Extra time and various activities

Canoeing 23.02.19

Temperature: 25°c.

Location: Vester Marine Field Station (and surrounding waters) Fort Myers, FL.

Observed species behaviours:

  • Dolphin locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Dolphin locomotive behaviour (diving).
  • Grey Heron locomotive behaviour (flying).
  • White ibis resting behaviour (perching).

After a wonderful day spent at Lovers Key, building on our knowledge and embracing our stunning surroundings, we turned to our adventurous sides and headed out on the surrounding waters via canoe.

We split into pairs, lifting the heavy canoes from the rack to push them energetically into the water, ready to set sail.

I soon grasped the concept of the simple arm movements required in order to successfully manoeuvre the canoe (after sailing into mangrove shrubs on numerous occasions and frightening Carla with my uncertainty…)

Rowing left and right, we stopped as we became mesmerised by the dolphins diving in the not-so-far distance. They proceeded to swim joyously in friendly pods as we moved forwards and headed in the same direction.

We engaged in the canoeing activity for roughly 2 hours, before rowing back to the field station in preparation for our second debrief of the trip.

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Florida: Day seven (Return to Barefoot Beach)

Day seven: Return to Barefoot Beach and shell identification (28/02/19).

Temperature: 40°c.

Location: Barefoot Beach Reserve, Fort Myers FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Gopher tortoise feeding.
  • Brown anole locomotive behaviour (running).
  • Brown anole resting behaviour (perching upon a rock).

The sun was gleaming down on what was set to be the hottest day we had encountered throughout the duration of the Florida trip.

I was still suffering the (often confusing) effects of jet lag gained from both a combination of travelling and a significant different in time zones between The US and The UK. (Five hours!) Fortunately for me, this meant I was awake and ready, prepared to watch the morning sunrise whilst sitting comfortably in the presence of a blue heron (Ardea herodias) a known visual hunter who then proceeded to loudly vocalise before rapidly fleeing the area.

Figure 75: Early morning sunrise viewed during our final day in Florida. 

We began driving to Barefoot Beach at 9:45am, excited to reunite with Jimmy to gain a deeper understanding about various shells, following Jimmy’s strong and most upmost passion – Beach-combing.

Beach combing is an activity that consists of an individual combing on the beach and on the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility. 

Beach combing made an appearance in Herman Melville’s novel – Omoo, (translated as wanderer) which was published in 1947. A tale about enchanting adventures partaken in the Southern Seas.

Throughout the years, Jimmy had taken up the hobby and had soon become mesmerised by his unique and fascinating findings as he trailed the beach during various points of the day. Although, he joyously announced that he had a preference for early morning, when the beach was quiet and there seemed to be a greater amount of shells and other items for him to keenly collect.

Sea beans, originating from The Caribbean and South America, stand as one of Jimmy’s preferred species to collect amongst the beach. And the Ecuadorian current has started to bring them near the Gulf Of Mexico.

Sea beans are often referred to as drift seeds and can be defined as seeds and fruits that are carried to the ocean by freshwater streams and rivers to then drift within the ocean.

There are also sea hearts which come from the monkey ladder vine that grows in The Amazon Rainforest alongside the Columbus bean, also originating from The Amazon. Sea glass is also an incredible species, known as mermaids tears, which are small fragments of glass that have been washed up, giving them a frostier appearance.

The best known time for beach combing is during times with a low tide and a new moon, or following a storm.

Some species are known to become caught up in wrack lines, meaning they act like a natural packing material. The species are rare and valuable and are often used as currency, or Wompum (The Native term for money).

  • Shells

Shells are the protective outer case of a mollusc or crustacean, made up of calcium carbonate.

Throughout the Floridian state, there are 5 major groups of mollusc which date back to as far as 600 million years ago. And, additionally, there have been over 150,000 mollusc species documented, since they stand in second place (next to invertebrates) in terms of population number.

Historically, tools were a rarity and shells would be used instead. Typically amongst smokers when ash trays were not available during the time.

  • Oysters

Oysters are known filter feeders, filtering up to 60 gallons of water per day which assists them in filtering out toxins. They are also bivalves, therefore considered to have a close relationship with scallops, clams and mussels, and are commonly found living in salty waters.

Oysters (such as cone shells) can issue a range of medical functions and are typically found above the tide line, where the water is constantly monitored for contaminants.

  • Gastropoda

Also referred to as the “stomachs foot”, they are composed of one, single shell alongside a hard material named the muscular foot, which is used to assist the species in handling and catching prey.

The species in Florida are all carnivores, with the exception of one species called the Floridian fighting conch (Strombus alatus). Moreover, the Floridian horse conch (Triplofusus giganteus) can grow up to 2 feet in length and can have a life expectancy of up to 25 years, depending on environmental conditions.

Both conch species have the ability to secrete protein and calcium carbonate.

  • Bivalves

Bivalves have 2 shells, which closely resemble a heart. This species are typically what sailors opt to bring back to their loved ones following a lengthy period out at sea.

Bivalves are filter feeders (also referred to as deposit feeders) who feed on small crustaceans and microorganisms found buried deep within the substrate.  Bivalves start off egg-casing.

  • Cephalopods

Cephalopods consist of octopus, squid and cuttlefish. The rams horn shell is derived from the inside of a squid, which helps the species to maintain neutral buoyancy in the water.

We then collected our own assortment of shells from the beach, compromised of coral fragments, cat paw shells and impressively large conchs.

Figure 76: Gastropod shell located during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy Trulock at the Barefoot Beach Reserve. 

Figure 77: Items collected during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy Trulock at the Barefoot Beach Reserve. 

Figure 78: Unique shell closely resembling a hamburger found during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy at the Barefoot Beach Reserve. 

Figure 79: A series of labelled shark teeth located on Barefoot Beach during a beach combing activity carried out by Jimmy Trulock. Each specimen comes from a variety of different shark species, ranging in size from smaller species to larger species.

Figure 80: A species of coral located on Barefoot Beach. Corals play an important role in the overall maintenance of marine ecosystems and can appear as hard or soft corals. Soft corals are determined by a protein strand they have with polyps embedded inside.

We then made our way to the beach for the duration of one hour, where we proceeded to scan our open surroundings for unique shells which we had the pleasure of identifying. Successfully, we collected a wide range of items, including corals, shells that resembled cat paws and horn shells.

Whenever we met Jimmy, I became increasingly more enkindled upon hearing stories about his passions and the facts he delivered about species and their fascinating histories.

For further information on Beach combing, please visit the following resource:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Guide-to-Beach-Combing/

Florida: Day eight (A final trip to Lovers Key and our last day in Florida)

Day eight: A final trip to Lovers Key, manatee sighting and a heartfelt good bye! (01/03/2019).

Temperature: 40 c.

Location: Lovers Key, Fort Myers FL. Southwest Florida International Airport & Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia. 

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Mother and cub Manatee locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Koi fish locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Pekin duck active behaviour (splashing).
  • Black vulture locomotive behaviour (flying).

Our final day in Florida, after an unforgettable experience of completing our overseas fieldwork, we began the day at the later time of 10am, upon concluding that we possibly required a lie in before occupying our extensive travels back to The UK. 

Myself and 2 other students (Annabel and Georgina) accompanied by Wynn, opted for a final trip to Lovers Key – The attraction we visited during our second day in Florida, for a hopeful last manatee sighting. 

We stepped out of the minibus, aspirations running high as we aimed to spot a manatee before beginning our journey to the airport (Southwest Florida International Airport). 

Manatees names are apt, due to their long stature, slow lolling nature and their propensity to be eaten by other animals. They are more closely related to Elephants.

Source: Alina Bradford (2017).

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.livescience.com/27405-manatees.html

We perched ourselves comfortably besides a remote lake, surrounded with trees and the sweet sounds of chirping birds as we simultaneously gazed into the waters for any significant signs of manatees, mostly including the rippled movement of water. 

To our delight, after a mere 10 minutes spent patiently waiting for manatees to swim within a noticeably proximity of us, we encountered the delightful, memorable experience of viewing both a manatee and her cub swimming elegantly within close viewing distance. 

Our previous manatee sightings were certainly exceptional, however, viewing the endangered species up close was a truly phenomenal experience.

Figure 81: Manatee sighting during our final morning trip to Lovers Key.

After filling the boot of the minibus with our belongings, we drove to a nearby shopping mall before approaching Southwest Florida International Airport. We stayed at the mall for roughly 2 hours before beginning our 24 hour journey back home to Bangor. 

The mall was surrounded with stunning fauna species, alongside ducks and large species of koi fish (Cyprinus carpio) contentedly inhabiting the surrounding water fountains.

We then drove to Southwest Florida International Airport, proceeding to unload the minibus to make our way into the airport to begin the check in process, ready for our first 3-hour flight to Philadelphia.

For further information on Lovers Key State Park, please visit the following resource:

https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lovers-key-state-park

Reference list

Bradford A. (2017) Live Science. Manatees: Facts About Sea Cows.

Florida: Day five (FGCU visit and swamp wading)

Day five: FGCU visit, swamp wading and a mall visit (27/02/2019).

Temperature: 33°c.

Location: FGCU, Fort Myers FL. 

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Puppy vocalisations (Cocker Spaniels, Dalmatians and a Labrador) noticed during a trip to a nearby puppy shop.
  • Brown anole locomotive behaviour (running).
  • Turkey vulture locomotive behaviour (flying).

Figure 53: Myself, upon other students, pictured stopping for a quick debrief during our time wading through the swamp. 

We began our fifth day in Florida at 9am, where we spent the morning engaging in a tour throughout the mesmerising FGCU campus (located in Fort Myers) which, arguably, seemed to be on a completely different wavelength to the small Welsh town of Bangor we’d all grown accustomed to. 

Two guides (Katie and Rachel) current students at the university which was founded in 1991 on the 3rd May and later this year will be celebrating its 28th birthday, kindly guided our group around the large campus, whilst issuing us with interesting facts about the university, alongside in depth information regarding the different courses and student life.

Figure 54:  A glimpse into a component of the wonderful FCGU campus photographed during our visit. 

I particularly became thrilled by the sustainability efforts issued throughout the university, which in hindsight, encourages both staff and students to engage in more kinder to the planet activities aswell as daily changes, like the reduction of plastic use to positively implement the lives of our marine animals and environments. The topic of sustainability is taught at the university, thereby allowing students to form their own personal opinions on it, whilst giving them the opportunity to educate members of their family and friendship groups on the topic.

The university proudly installed solar panels throughout the campus with the aims of reducing overall energy usage, adjacent to creating food forests to create a composted area on site, useful in the growth of both plant and tree species, whilst also acting as shelters and a food source for various invertebrates inhabiting the area. 

The solar panels obtain their energy source through the absorption of the sun’s rays to generate electricity or heat.

The University also participate in field trips to local areas to expand on their knowledge of both the natural world, wildlife and the benefits of sustainability, including a recent visit taken to Corkscrew Swamp.

Sustainability: Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. 

Shortly after the tour came to a closure, we headed off to the fourth floor via lift in preparation of meeting a student named Taylor Hancock for a talk about his interesting research on sword-tail fishes (Xiphophorus hellerii) and molecular ecology. 

Taylor specialises in the fields of: Molecular ecology, disturbance ecology and herpetology.

Figure 55: Presentation about the molecular prey identification for the Critically Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish, as presented by FGCU’s Taylor Hancock.

There are a total of 5 species of this particular fish, which are labelled as critically endangered. Sword tail fish belong to the family of both benthic and cryptic ray species, whilst being easily distinguishable due to their long, narrow flattened rostrum which is said to be lined with sharp, transverse teeth which closely resemble a saw. 

Historically, the species had a wide distribution ranging from across tropical, subtropical and estuarine waters throughout the Eastern and Western Atlantic Ocean. 

Source: Florida Museum.

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/pristis-pectinata/

The fish stand as one of the highest predators throughout SWFL estuaries, with an average size of 5.5 metres. 

The small tooth sawfish species have life history traits which result in a slow population growth, alongside a late onset maturity of 7.5 years for males and 10-12 years for females. Furthermore, the species will not breed every year but during breeding times, they have a litter size of approximately 10-12 pups.

Both the population and range size of the species change drastically and will often see a reduction due to human activity and commercial developmental processes. The species population are also implicated by commercial and recreational fishing activities. There are also strong research and monitoring efforts currently in place with the aims of assisting the recovery of the species, including normal and acoustic tagging, stomach content analysis and direct observational studies

. Although, there are still major gaps in the knowledge and lots of the information gathered is obtained from anecdotal reports and previous studies.

Feeding ecology: The relationship between the environment and evolutionary processes and the feeding behaviour of different organisms.

Taylor’s spoke proudly of his work about ‘Prey Identification for Critically Endangered small tooth Sword-tail fishes’ as he presented a powerpoint presentation and gave an indication into the work and research he’d been carrying out over a duration of 12+ months.

The sample collection and extraction process:

  • Sample size of 16 collected from 2010-2015, primarily from Juveniles. 
  • DNA extraction performed using a quick DNA faecal/soil microbe kit (ZYMO research) with the assistance of instructions.
  • DNA unable to be extracted from sample SF2. 

The high thoroughput sequencing 18S allows for a broad analysis of a wide range of taxa and evolutionary conserved genes across species. The 12S and 16S offer a high resolution and a narrower range of taxa. Two high resolution genes used to assess potential biases present in selected primer sites. 

  • CD hit est algorithm (sequence clustering) modifies sequences and them clumps them back together.
  • If the sequence is different, the method starts a new OTU (such as a new colour: red, yellow and green are used in different sections).
  • BLAST search carried out to identify species, which can then be determined as being either a predators prey item.
  • BLAST search similarities of >98 were accepted, lower similarities were rejected.

After Taylor’s talk had concluded, we made our way to a local nature trail in order to complete a swamp wading activity. And with wet shoes at the ready and personal belongings tucked away neatly in our backpacks, it wasn’t long before we were knee deep in the lukewarm swamp water, surrounded by tall cypress trees and the tranquil sounds of nature, accompanied by the sound of students screaming, roughly grabbing tree branches and hurdling over logs, whilst attempting to avoid falling face down into the swamp. 

Wading: Walking with effort through water or another liquid or viscous substance.

The trail began with us simply (and curiously) navigating our way through shallow waters, to which our feet were still visible. Although, squelching sounds were definitely apparent throughout.

Figure 56: A sign spotted with details into the location of the nature trail, prior to heading into it to begin our swamp wading activity.

Figure 57: Group photo taken during the swamp wading activity we partook in during our firth day in Florida. 

We were greatly encouraged to get stuck into the mangroves during our time swamp wading, thereby delving deeper and deeper into our isolated surroundings, which proved to be a glorious experience after devoting a large proportion of our time in Florida studying them and increasing our understanding of different and distinct types.

The swamp wading activity lasted for thereabout 1 hour and it proved to be both a fulfilling and enjoyable experience.

Figure 58: Group photo taken during the swamp wading activity we partook in during our firth day in Florida. 

For further information on Florida Golf Coast University (FCGU) Please visit the following source: 

https://www.fgcu.edu/

Mall visit and puppy shop critical review:

We then occupied the remainder of the afternoon by heading to a nearby, outdoor shopping mall (Gulf Coast Town Center) located in Fort Myers after progressing to the mini bus accompanied by our self inflicted dampness.

We firstly made our way into a hunting shop (Bass pro shop) filled with a wide selection of outdoor clothing and sports accessories. Guns included. Guns of all sizes and colours, which I believe only made them more appealing to children and teenagers. With guns being illegal in The UK, seeing them normalised in The US was a surreal experience.

Yet, (ever so slightly) reassuring to know that security checks are put into effect before a sale is authorised. The checks mainly consist of checking the background history of the person in question, understanding whether the person has partaken in criminal offences in the past.

Next, we headed to the surf shop, which behind it had a puppy shop (Lil Rascals Puppies) Which to my knowledge, would be categorised as a puppy farm/mill The UK. Places which repeatedly face backlash from the likes of animal rights activists and campaigners due to a lack of animal welfare, knowledge and the main focus on making a profit.

Puppy farm: An establishment that breeds puppies for sale, typically on an intensive basis and in conditions regarded as inhumane. 

Upon entering the shop, I couldn’t help but feel strikingly uncomfortable as I stumbled across distressed puppies, some were housed with companions and others lacked the luxury, therefore keeping stimulated by biting walls or barking repeatedly for attention. Also referred to as stereotypical behaviours.

And, of course, Mothers were not present either.

As always, I would recommend the adoption of older animals from animal shelters and animal sanctuaries in replacement of supporting such misleading businesses.

I dreaded thinking about the duration of time the puppies had been away from their mothers. I became curious about the effects on the puppies behaviours during development – With mothers being vacant, who ought to teach the puppies on how to behave naturally?

Were the puppies separated from their mothers at a recommended age? Or did the profits occupy the majority of the prioritisation, as opposed to animal welfare?

Did the visitors consider where the puppies had been obtained from? Did they take a consideration into their welfare, stemming past their cute factor?

The shop seemed to be well disguised as a typical pet shop, similar to local pets at homes with perky workers on hand. But it felt haunting witnessing the avoidable distress of the animals who were left for prolonged periods in their own faeces lacking the mental and physical stimulation required in order to thrive.

We remained in the shop for a while, issuing the puppies with love alongside a hand to play with. Visitors were not granted the permission to hold the puppies, so we stroked them through the bars and tried aimlessly to calm them down before it was time to leave the shop to head back to our accommodation.

Following extended research carried out, it became apparent to me that visitors of the puppies had mixed reviews of the establishment, holding an average rating of 3.4/5 stars with comments about the conditions the animals were kept in, the welfare of the puppies and the unprofessional customer service they received.

For further information on Lil Rascals Puppies, please visit the following resource:

https://www.gulfcoasttowncenter.com/store/lil-rascals-puppies/

Florida: Day six (a continuation)

Day six continued: Shell collecting, dichotomous key creating and fish identification (27/02/2019).

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Dolphin locomotive behaviour (swimming and diving).
  • Brown anole locomotive behaviour (tree climbing).
  • Various fish species caught during fishing activity exhibiting a locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Fish species stereotypical locomotive behaviour exhibited (swimming repetitively up and down vigorously).

After the talk we received from Jerry, we were quickly divided into two groups after stepping outside to enable us to carry out two different activities throughout the refuge. This allowed us to smoothly alternate between the activities we were occupying at the time.

I noticed various resources during my visit at the reserve, even amongst the beach, issuing advice and key information to the public about different issues – including plastic use and its impact on marine life, whilst encouraging people to avoid littering as a method of keeping beaches clean and protecting animals.

Figure 67: One of the resources spotted at the refuge, informing visitors about methodical ways to protect beach wildlife in the form of diagrams and small areas of text.

The first activity we engaged in was shell collecting to allow us to complete a dichotomous key. We went shell collecting along the secluded beach to enable us to create a factual dichotomous key with a sample size of ten shells per group (working in small groups of three). Dichotomous keys are often used in an assortment of species identifications typically amongst zoologists and biologists.

The shells differed in their size, shape and colour which could serve as indicators to enable us to easily distinguish them all (similar to those carried out in animal behaviour studies) Some shells gathered were small and pointed, whereas others were larger and more rounded.

During the shell collecting activity, we learned the seriousness of taking shells off the beach and the fact it can result in severe punishments in the eyes of the Law. Shells were not to be excluded from the beach as they were closely protected. But Jerry’s licence, aswell as his profession as an educator to people of all ages, enabled us to gain the permission to do so.

Dichotomous key: A tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world.

Figure 68: Beginning the process of creating the dichotomous key, by emptying the shell contents out of the brown envelopes to enable us to start the categorising and identification processes.

Figure 69: Shells situated upon the beach spotted during the shell collecting activity we carried out.

Figure 70: Partaking in a type of fishing, allowing us to split the fish up into different trays (filled with sea water) to allow us to group the fishes in terms of similarities and species.

Seine fishing: A method of fishing that employs a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. 

Figure 71: An example of the seine fishing activity we have the opportunity to engage in during our visit to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. 

Source: http://fs2.american.edu/vconn/www/seafood/techniques.html

We became involved in a method of fishing named Seine fishing, where four individuals of the group would stand in the sea with a gigantic net, allowing them to easily encircle a variety of fish species.

The task was carried out under the supervision of staff members from a local high school with knowledge and experience in the area.

The net was then dragged to land, myself and the other students (including teenagers from a local high school) had the job of picking the fish up from out of the net and placing them into an assortment of grey coloured treys.

The process was speedy, as we wanted to limit the number of species’ deaths during the experiment as a result of them remaining out of water for too long.

Figure 72: The fish being separated into different trays after looking closely at their resembling characteristics (such as colour and size) to enable us to accurately group them by species.

We categorised the fish to allow us to discover the frequency of the fish we had entangled within the net, with the aims of detecting whether some species appeared to be more abundant in comparison to others.

Throughout the duration of the experiment, we unfortunately experienced a mass of fish moralities due to accompanying reasons such as stress and heat exposure. In scientific research, moralities are expected due to many underlying factors. And the remainder of the fish were luckily freed back into their natural, open environment after the research had been carried out and recorded.

Seine fishing can withstand both pros and cons: It’s an excellent method for catching schools of fish, though the method can quickly become unsustainable if the population of that species cannot withstand it.

On a personal level and from the basis of animal ethics, I would prefer to employ a different method in order to carry out fish identification to reduce unnecessary harm and suffering. Although, I would firstly invest more time in searching for a humane method that was also efficient.

SPECIES OF THE DAY:

Some of the species we observed throughout Ding Darling on the day of the 27th February include:

Figure 73: Rosetta Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja).

Rosetta spoonbills receive their bright, pink pigmentation from the crustaceans they eat. The species has a conservartion status as ‘least concerned.’

Figure 74: Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga).

Anhingas are found in warm waters in South America. The species swims at lower depths in the water due to a reduction in buoyancy because of wet plumage and dense bones.

For further information on Dichotomous Keys, please visit the following resource:

https://oregonstate.edu/trees/dichotomous_key.html

For further information on Seine fishing, please visit the following resource:

https://www.findafishingboat.com/article/seine-net-explained

Florida: Day four (FGCU research centre & Naples botonical gardens)

Day four: FCGU research centre, Naples Botanical Gardens & The Everglades (26/02/2019).

Temperature: 35°c.

Location: FCGU research centre & Naples Botanical Gardens, Naples FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Resting Alligator.
  • Alligator locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Brown anole locomotive behaviour (running).
  • Standing Pied billed grebe.
  • Black racer locomotive behaviour (slithering).

Figure 45: Group photo outside the colourful floral arch soon after entering The Botanical Gardens. 

Our first stop included a visit to the FCGU research centre, which moved from its original location at Ohio State University a number of years ago. The FGCU research centre was proudly home to The Everglades Wetland Research Centre. 

We firstly entered the lab, located in Naples, taking our time to look around the immaculate room whilst then being given a talk regarding the lab machinery (including dry ovens) and about the past and present research projects being carried out there and in other countries: Cuba, The Bahamas, Scotland and London.

The research lab was supporting a student project, looking closely at the levels of methane occupied from cypress trees and swamps – Similar to those spotted during our visit to Corkscrew Swamp during our third day. Additionally, a staple isotope study was carried out in order to allow the student to understand, in depth, about the levels of carbon which accumulate in the soil. 

The Everglades Wetlands Research Park is a facility to provide teaching, research and service related to wetland, river and coastal science and ecological engineering. 

Source: https://www2.fgcu.edu/swamp/

A plant biomass study was also conducted at the centre, which included the processing of a soil sample which could then be analysed in the lab. 

It was during our time at the research centre, listening to gripping talks about studies and research, that we learned more about the pollution of The Everglades, which happened to occur due to agricultural activities (I.E: Fishing and the production of methane gas from land mammals, which had drastic impacts in lakes, such as Lake Osborne. The farms also work to produce a range of fruits and vegetables, including sugarcane, which can grow efficiently due to the common use of fertilisers. 

This also creates further data and knowledge about the wetlands. A second study carried out in Spain studied and reared fishes, leading to the cycling of the waste water through the wetland system to understand how nutrients can be reduced. 

Man made measures have been implemented in order to assist with the removal of nutrients from the water found in wetlands, and masses of data and expert knowledge enable the process to run as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Figure 46:  Group photo taken during our visit to the research centre, an interesting component of Florida Golf Coast University. 

The alluring Botanical Gardens sat closely to the research centre, since both centres were collaborated, and it wasn’t long before we wandered inside excitedly to gain a look at the high diversity of brightly coloured, and dazzling, plant and flower species planted around the nature attraction. Species from all across the globe, with some species native to Florida and others that were not. 

People from London worked on plant conservation projects, who hypothesised to collect plants which they aimed to use for the creation of a garden – Naples Botanical Gardens. 

Throughout the gardens, the range of plant species are marked with either green or red labels. The labels give an indication into whether or not the species is endangered. Conclusively, species with red labels are listed as globally endangered species as per the ICUN, who also help to identify an assortment of plants located worldwide. A handful (5%) of species, including trees, are assessed through the list. 

The United Nations Sustainable Development have 17 goals to enable our humanities to coincide to become more sustainable across the globe. 

The plants possess their own unique, individual data sets which imply their age and the place they came from. The data applied to each species makes the plant worth more in terms of an increased value. 

For more information of The FCGU research centre, please visit the following source:

https://www.fgcu.edu/cas/centers/

Figure 47: Jesters on a branch:

Figure 48: Chinese plant.

Figure 49: Orchid garden.

At 2pm, after leaving the botanical gardens, we ventured down Loop Road Scenic Drive on our way to The Everglades, with the aims of spotting alligators and more wildlife species along the duration of the trip. 

The Everglades is a unique wetland area situated in Florida.

Loop road is a 24-mile-long popular tourist attraction in Southern Florida, well established for the spectacular abundances of wildlife you can encounter there. The drive lasted for a 2 hour duration past our previous location in Naples.

Figure 50: Alligator spotted during our drive through Loop Road upon our journey to The Everglades.

Figure 51: Second Alligator spotted during our drive through Loop Road upon our journey to The Everglades. 

The Everglades and Airboats review:

After a joyous and scenic drive through the infamous Loop Road, we arrived at Coopertown The Original Airboat Tour. A popular attraction based in Miami for both local people and tourists, with promises of encountering masses of wildlife throughout the tour. 

Figure 52: Welcome sign located at the front of The Original Air Boat Tour, FL. The attraction in which we visited The Everglades with the assistance of an air boat tour of the waters. 

A ranger at the attraction lead a talk to which he handled reptiles: A Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) and a Python (Pythonidae) to allow the audience to gain a closer view. The terrapin was cruelly tormented for the sole purpose of human entertainment as he was forced to snap – a behaviour exhibited through periods of stress and protection, which I believe not to be an action encouraged in front of curious visitors since it can only result in harm and the normalisation of threatening behaviours.

The centre offers an airboat ride, allowing groups of up to 20 people to drive through The Everglades. 

The airboats achieve movement through the usage of the rudders located at the back of the mechanism. The rudders steer the air that proceeds to be pushed out by the fan. Assuredly, this minimises the use of sharp propellers which have been known to cause harm and contribute to manatee (amongst other marine animals) deaths, which is a topic covered in J.Mullet’s case embedded in the Day 6 Ding Darling blog post

Whilst sitting on the airboat bench surrounded with other individuals, I began to understand the harsh impacts the boats were playing on species of wildlife, through causing them unnecessary stress. The animals were quick to flee from the area after the loud sounds of the airboat flooded the environment and frightened them away, or following bouts of being hit directly by the boat.

I began questioning whether a more environmentally friendly method could be used to withstand a view of the wetland ecosystem.

We acknowledge private airboating and commercial airboating is an important way for people to experience The Everglades. And there are people who want to experience it in a more wilderness way.

Source: Sue Cocking (2017).

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1958799.html

The airboats cause unnecessary noise pollution aswell as contributing to the destruction of vegetation and the constant disturbance of the soil beneath the water.

The impacts of airboats: Airboats carve channels through the sawgrass, changing water flows that impact the ecosystem 

I believe that the trip to Coopertown Airboat Tours was necessary, although not particularly pleasant, as it allowed me to gain a better understanding of the impacts and threats lead by airboats which can assist me in my further research and studies as a Zoologist. 

I also understand and acknowledge the importance of the airboat industry to local people, in the sense that it issues them with a reliable source of income whilst also providing jobs to people. The centre could also be educating people into a vast amount of conservation topics alongside animal and environmental ethics.

In hindsight, the trip allowed me to expand on my knowledge of animal ethics and welfare, to which I can compare to other areas across the globe.

The trip enabled me to gain an interest into the impacts of airboats on the environment and in the ethical aspects of many of the animal species exposed to the issue. The research I carried out lead me to believe that a current Everglades restoration project is active, named ‘The Everglades Restoration Project’ which stands with the aims of restoring areas of the unique Everglades that have been exploited due to human activity (such as regular airboat usage).

For further information on the FCGU research centre, please visit the following source:

https://www.fgcu.edu/cas/centers/

For further information on Naples Botanical Garden, please visit the following source:

https://www.naplesgarden.org/

For further information on Coopertown Airboat Tour, please visit the following source:

http://coopertownairboats.com/

For further information on The Everglades Restoration Project, please visit the following source:

https://www.captainjacksairboattours.com/12-environmental-impact-the-everglades-restoration-project/

Reference list:

Cocking S. (2017) Iconic airboats won’t be part of Everglades culture much longer.

Florida: Day six (Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge)

Day six: Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (27/02/2019).

Temperature: 35°c.

Location: J.M Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Resting Rosetta spoonbill.
  • Vocalising pelicans.
  • Brown anole locomotive behaviour (running).

We arrived at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a non profitable organisation located in South-West Florida, at 8:15am. After an hours drive was required to reach our destination.

The Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, Southwestern Florida and is compromised of 6400 acres.

We are a nonprofit that financially supports nature conservation, wildlife protection and education efforts for J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Southwest Florida.

SOURCE: HTTPS://WWW.DINGDARLINGSOCIETY.ORG/

Figure 59: Entering the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, shortly before making our way to the education centre located at the site.

The refuge gained its name after a local cartoonist (Jay Norwood Ding Darling) who prevented the land from being sold which was due to be used for other purposes. The conservationists remained well known for the creation of his duck stamps, essential stamps that have to be purchased in order to enter the refuge.

Jerry (a current volunteer at Ding Darling) presented a factual powerpoint presentation giving an indication into the past and present history of The Wildlife Refuge. The talk was both authentic and inspiring and allowed us to consider the activities we could engage in to better our planet, and to occupy conservation efforts. Jerry also, mercifully, introduced us to his wife – Belinda, who was also a current volunteer at the refuge.

Jay Norwood Darling blocked the sale of the environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island. Darling also convinced the President at the time (President Truman) to sign an executive order to create the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge rewinding back to 1945. Moreover, the refuge changed the name to ‘JN Ding Darling’ in 1967.

Profits made at the refuge following visitor entrance fees and gift shop purchases, amongst generous public donations, is put towards conservation efforts that are carried out throughout the entirety of Ding Darling. Alas, the refuge alarmingly receives no Government funding, but works entirely to protect species and to encourage the next generations with their creditable efforts and high work ethics.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society pays for essentials that The US Government fails to prioritise. The money is raised through various fundraising activities, aswell as through the visitor centre.

Figure 60: Here we are pictured sitting and engaging in a talk from one of the refuge’s knowledgeable volunteers.

Some of the species and topics discussed by Jimmy include:

Carolina Parakeet: This species is the only species of parakeet that lives in The US. However, the species went extinct back in 1939, and the last known species tragically passed away in captivity (Simpsonati Zoo).

Passenger Pigeon: This species passed away in the same cage as the late Carolina Parakeet, though during the sooner date of 1914. Passenger pigeons are reliant on forests to aid their survival, but the species struggled to adapt to changing environmental conditions due to market hunting which wiped out the forests.

Moran and aesthetic nature preservation: John Muir is the President of the Sierra Club, who composed that ‘Nature deserves to exist for its own sake regardless of the degree of usefulness to humans’. The preservation exists and helped to establish The National Park Service in 1916.

Modern environmentalism: The industrial explosion occurring as a result of WW2 added new environmental concerns, which therefore allowed the Environmental Agenda to be expanded in both 1960 and 1970 to begin to include: Atomic weapons testing, fossil fuel issues, air and water pollution and wilderness protection.

The first National Earth Day began in the 1970’s as a result of an establishment of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Figure 61: A sign of the National Wildlife Refuge System, issuing visitors with an indication into bird populations in comparison to increasing human populations. 

Global concerns have increased over time, due to an expansion of greater technology and communications alongside a better understanding surrounding different concepts and ideas, with previously little information available in relation to them. Environmental events and concerns are now reported Worldwide, therefore we gain an understanding into issues and improvements occurring around The World. The events also reported both locally and regionally.

Environmental issues include: Climate change, energy, biodiversity, human rights, agriculture/food, population, water and consumerism.

The refuge allows visitors to view a vast selection of animals in their natural environment, including 245 bird species which occupy a larger diversity throughout migratory seasons (January-April).

We walked around the refuge, witnessing charismatic red mangroves which gain their distinctive redness due to a lack of oxygen. The mangroves appeared to be home to bird species, including the white ibis perching upon a mangrove branch.

Figure 62: Red mangrove, gaining its name from the lack of o2 available in the surrounding waters. 

‘Mangrove trees get their name from the bright red colour of the wood underneath the bark of the tree and they can grow up to 30 feet’.

Source: https://environment.bm/red-mangrove

Figure 63: Here we are appearing on the bridge after viewing and taking notes of the mangroves surrounding us. 

Upon our acknowledgement of the visitor centre, we became captivated by the displayed story of a manatee which gave an indication into how manatee numbers are declining rapidly.

Figure 64: An display showing the comparisons of 2 manatee bones. The first bone represents the normal rib bone from an adult manatee, whereas the bottom rip bone is a deception of a damaged manatee rib bone – as a result of human actions.

A normal, unharmed, manatee bone typically weighs roughly 2lbs, but with damage, the bone’s weight suffers an increase of a dangerous 6lbs.

We read the tragic story of a glorious manatee named J.Mullett, who became known during her first sighting on March 11th, 1996, whilst understanding the causes of her unfortunate mortality. Mullett first became sighted in Crystal River, FL and was easily identifiable because of the healing wound located behind her head, amongst significant propeller wounds from her mid-tail to tail base.

She also had a pit tag fitted beneath her skin to help locate and identify her.

The case of J.Mullett: Named J as she was found in the month of January, and Mullett, as the location she was found in had the name of ‘Mullett’s Gullett’.

Figure 65: A spreadsheet documenting the life history of discussed manatee: J.Mullett, revealing sightings both with and without her calf. Noticeably, Mullett was seen with her calf 6 days prior to death, but the whereabouts of the calf remain unknown.

The manatee was released back into the wild (Crystal River) on December 5th 2000, after 2 years of seeking rehabilitation (starting January 2nd 1999) at Lowry Park Zoo for her noted injuries.

Mullett suffered abnormal signs of breakage in her ribs, therefore developing an abnormal growth following an impact with a boat. (Air boats are popularly used throughout The Everglades, despite not being very environmentally or wildlife friendly, to encompass a range of species).

Manatees often appear in areas of human activity, which have big associations with the numbers of declining manatee in The World, often becoming injured from boat propellers, which can cause swelling in the muscles surrounding the tailbone, which negatively impacts the manatees abilities to swim efficiently, and without difficulties.

A necropsy case file revealed the avoidable causes of Mullett’s death. She received multiple strikes from passing by boats in the area she was inhabiting, which caused abnormal bone growth in both her ribs and her skeleton. The findings also informed us that a discarded fishing line was found located in her small intestine and colon, again, highlighting the human impacts upon marine life. The fishing line caused multiple injuries, including internal damage and the blockage of her intestines, which fabricated eating, digesting and defecating difficulties.

Devastatingly, Mullett had given birth to her calf and was said to be nursing her just 6 days before she gruesomely died.

Figure 66: An insight into various factors considered whilst attempting to gain an understanding of the reasons behind J.Mullett’s death. 

How did J.Mullett die?

  • Watercraft: Collision with hull and/or propeller or any type of watercraft.
  • Crushed/drowned in a floodgate or a canal lock.
  • Perinatal: Death of a newborn manatee less than 5 feet long.
  • Death due to cold weather exposure.
  • Other natural causes: Infection, disease, birth complications, natural accidents or natural events (such as red tide poisoning).
  • Unfortunately, the causes of death have had no success in being determined.

For further information on Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, please visit the following source:

https://www.dingdarlingsociety.org/

Reference list

Government of Bermuda: Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Extra time and various activities

Boat rental (02/03/2019).

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Dolphin locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Black vulture locomotive behaviour (flying).
  • Various dog species locomotive behaviour (running).
  • Various dog species active behaviour (playing).

During our final, full day in Florida (after leaving Barefoot Beach) we hired a boat from a local boat renting business (Boat Water Boat Rentals) to calmly sail over near and around Lovers Key and Bonita Springs Dog Beach.

The boats occupied a large enough capacity to fit roughly 10 people on board so we, therefore, split our large group in half and voyaged out to sea. With Prof. Chris Freeman acting as Captain for myself and the rest of the crew on-board.

Figure 82: The first sign spotted as we approached the boat rental centre, to which we hired a boat from and proceeded to steer our way around Lovers Key and other surrounding areas. 

The sea had specific speed zones highlighted throughout the journey, areas for slower steering and areas where we could really put our foot down and manoeuvre quickly through the water to our content, aswell as the dolphins who thoroughly enjoyed displaying their natural, curious behaviours as they joyfully swam through the traces left behind.

Much to our delight, the views we encountered were breathtakingly beautiful. Ranging from large American houses to magnificent bottlenose dolphins swimming playfully in the bubbles of jet skis in the distance.

Accompanied by a selection of mesmerising bird species and mangroves.

We hired the boats for a duration of 3 hours, sailing around crystal blue waters and experiencing the joyous Bonita Springs Dog Beach, located in Fort Myers. We safely anchored the boat to the sand and swam towards the dog beach located in the not-so-far distance.

Bonita Springs Dog Beach was an incredible place filled with content, energetic dogs running around joyfully along the sand or splashing in the crystal blue water. The beach was surrounded with shrubbery and mangroves to which the dogs seized for a cooling shelter if and when they required it.

I encountered the joyous experience of meeting Martha and her 15-year-old Labrador, Joey

Martha and Joey were regular visitors at Dog Beach, Joey issued me with endless cuddles as he slowly manoeuvred his way around the beach amongst his younger companions. Since Joey suffered from hip dysplasia, Martha had to be extremely cautious that he didn’t get pounced on by other playful dogs.

Florida: Day three (Corkscrew swamp)

Day three: Corkscrew swamp (25/02/2019).

Temperature: 30°c.

Location: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Black vulture locomotive behaviour (circulating flying).
  • Foraging white ibis, then feeding after successful prey detection.
  • Pecking woodpecker.
  • Mangrove crab locomotive behaviour (climbing upwards).
  • Green anole locomotive behaviours (running and hiding).
  • Brown headed nut hatch vocalisation.
  • American bittern resting behaviour (standing still).

On the 25th February 2019, we began the day at 7:45am, partaking in a long drive to Corkscrew Swamp. Again, proceeding to coat ourselves in sun-cream and (greatly needed) bug spray whilst happily blasting our new favourite American radio station – Bob fm.

Corkscrew sanctuary became a National Natural Landmark in March 1964, and then the wetland area became designated to the swamp in 1888.

Corkscrew became a sanctuary dating back to 1954, made up of a grand total of 13,000 acres. The attraction relies solely on donations and funding to maintain it. The swamp is filled with abundance’s of wildlife, including bird, mammal and reptile species, aswell as nature and the most passionate volunteers. The swamp truly was a spectacular place. The main aims of the swamp is to protect bald and pond cypress strands.

Sharon (a volunteer at the swamp) soon informed us about a scheme carried out in the swamp. Underprivileged children come and visit the swamp to learn more about the way it runs and about the animals inhabiting it, meaning they can then bring their parents (or another loved one) to the swamp for free to excitingly teach them about it too!

Figure 30: The welcome sign situated at Corkscrew Swamp upon accessing the entrance area.

Shortly upon arriving at the swamp, we were divided into 2 groups in order to easily manoeuvre around the tranquil location. Before heading out, we were shown 3 large scale maps which issued us with details and knowledge about human to bird populations over the years.

And, noticeably, with an increase in Human population and more settlement demands meant an unfortunate decrease in bird populations over time.

Figure 31: Tall Cypress trees photographed as we walked through the beautiful cypress forest.

The two distinctive types of Cypress trees are bald and pond.

Figure 32: Lengthy Cypress Strand Forest in distance of the boardwalk.

In 1955, the boardwalk was created consisting of approximately 2.25 miles which accommodate a peaceful walk through 5 different habitats.

Upon walking amongst the lengthy boardwalk, which stands at roughly 19 feet above sea level, accompanied with terrific wildlife sightings, we were given information regarding the second World War, such as there being a significant amount of timber being cleared following the War. And, additionally, this created a large lumber cutting boom which resulted in it being sent to Europe.

2 years ago (2017) parts of the boardwalk were dismally ruined as a result of Hurricane Irma because bald cypress trees were knocked down due to the heavy forces implemented upon them. This meant that some parts of the sanctuary were closed to the public during our visit whilst undergoing repair maintenance, however, they are soon to be scheduled for reopening.

Figure 33: A single, ponderous boardwalk slate chained to the nearby fence to demonstrate the high weight of the boardwalk and the hard work put into creating it.

Some species have adapted to withstand fires with the aid of their extensive root systems, which can act low with fast manoeuvrability. They are known to be common disasters throughout Florida as a result of lightening strikes. Therefore, they lose limbs as they grow.

Palm trees: A species grown in the tropics, also referred to as sable palms, which hearts of palm are made from. Sable palms act as a host food for butterflies. Palm trees can grow up to 197 feet tall and there are over 2,500 species.

Figure 34: A sable palm.

The swamp helps to assist the survival of a range of species, including Floridan Black Bears (Ursus americanus floridanus) by planting berries in order to attract them and to maintain, not only their their survival, but to provide a mental and physical stimulation to the species by encouraging active foraging behaviours. Woefully, the berries also have the tendencies to attract poachers since the berries gathered can be sold for a considerable amount of money, and the murdleberries can also be used to make scented candles. Which, again, creates a reliable (though highly unfortunate) income to poachers.

Areas of the swamp are burnt every 3-5 years in order to promote the removal of invasive species. Creating fires also allows some plant species to thrive, as they require fire in order to grow, with some species only appearing to bloom after exposure to fire but reaching their mortality rate at just 3 mere weeks.

Figure 35: An area at the sanctuary which gets ploughed, with 28 fire breaks in total to prevent fires from spreading.

The two species we all mutually witnessed during our swamp visits were highly flying vultures, which are grouped into 2 different species:

  • Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura)

Turkey vultures are typically driven out by their counterpart, black vultures and can be recognised by their ‘v’ shape and because they possess longer wings in comparison to black vultures. This species are known for eating dead prey items, which they will regurgitate when threatened, since they have weak feet and simply cannot rip, lift or carry heavy carcasses.

  • Black vultures (Coragyps atratus)

Black vultures are distinguishable due to the features on their wings, including a rounded circle alongside a short tail.

After our visit to Corkscrew Swamp, we visited a nearby location with the task of spotting micro plastics amongst the mangroves. Micro plastics are minuscule fragments of plastic that serve obstructive effects on our environment, contributing to the deaths of marine animals aswell as standing as inductors that pollute the oceans.

Primary micro plastics can be obtained from sanitary products, microfibres and pre-production pellets.

Further information on micro plastics can be found through the following resource:

https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/microplastics

SPECIES OF THE DAY:

Some of the species spotted on the day of 25th February 2019 include:

Figure 36: Raccoon (Procyon lotor).

Raccoons are small mammals native to North America, with an increasing population the status of this species is currently rated as ‘Least concern’.

Figure 37: Green anole (Anolis carolinensis).

Green anoles are a native species to Florida, although outnumbered by the invasive brown anole. The species are native to areas in the Southeastern United States.

Figure 38: Great Egret (Ardea alba).

Great Egrets are a widely distributed species throughout Asia, America and Southern Europe. They resemble the appearance of small egrets, but are considerably larger in comparison.

Figure 39: Cardinal bird (Cardinalis cardinalis).

The cardinal bird is also referred to as the common cardinal. The species (which occupy more than 10) can be found in habitats around Southern Canada and Eastern United States.

Figure 40: Manatee (Trichechus).

Manatees are large, aquatic mammals thriving upon a herbivorous diet. The species live in warm coastal waters, since they have a low metabolic rate and minimal blubber to keep them warm.

Figure 41: Brown anole (Anolis sagrei).

Brown anoles are a species of lizard with preference for open, vegetated sites native to Cuba and The Bahamas. They are known to feed on small arthropods, alongside their moulted skin and detached tails.

The number of brown anoles in Florida currently outweighs the number of green anoles, despite being an invasive species.

Figure 42: Orange barred butterfly (Phoebis philea).

Orange barred butterflies are found inhabiting areas of South America and the Caribbean. The species live in open habitats including urban and disturbed areas.

Figure 43: Mangrove crab (Scylla serrata). 

Mangrove crabs play a vital role in the ecosystem for other species and have the ability to climb trees to protect themselves from predatory threats.

Figure 44: Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris).

The painted bunting is a member of the Cardinal family with a conservation status of ‘near threatened’ due to a declining population.

For further information on The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, please visit the following source:

http://corkscrew.audubon.org

Reference list:

Florida: Day two (Lovers Key)

Day two: Lovers Key (24/02/2019).

Temperature: 35°c.

Location: Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Feeding Bottlenose Dolphin.
  • Juvenile Gopher Tortoise locomotive behaviour (walking).
  • Manatee locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Foraging and vigilance behaviours in the Great Egret.
  • Black Racer Snake locomotive behaviour (slithering).

On the 24th February 2019, we arrived at Lovers Key at 9:20am.

Lovers Key is a popular local and tourist attraction in Florida, compromised of 3 individual barrier islands (islands that protect the main coastland). During a historical era the land was sold to the Floridian state, to enable it to become the renowned, species rich, state park it is today.

Historically, Black Island was originally the home of the Pirate – Black Augustus, who proceeded to transform the island into his home shortly after escaping from prison. Black Augustus was issued with a choice: He could either sell the land to the state, or he would be forced to go back to prison.

Agustus made the decision to sell the land to the state, since it is federally protected and therefore cannot house developments. And, of course, to avoid backtracking to prison. 

The attraction accommodates 712 acres and has a plentiful area of 2.881 km. And is a popular site for viewing abundances of wildlife, including: Manatees, bottlenose dolphins, marsh rabbits, aswell as being home to over 40 unique bird species. Including Rosetta Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) and Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). 

The 4 islands are:

  1. Lovers Key
  2. Inner Island
  3. Black Island
  4. Long Key

Figure 22: A map of Lovers Key as noted on the Lovers Key website, stating the three main components of the area as listed above: Lovers Key, Inner Island and Black Island. 

Up until the 1960’s, Lovers Key was only accessible by boat and remained as an obscure island where couples would head off to in order to spend some private, alone time together. Today, however, Lovers Key is regularly visited by thousands of people per year and is now easily accessible by foot and from different modes of transport. And a road to the gain access to the island was constructed in 1965.

‘For years Lovers Key was only accessible by boat and it was said that only lovers headed to the island to enjoy its remote and solitary beach. Today, it is one of four barrier islands that make up its state park’. (Florida State Parks)

In 1983, the island was acquired by the state and in 1996, it merges with adjacent Carl E. Johnson County Park to become Lovers Key Carl E. Johnson State Park.

Source: https://www.stateparks.com/lovers_key_state_park_in_florida.html

Figure 23: A stunning beach at Lovers Key, photographed prior to searching for micro plastics amongst the nearby mangroves.

Lovers Key is home to a wide diversity of stunning and magnificent species, including 3 distinct types of mangrove. However, in total there are around 80 different species of mangrove trees which vary in their size.

Mangrove: a tree or shrub which grows in tidal, chiefly tropical, coastal swamps , having numerous tangled roots that grow above ground and form dense thickets.

The distinct colours of mangrove are: Black, white and red.

Factually, mangroves can not tolerate frosty conditions which means even the smallest amount of it could completely wipe out a mangrove. And, due to global warming and it’s unforeseen consequences, there has been a significant increase in the amount of mangroves across the globe. However, mangroves have adapted to thrive in both salt and freshwater environments and can engulf oxygen through the use of their pneumatophores.

Pneumatophores: In mangroves, and other swamp plants, an aerial root specialised for gaseous exchange.

Aswell as obtaining a wide diversity, mangroves also assist ocean cradles – since fish spend time in mangroves, whilst also assisting areas from bad weather conditions (including hurricanes).

Mangroves are also composed of low wave action areas, which in hindsight issues protection from the waves, provides safety to wildlife in the form of nurseries exhibited and also helps with the storage of carbon.

📌 Red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle)

Red mangroves consist of drop and prop roots, pointy, shiny leaves and are the species located closest to the water in comparison to the other types. One of their distinguishing properties is long propagules, which enable the species to give birth to live young.

📌 Black mangroves (Avicennia germinans)

Black mangroves contain special roots that stick out to resemble fingers, they are bendy and flexible and inhabit pointy leaves. Unlike red mangroves, black mangroves have teardrop shaped propagules and are covered in a rough, black bark which resembles Elephant skin.

📌 White mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa)

White mangroves are located at the furthest distance away from the water. Their tap roots are sharp and pointy, and their rounded leaves make them easily identifiable. White mangroves have the ability to secrete nectar and can maintain a symbiotic relationship with plants, including ants, which assist in protecting the tree.

We headed to the infamous bridge keen to spot manatees (Trichechus) following the success of other students in previous years. Binoculars at the ready, all remaining silent, it wasn’t long before we spotted a manatee in the far distance.

Heading around Lovers Key in groups, we had the privilege of encountering spectacular animals in their natural environment. Including bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops) within reaching distance, actively engaging in feeding behaviours and respectively pondering in the bubbles of small boats nearby.

Further information about the distinct types of Mangrove can be found via the following resource:

https://environment.bm/red-mangrove

A video of a feeding dolphin amongst the mangroves during our visit to Lovers Key. The dolphin swam within a close proximity of us and then proceeded to play curiously near the canoes heading in the opposite direction.

Figure 24: A bottlenose dolphin pictured feeding beneath the waters surrounded by mangroves during our blissful walk through Lovers Key. 

We also had a joyous experience of seeing a minuscule juvenile tortoise walking around freely (and relatively clumsily…) throughout the open spaced, clustered environment.

A video of a juvenile gopher tortoise spotted upon a vegetated, isolated area situated in Lovers Key.

After a venturesome walk around Lovers Key, we collectively made our way to the beach, with the majority of us opting to swim in the crystal, blue ocean whereas others preferred to relax on the picturesque, subdued soft sand.

Shortly after arriving back to Vester Marine Field Station, we walked to Barefoot Beach at 6pm in a cluster of 16 students with promises to witness a glorious sunset after a memorable day spent exploring Lovers Key.

Figure 25: The sunset appeared to be a stunning sight, with pastel pink colours to begin with, then transforming to an intense beam of orange setting pleasantly in the distance.

SPECIES OF THE DAY:

The species we spotted on the day of the 24th February 2019 include the following:

Figure 26: Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). 

Bottlenose Dolphins are one of many species of dolphins found inhabiting Floridian temperate waters. The species are intelligent, curious and playful and are typically found diving amongst the bubbles of boats. 

Figure 27: Brown anole (Anolis sagrei).

Brown anoles are a invasive species in Florida, in conjunction to their counterpart – The green anole. 

Figure 28: Juvenile Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). 

Gopher Tortoises are a species found only in Southern Florida. The species have shovel like legs which assist them in digging holes to seek shelter in, and to lay eggs in. 

Figure 29: Adult Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). 

Gopher Tortoises have the ability to dig shelters for up to 360 other species, therefore making them a prime keystone species in Florida. 

Figure 31: Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea).

Grey Herons are typically found in areas of America, Europe and Asia. They have a noticeably large wing span, ranging from up to 2 metres in width to assist them in locomotive flying behaviours. 

For further information on Lovers Key State Park, please visit the following source:

https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lovers-key-state-park

Reference list: