Exploring Marine Ecology: A Field Trip to MarineLab in Key Largo with FSW College Students

Exploring Marine Ecology: A Field Trip to MarineLab in Key Largo

On a beautiful Saturday morning, November 4th, our group of eager students from Florida SouthWestern State College arrived at MarineLab in Key Largo. We geared up for a day of hands-on learning and exploration in the field of marine biology.

An early arrival allowed us time to explore some mangroves where Professor Jordan Donini pointed out the unique features. The white mangroves, with their nectar-producing glands at the base of the leaves, caught our attention. These glands provide sweet nectar to feed ants, and in return, the ants protect the mangroves from other insects like slugs and snails. It was fascinating to witness this symbiotic relationship in action.

Next, the black mangroves, had distinctive aerial roots protruding from the soil. He encouraged us to touch the back of the leaves, and we noticed a slight saltiness, a feature that helps these mangroves survive in their saline environment.

The next highlight of our trip was the diversity indexing lab, led by instructor Alli. Students were engaged in a discussion on ecological health, defining species richness and evenness, and emphasizing their differences.

We then delved into the concept of a diversity index, explaining that it combines species richness and evenness into a single number. She introduced us to Simpson’s diversity index, highlighting its formula and the tools that would be used.

Students paired up and were tasked with collecting samples from a live rock tank. Back in the classroom, we meticulously recorded our findings, including the number of each species, and calculated the diversity index for our rock samples. Ali encouraged us to ponder why the diversity index varied among different rocks, urging us to consider factors like rock appearance and size.

Our day continued with a discussion on seagrass ecology. We learned that Key Largo boasts the world’s largest seagrass bed and that seagrass plays a vital role in the estuarine ecosystem. Turtle grass, manatee grass, and shoal grass were identified as key species, with the latter being the pioneer species.

Students listen to their instructor as they prepare for their swim test.

We were assigned student cards to identify different phyla and shown examples of various marine life, including porifera and cnidaria. The discussion on reef-safe dye for porifera piqued our curiosity about the intricate world of marine organisms.

As the day progressed, we dived deeper into marine ecology, discussing characteristics of cnidarians and exploring the vibrant coral reefs. The evening was dedicated to zooplankton, where we learned about meroplankton and holoplankton, and used neuston tow nets and deep well slides to examine these tiny creatures.

The following day, we ventured into fish identification with a focus on shape, pattern, color, size, behavior, and habitat. We discovered that fish exhibit a wide range of adaptations to fit their ecological niches. The intricate patterns on their bodies fascinated us, and we learned to identify various types of patterns, from horizontal bars to ocelli (false eyes).

Our journey through MarineLab was not just a field trip but an immersive experience that allowed us to witness the complexities of marine ecosystems up close. From the intricate relationships in mangrove communities to the delicate balance of biodiversity on live rocks, we gained a deeper understanding of the importance of conservation and ecological health.

As the sun set over Key Largo, our group of FSW college students left MarineLab with a newfound appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of marine life. Our minds were brimming with knowledge, and our hearts were filled with a passion for preserving the remarkable ecosystems that make our planet so unique. It was a field trip we would treasure forever, an experience that truly brought biology to life.

Interested in hands-on experiences learning about biodiversity like this one? Take BSC 1010 General Biology II at Florida SouthWestern State College!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *