the sometimes senseless ravings (and the occassional rant) of an aspiring marine ecologist who may enjoy killing things a little too much

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Port St. Joe

as promised, here is the description of my jam-packed week so far. i'm going to "borrow" vanessa's format and go through my most recent adventures day by day. beware - there are a lot of them, so be sure to engage in your pre-reading eye exercises (kidding).

monday started off quite busily with a trip to sand island with the marine biology class. things went pretty smoothly. we didn't really get very many critters in the cores, but that was ok. the students seemed to enjoy the little island. plus, we went in the a.m. and it was a bit cloudy out, so the heat was less than stifling.

after sand island, i changed clothes and headed over to the lab (which is across the street from the classrooms) to make a couple of last-minute preparations for our trip to port st. joe. o'brien had decided to lecture a bit after lunch before letting the students look at some of the interstitial fauna under the dissecting scopes, so i didn't have to be back at the classroom until 3 pm. that left time to load up the suburban. only, when i went looking for dr. v. and gretchen, they were nowhere around. i did locate charlie, so we gave gretchen a call and discovered that dr. v. had gone home and left us to do all of the loading. we had to pick him up at the lowe's by the interstate. i was pretty peeved about that, but there were still the three of us to get things in the suburban. so, gretchen, charlie, and i picked up the suburban and headed over to the storage area where our things were. after loading a few things, we discovered that the back seat had to be let down in order to fit everything. no problem, right? well, in theory. but in practice, it took a horrendous effort to get that seat out (the mechanism that lets it lay flat was rusted in place). and to top off our trouble, in the midst of loading all of our gear, the bottom dropped out of the sky. it was absolutely pouring rain, and of course, we all got soaked to the bone. it had taken us so long to get the back seat out of the suburban that i didn't have time to put on dry clothes before i went back over to the lab, so i walked into the classroom dripping wet. but i didn't stay long - just enough time to gather up some plastic droppers, petri dishes, and forceps. then i left things to o'brien and went to change clothes.

anyway, we eventually got everything packed up and left dauphin island around 4 pm. charlie ended up driving all the way to port st. joe. dr. v. decided he didn't want to drive, and i certainly didn't. anyway, we drove the 4 hours to port st. joe from mobile, checked into the hotel, and (finally) went to get some grub at toucan's.

as we were heading into our rooms for the night (dr. v. with a six-pack of budweiser that he planned to drink while complaining about women to charlie), a question arose as to when we would get started on tuesday. i made the statement that i thought it unnecessary to get up at the butt crack of dawn and that we should leave at 9 am. so, of course, that sparked a discussion of what exactly constitutes the butt crack of dawn. laughs were had, then we all settled down for the night.

as planned, we departed from the hotel at 9 am, but not before gretchen and i had taken a little time to enjoy our spectacular view.

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we had a few stops to make before heading for st. joseph's peninsula state park, where we would be conducting our experiments and sampling. we had determined on monday that we needed something to float our gear out on, so we had to purchase a rubber raft (which dr. v. dubbed the r.v. latina). gretchen and i insisted on stopping for breakfast (the boys didn't want to eat for some reason), snacks, and lunch (which we would pack in the cooler and take into the park with us). dr. v. and charlie had come across $10 and a girlie slip (about which many jokes were made) behind the dresser in their room, so dr. v. bought snacks and drinks for all at the local piggly wiggly supermarket. then, we got breakfast at mcdonald's (for which we were actually late, as port st. joe is on eastern time, but our hotel in mexico beach was on central time), then made for the subway across the street to pick up sandwiches for lunch. but alas, the subway was out of bread. how can a subway not have bread? we were all quite unhappy and wound up buying salads from burger king.

so, after many stops along the way, we finally arrived at the park to begin the day's work. gretchen and i were to do some basic observations using transects while dr. v. had a chat with charlie about his master's project. since it was my work that was getting done, i was the boss for the duration of the trip. all decisions were made by latina, and any suggestions had to be latina-approved. it made me feel important, or maybe it was powerful... anyway, gretchen and i dutifully gathered our clipboards (equipped with expensive water-proof paper and pencils), a transect tape, and a T (pvc cut to 1 meter so we knew when to stop counting grazers) and headed out into the water to find a turtlegrass bed teeming with sea urchins. but along the way, we did something that was... let's just say it was less than intelligent. we had a bit of trouble finding the urchins. turtlegrass? no problem. it was everywhere. but we couldn't seem to find any urchins, even though i know from experience that the site is full of them. so, instead of hauling our gear all over the grass bed, we decided to put it down in a bare patch and remember our position from shore while we snorkeled around looking for urchins. well, we found the urchins a bit farther out, but when we went back for our things, they were nowhere to be found. now, i did know better than to abandon our gear in the water, but for some reason it never crossed my mind what a stupid idea that was until after we'd done it. so, gretchen and i wandered around in the general area where we were sure we'd left our gear, and charlie and dr. v. eventually made their way out to join us. when i saw them coming i thought, "shit. now i have to tell them what we did. we're gonna look so stupid." but it wasn't that bad. no condescending comments were made by either dr. v. or charlie. they just commenced to help us with the search. well, after a fair amount of searching, gretchen finally spotted our bright pink and yellow clipboards, and we started our grazer counts.

gretchen was quite excited to see a few sea hares, and i felt uber intelligent when she asked me what they were and i actually knew a fair bit about them. i advised her to poke one (that's how i discovered sea hares - it just looked like a blob of goo, and then i poked it and saw how pretty it was), but she didn't really take to the idea. when i spotted a small one swimming along, i pointed it out to her. if you've never had the pleasure of seeing a sea hare, you should go out and find one. they're shell-less snails (well, they have a vestigial shell, but you can't see it), and they look quite pretty when they swim - almost as if they have wings. gretchen was also excited by the sizable striped burrfish that are so common in the grass beds in st. joseph's bay. and again, i was pleased to be able to provide some info on them. she's from maine and attends the university of virginia, so she hasn't really encountered much of our local fauna before. seeing her there made me think of my first trip to st. joe and how awed i was at the difference between perdido key (near where i grew up in florida) and port st. joe. it's a very bahamas-esque place (minus the corals - too hot here).

after a bit of snorkeling and grazer-counting, it was time to collect some samples to analyze for phenolics later on. but before the plants could be collected, the r.v. latina had to be inflated so we could float our gear out to the grass bed. here's a pic of charlie and dr. v. exerting a massive effort in inflating our small raft.

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we spent the rest of the afternoon cutting up grass blades and stuffing them in tubes. i think i confused dr. v. a bit with all of the sections i made him separate, but i knew that the additional effort was necessary. we found many tiny amphipods on the blades, and i found a single tiny, bright green nudibranch (a sea slug - i think they're cute). i placed him on the table and commented that it looked like a bright green booger. dr. v. thanked me for that bit of imagery. i think they were sarcastic thanks.

there were quite a few fisherman at our site when we arrived, and as i was walking back to shore from doing the transects, one of them asked me if i was there for a high school biology class. funny, eh? he seemed quite surprised when i informed him that i was there doing preliminary work for my Ph.D.... but he didn't ask how old i am.

after acquiring some pretty impressive sunburns (well, gretchen and i had sunburns...dr. v. wore a shirt in the water, and charlie just had this one red splotch on his back) on a day filled with field work (we left the site a little after 6 pm central time, so 7 pm at the park), we headed back to the hotel in mexico beach for showers and then went out for food. one would think that this work-filled day would be over then, right? but it wasn't. i insisted on repeating the grazer counts at night to see if there was a difference in the grazers present day vs. night. plus, the extra field work meant that gretchen and i could put our swim suits back on and take off those bras that were so painful on our burned backs. so after a yummy dinner of fried shrimp, fries, and salad at the fish house, charlie chauffered us back to a random site on the side of the road in port st. joe so we could do more transects (the park closed at sunset - we're going to camp in the park next time). that was actually a bit of a disappointment. after two 10 meter transects (counting grazers every meter), gretchen and i had seen a grand total of three hermit crabs and nothing else, so we abandoned the attempt.... but we did step on numerous fiddler crabs along the shoreline. they're much more daring at night than they are during the day. anyway, after that let-down, we showered again and wound down for the evening (it was ~11 pm when we got back to the hotel).

i'll leave the talk of tuesday with a couple of shots of our site. as you can see, we had beautiful weather.

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we got started a bit closer to the butt crack of dawn on wednesday than we had on tuesday, leaving the hotel a little after 8 am. that meant that we had to check out early. when gretchen and i turned in our room keys, the girl at the front desk asked the same question the fisherman had the day before - were we there for a high school biology class (the reservation was in the name of the sea lab)? she too was quite surprised to learn our true ages, even though she herself was only 22 (the same age i am). personally, i think i look exactly my age. apparently others don't see it that way.

wednesday was a shorter day for us in terms of field time. we just had to assemle 10 urchin cages and put them out, then collect 50 shoots for me to analyze back at the lab. the edges of the mesh we used to make the cages were quite sharp, and i have many scratches from the cage assembly. here are some shots of the cage-making process.

this is me (left) and gretchen (right) putting the finishing touches on a couple of cages. that's dr. v. behind us.

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and here's a shot of charlie, just to prove he did more than just drive us around.

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after the cages were finished and placed in the appropriate areas with the appropriate numbers of urchins trapped in each, we had to pack everything back into the suburban, including the r.v. latina. since charlie had had the fun of deflating the r.v. latina on tuesday, he passed the honor on to me wednesday. it was quite an adventure, indeed. here, be a witness to the fun that was had deflating the boat. dr. v. decided that i wasn't deflating it fast enough, so he and charlie came and stood on one side while i laid on the other, which since i was laying on the raft caused me to roll a bit. they found it funny, so they moved around when i was unprepared, and we all had a laugh.

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charlie, blessed boy that he is, found us some indoor showers at the park so gretchen and i could wash our hair properly before heading back to dauphin island. you'll understand the hair-washing need if you've had much experience in salt water. hair tends to get crunchy after too much salt exposure. it's quite unpleasant.

dr. v. took pity on charlie since he'd been driving the entire trip and drove on the way home. charlie came to regret his decision to hand dr. v. the keys. when we stopped at subway for a late lunch around 2 pm, dr. v. went to fill up the suburban at the gas station next to the subway. when he came to subway to pick us up, he backed the suburban into the bumper of a truck that was parked behind him... but no damage was done. none of us had witnessed this, mind you. dr. v. admitted this freely to us. anyway, after that incident, nothing happened for a while... we just rode while dr. v. drove for a couple of hours. then, somewhere on highway 20, dr. v. was speeding down the road when we ran across a highway patrolman. dr. v. hit the brakes, but it was too late. the cop pulled us over. 77 in a 60. 17 mph over the speed limit. but dr. v. admitted he was speeding, and we were in a state vehicle, so he got away with a warning. after that, the ride home was uneventful.

back at DISL, charlie, gretchen, and i had to unpack the suburban, sweep it out, rinse our gear, put samples in the freezer, and return the keys and gas cards. then, finally, the excursion was over, and i headed back to mobile.

it was a long trip, lots of time in the field, but it was fun. much bonding occurred among me, gretchen, charlie, and dr. v. it was realized by all that it takes very little to make me laugh, and many giggles were had. as dr. v. put it, there was a fair bit of silliness.


Vanessa Mae said...

I applaud your well-written recapitulation of your trip to Port St. Joe. And of course you're quite welcome to borrow my format (Like I ever claimed it as my own, he he).

I can so imagine you commenting about the nudibranch looking like a bright green booger... then following with an eruption of "LaTina-giggles".

Beautiful pictures. Wish I could have been there.

I hope my comments are LaTina-approved. Your post is Nessa-recommended.

latina marie said...

there were many "latina-giggles" on the trip. at one point, i was just talking about random things, and dr. v. said, "you know, there's a lot of free word association going on here." then i told him i had to fill the lulls with something. he admitted that my randomness made him laugh, though.