Tuesday, June 24, 2014

With a Little Help From My Friends

I am running out of adjectives that justly explain this experience.

This course has taught me how connected the land and ocean are, how diverse and important estuaries are, and how bizarrely interesting the creatures of the deep sea that seem to live in a different world than the rest of the ocean. I learned that despite the ocean covering about 70% of our Earth, we still have only explored about 5% of the ocean. I always knew that there was still much knowledge to be gathered from/about the ocean, but those numbers speak for themselves. This course was crucial in understanding not only specific marine environments and ecosystems, but also in truly realizing how vital the ocean is to the processes and health of the Earth. As a student, this was my first strictly marine-based class and I have come out of it with a wealth of information and skills that I know I will use both in and out of my university. I honestly don't think that I could have gained everything that I gained from this course in a normal classroom setting. This five and half week course was intense and we would often spend over 7 hours outside before/after putting in some time in the classroom. We worked on homework after our scheduled day was over and went to bed so we could be ready to get right back to work the next morning and I loved it! Dana already mentioned that we used about 85% of most equipment used in the field and I think that is worth mentioning again. We also learned how all of these devices operated and tested/measured samples obtained from the equipment. Being able to see the scientific process carried out on such a large, detailed, real-life scenario scale was more valuable than I could have hoped for. I feel very fortunate not only for taking this course, but for taking it when I did. As an undergraduate that is very early in their science path, I feel so energized to master my future marine classes and have a better idea of which marine classes I would prefer to take.

The professors in this course were not only the best professors I've ever worked with, but also some of the most passionate and caring people, as well. They genuinely care about what we as their students take away from all of these lessons as much as spreading important knowledge about science and the ocean to the public. Some of these professors are in several councils and/or other programs along with their teaching jobs and it encourages me to see how many different avenues I may be able pursue on top of my career. I want to thank each and every professor for letting us pester you all with questions 24/7 during that week and for responding with answers that were so honest, thoughtful, and helpful. I know that some/most of you did this as volunteer work and fit us into your already packed schedules and I want to thank you because every minute you spent with this class meant the world to all of us.
Brock, you were more than a good sport and no class ever will have a cooler TA than you. Thanks for being our friend and making the experience that much more fun. Dr. Hackney and Dr. Judkins, thank you both very much for organizing this incredible opportunity for all of us this year. And a life-long thank you to FIO for making this scientific journey possible.

To my colleges (as Zach would say):
How ridiculously lucky I am to have met each and every one of you. Kristiana, I really loved what you did and want to do my own version of it...

Foxy Layna, your compassion and love of outdoors is delightfully refreshing. Yoga on girl because who says you can't be smart and centered ;)?

Balanced Breeze, it was so touching to see you take this academic and incredibly personal journey. Your immense knowledge and skill set along with your unbelievably positive attitude will take you wherever you want.

Precious Heather, you are so cute and watching you get excited about something is so infectious! The sea turtles will soon enough be lucky to have your concern and smarts helping them.

Stunning Destiny, you are definitely one of the strongest people I know, in every sense of the word. You work hard to get the job done and done right, and know exactly how to jump off of a bridge and relax afterwards!

Rascal Zach, a real trooper, your intelligence and determination push you far above others. You goofed like a pro right along with us but you were patient enough to keep us from getting to wild :)

Sizzlin' Danielle, you are a spitfire and nothing will ever stop you from getting where you want in life! That passion is something special and your smarts will only increase that red-hot confidence over time.

Smokin' Kristiana, you are so beautiful inside and out, and your lovely artwork shows just a glimpse of how well-rounded you are. Your intelligence and  hilariousness will take you to wherever/whenever you decide to hit the brakes.

Meisterful Aaron, we gave you a hard time but it truly was awesome having you on this trip. Your quick wit and extensive knowledge might even land you your own Star Wars business venture someday...

Wonderful Wally, you are easily the sweetest person I have ever met. You really know your fish and your skills and kindness are appreciated by so many.

Tiffany Tiffany, you already know how much I love you but I just wanted to say it again anyways! Your confidence radiates and enraptures everyone you encounter and no one can help but to love you :)

Dynamite Dana, we bonded quickly and the longer I know you, the more I adore you! You are the sweetest and most giggly force to be reckoned with, and I can't wait to see you conquer and improve whatever you decide to pursue :)

"You all make the world a better place just by being in it"

Sunday, June 22, 2014

This Was The Best!

As my 5.5 weeks of this study abroad course comes to an end I cant help but to reflect on everything that I absolutely loved about this journey. To begin with, this course was originally designed to have all universities separate from one another and travelling separately. Luckily for the students, not enough people applied for the course from all 5 universities so we were combined into one group. I have met some of the most amazing and intelligent students on this trip that are so passionate about what they do. And the best part? We are all passionate about the same thing! Learning as much as we can about the earth and its biodiversity to preserve and restore as much as we can in the future.
In our first full week at UWF, I must say that I underestimated the type of landscapes that Florida has. Pensacola has one of the last remaining continuous plots of slash pine forest in the US. I was always so concerned about endangered animal species because that is what is brought up the most, that I never took into account how many plant species are in danger. Plants, forests, these all represent the habitats of animals, and they are disappearing too quickly. I never knew Florida had upland forests so it was a unique learning experience for me. My favorite part about UWF was working with Dr. Wade in the lab to analyze samples that we collected along the river (who wouldn't love working with radioactive chemicals and micro-pipettes).
At UNF I got a real taste of what the FIELD INTENSIVE portion of this course was. The 25 hour study on the river and estuary was definitely a challenging experience. Every hour, we had to record water quality data and take a sample all the way back to the lab to run other tests. Every 3 hours "ten foot seine net sampling time!!!" as my hilarious T.A. Brock would put it. Yup! we had to pull a 10 ft. seine net through the shallows and then catch and identify and measure every little critter in the net (FEISTY CRABS INCLUDED!). The next day, we got a few hours of sleep and then had an "excel party" inputting ALL of the data that we gathered over the 24 hours.  I had so much fun taking all of the data and making all of the graphs from this trip. I made a graph of the changes in water quality data over time, then I made comparison graphs of water quality data from the lake versus the estuary over time. And to top it all off, I made graphs of all of the critters that we caught over time so that you could compare the water data to the correlating fish species that you would find in those specific conditions. Although I complained a lot during this 24 hour exercise (partially because I just wasn't prepared for it) if I was ever asked to do it again I would say YES in a heartbeat. The professors at UNF were amazing and very fun to work with (YOU WILL BE MISSED!!!) but hopefully who knows, I may end up working with them again in the near future for research.
Well for starters... ITS THE KEYS! the best place in Florida (when its not hurricane season :p ) My week at the keys was nothing short of extraordinary. Every day we visited a new reef and everyday I learned more and more about biodiversity among reefs. We tried cramming a lot of new knowledge into one week and it was very challenging for me to catch on to the scientific names of all of the coral and algae species that we observed. (Did I mention that I was sea sick every day on the boat? No motion sickness medication would work for me sadly)

 Tiffany and I definitely bonded
My favorite day was definitely free diving out at Looe Key marine preserve. This reef had the most biodiversity out of all of the reefs there. Amazingly enough, I went to this same reef last year and I could see massive changes in the coral abundance and health overall. Many of them were lined with white band disease. On the other hand, I came face to face with more barracudas than I could count and there was a HUGE Goliath grouper that was hanging out underneath the dive boat the entire time.
In my week at FGCU we worked inshore in the estuary so for one I finally didn't get sea sick and we didn't spend the entire time out on the water. Everyday was a completely new topic that we would spend lecture time on in the classroom, then we would get in the boat to go out and collect samples and data, and come back to the classroom to analyze everything that we did during the day. The workload that we got in FGCU was definitely an eye opener on how confusing data can be to organize. It was definitely in my week at FGCU Vester Marine Lab that I became what I consider myself to be a "master of excel". I may not have figured it out in the best of conditions (trying to meet homework deadlines) but it was totally worth it.
My last week at USF was definitely a crazy week wrapping everything up. We spent all day in the classroom on Monday and by Tuesday morning we were on the Weatherbird heading offshore. (I finally got a medicated sea sickness patch and it worked!!!). Just to give a little background, in my three years at USFSP I have always kayaked past this vessel and admired it, wishing I could get the opportunity one day to go out on open ocean and work on this vessel. So when I found out that we were going out on the Weatherbird, needless to say, I was jumping with excitement. I have never worked with any of the equipment that I used on this trip so every week I learned how to use something new. On the Weatherbird I learned how to use 5 completely new pieces of equipment in one day (IT WAS AWESOME!!!!). Even more fun was working with the organisms that we took back to the lab. Looking at phytoplankton and zooplankton underneath a microscope has been one of my favorite after field activities throughout this entire trip in UWF, UNF, and USFSP.  We wrapped up our week at the Florida Aquarium with a scavenger hunt and then an animal behavior activity.

Overall, this Field Studies in Marine Biology course has been nothing short of amazing and I have met some of the most amazing people and professors along the way. I want to thank the Florida Institute of Oceanography for giving me this amazing opportunity to get exposure to possible future career options. I also want to say Dr. Judkins you are an inspiring professor and you have done an amazing job at coordinating this entire course (while being in Puerto Rico for a portion of it with another class) and to let you know that you haven't seen the last of me :) I hope to do a bunch of research studies with you in the future. And last but not least, I would like to thank all of the professors that took the time help us learn all that we have and mostly for just sharing your passions with us as a class.

To all of my CLASSMATES!!!! you already know this isn't the end. Your'e all stuck with me for life now, I Love you all! If you don't keep in touch I will come find you and give you endless amounts of nagging for not calling haha!

To those of you leaving USFSP, I will miss you so much (I do already) and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors (but you better keep in touch :p ) And to Cara, i wish you a smooth transmission between universities. To all of my USFSP peepz, I will see you guys in Fall semester!!! xoxoxo!

I cant say that I'm sad it's over, because tomorrow will be a new day, and now I can continue on with amazing people in my life, and learn from all of my new experiences.

Recalling the Memories!!!

Now that the FIO 2014 course has come to an end it is time to say thank you. I want to say thanks to all the professors that took the time to share their knowledge,  inspire us to fallow our passion, show us all the beautiful campuses, and showing us the equipment used in the field. After traveling around Florida I have learned so much about a place I lived my entire life that I never knew before. This truly was an invaluable experience that has opened my eyes to what Florida has to offer. My travels have helped me realize what I want to do with my life, where I would consider going to graduate school, and where I would like to live in the future. I look back at all the schools I visited and recall the information I learned. At UWF in Pensacola we visited Black water River were we learned how to identify a variety of plants and pines such as, the Slash pine which have bundles of 2-5 and Long Leaf pine have bundles of 3. We also learned about the importance of both wild and prescribed fires for the maintenance of ecosystems. Later on that week we learned about the sand dunes and the variety of bird species that inhabit them. Species included Snowy Plover, Gull-billed Tern, and Black Skimmers which were being killed off by coyote, foxes, development of roads, and human interaction. This experience opened my eyes to the struggles that the environment and its wildlife are faced with every day.
Next stop was Jacksonville to UNF which happened to be one of my favorite Universities that I visited during this course. While staying at UNF we visited Ponta Vedra Beach we were given the opportunity to see another beach with sand dunes. This was interesting to compare the dunes that are better protected at UNF to those that were constantly disturbed at UWF.  Another crazy experience at UNF was the 24 hour study at a weir. I learned a lot about how the water quality and diversity of species changes throughout the day and night. I think it is safe to say that everyone loved and hated the 24 hour study but in the end we all agree it was worth doing.
After enduring the 24 hour study we left UNF and headed to the clear water of the Florida Keys. This was probably everyone's favorite place due to the numerous days on the boat, and seeing the beautiful reefs. We as a class really had our identification skills put to the test we had to learn how to identify a variety of fish, coral, algae, and more. This was also where I learned how to use the identification books.
Next Stop was FGCU  where we continued to sharpen our skills about the differences between sea grass beds and oyster reefs and their important role in maintaining water quality. We again continued to identify various species of fish and mangroves. This was also where I unfortunately got stung by a scorpion in the mangroves. So note to all who are visiting the mangroves in Fort Myers watch where you put your hands.
Our final stop was my home campus at USFSP where the coolest experience was on the research vessel the Weather Bird. This was where our class in my opinion had the greatest experience with using equipment related to our field of study. The equipment included: CTD, Neuston net, Bongo net, Otter trawl, and Dredge. On this vessel our class applied all of our skills of identification that we developed from weeks prior. It was very helpful during the sorting and identification of the species collected in the Neuston, Bongo, Otter trawl, and Dredge.

Overall this FIO course has been one of the greatest moments of my life and I loved how they combined students from different schools. I am so glad to have had this opportunity to meet all these wonderful  people and couldn't have asked for a better group. I felt that we all have become a huge family and I love and miss you all. I know we will all keep in touch and can't wait to see what we come up with next. I also would like to thank again all the professors and especially our TA Brock. Brock has been not only a great and supportive instructor, but also a truly incredible friend. Thank you for all your efforts and for putting up with all of us. You brought out the best in us all and I hope you will continue to guide others as you move on in your career. Please keep in touch and I wish you and your fiancee the very best.

All good things must come to an end.

Now that the trip is winding down, I can finally sit and reflect on this amazing journey. In Dr. Judkin's class on Monday, we took pre-tests with no notice or black and white study guide. We take the post test tomorrow to see how much we learned in a weeks time here at USFSP. There was no pre-test for this entire course and one of the things I find myself reflecting on the most is the amount of new knowledge I'm walking away with. There is no quantifiable way to measure this gain of knowledge but I can tell you it's a lot! Marine Science is an extremely broad field with so many interconnecting parts to make the whole. It is a mix of understanding physical, geological, chemical, political and so many more processes to get even an inkling of whats really going on in our oceans and other marine systems and how it all works. In this course we were presented a healthy amount of material on many of the "interconnecting" parts of Marine Science and have started to develop a real working knowledge of whats going on here in the various Florida ecosystems.

We visited The Florida Aquarium today in Tampa; the way the aquarium is set up is a lot like the itinerary of this course. When you start in the path at the aquarium, it starts with Florida's wetlands, plant communities, geological and coastal features as well as the critters that live there. We did the same at UWF in Pensacola, we started our study in the Black Water State Forest that forms the start of the water shed ecosystem. There are many rivers that cut through the forest which, after a short distance, meet the bay/ocean. We learned about the plant communities and how they're able to thrive in their specific environments, problems with species management in the coastal nesting bird communities, coastal features such as dunes (how they're formed and why they're important) and compared different ecosystem species diversity. We also spent a day in Perdido Bay determining estuarine gradients as well as other sampling. We were able to get a good feel for what was going on in the Bay at that time and develop an understanding of estuaries in general. It was neat to literally follow the water from the forests to the Bay and the surrounding coast. It really emphasizes how all of these systems are interconnected and how something occurring inland could directly affect our estuaries and oceans.


I started the above part of this blog before truly thinking about how I wanted it to go. I was going to do another summary of our journey and what we learned at each school/station but that's not what this blog should be about; we've already done that. What I really want to talk about is what I've gained from this trip. I am walking away with more than a grade, more than the road trip, more than the actual experience; I'm walking away with an amazing insight to Florida's ecosystems from some of the best instructors Florida has, as well as some of the best new friends I could ever ask for. I've been on trips before where I'm tired of the company after a couple days but to be honest that did not happen on this trip. We were all there to work towards a common goal and it really brought us together. There was always so much encouragement, teamwork, helping hands, support, concern and love. We all grew as individuals and many walked away with a much clearer understanding of what we want to make of our future. We also made so many connections all over the state with the best instructors. It's so inspirational to literally be in the field with passionate experts. We usually say this when we're little, but we really look up to our instructors and aspire to be like them on day. I've learned so much from you all and I could never thank you all enough!

Cara- You are such a lovely soul. You are one of the most positive and joyful persons I've ever met. You are so curious and absorb stuff like a sponge, this will take you far in life! I know no matter what you do, you'll do it whole heartedly and do it well! Best of luck and I hope you do transfer to USFSP!

 Dana-  You laugh more than anyone I know and it's contagious! You bring joy to any situation and see the positive in everything. I think it's awesome you already know exactly what you want to do; I know you will pursue and achieve anything you set your mind to. You're a super smart cookie and will be successful no matter what!

Layna- You are an awesome person. I know we'll definitely find you in a field based career because of your love for outdoors. I think it's awesome you want to move to Hawaii and teach yoga and do scienceeee. I remember talking about it and you said to make it happen you just have to imagine yourself there, don't forget that, I can tell that's where your heart wants to go. Your love for adventure will take you far in life, I wish you the best of luck with everything and I still want you to teach me how to surf. :)

Tiffany- Oh Tiffany! Haha! You definitely get the award for the most joyful and entertaining person of the group! I really loved getting to know you all the laughs along the way. You are seriously the sweetest and caring person ever and I can't believe we never met on the USFSP campus before, man was I missing out. But I'm so glad we've become great friends and I know for a fact you can do anything you set your mind to.

 Danielle- I've really enjoyed getting to know you and learning all about your Jamaican culture and experiences. You're another one that loves adventure, although we'll never find you in a mangrove swamp! :o) Your energy and spontaneous personality is contagious! I'm so glad we go to know each other because we're on the same campus! So I know for a fact I'll see you soon. Best of luck with everything, you can do anything you set your mind to!

 Wally- If I had to describe you to someone that didn't know you I would say that you are one of those people that would literally give the shirt off your back. You've got on of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. You're always more than willing to help someone and often jump in to help without even being asked to. You are also an amazing cook and I appreciate all you meals! Thanks for everything, Wally.. You're the best!

 Breeze- Breeze, I'm going to miss you! I've never met anyone like you and I have learned so much from you. You are such an extremely intelligent person and anyone would be lucky to have you work for them. Good things happen to good people and I know your time IS coming! Thank you so much for your love and positive energy always! Breeze will save the world and you'll always be our mascot! :)

 Aaron- You are an awesome person! You've done some of the coolest stuff and aren't afraid to go for what you want. You're another one we can surly find in the field because of your love for nature and anything outdoors! You have great ideas and I really would like to go chase waves or sea creatures with ya, travel buddy. You're very bright and will go far! Best of luck and I hope to see you soon!

 Zack- My work buddy! You are one of those people that does their own thing and never worries what anything thinks. What an awesome characteristic to have. You are such are hard worker and a very smart cookie! You've got a big heard any would do anything for anyone and I really enjoyed getting to know you. You're another one that will save the world with your great ideas. You are awesome, keep in touch!  

 Heather- You are the sweetest thing ever! I really enjoyed getting to know you and hearing stories about your life especially your awesome grandma. You've got such a big heart and love everyone no matter what. You're so accepting and joy to be around. Don't ever change! See you soon, friend! :)

Destiny- I don't know what we would've done without Destiny. You were always so helpful in so many situations and ways. You were always on top of everything an made sure everything was completed and done right. You are very bright and always offered a great explanation if there was a question you could help with. You're super motivated and don't need luck because you will achieve anything you set your mind to. It was a pleasure getting to know you. :)

 Brock- Best TA ever! You were always there to help with a situation or question. I appreciate all the times you answered my questions about grad school or anything else! You were such a wealth of knowledge and it was great to always get a grad students view on something! Thanks for being a great momma duck and keeping our bellies full. We appreciate everything you did for us! Best of luck with everything!!

To all the instructors and everyone else that made this possible- I can't that you all enough for everything you've done. As I've said,
this has truly been the best experience ever and I'm walking away a better person than when I came. I would recommend this course to anyone and I'm so glad this was an option for me. THANK YOU, FIO!!!

This is just the beginning...

 I can't believe how far away that first week seems now that we have completed the FIO class! Coming into this program, I had very little idea of what to expect, in regard to both the course work and my classmates. By the end of the first day when we had conquered waves and rainstorms, I knew that this would be a wonderful experience.
Before this class, I had been lucky enough to have used many types of scientific equipment and experienced various marine environments in Florida. Going into each week, I was eager to utilize familiar equipment as well as learn new techniques. Additionally, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed watching my fellow classmates have these new experiences, especially those that are not originally from Florida. I don't think I'll ever forget the surprise on her face when I told Cara to look under the boat where a Goliath Grouper was lurking! Or when we were snorkeling and I told Brock to look down because a shark was swimming under us. While I personally enjoyed each and every site that we visited, I took greater pleasure in watching everyone's excitement as they experienced new things! These past few weeks have been intense and I do not know a better group of people that I could have spent this much time with, the FIO family. This class has opened up many opportunities for all of us and serves as the beginning of our successful lives, no matter what each of us decides to do. One thing is for certain, this is not the last time that we will ever see each other!

While I want to thank each and every professor for their help along this journey, I want to give a personal shout out to Dr. Dennis Hanisak. Without you I would not have known about this course, let alone had the scholarship that allowed me to afford this trip!

The End Is Nigh...

These past 5.5 weeks have been enlightening, enriching, and exciting. Going to so many different and new places has been the greatest opportunity of my life so far. Meeting new people along the way, and spending the entire time with wonderful people, has led me to expand my network of people. Not only could they help me with my future goals, but they are also amazing people that I am delighted to have had the chance to meet.
Our first 3 days in St. Pete were an excellent way to bond with each other and get a grasp on what is expected of us on this trip. All of us got really close really quickly! The next week, at UWF, was just as fun. I loved the way they started us out in an upland forest and then worked our way down to the coast. This was a perfect example to show how every different ecosystem is interconnected with each other.
Our week at UNF brought us to a different marine system all together. We went from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. The 24 hour survey was the highlight of the trip for me, it was a wonderful way to experience working in the field. Then we went to the Keys Marine Lab. That was such a terrific experience for me! I had never been to the Keys before, and being out on a boat everyday snorkeling in beautiful waters and learning about the different ecosystems and organisms living there was fantastic.
FGCU was another unique experience. We were still out on the boats everyday, but the days were almost split in half; boat in the morning and lab in the afternoon. While I didn't like how much reports we were given to write and work up, snorkeling in the seagrass beds was a lot of fun for me. Our last week was spent at USFSP. And I think everyone can agree that the highlight of that week was spending 12 hours on the school's research vessel, the Weatherbird. Our following labs were a result of the creatures and water samples we collected on the ship. I spent about an hour trying to identify a species of searobin...Prionotus Tubi,the Blackwing searobin.
Even through the car and computer troubles, these past 5.5 weeks were a great experience. This course even led me to change my career goals. At first I wanted to do deep sea exploration, exploring the trenches and ocean ridges for life. Now, I would like to work with endangered species, especially sea turtles, and spend my time in the photic zones of our oceans. I would also like to thank all of the professors and staff that worked with us, taught us, and led us through a wonderful journey. Please keep this course running for many years to come!

High five.........Scuba Dive!!!!!

     So the class is already over and I must say it flew by.  Seems like just a few days ago when I first arrived to St. Pete for the introductory week.  I have learned so many things over the course of the past five weeks but most importantly I have begun to apply this knowledge into my life outside of class.  I am going to miss each and every one of the places we visited.  This Field Studies course has given me a very broad understanding of most of the applications involved in marine science research.   It was excellent to be involved with the Florida Institute of Oceanography for this unique opportunity.   My favorite learning experience was during our time spent at the Keys Marine Lab and MOTE Marine Lab.  I hope to pursue a masters degree in something involving coral research and conservation.
     In an attempt to preserve some of the memories that have been gathered over the past five weeks I will be putting together a video highlight reel from hours of GoPro footage taken at each location.  I wish the class could continue for the entire summer and we were able to spend two weeks in each location.  I am going to miss everyone from the class very much but I know we will all keep in touch and hopefully either one day work in together or in the same field with the common goal of preserving our oceans. I want to thank all the professors and Brock our TA for being so UN-Brock-able!