By Ellen, Heather, Chris D., Noah, Hannah, CJ This semester the Flats Ecology research team will be exploring the impacts of climate change on the tropical flats near by our campus. More specifically, we are studying the metabolic rates of fish and their reaction to changes in temperature and pH. Bonefish, schoolmaster snappers and checkered puffer fish are among the major species we are examining. To identify the amount of stress put on fish due to changes in water temperature, we are using device called a respirometer. This highly specialized tool has only been used in the world by maybe 300-400 individuals. We feel privileged to be able to use this technology and to take part in this research. We are excited to contribute to new discoveries in the world of tropical marine climate change.
Our first foray into fieldwork took place at Page Creek. This environment is a tidal creek, meaning it includes terrain like mangroves, sand flats, and shallow water grass beds. At Page Creek, we were able to snorkel and come face-to-face with the organisms that thrive under the protection of the mangroves in the creek, including juvenile barracudas, schoolmaster snappers, pufferfish, yellow fin and flag fin mojarra, and sea sponges. Before getting under the water, we were able to observe the features of two types of mangroves, red and black. We tasted the salty backs of the salt-excreting leaves of the black mangroves, and then snorkeled within the strong prop roots of the red mangroves. We were also able to experience firsthand the meaning of the term “tidal creek.” Towards the end of our session, when the tide from the open ocean began coming in, the current raging into Page Creek was almost impossible to swim or walk against.
The objective of the flats research was to not only learn more about the characteristics of different ecosystems, but to also bring organisms back to the wet lab. We were looking for school-master snapper, which live in the mangroves in the creeks. Due to the strong current all we had to do was drop a a baited line and let the current take it into the mangroves. Our fishing was not the same as regular recreational fishing, however, because while catching these fish we were contributing to research that could help this species in the future. Just by observing the behavior of schoolmaster snappers we learned quite a lot. For example, when the current picks up, they hide deep in the mangroves for protection. We ended up catching 12 fish with the handlining method. After putting the fish in totes, loaded up our boats and rushed back to CEI so that they would experience as little stress as possible as we transported them back to the lab. By the time the class was over we had accomplished a lot. We are looking forward to studying these creatures, as well as returning to the field!