This summer I had the great opportunity to experience the part of our CI’s research that I have never seen: field work. All data collected for my team’s research came from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, ranging from coral reefs off the coast of Key Largo to Marathon. Based out of Lower Matecumbe Key, we stayed in a house on a canal. This location allowed us to dock our boat directly in the backyard. Every day at 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM, you could find me loading or unloading SCUBA gear to and from the boat.
Due to the timeframe of our work, SCUBA gear was required. We spent three hours or more per day underwater, seven days a week, South Florida weather permitting. A wide variety of methods were used for the various projects. For research on fish community and species diversity, we set and captured photos from GoPro cameras underwater. Additionally, we anchored artificial PVC structures on the bottom to see how they affected fish communities. Another focus of our work was coral transplants and the documentation of coral survival. For this research, we set cages around designated corals by hammering them into the limestone. The main focus of my project in particular was the territories of the stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride). For ten minutes, an individual fish was followed around the reef. Its territory was mapped out by placing markers at every point the fish turned. Afterward, the distance from the estimated center of the territory to each marker was measured, along with a compass heading for each point. This data will allow us to create a map of the territory once we get back to the lab.
If there is one thing that I learned from my summer in the Keys, it is that field research is a great deal of work and very enjoyable at the same time. I have never been as tired as I was at the end of the summer, but my time spent in the field was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I would never miss a chance to go back.