Sunday, October 26, 2014

Keys Marine Lab Fall 2014 Field Trip Pictures and Critter ID Test

So... much... biodiversity.

Majestic Queen Parrotfish photo PA251413_zpseb1f7b03.jpg

I'm physically and mentally exhausted after five wonderful days snorkeling and marine biologizing at the Florida Institute of Oceanography's Keys Marine Lab. This was a required field trip for one of the FGCU classes I'm teaching this semester; Marine Ecology. Our class was quite large this year (31 students) so we broke the trip into two groups of 15 or 16 each, and each group spent two nights at KML.

When I did this trip in 2012 I didn't incorporate much lesson structure- We just put the students in the boat and took them out snorkeling. In 2013 I wanted to add a stronger scientific component so we did a "living laboratory" benthic habitat survey using a variety of transect and quadrat methods. Doing challenging species identification and complex in-water data recording at the same time was overwhelming for the students that year, so this year I tried a compromise between the unscientific snorkeling we did in 2012 and the overly ambitious benthic surveys we did in 2013.

We focused on building species identification skills and comparing species composition and abundance from site to site. Each student would make observations and take pictures at every site we visited in the field, then would come back to the lab and use field guides to help identify and write down every species they were sure they had encountered. Species included everything from fishes to corals, sponges, other invertebrates, algae, seagrasses, and mangroves. At the end of the last day I put pictures of 90 of the species we had encountered into a big powerpoint slideshow as a number-coded species identification quiz. To make the quiz less impossible I let students use field guides during the quiz. From my perspective it worked great, but we'll see what the students thought when they do their course evaluations.

The snorkeling sites that the KML staff took us to this year were a bit different from ones I've visited in the past, because the weather was rainy and windy. When the weather was OK we went out to some offshore reef sites: Coffin's Patch Special Protected Area, Long Key Ledge, and Elbow Reef. We visited an inshore seagrass and sandbar site near Grassy Key, and we visted two mangrove-seagrass sites: Zane Gray Creek and Koch Key. During the worst weather we just snorkeled from shore in the bay near KML. There was some overlap in the species we saw at each site, but there were unique critters everywhere we went. You can see a little of what we saw in the slideshow below.

If you'd like to test your own reef organism identification skills, this is a link to the numbered powerpoint presentation I put together for the students' test. It was an open-book test. The answer key is here.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 2014 Caloosahatchee Seagrass Fieldwork Slideshow

Since 2013 I've been working under a contract with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to monitor Submersed Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. "SAV" includes seagrasses, which live in saltwater, but it also includes freshwater plants that resemble seagrasses. There are two main reasons to monitor SAV:

1. SAV provides valuable "ecosystem services" such as creating food and habitat for animals (and fishing opportunities for humans), improving water clarity, removing excessive nutrients and carbon dioxide, and reducing erosion.

2. SAV is extremely sensitive to water quality, so changes in the amount of SAV can indicate pollution or other problems in the water environment that need to be addressed.

The Caloosahatchee Estuary has historically supported healthy beds of SAV both in the saltwater part where it joins the Gulf of Mexico and in the fresher part around the city of Fort Myers and upriver. Different species of SAV are typically found in the different parts of the estuary; seagrasses near the Gulf of Mexico, and freshwater "tapegrass" in the more inland part of the estuary. Man-made changes in pollution and salinity levels may affect SAV differently in the different parts of the estuary, so we monitor SAV at seven different spots along the length of the estuary.

The red writing on this map shows the seven sites where we monitor the abundance and health of SAV. The yellow writing shows where water quality (salinity, temperature, pollution, etc.) is measured. Collecting all this data allows us to relate changes in SAV to changes in water quality.
CRE SAV Study Sites photo CRESAVstudysites_zps455c6864.jpg

SAV has declined recently in some parts of the Caloosahatchee Estuary, with the worst declines being in the fresh and brackish parts where there's virtually no tapegrass anymore. Unstable salinity levels and murky, polluted water, which are both related to human activities in the land areas that drain into the estuary, are largely to blame.

Keeping track of SAV health over such a large area is a big job, especially with the rigorous monitoring and bookkeeping methods required to meet the high standards of the SFWMD. For example, at each of the seven monitoring sites we survey, we assess seagrass characteristics at 30 random points sprinkled over an area the size of a football field. Each point has its own designated Latitude and Longitude coordinates, and we use waterproof GPS units to find the points. This year we are also entering data directly into specialized "Trimble" GPS units, which seemed like a lot of trouble at first but is OK now that I've reallocated some money from the SFWMD to hire extra helpers. With me plus a paid research technician, plus two paid graduate students, plus a small army of unpaid undergraduate interns, we now have this fieldwork on LOCK. We got our May SAV (Submersed Aquatic Vegetation) monitoring for the SFWMD done with speed and style, and even had the time to take pictures while were out there (See slideshow below).

The SAV in the lower Caloosahatchee Estuary looked thick and healthy in May relative to its sparse abundance earlier in the year. However, the epiphytic algae growing on it was quite thick in places- possibly indicating excessive nutrient inputs from humans or a deficiency of algae-eating animals. In the upper Caloosahatchee Estuary the submerged aquatic vegetation remained very sparse.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Totally Radical Internship Opportunity at Oregon State U's Marine Lab

Check this out- I did an internship at Oregon State U's marine lab when I was in college and it was AWESOME. Majestic rugged coastline, badass boats and sea creatures, all the science you can handle, and the Rogue Brewery is right across the street:
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Come discover the Oregon Coast!
From Estuaries to the Deep Sea...OSU's Research Experience for Undergraduates...

Are you a Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Computer Science major? Take advantage of the opportunity to gain research experience while exploring the exciting interdisciplinary field of marine and estuarine science research!

Oregon State University is offering summer marine science internships to 20 college students through its Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences in Corvallis. The 10-week program matches qualified students with faculty mentors representing a wide range of ocean science research interests, including: Cetacean/Fisheries Conservation Genetics; Marine Aquaculture; Physical, Chemical and Biological Oceanography; Marine Geology; Coastal Ecology; Marine Renewable Energy; Marine Biological Invasions; Satellite Remote Sensing and many others.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) is a 49-acre research and education campus on Oregon's central coast, with modern laboratory facilities, a world-class marine science library, and six state and federal agencies co-located on site with easy access to the "living laboratory" of Oregon's coastal estuaries and the ocean. Scientists representing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, USDA, USGS, EPA, NOAA Fisheries, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife serve with OSU faculty as mentors in the REU program. Situated on the south shore of Newport’s picturesque Yaquina Bay, the HMSC provides easy access to the ocean and estuary for field research and recreational activities alike. On the OSU main campus in Corvallis, the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences trains the next generation of Biological, Chemical, Geological and Physical Oceanographers and Earth System Scientists, offering opportunities or interdisciplinary research in world-class labs and facilities.

Oregon State University Marine Sciences REU Program:

• 10-week summer program, June 16 - August 22, 2014
• Stipend $5650, onsite housing, round-trip travel costs
• Detailed Program Information: • Initial review of applications: Monday, February 3, 2014 by 5 PM PST

Eligibility is limited to currently enrolled students who are not graduating seniors.
Underrepresented and Community College students are encouraged to apply.

Printable PDF flyer:


For more information or questions, please contact me at (541) 867-0380 or email

Itchung Cheung | Academic Program Manager & Senior Instructor Biology | Hatfield Marine Science Center Oregon State University | 2030 SE Marine Science Drive | Newport, OR 97365-5296 |
541-867-0380 phone | 541-867-0138 fax

From Estuaries to the Deep Sea...
Research Experience for Undergraduates...

Come discover the Oregon Coast!
Summer Program in Marine and Environmental Studies at HMSC...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Intraspecific Variation in Bull Sharks - Philip Matich @ FGCU

The Marine and Ecological Sciences Department at Florida Gulf Coast University occasionally hosts scientific speakers from outside the university. These seminars are open to the public, as well as to students and faculty. We're going to have a good speaker next Friday, 17 January 2014, at 4:00 - 5:00 pm in the Sugden Resort and Hospitality Management Building, Room #110. The speaker is Philip Matich, a PhD candidate in Dr. Mike Heithaus' Lab at Florida International University. The title of Philip's talk is: "We’re not all the same: the drivers and potential consequences of intraspecific variability in Bull Sharks, Carcharhinus leucas."

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Synopsis: Populations are often assumed to be homogeneous, but research continues to elucidate the individual differences that exist in nature. Such individuality can have important implications for the functional roles species play within their respective ecosystems, and identifying intraspecific variability within populations is an important first step to understanding the potential effects individual differences have for both adaptability and evolution. In turn, investigating what shapes these differences and their persistence within populations is crucial for predicting how animals may respond to environmental changes and anthropogenic stressors. Our research in the Florida Everglades suggests that bull sharks, traditionally thought of as a highly adaptable generalist predator, display considerable individual differences in habitat use and trophic interactions. Such differences develop early in the life-history of bull sharks, and persist throughout their residencies in nursery habitats, where food-risk trade-offs and intraspecific competition appear to shape the roles of juvenile bull sharks in both top-down and bottom-up effects within coastal estuaries. With predicted changes in environmental conditions and human impacts, understanding the importance of phenotypic variability among species will be crucial for improving management strategies and predicting the responses of species to such changes.

I'm particularly excited about this talk because I know Philip from a long time ago. He was an undergraduate intern with my PhD advisor Dr. J. Emmett Duffy at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It's cool to see how successfully Phil has progressed in science over the last several years.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Basic" College Science and Math Pre-Test

Since I started teaching at Florida Gulf Coast University I've made all my students take a science pre-test. I don't count it towards the students' grades, but it helps me see how much science and math education they have had and remembered... and what I need to catch them up on! Sometimes at the end of the semester I'll give it again for a grade. Anyway, I'm putting the test here on the web so other people can try it themselves, or copy it and use it for their own teaching purposes. Some of the inspiration for and answers to the test can be found in a post on my personal blog:

You can check your answers here: Answer Key