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/

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