This year I registered for the Marine Ecology Field Work course with Dr. Vagelli. Previously before taking this class I was not educated or familiar with any topics involving marine biology or ecology. I was interested in learning more and I was excited to know the class would take place in the Florida Keys. Dr. Vagelli was very helpful in grasping my interest about learning more about marine biology. From him, I learned so much about different aquatic species and saw so much more than I was expecting. We mainly stayed on the island Cudjoe Key and researched in the Cudjoe bay. A few days we traveled to other islands and surveyed the water and wildlife. Every day while snorkeling I always found something new and something fascinating. Beautiful fish and starfish covered the ocean floor along with many shells, hermit crabs, and different colored sea grass.
We also collected and observed different specimen in microscopes each night at lab. I discovered species that I didn’t even knew existed such as polyketes, sea cucumber, and tunicates. One very eventful experiment we conducted was catching and tagging lobsters found on specific tagged sponges which were marked with colored ribbons. We tried to see if lobsters returned to the same sponges after eating at night. My task every day was to take notes and record the data we would collect at each sponge. At the end of the week, we were able to analyze the results and see that at least half the tagged lobsters returned to their tagged sponges. We frequently saw untagged lobsters at the tagged sponges. These could have been new lobsters of the tagged lobster just without their ribbon. The ribbon tags could have fallen off or the lobsters could have molted. Some moved to other tagged sponges that were not the same color of their tag. The purple tagged lobsters were the most successful lobsters and always returned to their purple tagged sponge at night.
This course was quite the underwater adventure and I had a lot of fun. Not only was I able to learn about a numerous amount of unique creatures I also was able to get hands on experience and observe in person all kinds of species. I worked in the field and conducted experiments that I would not be able to do in a classroom. I can say before this course I never held a live lobster before let alone tag them and follow up on them for days. The mangroves were very entertaining to look at and snorkel near. The mangroves where little islands in the water with huge roots that sunk into the water. These roots were shelter to bigger fish during the day. Every time I was swimming near the mangroves I saw species that were different from the open water. There were horseshoe crabs, bigger fish, and sharks!
I can say this was an incredible experience and I recommend all biology students to look into it and defiantly take it as a science elective. Before this trip I never ever saw giant sponges, upside-down jellyfish, or swam with sharks, but now I can say I have and will always remember my summer class in the Florida Keys with my fellow Rutgers students and Dr. Vagelli.