NCBS Intern Report written by Anna Swigris, with Tim Jones and Jamie Letendre with the Department of Environmental Protection
7:00 AM. I arrive at the Crystal River Preserve State Park office. I change into snorkel gear and help calibrate our data logger and load the truck. My mentors in the front seat, I hop into the cab, and we drive to a boat ramp.
7:45 AM. We are on the water. The sea is glass, so much so that I cannot differentiate between ocean and sky. Everything is quiet, sans the faint humming of the airboat I hear through my earmuffs. It is a calm morning above the surface, but I know the world below the boat boasts a different story.
8:00 AM. We arrive at the first site of the day, and I go through a mental checklist. Rash guard? Check. Snorkel and mask? Check. Fins? Check. Data logger? Check. I hand a quadrat to my mentor in the water, take a deep breath, and plunge.
This was a typical morning during my internship this summer with the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station. I had the honor of working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection through a partnership with UF/IFAS NCBS, monitoring and assessing seagrass in the St. Martins Marsh and Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserves.
Seagrass ecosystems hold a significant ecological importance in the Gulf of Mexico. They stabilize nutrients and soil, provide food for sea turtles and other marine herbivores, and shelter marine fish and invertebrates. Hence, a multitude of species in the Gulf depend on seagrasses.
My main project this summer was to assess these key ecosystems for seagrass and algae diversity. Upon arriving at a site, my mentors and I snorkeled with a one-by-one-meter square (quadrat) of PVC. We then threw the quadrat and identified all species of seagrass and algae in the square. We also assessed epiphyte density, sediment type, and the percent coverage of each macrophyte species. After noting any urchins or scallops in the quadrat, we threw the quadrat again, repeating the process until we assessed four quadrats per site.
In addition to seagrass sampling, I assisted in water quality monitoring, surveying eight study systems in total. This consisted of taking one-liter grab samples from specified sites within each study system. Depending on the type of sampling, we either filtered samples in the boat or packaged and shipped unfiltered samples to a Florida DEP office. I also assisted with UF’s Microplastic Awareness Project. For this project, we obtained surface samples from a specified site within a study system. We then brought that sample to the lab and, after a week, filtered it with filter paper. Finally, we identified any microplastic on the filter paper using a microscope.
A Summer to Remember
This summer, in addition to gaining valuable experience in seagrass, water quality, and microplastics, I assisted in summer camps, freshwater spring water quality, and so much more. I am so thankful to hosts and mentors Tim Jones, Jamie Letendre, and Trisha Green, and I am forever grateful to NCBS for providing such an amazing opportunity.