About the Post

Author Information

Andrew Blitman likes to draw and write about philosophy, poetry, and science. The author of two books, he will graduate from the University of Miami in May 2014 with a Masters of Professional Science degree in Marine Affairs. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail him at thewrittenblit@gmail.com.

Arc of a Snorkeler: My Day in Biscayne Bay

(Dramatization)

It’s 11:45 AM on Friday – the last day of the work week. For many students, the classwork ended on Thursday. I am not like them. I am a graduate student with a seemingly endless list of assignments to complete and phone calls to make, yet I am trapped within the standardized plastered confines of a classroom. As I lean forward in a desk that’s too small for my muscular frame, the clock ticks relentlessly. I, too, want to get plastered. With great determination, I try to break free from my chair.

It’s 11:55 AM. The seconds unsteadily ripple through the room like raindrops in a stagnant pool, or, rather, water in a kitchen sink. I am strapped in my chair. Drip. Drop. Dribble. One by one, the drops fall from the featureless popcorn ceiling onto my forehead.

It’s 12:00 PM. As soon as the clock flips me the bird, the drops stop. The ticking has stopped, too. Has the leaky faucet of time run dry? Suddenly, someone turns on the artificial lights. Under the shine of fluorescent light bulbs, a suave and shady figure enters the classroom.

It’s a man, my professor, clad in the finest clothing. “Today, we will talk about the great white open and its surging blue oceans”, he says with bold cheer. “In other words,” I can envision him saying with a more sinister undertone, “enjoy your next hour in a Chinese water-torture cell.”

It’s 12:01 PM – the afternoon. Class has begun. As I look to the clock for reassurance, I can hear Groucho Marx mocking me in the background, “Either I’m dead or my watch has stopped”. Welcome to my Black Friday…

The Real Events of Friday, April 12, 2013

…or, should I say, Blue Friday. This nontraditional Friday was defined by a spectacular out-of-the-classroom, dive-in experience. Where most of my Science Outreach classes take place indoors, April 12’s class took me outside. After weeks of planning (and a dose of short notice), the Executive Director of the Tropical Audubon Society – and Outreach professor – Laura Reynolds took my class out to the Pelican Harbor Marina.

The Pelican Harbor Marina – the home of the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station – sits in the center of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve in Miami, Florida. It is a good half-hour drive north of Key Biscayne. Yet, despite this distance and some extenuating circumstances, half of my class of twenty participated in this field trip. Pamela Sweeney, the manager of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, led our excursion and directed us through the necessary fieldwork.

Pelican Harbor Marina

Pelican Harbor Marina

I, like most of the students, parked in the Marina lot around 9:30 AM. The ten of us that could show up did so before 9:45 AM in defiance of gloomy skies. With bathing suit, notebooks, snorkels, and sunscreen in hand, I had come prepared for an adventure of semi-epic proportions.

At around 10:00 AM, our boat departed southward from the pier. The captain (and Laura and Pamela) had set his sights on Pelican Island, a sandy rock equipped with a dock of its own. By 10:15 AM, we had arrived.

Following Laura’s and Pamela’s instructions, we worked our way to the Island’s western beach for the seining (netting) portion of our trip. Here is the summary of our findings for the West Side:

Seine # Species (genus or common name) Frequency
1 (Shallow) PinfishSpotfin Mojarra (Eucinostomus argenteus) 1029
2 (Deep) Checkered PufferSilverside

Spotfin Mojarra

Pipefish (Louisianiae)

White Grunt

Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)

Sargassum Fish

Unidentified Pipefish (Floridiae)

Pygmy Filefish (Mothacanthus setifer)

Pink shrimp

Unidentified Grunt (Red, 3 black stripes)

11

26

1

1

2

1

1

1

2

1

3 (Deep) Checkered pufferSouthern gray stingray

Mangrove snapper

Pinfish

Dwarf Seahorse (A Potential Endangered Species)

Tomtate

Pygmy Filefish

Flagfin Mojara

White Grunt

Unidentified Juvenile Shrimp

Gillraker

21

5

9

2

20

2

9

5

1

1

We seined on the Eastern beach, too. There, strong winds stirred the now-sunlit waters. Here are our findings, which take note of changes in wind speed and water depth:

12 April 2013 Pelican Island East Side, Deeper by 3 feet, Windy
Seine # Species Frequency
1 Redfin needlefish (Strongylura notata)Spotfin mojarra

Silversides

Mullet (Mugul cephalus)

Isopod

118

7

2

1

2 Spotfin MojarraUnidentified red-tail shrimp 311
3 BallyhooLarval anchovy

Comb Jellyfish

Spotted Mojarra

Crab Larvae

111

1

18

1

At 11:00 AM, we left Pelican Island for the seagrass beds around the Mount Sinai Medical Hospital. The clouds had disappeared; only the sun blazed above us:

Seagrass Beds

Here (around 12:00 PM/Noon), we began to investigate propeller scars in the seagrass using the quadrat method:

Propeller Scars in Seagrass Beds

Propeller Scars in Seagrass Beds

Quadrat, from bbc.co.uk

Quadrat, from bbc.co.uk

Then, around 1:30 PM, we went snorkeling once more. This time, we explored the waters around the Oleta River State Park for its fish diversity:

Blue Chromis

Blue Chromis

My experiences in the water led me to some interesting finds:

Tiger Squid

Tiger Squid

Bottlenose Dolphins

And…Bottlenose Dolphins

All in all, it was a great day. I would like to give special thanks to RSMAS, to the Pelican Harbor Marina, to Professor Reynolds, to Pamela Sweeney, and to the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve.

Related Sites

Tropical Audubon Society: http://tropicalaudubon.org/

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/biscayne/volunteer.htm

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