When opportunity knocks...

Back in Ohio, people would always tell me that perfect moments in time only come a dime a dozen. Or that once in a life time opportunities were so far and few that I had to jump on every possible advancement in my career/life that I could get. It's advice that I have carried with me throughout the years, making me more aware of my needs and more conscious of my life decisions. It has made me grateful for the experiences I have had, and memorable of the times I worked so hard, even when things failed underneath my hopeful spirit. But there has been no short supply of opportunity here in Florida, and this past weekend I had the chance to mark a few things off my list.

Welcome to the Florida Everglades.
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Last Friday I left with a few people from my Marine Biology Club at FIU for some fieldwork down in Ponce de Leon Bay located in the Florida Everglades. I have always wanted to visit the Everglades, and had an opportunity to do a little camping in the wilderness and get out on one of the university boats for some shark tagging and research. Our goal was to set out longlines and drumlines to catch as many bull sharks as we possibly could to aid in research that is being done on the Gulf of Mexico population.

The stars were gorgeous in the non-light polluted space, but as the large moon rose over the sleepy horizon, the Milky Way began to fade, and eyes grew heavy knowing we had to be up in mere hours. Our morning began at 4:00AM, as we packed our gear up and brushed our teeth, carefully spatting foamy toothpaste out in bushes not blocked by gigantic black and yellow argiope spiders. Gear packed, and on the road by 5:00AM, we drove an hour east towards Flamingo where we were to catch the boat and meet our Grad leader, Phil for our day of fieldwork. The mosquitos are absolutely retched in Flamingo and live by the thousands. But once we loaded all of our supplies and got moving on the water, their nuisance thinned and we glided on the still water like glass to our research location on Ponce de Leon Bay.

Relieved to not have brought my nice DSLR camera on the trip, we prepared for our day's catch by covering the haul with icy blood and fish guts as we chopped striped black mullet and bonito as bait for our long and drumlines. After setting the first lines we saw the waters full of plentiful bobbing loggerheads and a phantom manatee I was never able to see. And later in the day we played with a pod of a dozen or more wild dolphins, riding steadily next to our boat haul and clicking in playful curiosity.

Our days work caught us 3 large nurse sharks, and 1 bull shark. The nurse sharks were obsolete to our research, but we were able to tag the bull shark, and take blood and tissue samples for the lab later. It was interesting to see the docile nurse sharks flail in the water as we attempted to determine the sex and set them free, but the more aggressive bull shark seemed much more cooperative as Phil heaved him out of the water and into a large onboard cooler for analysis.

The research we collected serves many purpose, as the data will be compared to a large bank of other biologist's data and help to track the health of the bull shark population. One thing I learned is that bull sharks are smart and the ones tagged are unlikely to be caught again. Encouraging to know that we are still catching new sharks.

I look forward to doing more fieldwork in the future. I have already made a lot of contacts and FIU has been a major part in my access to exciting new projects. For example, yesterday I helped a pre-med student with his research on the importance of oyster populations in Jupiter, FL. Later this month, I will be helping another grad student with her research on spawning coral in the Keys. There is no short supply of opportunity down here, and with the combination of the hot weather, the ocean, animal life, and the people, I could see myself taking my sweet time to graduate.


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