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.