Course Blogs (14Sp)

Course blogs of the Lab Studies in Marine Ecology class (2014-Sp)

Note: some photos are not properly copied from the original blog site.

Passion and Knowledge Click for more options

Since childhood, I’ve felt a strong personal connection with the ocean. I grew up a few minutes’ drive from Galveston Bay, and through my involvement with the Boy Scouts and the Galveston Bay Foundation I participated in many conservation activities such as cleaning uptrashinthewetlandsandplantingcordgrass at sites disturbed by human activity. I also received scuba certification through the Scouting program, and had the opportunity to experience the breathtaking splendor of tropical reef ecosystems during two scuba trips to Cozumel island in the Caribbean. This personal history provided a unique lens through which IexperiencedthetripstoPortAransas this semester. For instance, at the beginning of the semester I had a healthy appreciation of some of the threats to marine ecosystems and had a love and passion for the ocean that gave me an intuitive sense of the importance of marine conservation.VisitingPortAransas increased my love of the ocean, through moments like watching the mother and calf dolphins swimming in the MSI marina.

However, the visits also expanded my intuitive concern for conservation into a more scientific understanding of the critical ecological services provided by marine ecosystems like seagrass beds and mangrove forests, both of which control erosion and provide habitat for juveniles of many ecologically and commercially important species, such as shrimp and redfish. I also learned about scientific approaches, such as transect sampling and water quality monitoring, that can be used to more accurately identify problems that may need interventions. For example, we collected data on the pH of the seawater and compared it to historical data, which shed light on the growing problem of ocean acidification. Without utilizing the scientific method in ways like this to identify and target specific problems, passion for conserving the ocean like I developed during my adolescence could ultimately go to waste due to a lack of direction and grounding in ecological reality. At the same time, I think personal passion and love of the ocean is an invaluable asset to any scientist seeking to protect it.

-Andrew Coulter

Now you see it Click for more options

  While both lab trips have been exciting and educational, this course has provided much insight to the field of marine research. The various techniques applied in collecting data gave much experience in observing the health of different ecosystems as well as what effects human have had on their health. Performing the seine net along the beach was extremely interesting because what was caught was much different than what I expected. Instead of catching crabs and some smaller fish we caught almost only tiny fish larvae, and eel larvae! from the marine ecology lecture I had learned that eel were catadromous, meaning they spawn in the oceans and then head back up stream into freshwater,  but never had i seen proof- this was proof. It was also interesting to see that the sea grass bed at the salt marsh was as healthy as it was, having been created anthropogenically and being isolated from the ocean. Various salt tolerant plants flourished in and along side the muddy waters that were filled with crabs and small fish leaping out of the water.

   At the sandy beach habitat, it  was devastating to see the amount of trash that was present, especially after a “massive” beach clean up the weekend before. Multiple plastic bags and styrofoam parts were found along the dunes on the beach. In addition, some coconut shells and plastic bottles of bleach were found. These had drifted  from MILES away. This was on one short stretch of a beach, on one island. Multiply that by millions of miles of beaches around the world and a very grim picture is painted. This clean up showed that limiting waste in marine ecosystems is almost impossible when the amount of garbage generated by human activity is so great. People need to be more aware of this.
   The most interesting observation was that between the three habitats we observed – the sandy beach, salt marsh sea grass bed, and rocky beach – there was a multitude of differences, although these habitats coexisted in the same general area. The second trip of this lab course further extended my knowledge and awareness of how many factors go into the health of an ecosystem and how sensitive they really are. The ocean is essentially the reason life on Earth is possible. As ecosystems are all connected, it is imperative to increase the publics’ awareness and appreciation of them so that each and every one of them can be protected.

It Casts Its Spell Click for more options

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”    –Jacques Cousteau

   Coming from a more clinical background in my studies, any course consisting of labs have predominately meant working in cleanrooms, donning sterile gloves and a detached, antiseptic approach to research. Many times the processes and the data collected usually do not bear any resemblance to the final application of the information. You study the tumor but never see the patient.                
This lab in marine ecology was my initiation into field research and the experience, however elementary, has been tremendously climactic in the ways in which it has impressed upon me an indelible feeling. It is a fascination that reaches beyond the childhood wonder of collecting shells along the beach, or watching waves cutting into the rocky tidal pools. It even triumphs over the enjoyment of whacking crab-legs on a mist-sprayed pier.
During the duration of the fieldwork, having the opportunity to be in the environment as both the observer and the observed posited an interesting conundrum at times. I found myself mentally chastising the multitudes responsible for leaving bottle upon bottle strewn about on the beaches but failed to realize my own hypocrisy as I drank from a plastic Ozarka water bottle. And as we trawled Redfish Bay, leaving a wake of turbulence and dead animals, I couldn’t help but wonder how “sustainably” caught could all the cans of tuna in my pantry really be. You are left asking whether it is possible to assess a single parameter or ecosystem as independent in a co-dependent and intertwined system?
As humans it is natural that we rationalize situations to make sense of them into neat and organized schemas. When told animals are processed humanely or environmental factors are a decisive consideration we do not presume otherwise. The natural flow of our thoughts is that if there were in fact a dire situation someone would of course act on that information. What person in good conscious who knows better would simply turn a blind eye? Yet many times, in the fray, due to the lack of understanding and perhaps more importantly, as was in my experience, due to the lack of a tangible experience, things become too far removed and the meaning is lost.
This class and the camaraderie of my peers, has provided for me a connection between the whimsical draw of the ocean’s mysteries as we see in our imaginations and the very real responsibility of maintaining the corporeal aspects that constitute this living, breathing entity that sustains us.
                                                                                                                                                                 -Nina Kim

Unexpected Discoveries

Posted by Anh Phan at Saturday, April 19, 2014 9:02:00 PM CDT

In all honesty, I took this marine lab course just to fill a graduation requirement, and thus was not expecting to gain much from it. Considering that the lab only consisted of two field trips, I imagined they would be enjoyable but not too knowledge intensive. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The information I have learned from the lab’s fieldwork have resonated with me more than any other course I have taken at UT, and I am truly grateful I decided to take this course by chance.

One of the astonishing things to me was the large amount of diversity present in a single seining. Being an avid fisher, I have done seining before to catch small fish to use as bait, but never realized how much diversity was present in a single catch. Too concentrated on collecting minnows, I would completely disregard any other organisms wrought up in the net. This lab allowed me to view the copious amounts of diversity present in the ocean that I neglected before. This negligence is obviously mimicked with other fishermen who fish in a greater scale, which of course increases the amount of unnecessary by-catch. This knowledge is very unsavory and though practiced throughout the world, makes me think of Americans and our wasteful consumerism; disregarding the negative effects on the environment and ecosystem. I know in the future I will be more conscientious when I spend time near or in any body of water, and hope that there will be more steps in creating more efficient ways to fish in the future.

Another surprisingly interesting concept I learned was not only were there so much diversity present in the water, but also in the substrate. The mud grab housed so many different organisms and learning about how they keep the substrate oxygenated or decompose detritus was incredible. My favorite was the worm that covered its entire body with shells in order to protect itself from the external anoxic environment. I would never think to observe the sand beneath my feet but now look forward to going to the beach and seeing what I can find.

I learned so much more than the two experiences that I highlighted in this blog. It was an exceptionally rewarding experience to learn about the ocean and the systems and cycles that regulate it and only wish I wasn’t graduating so I could discover more.


Anh Phan

Everything is Connected

Posted by Jordan Grant at Saturday, April 19, 2014 9:00:20 PM CDT
Last Edited:Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:59:22 PM CDT

We look at things in this world with ignorance. With every class I take at UT, my newly acquired knowledge brings me comfort and enlightenment. Marine ecology lab has taught me numerous things, particularly how everything in the ocean is connected. There is still a lot that we don’t know, but we still know quite a bit. When we view a marine organism, we see it as the individual. In nature, it has a role, a niche, be it a primary producer, primary consumer, decomposer. etc. One organism could be a keystone species, holding the entire ecosystem together. People that interact with marine environments have a responsibility to understand the gravity of their actions. On the beach, we picked up trash along the coast. Negligence and the lack of being self-aware led to all this trash on the beach. It is both harmful and inconsiderate for people to litter, both for the marine organisms and the other beach goers.

The atmosphere of the work was as delightful as it was calming. There is something about waking up to the salty ocean breeze and the warmth of the sun as is slowly rises that soothes the soul. The concepts that we learned, such a reproduction, water density, storms, and sediment composition all play roles in explaining the realities of the marine environments. One philosophical term I have learned is analysis. It’s where we take pre-existing concepts from objects, as opposed to new concepts. We aren’t inventors, coming up with new ideas, rather, we are simply trying to explore what already exists. This marine ecology lab has piqued my curiosity and motivation into continuing down this path of analyzing the ocean. It is a fun  and meaningful thing to do for a career.

Doesn’t he look like a pirate?

Port Aransas

Posted by Jamie Smith at Saturday, April 19, 2014 8:46:40 PM CDT
Last Edited:Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:57:35 PM CDT

Originally when viewing Port Aransas on a map I noted a bay environment and an oceanic environment. After completing two in depth lab field trips I came to understand that I was defining environments too broadly and homogenizing them. In reality environments change based upon temperature, salinity, nutrient availability etc..

Gradient seemed to drive defining environmental conditions as well. Observing Stedman Island allowed our class to see a sea grass bed grade into a mangrove “forest” while at the South Jetty we were able to see a hard substrate subittoral zone grade into a supralittoral zone. The sea grass bed to mangrove forest showed high species diversity with defined transitions. The habitat appeared the least harsh of all the habitats we saw and this was in part to the protection that the plant life provided. It was amazing that diversity could also be found on such a plane hard substrate such as the South Jetty which had little protection and high energy.

Every habitat and environment we visited was characterized by anthropological waste. It was shocking to learn that birds swallow plastic bottle tops and collect them overtime in their digestive tracks. Trash was found with tar on it that was impossible to wash off without soap and water. The lesson about ghost ships, lost crab traps that become un-anchored and continue to catch and replace bait, has yet to leave my memory.


Some good, Some bad Click for more options

THE GOOD: These two trips to Port Aransas have been helpful in exploring and learning about several different marine habitats and the connectedness between them.  The most interesting part for me was seeing all of the different instruments and techniques needed to examine marine ecosystems.  Some of my favorite instruments/design features include the runners on the wood pieces when trawling (I think it was to hold the net open), the ingenious mud grabbing mechanism that closes when it hits sediment, the salinity meters that work by refraction, and the seining net.  All of these things have broadened my common sense and general knowledge of how things work in marine science.Also, our attempts to create a closed ecosystem was a great way to take what we have learned in lecture and lab and apply them to test our understanding of what constitutes a sustainable ecosystem.  It is important for everyone to think about why their ecosystems failed (assuming it did) and what changes would have made their ecosystem more sustainable.  This analysis strengthens the understanding of how intimately connected and dependent all living organisms are on each other.  For me, it opened my eyes to the great importance of primary production.

THE BAD: At every location we attempted to pull organisms from their habitat to physically observe them and to survey the biodiversity within each location.  Although it seems necessary to do this, most of the organisms we pulled out of the water died.  This bothers me.  We are taught about the anthropogenic effects on marine habitats, and then go out and cause more damage to study those effects, such as by catch.  To examine the harmful effects of by catch, we trawled and found that most of what we pulled onto the boat was not our target species, most of which died.  It seems so counterproductive to learn about how humans are negatively affecting marine ecosystems by going out and repeating it.  It reminds of the saying “do as I say, not as I do.”  How can you teach students about the importance of not disturbing an ecosystem by taking them out and asking them to disturb it?
All in all I enjoyed myself on both trips and have acquired a lot useful knowledge about marine biodiversity and ecology.
-Joel Brzykcy

The Circle of Life Click for more options

  Growing up, I have always loved the beach because the ocean, for some reason, felt like home to me with the salt in the air, the rolling waves, and the beautiful sunsets. One of my favorite songs as a child included the lyrics, “All the wonders up above us and the splendors down below-there is so much more to everything than we can ever know.” However, it was not until this field experience that I realized how much I truly do not know about marine ecology. 

 Mud has always been just mud to me-a brown gooey goodness that was perfect for making mud cookies with in my backyard, but during this lab, I have developed a completely new appreciation for mud. I learned that there was more to mud than what appeared at the surface, as when we took a mud grab, I observed firsthand the distinct coloration of the individual layers. I discovered that the aerobic soil was on top in a light brown color and gradually turned a darker gray until the mud became black due to more anoxic conditions. Each layer had different kinds of bacteria that were adapted to deriving energy from different electron acceptor sources, starting with oxygen, nitrate, sulfur compounds, and then finally carbon dioxide. Similar to worms on land, worms in the ocean are extremely important for overturning the mud bottom and aerating the mud to allow other organisms and primary producers to thrive. Furthermore, a mud core can act as a history book of the ocean, as it contains records of hurricanes, droughts, floods, and remains of benthic organisms for scientists to interpret how well certain areas of the ocean are doing. To my surprise, I learned that fish scales and otoliths can also convey fish’s life histories, as different isotopic elements, such as magnesium, calcium, and strontium, can be used to determine where a particular dead fish originated from. Moreover, ear wax in whales record their life history, as throughout their life, sediment from the ocean accumulates in their ears, saving a snapshot of different stages of the whales’ lives. 


 Besides admiring the natural record-keeping process, I gained a new perspective of how humans greatly impact the food chain of marine ecosystems. Before this lab, I had heard about the importance of eating only sustainable seafood in my Sustaining a Planet course, but it was not until I saw the results of our bottom trawl that I understood the magnitude of the problem of bycatch. With the trawl, we had been trying to imitate shrimpers that were interested in only catching shrimp for commercial use, and out of our two trawls, we counted a grand total of three shrimp. Excluding the shrimp, we had caught a large variety of other marine species that would have died from being pulled up onto the dock but still tossed back into the water due to their commercial insignificance. Through this firsthand experience, I now view the ocean in a different light, as I realize that there are many more sea mysteries to uncover and a great need for increasing bycatch awareness to drive change in fishing practices.

-Alice Jean


Marine Ecosystems: the long road ahead

Posted by Collin Roland at Saturday, April 19, 2014 4:24:23 PM CDT
Last Edited:Saturday, April 19, 2014 7:25:14 PM CDT

The vast majority of my life has been spent far inland, out of sight of the sea, but childhood summers spent along the rocky shores of Alaska gave me an appreciation for the bounty of life that the ocean contains and its importance in providing sustenance to human populations. Our field studies have given me a more robust understanding of the underlying ecology of marine systems and the importance of lower trophic orders in sustaining populations of exploitable species that are important to society (i.e. shrimp and crabs in Port Aransas, benthic fish and salmon in Alaska). The field experience also imparted to me the importance of physical habitat and mobility characteristics (i.e., hard vs. soft substrate, exposed vs. protected shore, planktonic vs. nektonic vs. benthic organisms) in determining species composition of any particular area.

Seeing these species and environments in person has sparked in me a desire to expand my understanding of marine systems so that I may work to ensure their conservation for their own sake and for future generations. The degree of anthropogenic influences on these systems was made clear to me during the San Jose Island beach survey especially, as well as in the discussions of trawling and fishing impacts. Most profoundly, visiting Port Aransas reawakened in me the desire to appreciate and enjoy marine ecosystems (albeit I prefer those without palm trees), and imparted to me the importance of protecting them from undue anthropogenic degradation.

Collin Roland


Marine Ecology

Posted by Sarah Rios at Saturday, April 19, 2014 4:03:07 PM CDT

Before this semester, I had never realized what a dynamic habitat the ocean is what with its currents and diurnal cycles. Taking this course as a complement to Marine Ecology has been an awesome experience because I’ve actually been able to witness, in person, what I’ve been learning for weeks. I most likely never would have retained the knowledge of what a copepod is and how it moves, or what limpets look like and where they can be found, if it were not for this class. Looking back on everything we’ve done, I’ve found that I am most interested in planktonic organisms. I think it’s so cool that so many organisms whether remain suspended at the surface of the water column; not to mention, many adult organisms that we’re familiar with, such as crabs, snails, and barnacles, also inhabit the water column as planktonic larvae. When you’re cruising through the ocean on a boat, you’re passing by so many thousands of larvae, and you can’t even see them. It’s something that never really crosses your mind if you’re not in a marine-related class, and it’s certainly something that I had never considered.

Other concepts that have stood out to me are the microbial processes in the sediments that can control nutrient and dissolved oxygen concentrations. To be honest, organism relationships with symbiotic bacteria had never intrigued me very much, until I learned about symbiotic bacteria of algae. This concept serves to illustrate the complexity and interconnectedness of life, which is dependent, not only upon environment, but also upon life at essentially every level, from bacteria to plants to consumers farther down the food chain.

Marine Ecosystems in Port Aransas

Posted by Morgan Faulkner at Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:28:24 AM CDT

This semester in marine ecology lab was the perfect interdisciplinary approach to learning about the Port Aransas region as a representation of many similar ecosystems around the world. I personally thought this semester in marine ecology would only teach us about the biological aspects of marine ecology (plants, animals, etc.), but the entire semester took the entire ecosystem into consideration and taught us a lot about the biotic as well as the abiotic factors that go into the Port Aransas ecosystem. As an environmental science major, I also appreciated the fact that this course had an emphasis on anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems. Through several experiments such as the trash pick up and the ocean acidification experiments, we were able to see these effects on a smaller scale. At the same time, the other experiments and comparisons of habitats gave us an understanding of the biological differences of each area and how the abiotic characteristics of the area have an effect on these differences.

Looking at salinity gradients between each habitat was the most interesting part of the Port Aransas ecosystems, particularly how a few changes in parts per thousand had a profound effect on the biodiversity in the habitat. This was especially noticeable in the mangrove and sea grass habitats where there were very quick changes between the plants on the water line and the plants a meter or so away. Looking at differences in substrate was also a valuable part of the course, especially with the Port Aransas jetty. The jetties were unique in that they are human made but still have distinct habitat characteristics unique to rocky substrate habitats. Port Aransas and this lab overall had a variety of examples of unique habitats and situations like that that gives students like me some perspective on marine ecosystems.

Picture from:

Morgan Faulkner

Group 2

Blog – Sarah Kim Click for more options

I now understand why the Incans built homes so that they could hear running water at any given time – water sounds beautiful. I didn’t have very many good experiences at beaches as a kid, but maybe that’s because I always went to the wrong ones (i.e. Galveston). For some reason, I had previously associated the beach with  the idea of space travel – the ocean seemed inherently isolating to me, as it disconnects us from the only context in which we understand our humanity: land. Deep in the waters of the open ocean (or in the vast infinity of space), we maintain a solely tenuous link with society –  a radio, satellite, etc. However, people hold an excitement for the unknown. We are all compelled by curiosity. The trope of the lonely sailor (or astronaut) may exist as an antithesis to that shared expectation of the unknown or, more specifically, the hope to create new prosperity from a poorly understood frontier (the ocean, space, or both). 

However, my experience in Port Aransas showed me a different side to this story. No matter where you look, life exists in some form in the ocean. It’s absolutely incredible! The mud grab and the oyster line were the activities that stuck with the most for that exact reason. We read about benthic habitats in our textbook, but seeing it in person is a whole different experience. This is why field work and labs like this are so important – it gives students a fresh perspective on material they had previously just learned in class or in textbooks.
Sarah Kim, Group 1

Diversity of Marine Life Click for more options

  My trips to PortAransas were definitely rewarding. I have known for a while now that I wanted to pursue a career with something Marine Biology related so getting to go down to MSI and learn some field work was exciting. My favorite part of the first trip was probably the Katy. Seeing all of the diversity among fish species and benthic organisms was veryeye opening. One of my favorite things about Marine Biology is just learning about the diversity of the organisms that live in the oceans. It fascinates me that we still don’t know what all lives there and that is probably the main reason why I am so drawn to the field. I also really enjoyed looking at the microscopic organisms and seeing them try to move in lowreynold’s numbers. TheZooea crab larva getting stuck to the algae was quite funny but also shed insight to how hard it is living in that environment. I can’t imagine trying to function like that in the open ocean.

 During the second trip I instantly regretted not buying snorkeling gear. When we were at the jetty I was having a great time looking in the rock cracks and on the algae and seeing all of the small organisms that lived hidden there. I wanted to see what was below the water also so I was constantly listening to what people were finding. I am also glad that they brought the Go-Pro cameras and I am looking forward to seeing what they found. Since these trips when I go to the park or the lake I am not just laying in the grass or swimming, but now I find myself looking in the dirt or in the algae trying to see what kind of life I can find. These field trips have certainly made me think about ecology in a new way.

Habitat diversity

Posted by Bohdan Horodecky at Saturday, April 19, 2014 2:20:13 AM CDT

Throughout this semester and both Port Aransas field trips I have learned much about the ecology of marine environments. The value of hands-on experiences like the ones performed throughout both field trips provides a more effective way for me to fully understand the aspects of certain scientific studies like marine ecology. After conducting multiple experiments involving fieldwork and observational studies I have come to better understand the variety between marine ecosystems, and how certain physical and chemical conditions can lead to such a wide variety of habitat structures and organisms. I felt that this concept was well presented during the first and second field trip through the analysis of several trawl and seine catches that where each taken at different habitats and locations. As we observed each trawl, we could see a noticeable change in the biodiversity of each catch due to a variety of physical and chemical conditions at changing depths. When analyzing the seines, we could see a dramatic change in the biodiversity among the three different sites that were visited.

Another one of the more intriguing subjects that were addressed during our time in Port Aransas was the presence of anthropogenic materials and disturbances. I found this topic very interesting due to the sheer magnitude these materials or disturbances that were present at almost every field site that was visited. Another point to note is that despite our observations, we still have no way to account for the amount of hidden trash and waste that may be present in any of the habitats we visited (such as the 80 gallon barrel buried in the sand). I feel that the effects of anthropogenic impacts is important because it shows us how marine habitats and organisms tolerate changes in environmental conditions brought on by our own doing, which was shown in both the beach clean up activity and by just observing the build up of waste materials at each site.

-Bohdan Horodecky

Marine Ecosystems

Posted by Caroline Harris at Friday, April 18, 2014 11:39:13 PM CDT
Last Edited:Friday, April 18, 2014 11:42:46 PM CDT

Fieldwork and observational studies are valuable learning tools that provide a hands-on learning experience. From this lab experience, I gained a greater perspective on the variety of marine ecosystems. Before doing these labs, I simply considered “the beach” or “an island” as single habitats, but the studies performed on these lab trips showed me that these larger categories could be subdivided into many smaller habitats, such as the salt marsh flats or the backshore of a sandy beach. Each microhabitat could be distinguished not only by the different physical features but also by the different types of species it supported. I was amazed to see that by performing the bottom trawls at different depths, 2 very different collections of marine species were caught. By simply increasing the depth, the biodiversity of the second catch was virtually reduced to zero. I also found it interesting to see the zonation of species at both the jetty location and along the rope at the marine dock. Both of these observational experiences showed the species interactions of sessile organisms—in terms of territoriality and competition for resources. I also gained a greater appreciation for the influence of keystone species, such as the mangroves of the mangrove reserve. It was interesting to see how the mangrove roots aerate the black anoxic mud of the flats.

Ultimately, the lab experience was well concluded with the enclosed ecosystem challenge. This assignment was a valuable learning experience, for it showed how every aspect of an ecosystem must be balanced in order for it to be sustained. Our ecosystem failed to survive much longer than 2 days because it lacked a sufficient amount of primary producers to provide oxygen to the other organisms. This single activity truly showed how every species has a role in the survival and maintenance of an ecosystem. Further, as I gained a greater appreciation for the roles of each species of an ecosystem, my concern for the negative impacts of human influence on the environment also grew. Through the lab activities, I personally saw the harmful impacts of human activity through the bottom trawl activity, the trash pick up, and the ocean acidification experiment. If such carelessness continues, marine species populations could be significantly reduced (or eliminated) and have devastating effects on the ecosystem as a whole.

-Caroline Harris

Microscopic Life

Posted by Ava Ibanez at Friday, April 18, 2014 7:26:03 PM CDT

This semester has taught me a lot about marine ecosystems. In the first trip we performed the trawl experiment, which allowed us to see the organisms living in the benthos at different depths and environments. Additionally, we were able to see how much damage a trawling does to benthic communities. During the second trip we compared different coastal ecosystems and their ecological roles.

One of the activities that really made an impact on me was the plankton trawl. After dragging the net for a few minutes we retrieved it to see the plankton under the microscope. As an aspiring marine scientist I know that these organisms and adaptations exist; phytoplankton, zooplankton and planktonic larvae are all important organisms that I have read about and studied. However, it isn’t everyday that you get to grab a microscope on board of a research vessel and see exactly what’s going on in the ocean’s water, especially organisms that are not visible at simple sight. In a few drops of water you could see predation, competition, and survival strategies to the viscous world where these organisms live in. Now every time I jump into the ocean water no matter how empty it seems I will know that life is all around me.

Ava Ibanez

Group 2, Lab 2


Vertical Zonation and Organism Diversity Click for more options

Coming into the marine ecology lab I didn’t know what to expect from the two weekend trips down at Port Aransas. I thought it would be a lot more watching than actually doing but I was wrong. I really enjoyed getting a lot of hands on experiance with working in the field. One of the things that really interested me from the second weekend trip was the vertical zonation found at the rocky habitat at the jettys. Before learning about this I always knew there was algae and barnacles and stuff that were on the jetty rocks, but I never really thought about why an organism lives where it does especially on a rocky shore. Growing up near the Texas coast I have mainly only experienced sandy beaches and seagrass beds, but even with those I never thought about why the seagrasses were completely submerged and why a mangroove is close to the water but isn’t in it. At the jettys I actually got to go snorkeling and experience the vertical zonation from a close up perspective. Being a person who grew up fishing I really enjoyed seeing all the sheephead and black drum that were hanging out around the jetty rocks.

In the first weekend trip to Port Aransas what really interested me was the amount of diversity of organisms we caught in the trawl nets. We saw how two locations that are relatively close could be so different. In one place we pulled a net the dominent organism was bay anchovies while in the other location the dominent organism was a hardhead. Also from pulling the nets we got to whitness first hand the amout of by-catch that could occur while trawling. I knew that shimpers caught more than just shrimp, but I never really thought of how much by-catch there actually was. I now realize how important it is to have devices on nets that help reduce by-catch. Overall I am really glad I got this learning oppertunity the two weekends down at Port Aransas and I hope it helps me pursue my career in marine biology.


Hunter Noack

Marine Eco — Lab Takeaway

Posted by Samuel Lillard at Friday, April 18, 2014 2:42:38 AM CDT
Last Edited:Friday, April 18, 2014 11:43:35 PM CDT

Outside the orthodox classroom format, the immersive hands-on learning allowed for a greater understanding of the subject material.  From sifting macroinvertebrates to comparing coastal habitats, this class explored the vast diversity that exists within marine ecosystems.

The main theme from the first trip was to understand the many factors that affect biodiversity.  This was shown in a variety of forms.  During the various trawls it was amazing to see the heterogeneity of species abundance within the estuary.  This can be due to varying water chemistry throughout the estuary in regards to turbidity, dissolved oxygen, salinity, turbidity, and chlorophyll-a.   It was incredible to see how the biodiversity was shown at various scales as shown by fish abundance, as well as microorganisms which were examined using the microscope on the boat.

The topic of diversity remained for the second trip.  As we ventured from sandy coasts to seagrass beds to rocky habitats the intertidal organisms were noted (and occasionally collected).  Seeing how the vegetation was affected by nutrient input and substrate type was eye-opening.  The seagrass bed provided increased organics to recycle nutrients, while the sandy coast was largely inorganic, and the hard substrate environment provided a consistent mix of nutrients along the rocky surface.

The competition among species was shown along the marina as various levels of organisms exist often piled up upon each other as shown in the following picture.

— Sam Lillard

Living Soil

Posted by Heidi Harper at Thursday, April 17, 2014 11:55:32 PM CDT
Last Edited:Friday, April 18, 2014 11:45:27 PM CDT

One thing that really stuck with me after the first field trip was the soil sample we collected on the RV Katy. First of all, there was distinct zonation in the color (and therefore the chemical properties) of the soil and secondly because of the huge array of organisms that were in that one small sample. I think about how large the ocean is and how in less than one meter of soil we saw so many types of organisms (including microbes) performing different functions; it is almost impossible for me to imagine the number of living things are in the ocean or even just the ocean floor. It is fascinating to me that each organism has found its own niche, or function, within the ocean ecosystem and that it fits in so nicely with the much larger picture.

I was reminded of the soil ecosystem intricacies when we visited the seagrass bed on Harbor Island. Here the soil was very anoxic and I wondered how the microbial zonation in this area affected the larger organisms present. In this low wave energy environment, nutrient mixing isn’t prevalent and microbial effects are more easily seen. Compared to that, the soil on San Jose beach showed no signs of low oxygen levels; our soil samples along the water line showed no color zonation at all. I feel that this is due to the high wind and wave energy present there. On this beach, the sand moved easily as the waves moved in and out and the sand blew across the beach with the wind.

Heidi Harper (unique number: 55630)

Dead Fish Head Click for more options

  Due to our two trips to PortAransas, I have learned much more about marine ecology than I ever thought I would. Sitting in a class is great and all, but actually being able to see first hand what we are learning in class is a priceless experience.  My favorite part is the learning and observing new organisms or subjects outside of what is planned for us.

On the first trip, we learned that the sea birds in the area have adapted their hunting habits by following the trawling boats in the bay.  This is so they can easily grab the catches that are thrown back into the bay.  It was amazing seeing how these birds knew exactly what was happening when our trawl went in the water and when we pulled it out.  I do not think we were able to save one fish that day.
On our second trip I learned a lot about the beaches of the Gulf.  In California, our beaches are a lot different.  I have never seen so many dead fishes, especially fish vertebrae, than I did on the San Jose island.  It amazed me because our beaches in California are pretty much just pure sand, and the occasional sight of horse poop.  We even saw an entire preserved puffer fish!  It was really cool to see the entire puffer was still intact.  We also found the head of a huge fish.  Apparently group one had originally found the fish head two weeks prior, and had buried it, but the wind had other plans and unburied it for our group to find.
Overall, I have really enjoyed the experience of going to Port Aransas.  Though the wake up times were early, and the Saturday afternoon activities hard to get through, it was really fun.  It is an experience I will never get again.  Though, I am not sure I really want to go back to our seagrass bed site and get stuck in the mud again.

Field experiences

Posted by Nicholas Smith at Thursday, April 17, 2014 5:32:58 PM CDT

I found it interesting to view all the different types of ecosystems that are located around Port Aransas. In the class you may read about the different ecosystems but I feel I got a better understanding of them by actually being out in the field and observing them first hand. I found the diversity of organisms that we got to see by the seines to also be surprising because normally whenever you are on a beach you rarely get to see what is living just below the water’s surface and most people don’t even consider what is swimming right around you. The jetties were also interesting because they normally just appear barren rocks, but once you get close or get below the water line along them you realize just how many organisms live there even though it isn’t a natural environment in that area. One of the experiences that I found the most fun was when we were building the closed ecosystems and my group put the spider crab into the jar that quickly proved to be too large and predatory to keep in there. Even though it was cruel it was neat to see it start to tear apart and eat all the smaller organisms in the container.

I feel that these field trips have helped to give me a better understanding of just how complicated and diverse the ecosystems around us can be. This class has helped teach me just how much is happening just below the surface that we miss when casually looking.

Nick Smith

1st Trips

Taewan Kim Click for more options

 This course have wide opened my eyes. To me, ocean is just huge area. I have learned many things from this course. Firstly, when I see the boat, I did not think too much about what’s going on there. The only difference to me is just color and size. However, after I did experiment in R/V Katy trip, I realized there are lots of things going on the boat. For example, we use trawls to catches fishes or shrimp and we use net tow to catch phytoplankton or zooplankton.

 When I go fishing to sea, I had no information about differentiate between benthic and pelagic organisms, so i had thrown the rope as far as I can. I realized fishing equipment can be differentiate depends on the depth. For example, when we aimed to fish phytoplankton, we use net tow.
 Furthermore, I did not think too much about why the mangrove are grow along the coastal ocean and had no chance to see mangrove seeds carefully. I got to know the mangrove seeds have buoyancy and this ability give that mangrove can live along the coastal ocean.
 Even though it was short time, I learned many things  from this class.

For science

Posted by Jessica Lee at Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:10:46 AM CDT
Last Edited:Friday, April 18, 2014 11:54:18 PM CDT

The photos above (left: hardhead catfish from the trawl; right: hardhead catfish skeleton from San Jose Island Beach feat. Sarah) remind me of the natural cycles of marine animals. They grow and reproduce, eat and get eaten, and eventually die. Their life history can be found scattered along the beach, mostly intact.

This semester has given me an appreciation of how diverse and delicate coastal ecosystems are. Our two trawls on Katy yielded organisms including sea stars, burrfish, and hundreds of anchovies and catfish. Our seines yielded hundreds of grass shrimp, crabs, and even a couple of sea horses. It’s so different learning about these animals in their natural settings, instead of reading informational pamphlets and wandering around an aquarium where these organisms are conveniently confined in tanks.  It can be overwhelming sometimes learning about all that threatens these organisms, but it’s equally rewarding to gain all the fieldwork experience in hopes of applying it to my work in the future.

The beach cleanup activity made a large impact on me in that I realized just how little respect some people have regarding the health of marine life or better yet, the health of the environment in general. The amount of garbage found at the beach was and is atrocious, for lack of a more suitable descriptor. The activity demonstrated how impossible it was to reverse the effects of what humans have single handedly done to the environment, but further solidified the need for conservationist and teachers to educate people about the consequences of our actions (and teach them to care about protecting the environment and the wildlife that depend on it).  This lesson can be extended to the unsustainable fishing techniques we learned about on Katy, i.e. bottom trawling, that damage irreplaceable ecosystems in deeper waters. Similarly, this is applicable to how increased CO2 in the ocean increases acidity, which elicits adverse effects on calcifying organisms.  It is important to realize that just because we can’t see immediate effects, doesn’t mean that there won’t be more serious, lasting effects that influence subsequent generations; this is where we step in.

Jessica Lee


Same Sun, Same Responsibilities

Posted by Sarah McConnon at Wednesday, April 16, 2014 9:45:06 PM CDT

This sunrise picture was taken on Saturday morning at around 7:30 AM. It is the sunrise over the Marine Science Institute, the same sun over Port Aransas and all of Texas. Capturing this sunrise made me realize that we are all ultimately under the same sun. Everything we do is affected by the same sun, the same moon, the same elements. As individuals, and as a society, we are responsible for our actions because they ultimately affect every other person on this planet. What does this mean for us scientifically? Well, it means that what we do is important. How we study and what we study will produce results that other people can take and make decisions about. It is our responsibility to be good stewards of this knowledge we have gained and DO something useful with it. Everything we do matters in this career. Every data point and piece of evidence we find can be used to benefit the organisms around us and our society so we have to give it our full attention and skill. It is challenging to do this, to put as much effort as we can into every single thing we do, but it is worthwhile and rewarding to do so. Even when the work seems mundane, it matters. It is challenging to recognize this in the moment, at the time that it is windy and cold and wet and we are counting pneumatophores for an hour, to see this action as important. But it is- it says that we care about science and life and we are choosing to do something to protect it. We are choosing to be uncomfortable for the temporary to try and make something of the longer lasting permanence that is this earth we reside on. This idea is something I grasped more tangibly in this lab, especially seeing the disregard some people have for the sanctity of life when it comes to marine environments. Rather than become complacent or jaded about the general public’s apathy towards scientific conservation, I choose to actively do something instead, and this lab helped me see specific ways I can do this as an individual.

Sarah McConnon
Group 1, Lab 2

Ash Nelson Click for more options

 At the coast and in the water has always been one of my favorite places to be.  I’ve always enjoyed the feel of sand, shells, and rocks under my feet, diving into waves, snorkeling, or just floating along with the swell and looking up at the seabirds.  But I’ve never really thought about the system of the ocean as a whole that brings those experiences to a beach visitor, or how many intricacies of life along the coast I’ve always overlooked because I didn’t even know they were there.  This lab experience has taught me how to look closer at my surroundings.  I’ve learned to think about why things look the way they do, why there are certain creatures in a given location and not others, why there might be sand on the beach or rocks, and the zonation of plants and animals that we can see and those that are hidden, to name just a few.  I’ve also learned what a house of cards the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem is.  If one element is removed, the whole system could crash.  Even elements of the system that we don’t think of when we think of an ecosystem, such as the pH of the water can have major impacts on the balance.  All in all, I’ve learned how to appreciate one of my favorite places to be even more.  I can tell my friends and family about the impacts they are making when they behave carelessly, I can show them where and how some creatures live, and with which other creatures they interact, I can tell them about chemical structure of the water…at which point any of them would start snoring.  Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed gaining a greater understanding of the workings of marine ecosystems, and how we impact them as humans.  It’s the kind of learning I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my life, and for that, I’m grateful.

Jamie Laski- Blog Post

Posted by Jamie Laski at Wednesday, April 16, 2014 12:31:48 PM CDT
Last Edited:Wednesday, April 16, 2014 12:38:31 PM CDT

This semester has taught me an immense amount about different ecological habitats, as well as a myriad of techniques for taking measurements in the field, and how to properly conduct field experiments. One of the activities I was lucky enough to conduct in multiple habitats was using trawl nets and seine nets to sample species.

On the first trip, we released a trawl net from the RV Katy. This was an interesting introduction to using sampling nets since we deployed it from the ship, and did not actually pull it, as we did on the second field trip with the seine net. We deployed the trawl net off the boat, and pulled it through both the channel and the bay (separate activities). As soon as we dropped the net, gulls began to flock around the boat and follow in its wake, obviously familiar with this process and the rich amount of food opportunities it gives rise to. After a specified amount of time, we pulled the trawl net back on board. As pictured, the gulls followed our every move with the net, waiting hopefully for a tasty meal. As we pulled the net on board, we also had a bucket ready (also pictured) to put the specimen in as we counted them and noted their diversity. In the first trawl net in the bay, we captured a large quantity of juvenile anchovies, 1 puffer fish, and 1 small sea star. As we learned, the bay is a shallower and more protected environment, which makes it an ideal nursery ground for juvenile fish. This explains the sizeable quantity of anchovies we found (208 grams). For the second trawl conducted in the channel, we caught 78 ribbonfish, 67 hardhead catfish, 3 crabs, and 1 shrimp. The difference in specimen between the channel and the bay was startling considering their relatively close geographical location. However, it was a concrete example of how different marine environments are ideal for different species.

On the second trip, I was able to work more with seine nets and personally drag them. We conducted seine net samples on the sandy beach environment as well as in the sea grass bed. On the sandy beach, we caught mostly larval fish and eels. This assortment could be due to a large concentration of decaying seaweed in the area that young fish can feed on, or perhaps high levels of phytoplankton for when the fishes get a bit larger and can ingest these organisms. In the sea grass bed, our seine net sample yielded 1 mullet, 6 baby jellies, about 320 baby Menhaden, 1 shrimp, and 3 baby eel. Not surprisingly, this environment was rich in juvenile organisms. Sea grass beds are fantastic nurseries for juvenile marine organisms, providing both food and protection. Overall, it was interesting to observe two very different environments that both were excellent at accommodating juvenile marine species.

While we often talk about the different species suited to specific environments in class, conducting both trawl and seine net specimen samples was an amazing way to see the difference hands on. Not only did I get to examine each environment we sampled (even submerging ourselves in it for the second trip!), but I was able to see hands on which species lived where, and begin to piece together why specific organisms were more suited to one organism over another. While reading about these different habitats in Marine Ecology class did give me some background information, nothing could beat the experience of witnessing it hands on.

Jamie Laski

Lab 2, Group 2