This summer I spent time living on Long Key, FL as a part of the inaugural Marine Ecology class of Clemson University. After a three week lecture portion of the course, covering subjects from physical oceanography to a more in depth study of the harmful algal blooms occurring in the Keys, the class headed south to experience the Keys in person. We lived in the city of Layton and worked out the Keys Marine Lab, often out on the water snorkeling a number of Florida Bay sites as well as venturing Oceanside into the warm waters of the Atlantic.
In the lab portion of this class we learned various techniques for collecting and analyzing data. For example, we did plankton tows at a number a sites through the Florida Bay as well as Oceanside. In addition to plankton tows, we took YSI readings and collected water samples, performing tests such as pH, ammonia concentration, nitrate concentration and alkalinity in order to observe a trend in the overall water quality. In analyzing this data, we were able to form some hypotheses about the trend in water quality moving throughout various portions of the Bay into Oceanside.
In addition to the exercises completed in Lab, we were also tasked with designing and completing an independent research project. For this portion of the lab I chose to look at the distribution of Queen Conch in relation to the distance from shore as well as the substrate composition. We sampled these variables by laying out a 25 M x 25M grid at two sites and snorkeled them, measure population density and substrate composition at 5M intervals in 25M columns. Although we found no significant data comparing the population density to the substrate composition or distance from shore, we did find a significant difference between the two sites we sampled. We found that in these sites, identical in substrate composition and distance from shore, one had a very high population density and one had a very low population density. We can most likely attribute this to the congregating behavior of Queen Conch. Because movement is limited in this species, it is beneficial for Queen Conch to congregate in order to successfully find a mate and reproduce.
In my time in the Keys, I found one overlying theme to be true and that is the need for close monitoring of trends in the marine environment. From events such as Global Warming to an increase in boat traffic and pollution, it is our responsibility to help manage and preserve marine species and habitats in order to maintain a healthy, functioning ecosystem.