Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer Recap

The summer is coming to a close, and my internship at Biscayne National Park is over.

It was an incredible experience and one of the best summers of my life. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to create such a strong connection with the ocean, as well as the opportunity to conserve and preserve my home state’s natural resources. I did and saw things that I would’ve never been able to otherwise; surveying for sea turtle nests, administering sub-surface reef surveys, and even catching lionfish.

The battle to protect sea turtle nests from predators and tides was the greatest challenge my team and I faced all summer. We repeatedly underestimated the strength and IQ of hungry raccoons. They found ways to dig under our protective screens, and would even camp out nearby to watch mother sea turtles lay eggs at night. As soon as the mother turtle returned to the water, the glutinous raccoons would devour each and every turtle egg without a second thought. We lost many nests to severe predation, but when we did save a nest, it was an extremely rewarding feeling for the entire team.

Surveying reefs for invertebrates was by far the coolest responsibility I’ve ever been delegated. We surveyed 12 different sites, which were all different and beautiful in their own way. Some were merely 6-7 feet deep, and some were an intimidating 33-35 feet deep. Since the creatures that I surveyed for are primarily bottom-dwellers, the 33-35 ft depth proved to be one of my greatest personal challenges of the summer. Only during my final week of free diving was I able to reach these depths. It was one of my proudest personal accomplishments of the summer. What’s even greater is that all of my data that I worked so hard to collect is now being used to track the fragile condition of those reefs. I am so honored to know that my efforts will contribute to preserving one of Florida’s most valuable resources.

Catching lionfish. Now here’s a task that seemed endless. First, a little background info: Lionfish are native to indo-pacific waters and dawn numerous venomous spines that can have paralyzing, and sometimes fatal results. They were first spotted in Biscayne National Park during the summer of 2009. This year, they were spotted again in May 2010. During the course of the summer, lionfish sightings became a regular occurrence. Since lionfish have no natural predators in Florida’s waters, they pose an extreme threat to our natural ecosystem. The lionfish, much like raccoons, are glutinous eaters. They will eat fish that are nearly their own size in one quick gulp. Our new mission for the summer was to catch as many lionfish as possible. During my internship, we totaled over 80 lionfish, varying from 1 to 6 inches long. Many theories have been proposed as to how these lionfish arrived in Florida. Some believe it was due to Hurricane Andrew; when so many homes were demolished or flooded, people’s exotic “pets” broke free and found their way to the bay. Others believe it’s due to cargo ship’s bilges; the ships would accidentally capture lionfish eggs or fully-grown lionfish in indo-pacific waters, travel around the world and, upon arriving to their destination, would dump their bilges releasing the lionfish into a new and extremely sensitive eco-system. Lionfish continue to be a problem in Florida’s waters. If you are a fisherman, please make yourself aware of what a lionfish looks like and do your best to either A) capture it (BE CAREFUL OF VENEMOUS SPINES) or B) report your sighting to Biscayne National Park. The eradication of this incredibly invasive species will require cooperation between everyone that utilizes Florida’s waters.

Overall, my experience at Biscayne National Park was truly unforgettable. Special thanks to my supervisors and my teammates for their support and friendship.

Next up....Aspen.