algae, coral, sponge, and invertebrates found. This was a great hands-on experience to learn what organisms are actually living in our coral reefs. While doing work we would occasionally come across a Jellyfish or a Nurse Shark, making the experience all the more exciting.

The best day I had was when the group decided to go diving / snorkeling at Looe Key. For a lot of people it was their first time being out surrounded by the deep blue color of the ocean. After our dive briefing we literally jumped right in. Immediately when we reached the bottom we saw two Grouper behaving in an unorthodox way. Maybe competing over territory, or a female? We weren't sure. Continuing we saw lots and lots of coral, several kinds of grunts, hogfish, snapper, grouper, barracuda, parrotfish, spiny lobsters, and an eel. The eel was awesome. It was close to five feet long and was just chillin' in its hole as we passed by. I was also very excited when I spotted a Brittle Star crawling along the bottom, one of my favorite echinoderms.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A research vacation

Our Creative Inquiry team traveled by air, land, and sea to reach our research destinations where we worked long, hard days setting up underwater plots, collecting data, avoiding deadly sea creatures, and just barely escaping drowning episodes.

Just kidding! While we did collect data for our research project, it wasn't a chore. I had a great time and learned so much about the marine biodiversity, marine systems, and marine research in the Keys, all the while enjoying the beautiful setting of the Florida Keys.

My favorite expedition was the snorkel through the mangroves. It was very different from the sites where we collected data and the Looe Key reef. The water was a dark brown from the tannins in the mangrove leaves, and the prop roots provided structure for algae, anemones, sponges, and other organisms.

The coolest things I saw were the blue sponges and spiral anemones. The snorklers in the front of the line got to see a couple nurse sharks, but by the time I had caught up, the sharks had swum on their way.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Snorkeling at Looe Key

Over fall break, our creative inquiry team traveled to the Florida Keys and performed research in order to determine if natural and artificial structures increase biodiversity. While there, we decided to take a day off from research and make a snorkeling/SCUBA diving trip to Looe Key Reef. Looe Key is located five nautical miles offshore of Big Pine Key and is not an island but instead a "groove and spur" reef. After about a 45 minute boat ride to Looe Key, we jumped into the water and discovered the reef was home to a vast amount of species. We saw many different fish including yellowtail, angelfish, parrotfish, sergeant majors, and even barracudas. Even though one barracuda followed a few of us around and gave us quite a scare, the trip was very enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to see and explore the biodiversity of the Florida Keys.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fun Findings in the Florida Keys

During our Creative Inquiry’s most recent research trip to the Florida Keys, we discovered a lot of interesting and exciting things above and below the water. For some of the trip, we were hard at work snorkeling and performing a census of the biodiversity of various marine habitats. An important fact we learned is that at first glance, the ocean floor may not always appear to be a very happening place, but when you take the time to dive down and explore (usually with the help of a tickle stick), a whole new world of marine organisms comes to life. While exploring we discovered numerous kinds of sponges, algae, and corals in areas that are experiencing both species die-off and recovery. Although it takes some practice, by the end of the trip we were busy finding and naming interesting and dynamic sea plants and animals.

Not to be overlooked, the Florida Keys “wildlife” above the water is as interesting and eclectic as our underwater discoveries. Our trip to Key West served as a good introduction to the Keys locals, who work hard to give tourists a good dose of Bohemian yet American culture at the Southern-most point of the continental U.S. We enjoyed good food and people as we toured Key West and explored other places such as the Safari Lounge back on Long Key. Needless to say, the Florida Keys are full of interesting discoveries, both above and below the water, that we will be sure to remember for years to come.

Monday, October 26, 2009

90 the water

Such was the situation in the Florida Keys during fall break. We could not have asked for better working conditions (though I would hardly call the research we were doing work). To me, anything that has to do with snorkeling and being in the ocean constitutes fun, no matter if we are measuring the biodiversity of different marine habitats or taking data on the type of ocean bottom we observe. It was fascinating to learn the many types of algae and the names of all the sponges and corals we came across. Yet, even though the shallow waters where we were conducting our research were amazing, my favorite memories of the trip come from our non-research experiences on Looe Key Reef, in the mangroves, and night snorkeling. It was during these excursions that we saw the most exciting and unique sea creatures, such as a sea turtle, multiple barracudas, two nurse sharks, and giant clinging crabs. I loved the fact that I had the opportunity to share the ocean with such animals as these and learn about their habitats, but each evening I enjoyed just being able to relax and watch the sunset before preparing for the next day’s activities. The ocean is a beautiful and mystifying domain, and even though it can be terrifying (especially at night, when one can only see the creatures that surround her by the small beam of a flashlight), it is a place well worth exploring, regardless of the risks. Believe me, I do plan on snorkeling at night again sometime...though I might bring a bigger dive light.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Snorkeling After Dark...

Over fall break, our CI team headed down to the Florida Keys for some research (and fun in the sun). Our last night in the Keys we decided to go on a night snorkel trip. Everyone had mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement about going. The night snorkeling gave us an opportunity to see some of the animals that are most active at night. We saw clinging crabs, a few different lobster species, and Adam even spotted an octopus. One of my favorite parts of the snorkel was when we turned off the flashlights and waved our hands through the water to see the bioluminescent algae. Although most of us got stung by something (probably cassiopea), I think we were all happy to have faced our fears!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Break Field Trip to the Keys

Our creative inquiry team spent the fall break in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Our goal was to conduct field research on impacts to marine biodiversity in different marine habitats.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

South Africa Water Toxicity

Over Spring Break this year I visited South Africa. One of the sites I saw was the Flamingo Island at Kampfer's Dam in Kimberley. This is a completely man made S-shaped island that was constructed specifically to house a Lesser Flamingo colony. It contains the second largest colony in the world. The project was a great success and proved to serve its purpose better than anyone thought it would. Now it is host to thousands of flamingos. The health of the lake the island sits on is in peril. Sewage is being pumped into the lake on the other side of the dam. These toxic chemicals could infect the flamingo food source and drive the flamingos away. We talked with a Clemson graduate student who is studing wildlife toxicology. Her project is to draw blood samples from the birds to be analyzed for any pathogens. The colony is also threatened by development. Plans have been proposed to put a large housing development right next to the dam. A disturbance of the birds could drive them to abandon the island and any nests with chicks. They would never return. In this case marine resources could play a huge role in the survival of this island.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wonders of the Marine World

A picture that wasn't already on the blog!

MCR Spring 2009 Closing Thoughts

The close of the semester is upon is, and looking back on it, I think that this was an awesome semester for our class. We accomplished a great deal and I think that we all learned a lot about how to design and set up an experiment, as well as how to keep a lab room clean and organized! For those that were lucky enough to go on the trip with us, we saw some amazing things and had too much fun for our own good. Whether or not you made it on the trip, we all definitely learned a lot about the plight of the marine environment. Furthermore, I think that we can all better inform others about the problems and any possible solutions. I'm really excited about all of the people that are coming back to the class next year. I think that we can get a lot done and I am definitely excited about future trips!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cambodian River Traffic

Over Christmas break I traveled through Cambodia. While in Cambodia we took an eight hour boat trip on the Sangker River from Battambang to Seim Reap. The boat was a river taxi that brought food into the villages for the people who lived on the river. The people who lived in the villages relied on the river for their livelihoods. They live in floating house boats. Marine Conservation is important in that area because the village people and the future generations depend on the river for their economic survival. What can we do to promote an awareness of Marine Conservation in river villages to protect future generations?

Monday, April 13, 2009

More Exciting Adventures from the ACE Basin

As mentioned below, our CI group had the opportunity to travel to the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve over spring break. This area of the South Carolina coast consists of over 130,000 acres of estuary, named for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers. One of the most interesting aspects of this trip was collecting and processing the blue crabs. Every day, one CI student would accompany graduate students Kirk and T.J. on one of the boats to set crab pots out in different areas of the rivers. Back at Mosquito Creek, Dr. Childress and two other students would set crab pots out right in front of our station.

At the end of the day, all crabs collected would be processed in the lab. In order to process the crabs as fast as possible, we formulated an assembly line. This method allowed for official “crab wranglers” to pull the crabs in the basket off of one another, tag them with color-coded bracelets, as well as determine sex, weight, and carapace width. One person (usually me) would write down all the data and pass the crabs down the line. Crabs would then have a small blood sample taken from in between the last walking leg and swimmerette (easier said than done). Lastly, crabs posed for a quick picture and then were released back into Mosquito Creek. Recaptured crabs were identified by their bracelets and gave us valuable information regarding crab movement in the estuary. Collecting and processing blue crabs was an interesting way to become familiar with blue crab behavior (and resilience). Although there were a couple of painful pinches, our team was able to process 399 crabs while at the ACE Basin…and managed to have fun while doing it!

The Most Dangerous Part of Our Trip to ACE (besides crab attacks)

Over spring break, our CI went to ACE Basin (as explained a couple of posts below). One of the most apparent animals, to me, were all the alligators. Coming from Tennessee, alligators were not a big part of my growing up. Along the estuary, however, they were all over the place! Going out in the mornings and afternoons to set crab traps and pick them up again, I was able to see a good dozen or so alligators. The gators had a big range in size, from juvenile (3 ft like the one above) to adult (10 ft long).

Astonishingly, a mere fifteen minute drive from the NERR station where we were staying, there was what appeared to be an alligator haven. Never in my life have I seen so many alligators in one place (up to 26 in a 25 square meter area). These alligators were all of a nice size as well, very few baby ones to be seen! All along the sides of the embankments in the park were alligator "slides" like the one below.
Surprisingly, it wasn't scary being around all of those alligators (from a distance). They seemed to be more timid than aggressive (but then again we were being loud and hopefully they weren't hungry). I unwittingly scared a few big ones from one of their basking mud holes, and they just seemed more annoyed at having to go in the water than angry wild beasts. I definitely wouldn't go close enough to one to tempt them into attacking me though, I'll leave that for whomever has stepped up to take Steve Erwin's crazy place.

Summer Research

This past summer I was involved with the Turtle project under the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The Turtle project was designed a few years back as a conservation project for loggerhead sea turtles. Originally it was designed to obtain an idea of the population of reproductive male loggerhead sea turtles. To catch the male sea turtles you must go offshore to find them because unlike the females who come back to a shore, once the males leave their nests as infants they never hit land again. So the research vessel was a old shrimp boat, the Lady Lisa now owned by the SC DNR and to catch the sea turtles we "shrimped" for them. (it was a little like a finding a needle in a hay stack) With about twenty trolls a day we averaged about 1 turtle a day. Once we caught a turtle we would first lay them on the "turtle chair" which makes them sit upside down.
This position made it easier to draw blood and check vitals.
Then we would place the turtle on a tire so they could not run
away (keep in mind these turtles sometimes weighed up to 500
lbs so these tasks weren't exactly graceful). Then we would tag
them with an external metal tag and an internal microchip tag.
If we caught a large mature female we might do ultrasound to
see if she had any eggs and every other day we would take a biopsy from the turtle’s flipper (seemed to be very painful). Then we connected the turtle to a harness and would weigh them. After weighing, we then lowered them over the side of the boat and let them go (defiantly not as easily as it sounds). So now you’re asking yourself what does this have to do with conservation? Well the sex of a sea turtle is determined by where the egg lays in the nest. The lower cooler part of the nest is where males are found and the higher warmer part of the nest is where females are found. So remember, "hot chicks" and "cool dudes." This comes into play when you think about the increasing beach erosion and the water level rising which pushes the nest to higher warmer parts of the beach causing more females to be created. If we need to figure out if the male population is big enough to sustain the loggerhead population we have to go find them offshore.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Break at the Ace Basin

The ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge whose name is derived from the 3 rivers that flow through it, the Ashepoo, the Combahee, and the Edisto, is one of the largest estuaries on the East Coast. Over spring break, our creative inquiry class had the opportunity to travel to the research station of the ACE Basin and help conduct research on blue crabs. Not only did we learn the various steps of collecting and processing blue crabs, we also took many boat rides, went to secluded beaches, observed surveying methods such as electrofishing and trolling, and explored the area to find a great diversity of wildlife.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity believes that the welfare of humans is directly linked to the the welfare of nature. Because of this, they work to secure a future for all animals that are on the brink of extinction. To do this, they do things such as advocate for conservation laws, perform scientific analysis, and educate the public. The Center for Biological Diversity is a wonderful organization because it addresses a wide range of conservation issues. Visit the Center for Biological Diversity's website.

CMR Field Research Trip to the ACE Basin NERR Station

The Conservation of Marine Resources team spend their spring break conducting research at the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve Station in Bennett's Point, SC. The team assisted the Childress Lab graduate students in the collection and processing of some 399 blue crabs. The team conducted a mark-recapture study by releasing 330 marked crabs and recapturing 4 over a period of five days. Local fishermen recaptured an additional 24 tagged crabs from stations down river from the NERR station. These results suggest that most of the crabs headed toward higher salinity waters even though they were captured at lower salinity stations.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Best Job in the World Video

On the coldest day of the year, standing knee deep in the Library pond, the Conservation of Marine Resources class worked hard to get the shot just right. The goal, a one-minute video application for the "Best Job in the World" competition, and the chance to become a caretaker of Great Barrier Reef. The theme of the video was "Because this job is too big for one person" and the message helped raise awareness of the plight of the world's declining coral reefs.