Oneof the exciting things about being a marine scientist is that aside from lab work, there is a lot of field work to do. Last week, I went along with Dr. Wall and Assistant Amanda on a field day to collect samples from four of his research sites. Dr. Wall’s research analyzes the biodiversity of each site by collecting samples of all living organisms (animals and plants)
from sediment cores. His research is very interesting to those who enjoy learning about the critters, small organisms and crustaceans of the marshes of Louisiana.
Dr. Wall made sure to warn us to bring field work clothes. Now you may wonder what field work clothes are? Well, it is basically anything you do not mind losing or getting a permanent stain on. As scientists, we have a closet full of field clothes that should only be worn on these special occasions. It is essential not to wear your Jordans of Gucci pants when going out to the marsh to collect samples. Tell me about it, I had to remove tons of mud from my Jordans as I limited the pairs of shoes I brought from California. Now, I have made a small investment in cheap tennis shoes to avoid getting my good pairs stained. You can also ask Dr. Wall. He came back with shorts even though he had worn pants to the field site. It was not until site 3 that his pants were altered to shorts. The struggles scientists face with their shoes and clothes while conducting research!!!
Our field work actually consisted of two days. While day one was more enjoyable, day two consisted of marsh flies that actually bite! Yikes! As a native Californian, I had never heard of flies that bite, but there is always an exception in the marsh!
The smell of the sites on the second day was also not enjoyable. While I had conducted previous work in mud, restoring land to farm taro in Hawaii and planting trees in the muddy Coast of Ecuador, I had never encountered mud that smelled awful. I cannot show you how awful the mud smelled, but let’s just imagine rotten eggs sitting in soil for a long time. But as scientists, you have to become “immune” to these smells as there is no time to sit around and complain when collecting samples for your research project. Smells are actually very important to scientists as the smell can tell us a lot about the chemical composition of the soil. They were indeed fun days out in the field with Dr. Wall!! I bet he enjoyed pushing our boat out of the mud various times!!
CWC strives to inform the public about the effects of the 2010 oil spill. With knowledge, ground breaking research and studies, the Coastal Waters Consortium is taking part in one of the most important projects in the marine science field that will help us gain insight into how the chemical evolution, biological degradation, and environmental stresses of petroleum and dispersant within Gulf of Mexico can affect coastal and shelf ecosystems. “But what is scientific research if we cannot share it with the public?” marine educator, Jessica Hernandez asks. Because the Coastal Waters Consortium believes
that public awareness is important to fulfilling their mission, they have established a series of public education workshops that will allow participants to get informed about the kinds of research their scientists and prime investigators are conducting.
Their first public education workshop was held on October 26, 2013 at the De Felice Marine Center in Cocodrie, LA. With the funding of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the support of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, they were able to offer unique experiences to adults 18 years of older. Participants met scientists, explored the bay environment, and (in true Louisianan style) had a delicious chicken and sausage gumbo for lunch.
The featured scientists for this event were Dr. Chuck Wall and Dr. Tara Duffy.
Dr. Wall explained the seasonal hypoxia his lab is investigating as well as the oil impacts on salt marshes. His research focuses on how oil exposure affects abundance and the diversity of benthic critters. This project is still in progress and with more results coming. Dr. Wall hopes to lead another public education workshop to further discuss his findings. One
small research project he highlighted was the summer project his past REU student, Steven Carrion conducted on the oil impacts on sub-tidal benthos. This project concluded that there was no difference among the species richness and
diversity between oiled and non-oiled sites. However, Dr. Wall mentioned that there was a need for further studies to get a better idea of the relationships being observed.
Dr. Duffy discussed the fisheries health in the Gulf of Mexico. Her work involves larvae and how the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill affected the Blue Crab, Anchovy, Red Snapper and Trout in their early life stages. She exposes larvae in her lab and records how the organisms respond to immediate contact with oil. With these findings, she will be able to conclude how oil
spills affect the primary stages of these important marine organisms.
Knowledge wasn’t the only thing participants took from this experience; they also took wonderful memories from the boat cruise around the estuary. On the boat educators collected organisms using a trawl to show participants that coastal Louisiana has a large biodiversity that can be at risk during an oil spill. The day concluded with a plankton lab, where participants were able to see plankton specimens under a microscope and understand theimportance of these small organisms to the Gulf of Mexico’s food web.
Have you ever wondered how a research vessel and its crew function? How grants are administered and how unexpected things take place on board? Our teachers who participated in our last week’s In Depth Investigations-Teacher Workshop (October 11th-13th) were able to experience this first hands. They switched their roles of educators to CWC and LUMCON scientists in our Stimulation of Research Cruise Activity. While measuring the depth of the ocean floor using the models they created, teachers had to pull scenarios from a box that made their research easier or harder to manage. Such scenarios included: hurricanes, time management issues that prevented setting sail on time, crew getting sick, etc. In their reflective section, teachers concluded that they were able to understand that grant making and research is not as fun and easy as most scientists make it seem. They are now able to take this new understanding to their classrooms and spread the knowledge that grant writing and administering is also part of being a great scientist and researcher. The journey can become difficult and hard, but scientists have to think on their feet to get things done! Special shout outs and thanks were sent to our CWC and LUMCON scientists!
However, this was not the only fun activity we had in store for them! They also had the opportunity to build a ROV and take ROV kits granted to them by the generous grants from the Louisiana Environmental Education Commission, Coastal Waters Consortium and LUMCON. This ROV kit will allow them to have a model to utilize for their classroom teachings when discussing oceanography and the BP Oil Spill. This allows them to have a hands-on activity for their students to enjoy. They also built mini landers using a plastic cup, metal weights, rubber bands, film canister, four pennies, Alka Seltzer, and Duct tape. The Mini landers sank to the bottom of our aquarium tanks and then floated back to the surface with the chemical reaction Alka Seltzer, water and pennies made. It was indeed a great weekend to spend learning more about physical oceanography, geological oceanography and ocean floors! Thanks to all the teachers who participated! We will be posting the lesson plans for the activities soon!