Florida 2002

Florida 2002
BIO 418 - Natural History of Florida

April 30 - May 13, 2002

Hawksbill Turtle at Loee Key

Trip Leaders
Joe Jacquot
Laurie Mohr

Links of Interest

Class Portrait

Fourteen students participated in the 2002 summer field course to Florida that Laurie and I led (Class portrait). Our goal was to focus on the Everglades, coral reef, and mangrove ecosystems found in southern Florida. We left campus at 7am on April 30th and drove straight to southern Florida, which required slightly over 24 hours. Our first stop was at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. This park is one of the major drainages for the Big Cypress Swamp. It contains many large cypress trees and native royal palms, as well as having more orchid species than anywhere else in the U.S. We had incredible luck finding reptiles and amphibians during our short stay at the park: many squirrel treefrogs, brown anoles, and alligators, plus a ribbon snake, southern ringneck snake, and a Florida water snake. We reached the Everglades National Park in time for lunch. We had arrived at the end of the dry season, which was quite evident. It was extremely hot during our stay at the park and we had very little precipitation during our two-week stay in Florida. We camped at the Long Pine Key campground, which is located in an upland pine habitat. This plant community is well adapted to frequent fires. We saw first hand how careless campers caused a fire in the campground just a few days before we arrived. Humans have altered the fire regime from predominantly wet season fires caused by lightning to anthropogenic fires mainly during the dry season. We spent the next day canoeing through the southern part of the Everglades (i.e., Flamingo). This afforded us the opportunity to explore the mangroves along our canoeing route. The following day we explored more of the park, but because of the heat and the previous day's exposure to the sun we tried to spend the afternoon in the shade of the Flamingo visitors center. As usual, we had great wildlife viewing opportunities and students were able to see the dominant fish, herps, and birds found in the Everglades ecosystems The Anhinga Trail was especially fruitful this year.

On day 5 we headed to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The marine tanks located in the visitor center provided a great preview of many reef organisms for our students. However, our goal for the day was to explore the mangroves, this time from below the waterline. I have never had any luck taking photographs of this community, but the prop roots of the red mangroves are completely covered with sponges, tunicates, algae, bivalves, and bryozoans. This was also a good place to observe many of the near shore marine algae species. We returned to this spot at night to snorkel again and were able to find many spiny lobsters and shrimp. The fish also proved to be much more docile than during the daytime. The following day we visited the Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park in the morning to learn about the native vegetation in the Keys. That afternoon we took a snorkeling trip out to Grecian Rocks. We found the area devoid of live reef-building corals, presumably from damage caused by careless reef visitors. Even in this condition, we observed a wealth of marine life. The following morning we broke camp and headed down the keys, making a quick stop at the Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier. We continued down the keys to Robbys Rent-a-boat (Islamorada) for transportation to Lignumvitae Key, which is a nice example of an intact tropical hardwood hammock. Students were able to feed the tarpon off the boat dock while we waited for transport. We spent the afternoon relaxing, snorkeling, and beachcombing at Long Key State Park on Long Key. The snorkeling was not as productive as I would have liked, but we did find several horseshoe crabs close to shore.

That evening we camped at Big Pine Fishing Lodge. Several manatees were in the channel as we arrived, something that I didnt expect to see on this trip. In the campground we sighted our first key deer, which were rather tame and readily entered our camp, clearly intent on finding free food. The following morning was spent at the Key Deer Sanctuary on Big Pine Key. We were given a short presentation and then walked the trails and visited the Blue Hole. That afternoon we visited Looe Key, an intact reef ecosystem. I had several students independently comment that this was the highlight of their trip. We had great luck viewing the reef organisms and once again the staff from Underseas Inc. were as friendly and as accommodating as you could possibly expect.

We broke camp exceptionally early the next morning so we could be in Key West by 7am to load our gear onto the boats for our trip out to the Dry Tortugas National Park. We had to pack our own food and water for the two days we would be on the island. The organization of this portion of the trip was less structured; we had several group snorkeling trips, including one night snorkel, and a bird watching expedition one morning. Otherwise, I let students explore the island, fort, and reefs at their own pace. We were also treated to a candlelight tour of the fort one evening to learn about the history of the fort. When we returned to Key West, we set up camp and students were allowed to explore the city that evening and the next day. Key West is one of those places you hope everyone visits at some point in their life. It's a fun town! Finally, we arrived safely back to the GVSU campus after a long 31 hour van ride.

Page last modified September 11, 2007