Marian Travels to Pensacola April 5, 2010Posted by Colleen in Biology, Ecology, Environment/Conservation, Marian University curriculum, Science Education.
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Spring Break….and SCIENCE!
Over Marian University’s spring break, the MU Marine Biology class that I am enrolled in took a field trip to Pensacola, Florida. It’s been kind of difficult learning about marine topics while in a classroom in the middle of Indiana…the nearest ocean is hours away. Because of this, I found our Pensacola trip to be vital to my understanding of the topics we’ve covered so far this semester.
Our group began our caravan to Florida at 5 AM the Saturday of spring break and arrived to our rented beach house in Pensacola about 12 and a half hours later. As soon as we got there, the whole class ran to the beach across the street, and our learning began!
The following day, we went to Big Lagoon State Park. One of the first things we did in every new place we went to was to check water temperature and salinity. Here, the water was an icy 15 degrees C and had a salinity of 17 ppt. The water here was somewhat less salty because we were looking at an area that acted as a nursery ground to many young marine organisms. To look at these organisms, some of us took a seining net and walked through the water. Some of the organisms we found included snapping shrimp, jellyfish (one was a moon jelly), juvenile sea trout, croaker and mullet, pipefish (related to seahorses), as well as other juvenile organisms.We also looked at the primary producers in this area. Sea grass and eel grass were the plants we saw in the water and Juncus was a terrestrial plant we saw all over.
The following day, we took a day trip to Mobile, Alabama to look at the mud flats there. Unfortunately, the Gulf coast only experiences one tide circuit per day (compared to 2 on other oceans). Low tide had occurred at 5:30 in the morning, but we got there around 11 AM. We did what we could as far as looking at soil samples, but information was difficult to gather here. The temperature of the water was half a degree cooler (14.5 degrees) in Mobile Bay and salinity was 10 ppt. The salinity here was so much lower because of the fresh-water river that flowed into the area.
In Pensacola Bay, right behind the house where we stayed, we looked at fouling communities, which are the communities of barnacles, and oysters that attach to buoys, boats, pilings of piers, and any other surface that they can find to claim as home. The zonation depends on how much time the object spends in or out of the water. Oysters tend to live on things that spend all or most of their time submerged. Barnacles can be higher up and can survive for periods of time out of the water.
One of the final marine aspects our class explored was to look at the water and beach of the Gulf of Mexico right outside of the house we stayed in. We took measurements of the length of the beach (from waterline to area where plant growth began) so that future classes could come down and compare our data with theirs. The water here had a much higher salinity than anywhere else we had tested at 37 ppt. The temperature was the same as most other places we tested (15 degrees). There were some interesting organisms that we came across here as well. One was the ghost crab. If you see the holes that are along the beach, that is most likely the home of one of these creatures. They range in size from very small to about the size of a fist (if you include its legs). We found a large female crab and brought her in to study, but she must have been old because she died the next day. We also tried bringing in a smaller one we found later on in the week, but there was an accident and the little guy got crushed. A third and fourth were brought back to our house and placed in a tank. On was large and the other was small. Unfortunately for the smaller crab, the big guy got hungry. Before we came home again, we let go our lone surviving crab. I’m sure she was glad to be free again.