Monday, October 27, 2014

Working (and playing) in the Florida Keys

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 some spots on the reef: 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.

My windsurfing followers will be happy to hear that I got some kick-butt sessions in front of my hotel before and after "work" during the trip. Friday night a big NE wind pushed out the low pressure system that had been hanging over us, and pumped my 4.5 sail with power for a wild ride over Florida Bay. Saturday morning the skies were clear and the wind was still strong enough for a powered 5.5 session before snorkeling. Woo hoo!

Windsurfing Launch in Front of Lime Tree Bay Resort photo 1024141621_zpse90c437b.jpg

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Making the most of small waves on a 10'4" WindSUP

Last weekend we had our first "cold" front of the year in Southwest Florida, which means we had a day of 15-20 knot West winds followed by a day of 5-10 knot North winds and a small but rideable West swell.

On the windy day I used a 5.5 sail and alternated between my 106 liter board and my 83 liter board. It wasn't really windy enough to justify the small board; I just used it because I was excited that I could for the first time in a long time. The song in the video is by Dr. No's Oxperiment.

First Cold Front 10-4-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

On the swelly day I used a 6.4 sail and my modified 10'4" Angulo Surfa sailable SUP. The light power from the sail and the light power from the small waves added up to something that was pretty fun to play with. The song in the video is by Pearl Jam.

First Cold Front 10-5-14 v2 from James Douglass on Vimeo.