Course Blogs 12Su

Course Blogs of the Marine Environmental Science (MNS354Q)

2012 Summer

Copano Bay Click for more options

In Copano bay we examined many water quality parameters using a wide variety of instruments. The YSI data-sonde was definitely my favorite because it takes lots measurements all with one instrument. As much fun as taking the data was getting stung by moon jellies was the highlight of the day. It was disappointing going by numerous sites and not being to get a single cabbage head jellyfish. luckily at the last site Wayne was able to get one!

Littering and… Littering and… Click for more options

 At San Jose Island we collected plastic debris; I was astounded at the amount of trash found on the far end of the public area. I did not believe that sea turtles took bites out of plastic very often I thought it was a more rare event. I found it striking that there was a huge iron buoy washed ashore. I was expecting lots of bottles but not a 55 gallon plastic drum.

bringing in the big boy trash!

First Lab!! Click for more options

  The first lab for this course took usouttoCopano Bay where we took multiple water samples. While taking each sample we learned howtotakesonde measurements and titrations to learn about the water quality. This information also helped us to determine changes in the water column based on where in the Bay we took the sample and how close to a freshwater source we were.

 The cool that was occurring while we were in the bay was a jellyfish bloom. Two types of jellyfish were prevalent in the bloom. This didn’t stop some of our fearless classmates from trying to take a dip, none of which returned unscathed. We did manage to catch one, which I must say was the highlight of the day!

STINKY MUD!! Click for more options

While at Charlies’ Pasture the class was told to collect mud forWinogradsky columns, Wayne and I being the most adventurous collected the mud. Meanwhile Sara was having the time of her life while she wassieving the hydrogen sulfide infused mud. When I dug down to approximately half a fathomin depth, I was extremely surprised to find that thepore water was relativity cold. Needless to say the water felt amazing on a very hot day! Back at the teaching lab Wayne and I made 3 perfect Winogradsky columns, a control, one with egg shells and paper and agar, and one with egg shells, paper, agar and purple sulfide reducing bacteria. I really enjoyed this experiment because we get to see sedimentre-dox happen before our eyes.

That’s Not Poop In The Water! Click for more options

The trip to the Port Aransas Wastewater Treatment Plant was….LEGENDARY! Personally, I never thought of how the water that we used was processed, treated, and recycled. It was interesting to see all the chemistry and science that went into making sure bacteria levels were at the proper amount and to ensure that the treatment plant was doing its job correctly to protect the health of the community. I’m definitely glad we don’t have to drink the contaminated brown soup.  When we had the opportunity to collect water samples from the surrounding areas, it was interesting to see the effects of effluent directly adjacent to the WWTP and to observe the salt marsh of Charlie’s Pasture. It was interesting to see how DO and nutrient levels between different locations. Although the water was disgustingly warm, it was fun to be able to get a little muddy. When sediment samples were collected, we took them into the lab and created Winogradsky columns. It is cool that we were able to input extra nutrients and then observe the change of bacteria levels and stratifcation. From performing the test, we could clearly begin to see the different layers caused from the amount of nutrients and oxygen availability. I can’t wait for the unveiling of the columns. Hopefully we will be able to find difference responses between the columns.

Going Green

Posted by Sara Cathey at Tuesday, August 7, 2012 10:45:29 AM CDT
Last Edited:Tuesday, August 7, 2012 5:18:08 PM CDT

Our trip to the Port Aransas Waste Water Treatment plant and surrounding area with Dr. Min’s class was informative and entertaining. After a quick tour of the facility, we needed to sample the outfall pond, where Dr. Min showed me how much easier it was to handle the sample bottle if you keep it under the water as you are pulling it toward you. I was then able to show Ben this technique at our second sampling location, the pond at the Port Aransas birding center created by freshwater source from the treatment plant. Getting to teach another student a lab technique was a great way for me to learn as well.


Ben sampling using Dr. Min’s technique at site E2.

I surprised by the size of the pond at the birding center, and even more surprised by the fact that area with its thick vegetation had been created by the effluent from the treatment plant, when before it was just sandy wind flats. At this same sampling site, Dr. Min also showed us another important fieldwork technique: laying the sonde horizontally to observe water quality parameters when the water column is shallow.


Measuring water quality by laying the sonde horizontally.

This technique came in handy later in the day within the salt marshes at Charlie’s Pasture Nature Preserve. While walking the meandering trail through Charlie’s Pasture, Dr. Min pointed out to us the algal mats prevalent through the salt marsh. It was fascinating to see how they could be flat and thin in areas with no standing water but would puff up like a sponge when water was available. It was also interesting to observe how the vernacular salt marsh plants, like Salicornia virginica, could only exist along the edges of ponds of water, while the dry patches of the salt marsh were complete bare of vegetation.


The geo-pump with the sonde ready to measure water quality.

At sampling site E5, Dr. Min used the geo pump and 1 m peizometer pipe to collect ground water from the sediments a few meters back from the shoreline of the marsh pond. I have never seen or used equipment like this, so it was a great learning experience and now I know a technique to extract ground water.


Sieving mud while German collects more.

Of course, my favorite part of the day was collecting salt marsh sediment and sieving them so we could make Winogradsky columns back in the lab. If you haven’t been by to see them recently, they look great.

Overall, the day was a great success with everyone pitching in to make it wonderful learning experience.



Reflections Part 2

Posted by JDOE4168 JDOE4168 at Tuesday, August 7, 2012 10:43:53 AM CDT

In keeping with the theme of salinity from week one, this week we looked at salinity and many other parameters of bodies of water in very different places. In addition to water chemistry, we also tested for the presence of fecal coliform bacteria in a couple of water samples. We moved up in salinity from freshwater input of the wastewater treatment plant (where we tested for fecal coliform bacteria) to the adjacent birding center, then the ship channel with saline ocean water and an isolated pond in Charlie’s Pasture (the other place where we tested for fecal coliform). The wastewater treatment plant was interesting because I had never before seen where the water that goes down the drain ends up. I knew that water coming out of the drain was ok to drink (most of the time), but then it went somewhere else. I had never before considered where other people’s drinking water came from. It was very interesting how water that goes down the drain ends up being treated by bacteria and chemicals then is just sent back out into the streams, rivers, and bays. They work very hard to keep the freshwater coming. Charlie’s Pasture is also interesting because of how hot it was. The white clay of the pasture reflected sunlight to make the inside dry lake bed walkway even hotter than the surrounding area. This created a perfect place for high evaporation and hypersaline water. It was also surprising to me that the water at Charlie’s Pasture had more fecal coliform bacteria than the water coming out of the wastewater treatment plant! It must have been very unsafe water to drink!

Reflections Part 1

Posted by JDOE4168 JDOE4168 at Tuesday, August 7, 2012 10:43:21 AM CDT

As I sit here thinking back to labs of weeks past, I find it hard to believe exactly how much I learned. The water quality lab of week one that took us to Copano Bay showed me many things. The first was that just because a body of water looks small on the map doesn’t mean that it is small in real life. Copano Bay was much bigger than I had originally anticipated. I was also shocked to see so many jellyfish in what was supposed to be an estuary. The water was saline enough to support a large bloom of moon jellies and cabbageheads. The water in Copano Bay was actually much saltier than I had expected. While salinity did decrease with proximity to a freshwater source, we didn’t see anything that really resembled freshwater. This is probably because of the high residence time of the water in the bay and the high rate of evapotranspiration. I really learned how to monitor one of the most important things to the Texas coast, freshwater inflow. Freshwater inflow is important to the biodiversity and the health of organisms in the bay, and not enough freshwater can pose a serious problem to life in the bays. All in all, I would say that the trip to Copano Bay was exciting and educational.

Beach Day Click for more options

Beach trash is just another reminder of how humans impact their environment. We spent one hour on the beach in pairs collecting trash and other debris that had collected on the beach. In that short time period our class of six people collected enough trash to fill four large black trash bags full, along with these bags we found three large plastic barrels that had been used to transport bleach or other chemicals. After we had collected expert Tony Amos joined us  and helped explain some of the types of trash we found and where they possibly came from. It was very interesting to learn that some of the barrels that we collected were thirty years old when we found them. Its hard to fathom that it has either been sitting on that beach for so long or floating in the ocean just waiting to land on a beach. We also learned that as plastics float the wave action mixed with the saltwater help to break down the particles into smaller and smaller pieces. You may think that this is a good thing, but in all actuality the smaller the pieces get the easier it is for animals to ingest, which could end up killing them. Biodegradable plastic is called that because it breaks down faster, but as previously stated that might not always be the best for the environment. We also learned that due to the shape of their mouth sea turtles make diamond shape cuts in plastic bottles and trust me there were a lot more than I like to think about. Compiling this with the fact that we found a dead sea turtle on the beach it makes me wonder what killed him. Did he die because he ingested to much plastic or did he die of natural causes? We will never know.

Prepared for the Worst Click for more options

Our oil spill lab with Dr. Min this past Thursday was insightful.  Dr. Min’s lecture began by surprising me with how sensitive marine birds are to oil spills.  I had no idea one drop of oil in their feathers could expose their skin to air, water, and oil.  Next, we discussed the refinery process, which I knew nothing about, in which crude oil is boiled to create the final products, such as gasoline and, what remains is used for low value things like asphalt.   I also didn’t know the fluorescence of the PAHs in crude oil could be used to determine the source as well as the type of the oil.   Because I was accustomed to the old adage, “Oil and water don’t mix,” I was impressed when learning how the crude oil is weathered during emulsification when mechanical action causes it to mix with seawater, and tar balls are formed during physical, chemical, and biological weathering.  I was surprised when Dr. Min told us he had collected some of the tar balls we were examining the day before lab on the beach at Port Aransas, having only seen tiny balls stuck to pieces of Sargassum, but none washed up onto the shore.  I had never heard of the Ixtoc oil spill until Dr. Min’s lecture and was surprised at the shallow depth of the well compared to that of the Deepwater Horizon well.  I think its neat Dr. Amos was here at UTMSI to collect tar ball samples from the beach at Port Aransas when they arrived in 1979 and 1980.  I also enjoyed going through the criteria for the initial shoreline assessment first responders make in the event of an oil spill and how their observations determine the response team and resources used to clean up the spill.  I am quite astounded at the thoroughness of the Texas General Land Office’s Oil Spill Planning and Response, but also glad that someone has taken the time to plan these responses if in the event they are needed. 

A Poem on Marine Debris Click for more options

<< Similar to the expression I had on my face when Tony was teaching us about the plastics we collected.:)

I had a great time going to San Jose Island with all of my colleagues. Being able to collect trash along the beach was really eye opening. When Tony Amos came to talk to us, it was amazing how he could identify trash just based on the color alone. It was also interesting to see how some of the trash debris had originated from various locations around the world. The large amount of debris that washes up on beaches is mind blowing. From many of the plastic containers that we collected, we saw diamond shaped holes associated with turtle bites. Just knowing that the plastics we rely on for everything is killing sea turtles makes me sick to my stomach. So in response to my disgust, I wrote a short little poem on my feelings of plastic marine debris. Enjoy!

I call this poem….” Complete and Utter Garbage”

In the stomachs you wait.
Non-degradable, that’s your main trait.
Plastic bottles, jugs, barrels, and rope.
Is there no more hope?

A flirter
You suffocate, strangle, and murder;
The patches you lay along the shore
Makes me want to kill you more.

Arriving from near and far
A deep and crimson scar
From the point of your daggers,
You leave a nothing but rotting cadavers and marine Caspers.


But seriously…I know I’m no Shakespeare or Robert Frost, but the message I am relaying through my poem, as you may all have picked up on, is that plastic trash that washes up on the beach is atrocious. So pick up the junk so it won’t leave a funk in our oceans.

Oil Spills Click for more options

    Oil spills are avoidable tragedies. Due to anthropogenic interference in the environment nature has to cope with massive amounts of oil being leaked into the ocean. Luckily these events occur rarely and some shorelines and coastaltopographies can bounce back on their own, but some need our help. Due to theshear amounts of oil leaked into the ocean from the rigs humans must intervene by addingdispersants or burning the top layer of oil to help reduce the amount of oil nature actually has to deal with.

 The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill released more oil than the spill that occurred in Alaska and yet when we go and try to look for it all we find are trace amounts. This is an example of how an environment can mend itself if it has the right temperature and tidal patterns. The Gulf of Mexico provides warm water, which is perfect for plankton and bacteria production, and has a high wave and tidal action. These work together, the waves break up the oil and the plankton and bacteria process the oil, to help get rid of the oil in the water. The effects of the spill in Alaska are still being seen due to the fact that the cold water temperature is not an ideal environment to process oil.
 This lab had us looking at different bay and coastal areas in Texas and determining the best way to deal with an oil spill if it occurred in that area. In doing this we had to take into account the wildlife that lived in the area, the type of coastline that may be impacted. Other factors to be considered included the amount of oil spilled, the type of oil spilt, direction of wind and current patterns, and human activity in the area. Overall I think the lab successfully taught me how much one oil spill that takes five minutes to occur can have lasting effects on the environment.

Tar Galore! Grand Finale… Click for more options


Hydrocarbons and seeps and tar oh my!! Who knew that tar could be pretty and interesting!! This final product, despite it’s “beauty”, can pose great stress on an environment. The sample of tar I observed resembled the texture and glass of obsidian, but they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The source and time spent in the water can result in different types of tar…balls, slick, mousse, crispy, ‘tires’, etc. Some of the samples we checked out in class resembled tire material and were the size of one..crazy! Tar can adversely affect the environment in a multitude of ways by disrupting biological processes, creating unaesthetic appeal, and endangering marine life. Although some naturally occurring seeps release hydrocarbons, the most detrimental occurs by mass spills like Ixtoc, Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, etc. where the organisms do not have time to adapt properly. In the pictures above, the entire class is partaking in the interesting tar festival! The prior lab regarding beach debris was also very interesting in which I learned that a substantial amount of the accumulated debris is of foreign origin. I had no idea that shrimpers bleach shrimp because of the brown/black tarnishes along their bodies! It was interesting and sad to see the trash along our beaches. We found trash from Norway, Guatemala, China, etc. with barnacle growth was crazy! Check out the image of all the trash German and Wayne collected (please disregard Dr. Min’s leg as he is not debris)…contamination galore 😦


A Day at the Beach on a Texas Barrier Island… Click for more options

Our lab experience with Dr. Min on July 26th consisted of spending a day at the beach on San Jose Island to collect and identity marine debris and to conduct a beach profile survey.  Before we headed out, Dr. Min gave us a brief overview of beach processes and introduced us to the significant environmental problem of marine debris.  I was impressed upon finding there is an international cooperation to reduce marine pollution, as seen by the MARPOL regulations.  But I was even more amazed to learn that approximately 80% of the anthropogenic marine debris in the Gulf originates from the American and Mexican shrimping industries.  Dr. Min also introduced us to foram shells, which can be used as proxy for sea level change like salt marsh sediments.




On San Jose, Brittany Jensen and I comprised one of the trash collecting teams in the morning, and we were the group who collected debris nearest the camp site.  Within a hour’s time, we had only ended up about 25 yards east of the campsite due to the high density of trash on the beach.  The majority of the debris we collected was located along the dune line of the beach, sometimes even buried into the dune structure,  while the shoreline was relatively clean.  The debris we collected was composed mainly of water and soda bottles, probably due to the close proximity of the public access area, but fragments of plastic with unidentifiable sources made up the second largest constituent of our collection.  When all the groups came back to camp after their hour-long pickup, I was surprised by the gradient of debris size, with the smaller pieces being picked up by Brittany and I near the North Jetty and public access area to the large fluid containers collected by German and Wayne at the northern end of public access.

The diverse vegetation on the dunes at San Jose Island.





After lunch and a quick swim, the team conducted a beach profile survey to determine dune elevation along San Jose.   I was surprised of the shortness of the dune structure, expecting them to be similar in height to the dunes at the Port Aransas public beach across the ship channel.  However, I was impressed by the diversity of the vegetation growing along the dunes.





We then did a quick core of dry dune sands (even though now I’m pretty sure my sample wasn’t that dry) so we could sieve them back in the lab to analyze them for foram shells.



The Atlantic green sea turtle carcass.



After another swim, we greeted Dr. Tony Amos, a member of the scientific staff at UTMSI.  We first observed the process Dr. Amos has to go through when collecting deceased sea turtles.  The Atlantic green turtle we had walked up on in the morning headed to our campsite was significantly decomposed.  Dr. Amos had to record his observations on a form, where he noted the species, age, size, and physical attributes, along with the lack of PIT (personal identification tag) in the left front flipper.  Dr. Amos said he would send the paperwork he filled out to NOAA, who collects the forms and enters them into the national database.  I had no idea a system like this existed, but I’m glad it does so we can help keep track of sea turtle populations.  After the turtle carcass was bagged, we headed over to our bags of trash, where Dr. Amos picked out pieces of debris that stood out to him.  I was amazed how quickly he could identify types and sources of debris without needing much, if any, information from the piece.  He reinforced Dr. Min’s lecture from the morning, showing us the diamond cut-outs in the plastic debris caused by turtle bites and the turquoise bottles used by Mexican shrimpers to remove the black dots from their catch.  Dr. Amos reiterated the fact that those who make their living from the sea don’t do a good job of taking care of it.  





After a quick ride back to UTMSI and a look through the microscope to observe foram shells, our lab had ended.  It had definitely been a successful day at the beach.


Order up! Tar Pattie with Fries! Click for more options

CHECKIN OUT THE TAR BALLS! (^Secretly inhaling the fumes^)

In lab, we were able to look at samples of tar ball and patties that have washed along the Aransas shoreline. We always hear about oil spills and see horrific pictures of crude oil and tar washing up along shores, but its intriguing to know that the Gulf of Mexico has natural deep oil seeps that constantly release large quantities of it into the water. Being able to see and touch the tar gave me a new experience understanding on how harmful oil spills can be when they accumulate on marine biota. It was also interesting to observe the different stages that the tar ball progressed through, from a gooey and sticky substance to a firmer and glassy substance. I never fully understood the process of separating crude oil into different usable substances until the day of our lab, and I found it informative to see how currents and different physical factors could effect the transportation of the different types oil substances throughout the water using the simulation software.


A day at the beach Click for more options

The day at the beach with MNS 354 was an interesting experience. I was amazed that so much trash could float from so far away onto the Texas beach. We found everything from huge plastic barrels to tiny fragments of plastic in the sand. The rusted metal 5-gallon barrel with a “hazardous chemical” tag was especially disconcerting, as we spent about an hour swimming in the water that the barrel came from! One of the most revealing things washed up on the beach by some weird wave was a Chinese bleach container with a turtle bite. It is fascinating to me that turtles would take a bite out of plastic bottles. They don’t look at all like fish or plants. I suppose they float like seaweed, but the smell of bleach should be enough to deter a hungry turtle. I suppose that just isn’t the case, as millions of turtles and other marine animals die every year from eating plastics.

The beach we went to wasn’t exactly a trash heap, but it did have its fair share of debris, including a boat filled with beer cans and water bottles in the sand scar area. Another thing that amazed me was how thin plastic bags like garbage bags and grocery bags managed to end up torn apart and integrated into the sand dunes. That must be an fascinating process! All in all, I had a good time with the class and left the beach cleaner than I found it. Everybody won!


Eutrophication Click for more options

  The transit process of our excreted wastes never occurred to me, so visiting the Port Aransas WWTP was an eye opening experience. The transformation of the “chocolately drink” into fairly clear water by means of grating, aeration, clarification and dechlorination was pretty amazing. Analysis of the collected nutrient vials near the effluent outfall resulted in considerably high nutrient concentrations. It is crazy to think that concentrations before regulation were significantly greater…I can only imagine the extent of the resulting conditions. I also found the ridiculously high (and never seen before) DO values at E4 interesting with the intense algal growth despite the elevated temperature of the water. The coolest part of this experiment was the sediment and bacteria collected for our Winogradsky columns! You read about how oxygen availability determines whether responses will be oxidized (aerobically) or reduced (anaerobically) as well as what acceptors will be utilized in sediment redox reactions, but finally got to see it in action! The lack of oxygen as well as nutrient availability (agar, egg shells, paper shreds etc) promote different bacterial expression clearly seen in these columns. The coliform test results were reassuring….thank goodness the tap water did not reflect presence of this bacteria! YAY!

Can you spot the rabbit? Crazy Camo!

Water Hydrography Click for more options

OurCopano Bay trip exposed me to a variety of water quality sampling instruments that I was unfamiliar with and how to utilize them in the field! These instruments provided multiple avenues of measuring identical parameters therefore allowing us toassess consistency or variance. The light and dark bottle reaction was something that I always read in textbooks and understood the concept but finally was able to test it and believe the results for myself! It is crazy to think that the parameters measured have such an impact or result from estuarine circulation and mixing, nutrient cycling and productivity….Estuaries are truly dynamic!

                                                                MMMM….cabbage heads!!
                  Scientists hard at work in Copano Bay!
Lastly, I found the intense crazy jellyfish bloom occurring here extremely interesting. I had no idea that instability of estuarine dynamics could result in these outrageous blooms! According to some in-class reading, jellyfish are resilient species which is why they can dominate a system…hopefully stability will be restored within the bay to prevent irreversible effects!!