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.