Course blogs MNS120L – 13Sp

Course blogs of the Lab Studies of Marine Ecology class (MNS120L) at 2013 Spring


Sand Dollar and Succulents Click for more options

The second trip was very fun and interactive. I really enjoyed working with my group and visiting the three different ecosystems. I really enjoyed learning about different organism’s strategies to deal with their environment. I think my favorite was the technique the succulents at the salt marshes use for siphoning excess salt out of their system. The plant chooses a leaf that is already struggling and focuses all of its salt uptake towards that leaf in particular. The leaf then turns yellow and falls off, leaving the rest of the plant with a lower sodium concentration. I love the idea of a plant systematizing its inputs!  very cold was very clear. I think the jetty was my favorite ecosystem, diving in and seeing the corals and sponges below was so beautiful–the water although I also enjoyed learning about the migration required through large barges and other ocean vessels that transport the barnacles and other adhesive species across oceans. While we were at the sandy beach in the morning, I saw something that was really disturbing to me, even after we had collectively picked up 6 bags of trash. I saw a family collecting sand dollars in a pile–a huge pile consisting of maybe fifty or more! I was really shocked to see so many! When I was a kid at the beach, I always felt it was really rare to find sand dollars and I always really treasured the experience of finding a single one.

It was dissatisfying to see humans take an insane amount of  a species out of its habitat for entertainment and novelty, although it seems to model many parts of the fishing industry quite well. Although the family was enjoying the experience, I really don’t think they were aware of their impact on that ecosystem. Even the sand dollar species count makes a difference, they are still apart of the ecosystem.
Building the ecosystem was a great way to sum up the trip, I hope our ecosystem is still alive and prospering! I really appreciated this trip and class as a whole. I wish more courses included labs that really focused on the issues of the field like I felt this course did.

Plastic waste…as a resource?? Click for more options

The trip was a blast! I was really excited to find out the theme or focus of the trip was plastic accumulation, I have always been curious and concerne d about the growing effects of plastic in the ocean, but had never learned about it outside of information on the pacific gyre. I was not expecting the exposure to plastic material’s effects on all trophic levels, and the experience significantly my outlook. I found it interesting and devestating that we found microplastics in every trophic level we observed on the trip. To me, that was the best evidence for bioammulation possible, and has been an experience I have been excited to share with friends. Its funny to say that the most memorable moment had to be the disecction of the pelican with the parasitic worms in it’s intestines! It was like a scene from a zombie film, and the image is still very vivid in my mind. I really enjoyed John, the boat guide’s, insights to the marine ecosystems of Texas, he had tons of interesting information, like the ribbon fish’s skin being considered valuable because it is used for mascara products–and it was caught as a by-catch.

After the trip, I starting seeing plastic accumulation information and facts and stories all over the place Two stories in particular stood out. The first is of an invention a 19 year old student who developed a way to collect plastic from the ocean, and predicts he can pull out 7,250,000 tons from the oceans. This is mind boggling! (Check out the link below) I am not sure whether or not his invention will be capable of separating the microplastics from the phytoplankton and vegetation, but I love to see that people are getting creative with this huge world wide issue. The next story is about a popular household cleaning supply company that is actually using the ocean’s plastics, particularly from the coasts of Hawaii where tons are washed up from the Gyre, for their supply chain. They are collecting waste plastic and recycling it into their product containers once again! Its amazing to see a company take creative measures to help eliminate the idea of waste.


Posted by Matthew Schulze at Friday, April 12, 2013 7:09:22 AM CDT
Seines between sandy and sea grass beds show the difference in shallow water diversity. The sandy beds have the vast majority of catchable species being shell and sand dollar fragments and a few plastic pieces. 3 species only have one organism and the free floating juvenile jellyfish are apparent in this open water. The opposite occurs at the sea grass bed. There are no fragments and no plastics in this protected zone. There are also 9 species all with 2 or more organisms in each category. This shows the fact that there are more species in this area of less disturbance most likely due to the well held soil and reduced wave intensity.

The transect lines only further improve the differences by showing what exactly happens at the shore between the sandy and sea grass environments. At the sandy shores the waves have full rain over the open water and bring the smallest particles as far up the waterline as possible. This means the finest sediment will be on the beach or in the dunes. This is how the dunes are built and formed. The waves bring the main things open water had to offer our transect (Sargassum and shell fragments) and create a line of Sargassum which is pushed further and further up. While the plants on the dunes hold the finest sand from flying away and prevent erosion from occurring. It is very easy for a soft sediment sandy environment like this to undergo changes and erosion from desiccation. While the mangroves transects provide a variety of protections even above the water’s surface. The roots bring oxygen to the anoxic soil. The plants also change as you come into the shore. The Salicornia and Batis provide secondary soil support and hiding places for organisms which were probably there underneath the murky water on this windy day. I believe more could have been seen under less disturbed conditions. The roots and soil also boded a great place for crab holes although few where found at the transect we chose there where many all around.

The sand coring on the dunes showed that the finest particles are in the areas of the dunes not occupied by grasses. The sand still had some fairly big particles but the majority was still bigger than the rounded foraminifera particle size of <.066 mm. Only .3 grams in the whole class was obtained as actual foraminifera. The wet sand core had differences depending on how “wet” the sand was the closer to the water source the core was taken the more diverse the organisms where and the bigger the particle sizes.

The Jetty proposed the idea of sub, mid, and supra littoral organisms. The orange and pink sponge, brown and red algae, and different arthropods all lived in the sub littoral stage where they sway with the waves and take in nutrients by suspension feeding or photosynthesis. Brown algae are short and flat like a Venus fly trap mouth. This is to withstand greater forces and to be sturdier. In the mid littoral stage you see he green algae which can withstand full sun forces and does not need to be moist all the time. On these green algae is a limpet which is also mid littoral and moves with the waves to obtain different feeding grounds. Green Algae is longer and sways with the waves because the crashing waves don’t force the roots out of place as easily as does the deeper turbidity. The observed supra littoral segment was not very great as most of the jetty gets splashed with waves. I can only assume birds can obtain this level of zonation for the jetty (hard substrate) environment.


Noah’s reflection Click for more options

As my 6th trip to Port Aransas, I found this trip different from the other classes’ trips. At other classes, I usually studied some of prevalent organisms in the general Port Aransas region. For an instance, I learned about the upward shooting roots and salt excreting leaves of mangroves from previous classes. What I found interesting in this trip was that I got to compare namely the “same” shoreline regions but very distinctive environments. The hard substrate and soft sediment environment, and the high energy and low energy brought a totally different ecology and populations.

One thing that I would like to do next time is to run the same and consistent experiments at different sites so that I can directly compare them. Also, I would like to use the geographical map so that I can tie some of the ecologic differences to the urbanization.
Oh, and I found it really great that Austin has now banned the local markets and shops to give free plastic bags for the items. I really liked the fact that it actually happened after the first field trip!

Lab Trip 2 Blog

Posted by Rachel Capps at Monday, April 8, 2013 10:42:36 PM CDT
Last Edited:Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:51:03 AM CDT

I found this lab trip to be really interesting and fun because we did a large amount of fieldwork. I really enjoyed being outdoors. I thought the sea grass bed was the most interesting due to the specific ranges in which sea grasses thrive, such as the salinity range that sea grasses operate in. I thought it was interesting how the sea grass is very important because it holds sediment and prevents erosion. The sea grass bed is also an important sanctuary for fish and other organisms. Many different organisms, such as sea turtles, feed on the sea grass; therefore, sea grasses form an important part of the trophic hierarchy. I also did not know that sea grasses have the ability to flower. I enjoyed snorkeling in the jetty. I think it is really amazing how all of these organisms are not native to the local ecosystem, but are here, nonetheless. These organisms are sometimes transported in the ballast water of ships and transplanted to other locations when the water is emptied. It just goes to show how big of an effect humans have on nature and how sensitive these ecosystems are. The seining yielded interesting results because it contained a lot of things I have not seen before, such as eel larvae. On this lab trip, I learned a lot about the delicate, sensitive, and complex nature of the local ecosystems. Even though we were not specifically looking for plastic in each ecosystem, I thought it was really interesting how plastic’s presence was very apparent.


Port A Shenanigans Part 2 Click for more options

Thankfully we enjoyed much nicer weather this second time around – gotta love Texas
weather! The purpose of this trip was to survey biodiversity at three different shore habitats
using a number of different methods. One of these methods was using a seine net to
collect shallow water samples. Unfortunately, when packing for the trip I didn’t
understand that getting in the water was a requirement for one of our lab activities; I
thought that swim suits & snorkeling gear was optional and since I hate cold water, I didn’t
bring any swim gear. This made the pickins pretty slim of who could help with the seine
net, and who could do the visual observations at the jetty (sorry ya’ll).
I thought taking the core samples was fun. Something about core sampling just seems so…
sciencey 🙂 We didn’t find much from our first samples, but then we took one from a little
deeper, at a point on the shore that was most likely still staying almost continuously wet,
and we found much more interesting stuff to look at. It’s hard to point out in words, but we
found two little pale pink bivalves in this core sample (the larger one is on the far right of
the cluster of shells in the middle). We put them in our ecosystem and it was fun to watch
them use their feet to bury themselves in the sand.

The transect observations were pretty boring at the windswept barrier island, but they got
a lot more interesting at the more protected seagrass bed location. I loved all the little
hermit crabs, and I liked seeing the different types of succulents that grow in this habitat.
Below is a photo of the air roots of mangrove trees; I love how they’re adapted to such a

specific environment.

All in all it was a good trip. I was a bit surprised by the differing levels of biodiversity
and very different types of species we saw at the different habitats; I don’t have much
experience with rocky shores or salt marshes, so I had no idea they supported such
diverse ecosystems, and I was surprised that we found so little at the open shore habitat
(which is what I generally think of as “the beach”).
Juliet Laney

Squishing through Sea Grass Beds

Posted by Lauren Tien at Monday, April 8, 2013 10:21:41 PM CDT

Though there were no dissections and murders in this past week’s Port Aransas marine ecology trip, I still found it very interesting to look at different types of habitats one genre, shore ecology, had to offer.  Obviously the most interesting had to be the sea grass bed.  I had never even heard of them before, let alone stepped in one!  The graduate student did a great job at explaining the different structures and how they aid the survival of the sea grass bed.  Coincidentally, sea grasses were in the next week’s chapter to read for marine ecology lecture!My group developed an obsession with packing our closed ecosystem with as many “cool” organisms as possible.  Our cooler must have had an entire family of crabs, as well as a larvae invertebrate found in the sand core, and a Portuguese man-of-war which also wouldn’t die!  Unfortunately we could not incorporate the man-of-war into our ecosystem because it would kill off all its neighbors and suffer in such a small habitat.  Our closed ecosystem ironically did not have any water actually in it.  We thought it was important to show that marine ecosystems had great effects on terrestrial life – our crabs and larvae invertebrate thrived in the saturated sand.  We also had a sand dollar, which buries under the sediment, and mangrove, sargassum, and salicornia for photosynthesis and a place for habitat.  Even though there was no physical liquid water in our ecosystem, I still consider it to resemble a subtidal environment that is still marine because it is dependent on the influx of water.

Our larvae invertebrate (upside down)!

Lauren Tien

Sea Turtles in Port Aransas Click for more options

The second marine ecology trip offered up a variety of new experiences; and of these new experiences, my favorite has to be my first sea turtle sighting. I grew up in Galveston and throughout the 18 years I lived there, I never once saw a sea turtle in the wild. However, they seemed to be quite abundant in Port Aransas which got me thinking what the differences were between Galveston and Port Aransas as far as sea turtle habitat. I know that sea turtles nest in Galveston and Port Aransas, they are both barrier islands with jetty’s which the turtles seem to like, and they both see quite a lot of shipping traffic. The only difference I managed to come up with as to why sea turtles are not present in Galveston is that it lacks seagrass beds, a food source for sea turtles. The shear abundance of sea turtles at Port Aransas was surprising for me! If I were to guess, I would say sea turtles must travel to food sources and not necessarily stay where they nest. This would explain why there is a lack of sea turtles in my home town and a fairly abundant population in Port Aransas. Regardless of what the reasons may be, I enjoyed seeing these sea turtles, it definitely was one of the highlights of my trip. Below is a video similar to my experience with the sea turtles, they seem to prefer jetty habitats, or maybe that is just where we can see them.

Sea turtles at Jetty Park
Duration: (0:35)
User: jaylasplenty – Added: 7/19/12

-Ian Rogers

Raptor’s Still Going Strong! Click for more options

This past weekend was another great adventure into marine ecology. We got the pleasure of doing work in 3 different areas around Port Aransas. Each ecosystem surveyed provided a glimpse into its diversity. All 3 varied depending on its biotic and abiotic factors. The first site was on the beach of San Jose Island. This area was in direct contact with the ocean and took a beating from its constant wave action and high level of erosion. Our transects and sand cores didn’t really say much. We did not find any organisms in our cores, and our transects consisted of mainly fine sand. The 3 samples collected from the seines also proved to be very uninteresting, but this could also be due to the fact they had to walk slow due to the intense waves. Our next stop was at a salt water marsh area. This proved to be much more interesting than the barrier island. We found tons of hermit crabs, and even a dead eel! My group collected most of our ecosystem jar’s animals from this site. The site was more inland and inside the bay, which could also explain why the ground cover was a larger grain of sand and had many shell fragments. The level of erosion was not as high as the first site. Finally, we set forth to survey the Jetty– not to be confused with Jettie 🙂 . We found a completely different set of organisms here. The vegetation was also much different than the first two sites. The algae was the most interesting. This site was where zoneation was most easily seen. The green to brown algae- both with their individual characteristics to fit their particular niche- was the most interesting to me, but by this point in the day I was sunburnt and tired! It had been such a long and eventful day. 

The best part, by far, on this excursion was when we got to build our ecosystem the next day. My group didn’t really have a specific plan in mind, we just wanted to build something that would function and potentially keep the organisms alive. However, within 48 hours most of our organisms had perished. We had placed 2 crabs-one being a hermit crab- 2 shrimp, 1 amphipod, a few isopods, and a big piece of green algae to provide our closed system with oxygen. Now, 8 days later, the only survivor is our hermit crab- whom we named Raptor. I don’t really understand how he’s still going strong and the others so quickly bit the bucket, but it makes me feel like we at least did one thing right.

Trip #2

Posted by Tai Wu at Monday, April 8, 2013 7:07:20 PM CDT
Last Edited:Thursday, April 11, 2013 2:05:19 AM CDT

Our second trip down to Port Aransas was blessed with much better weather than the first trip; however, the water was still quite cold. I was one of the “lucky” volunteers who did the seining at San Jose. Even though seining is a commonly accepted method in the sciences, its flaws were quite clear. It was difficult to move quickly as a unit, withstand constant wave breaks, and keep the net down. It is quite possible that we could’ve caught more organisms given a better method.Despite not being able to go out to the seagrass bed because of lack of proper footwear, the seagrass habitat was my favorite stop. I spent my time on land observing the diversity and playing with hermit crabs, they were literally everywhere. It was really fun seeing hermit crabs in the wild since I had only seen them in the mall before. I also really enjoyed the diversity in plants. The two succulent species were adorable and mangroves have always fascinated me with their specially adapted roots.

Collecting things to put in our little closed ecosystem was another exciting part of this trip. We had to make sure our hermit crab and fiddler crab had a hard substrate that it could climb onto. Our hermit crab was definitely our main attraction. Unfortunately, our ecosystem didn’t survive for long after.

These two trips to Port Aransas really expanded my understanding and appreciation of marine sciences. We got to perform an array of collection methods and witness many different processes and patterns in the environment.



Exploring Abundance and Diversity along the Texas Gulf Beach and Shores Click for more options

 I had a lot of fun exploring and surveying the barrier island sand beach, primary bay seagrass bed, and South Jetty in the the Port Aransas area. It’s this sort of field work that makes me love what we do. We studied species abundance and diversity in the three ecosystems using a seine net, transect lines and quadrats, and sediment cores. Additionally, we collected specimen across the sites to create a closed-ecosystem. I really enjoyed working with my group members, collecting plants and mobile species to create this ecosystem. It made me feel like a kid again, back when I use to collect insects in my backyard to keep as pets.

 Though the higher species abundance and diversity that we observed in the seagrass bed versus on the beach did not surprise me, the significant amount of inorganic matter we found on the beach did. Along the beach we filled multiple trash bags with inorganic materials ranging from macro and micro plastic debris to glass and styrofoam. We also found pieces of glass in one of the sampling locations along our transect line, towards the foredune. In our last lab, we learned that plastic debris negatively impacts many marine species. Thus the presence of these inorganic materials combined with the harsh climatic conditions leading to sedimentation and erosion maybe behind why abundance and diversity is generally lower in this area. Additionally, we used seine nets and found more species types, evenly distributed in the seagrass bed waters than in the sandy beach waters.
 My group members and I collected a lot of different species for our ecosystem. We took sand from the sandy beach and collected some specimen there but decided not to use them for our ecosystem. Most of the mobile species we collected came from the seagrass bed and included a crab, some hermit crabs, and a snail. We also found two mangrove seeds and included them in our ecosystem along with one large succulent plant. The water we collected came from the seagrass bed too. Since most of everything we collected came from the seagrass bed, we decided to recreate a small seagrass bed for our ecosystem and include an isopod that we found in the South Jetty.
Tiffany Hoang

Field Trip 2 Click for more options

Saturday morning started with a trip to San Jose Island, a barrier island protecting the Texas
coast from the ocean. Once on San Jose Island we started with sand transects and sand
cores. While doing the sand cores we quickly found out doing it to far into the water line was a
bad idea! Since the water kept washing more and more sand into our hole as we tried to dig
the core out. Our sand transects constituted mostly of fine sand which we equated to the
energy of the waves crashing on the beach  to the high erosion level and therefore small sand
particles. Then it was time to use the seine net. No one was quick to volunteer, but since I
had my bathing suit on I was quickly a volunteered by some of the girls. Being on of the taller
ones in the group I was in the side of the net in the deeper water. As we walked from one side
to the other e waves were breaking and crashing on me, so we could not walk very fast. We
did three different sweeps with the seine net and we did not catch much, since we were not
walking very fast. After we finished the seine netting we started to clean the beach before we
took a break for lunch. After lunch we went to a marsh area on the bay side of the Texas
coast. At the marsh we did another transects and found much larger particles on the ground
due to the low energy of erosion. This time I did not seine net but when looking at the species
collected it was obvious that we had more species which is also due to the fact that they could
walk faster in the calmer bay. After the salt marsh we went to a jettie. At the jettie we looked
at vertical zonation and the difference between the tidal zone and the subtidal zone. It was net resting to see the different patterns based on oxygen and splash zone, and sunlight. Brown algae was deep under the water while green algae which could photosynthesize was closer to
the waterline where sunlight was abundant. It was very interesting looking at the three different ecosystems and seeing how something that seems so simple as ground sediment can 

change the whole ecosystem


Port Aransas Trip 2- Shore ecology Click for more options

Beach at San Jose Island.

For me, the most intriguing part of this trip was our opportunity to gain a general knowledge of the diversity and abundance of life at each of the three sites we visited. Each site really exemplified concepts I learned in marine ecology lecture. For example, San Jose Island was an excellent representation of how difficult it is for organisms to live in the intertidal zone. We saw very few organisms in this environment as compared to the seagrass bed and jetty. Dr. Min and his student taught us that the seagrass bed provides habitat for a variety of organisms and I think we definitely saw that from the organisms we caught in the seine net. On the shore of the seagrass bed was our first time during this trip to see distinct zonation. One could see a clear transition from soft almost muddy sand to cord grass and various succulents and finally to the mangrove forests. I was a little disappointed because we actually did not see very much life in the mangrove forests, but it is most likely because our footsteps and noise scared any organism at the surface. Seeing the concepts of zonation in person helped solidify what I have learned in this class and in marine ecology lecture. Our final site, the primary bay jetty, was another example of distinct zonation.

Many, many, many hermit crabs at the seagrass bed beach.

Of course, the jetty, a man-made rocky environment, had different organisms than the sandy soft sediment beach at the seagrass bed. We saw countless limpets and hermit crabs in the supralittoral zone but what was most interesting to me was the structural differences in the green and brown algae. The green algae lives mostly in the supra- and midlittoral zones and the brown algae lives totally submerged in the sublittoral zone. As such, the green algae has better access to light than the brown algae, which presumably uses different photosynthetic pigments that allow it to handle lower light intensity. Also, the green algae is significantly more flimsy than the brown algae. I believe this is because the green algae is subjected to more wave action and so in order to reduce damage done by drag it just goes with the flow. Overall, this was a fun trip and it helped me understand concepts such as zonation and intertidal stresses.

A plastic bag Mark found on San Jose Island with obvious diamond-shaped turtle bites.


Second Lab Trip

Posted by Amilia Humber at Monday, April 8, 2013 12:51:26 AM CDT
Last Edited:Monday, April 8, 2013 9:12:13 AM CDT

This trip was about looking at the biodiversity in some ecosystems in Port Aransas. Each ecosystem was different from the others and I enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between each one. My group was surprised to find an arthropod during our core sampling and we added it to our ecosystem jar at the end of the trip. I really liked the arthropod, but my favorite part of this trip was looking at what was caught in the seine, although the water was a little cold! There were lots of shells on the beach too and I had to resist taking some of them home with me. I was surprised at how much garbage we found on the beach and in the dunes during the cleanup. There was also an alarming amount of trash at the salt marsh location too, like tires and plastics, and my group actually found a McDonalds cup floating in one of our marsh transects. Despite the litter, I enjoyed the salt marsh and I really liked watching the hermit crabs and mud crabs in the water. Seining in the marsh was more difficult than at the beach because the muddy bottom was really thick and it was hard to walk, but it was also really interesting.I thought the jetty was really fascinating and it was cool to see the gradient of life as you went deeper below the surface. First, there were green algae and limpets on the rocks close to the surface. Next were the red algae, which were growing in areas that received less light, and lastly there were pink and orange sponges. My group tried to recreate this gradient in our ecosystem by placing red algae in the bottom of the jar and green algae on top. We included a crab, a shrimp, a jellyfish, a clam, some limpets, snails, and the arthropod, as well as some orange sponge to graze on the algae. I’m interested to see how long our ecosystem will last. Overall, this trip was really fun and looking back on all of my experiences in this class, I really learned a lot about marine habitats and ecology.

Amilia Humber


Mark’s Travels 2 – Looking at Different Ecosystems

Posted by Mark Moore at Sunday, April 7, 2013 9:47:18 PM CDT

I’m not sure what my exact plans are once I graduate (I am an Environmental Science major), but I have always wanted to do field work. This weekend at Port Aransas has only increased my desire to do such work. Experiencing first hand many of the topics we have discussed in Marine Ecology was very valuable. In addition, this trip let me see again how humans are influencing the environment in major ways. Each location we visited provided a different outlook.

The first area we studied was the San Jose Barrier Island. Here we did transects, collected sand from the dunes, and sifted through some sand cores to look for organisms. We found several organisms inside the sand cores, including 5-6 worms and an arthropod that liked to burry itself in the sand (our group later decided to add him to our group ecosystem). The lab group also did several seines and found some fish, jellyfish, larvae, and more. Unfortunately we also found some plastic. There were surprisingly few birds on the beach. Our time at the beach had intriguing yet unfortunate connection to our last lab; the amount of plastic found on the beach was astounding. The lab group collected several hug bags of trash. I found one yellow plastic bag that had many obvious turtle bites, and others found bottles with similar bites. It is clear that plastics in marine environments are a major issue that will take many years to fix.


Our next stop was further inland making some observations at a marsh. We conducted two more seine collections and did more transects. We tried to do our transect where we could see the zonation of plants as they approached the water. Though we did not intend to, we also found trash in our transect. There were several cool things happening in the marsh. One was the interaction of the hermit crabs right at the water/land boundary. Several hermit crabs seemed to be competing for a new shell. It was also great getting a chance to see a flowering sea grass! Helping out with the seine was a lot of fun as well.

Last we stopped by the jetty to observe the organisms there. Zonation was evident here as well. What I found most interesting about this habitat is that it is not a natural Texas habitat. We don’t really have rocky shores that aren’t man made in Texas. However, the rocks used in the construction of the jetty provide a good substrate for algae. What is the most fascinating is how the algae arrived there, if this isn’t a natural habitat. There were a few ideas discussed, including currents bringing in water from elsewhere or ships from around the world carrying water from other coasts. Either way, it is intriguing how humans have changed the marine environment in many ways.


I didn’t know what to expect from this class when I enrolled, but the lab has exceeded my expectations. One my primary interested is human-environment interactions, and this lab was the perfect way to study this first hand.


Trip 2

Posted by Eric Ruff at Saturday, April 6, 2013 9:02:42 PM CDT
Last Edited:Saturday, April 6, 2013 9:06:38 PM CDT

Our second trip to Port Aransas proved to be more fun than the first. As we carried out transect lines, seine nets, sediment cores, and made out very own closed-ecosystems, it felt as if I was indeed a marine biologist. All of these hands on activities gave me a new appreciation for the physical effort that goes in to collecting data for field experiments. Battling the frigid waves crashing into the shore, we attempted to seine for organisms in the shallow intertidal waters on the San Jose Beach shore. After three separate attempts, we were able to collect a few crabs and sardines, as well as a number of different shell fragments and sand dollars. The lack of diversity in these three samples could have been due to the high wave action and cold temperature of the water. As the day wore on, we made our way to a seagrass bed in a shallow bay area across the ferry. By this time, the sun was shining and I had a feeling we would discover some exciting new marine organisms. As I combed the shore, my instinct proved to be correct when I stumbled upon a deceased eel. It was approximately 3 feet long and had razor sharp teeth. After conducting two more saines in this habitat, we were able to identify a number of shrimp, anchovy, jellies, crabs, amphids and isopods. The higher biodiversity in this area was a product of a more tranquil environment with less wave action. After discussing the salt marsh vegetation we made out way to the rock jetty, where we encountered a whole new set or organisms. The few brave souls who made it into the water were able to witness the zonation of different algae and jetty creatures. Collecting organisms from these three habitats and constructing our own ecosystem allowed to appreciate how so many environmental factors go into stabilizing these different areas and the vast diversity that exists between them.


-Eric Ruff

An awesome fieldtrip

Posted by Laura Talley at Saturday, April 6, 2013 8:16:52 PM CDT
Last Edited:Friday, April 19, 2013 11:38:39 PM CDT

This lab/trip to the UT MSI, Port Aransas area is the trip I’ve been excited to do since I signed up for this class.  Whenever someone says the word “marine,” you always think of one of two things: the beach and a harbor.  While these are both true in a sense, they are not complete.  Marine environments do include the classic “beach” and “jetty” coastlines, but it also includes the marsh coastlines that are connected to the sea/ocean by either natural or man-made channels.  In this lab, we got to explore each of these environments and see what organisms are living in each.  We got to dive in and do some fieldwork!

The first day we went to the San Jose barrier island – the classic beach –were we did transects of the topsoil shore line and dug sand cores to see what living organisms were within the sand.  Of course, not much was on the topsoil, but down within, we found some worms and an arthropod, who we kept for our closed ecosystem.  Afterwards, we did a water seine and collected some specimens who were within the water column and toward the bottom.  I did not participate in this seine, but had a good time watching.  Among these organisms were anchovies, jellyfish larvae (look like clear Jello), eel larvae, and some crabs.

After lunch, we went to the muddy-bottom marsh further inland were we did more transects and seines.  I participated in one of the seines in this area and got stuck in the mud and lost both shoes!  (Thank you, Dr. Min, for finding my shoes!)  It was very interesting to see a noticeable difference in not only the environmental make up of the area (the muddy bottom, very little sand, areas of dry dirt and mud), but also the living organisms of the area.  There were hermit crabs and sand crabs on the shoreline, but also crazy jumping fish in the deeper portions of the bay area and possible rays.  The plant life was also very different; the shore line was lined with a gradient of Spartina, a small blade-like grass, followed by the dominating giant Black Mangroves, and then followed by the tiny succulents. This was a bit surprising to see plant competition among different species make such a distinct border of territory with the littlest in the very back.  But you can apparently eat the succulents, which were very salty.  So apparently they do great where they are since they retain what water and salt they receive.

Afterwards, we went to the rocky jetty at the shore of the UT MSI and noticed the gradient of seaweed from the intertidal zone down to the subtidal zone.  It was neat to see this gradient in person and then to see the limpets in action (those things are really stuck on there).  I wish I would have been able to get into the water to see the sponges on the bottom, but due to a toe injury I was unable to.  But according to my partner who did go down, it was pretty awesome.

The other cool thing we got to do was to create an ecosystem of our own from materials and organisms we collect from all the environments we visited.  We put something from each habitat into ours.  The arthropod we found on the beach was definitely the coolest thing in there;  he kept swimming around and buried himself in the sand, but his butt and tail would still stick out – so cute!!

Overall, this was the best field trip I have ever been on.  It was so great to get out and get my hands, and feet, dirty doing so field work.  I had a blast!!

2nd Trip to Port A Click for more options

This second trip for me was pretty much a perfect trip. The weather was really nice with it not being too hot or too cold. We did a transect for two of the three areas we went to (sandy beach, salt marsh, and jetty). It was interesting to see that these three different environments could occur in such close proximity to each other and still have different organisms living in them. On the sandy beach, our transect didn’t vary too much with there being almost all sand. When we got to the marshland land though, our transect got really interesting. The sand turned out to be made up of mostly broken up shells of bivalves and snails. As we moved further away from the water, the sand gave way to the saliconia plant. As the day ended, we went to the jetty to observe the effects of zonation and see what kinds of organisms lived there. It turns out that the zonation on the jetty is clearly defined into three distinct layers. On the sandy beach, we also performed a core sampling on the top of a sand dune to see if there was anything special about them. It turns out the sand on the top that we collected was of the finer kind and it was deposited by the wind. When we got back to the lab, we were supposed to look for a specific type of shell but our group didn’t find any. What we did find out was that the sand we thought was more rounded than the regular beach sand turned out to be rough and angular.

Allan Chang

Second Trip Click for more options

This second trip, for me, was particularly interesting because it involved experiencing different environments and habitats that can occur within relatively close proximity. As we traveled from the sandy beach to the seagrass bed to the jetty, it became more clear to me how the abiotic factors of various habitats can contribute to the presence and abundance of different species within those habitats. The harsh wind and wave action in the sandy beach environment, for example, resulted in us finding very little there, but the protective and nutritive environment of the seagrass bed allowed us to observe many more organisms and species (and catch lots of adorable hermit crabs). The significance of the organisms present on the man-made jetty habitat was also pretty astounding, when you consider that these organisms are only present because of their dispersal mechanisms and the colonization of planktonic larvae that we have learned so much about during the marine ecology class. It was also really interesting to learn about thezonation that can occur in all of these habitats, like theconation of algae at the jetty and how the different algal species are adapted to their specific zones within the jetty environment. Constructing our closed ecosystem was also really interesting, as we were able to collect many different organisms and vegetation samples and come up with a way to creatively incorporate them into an ecosystem that would be able to function on its own. It was really neat to sift through everything we had collected and come up with ways to place them within our jar that would provide an important function to our ecosystem.


Trip 2

Posted by Frank Winsett at Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:41:06 PM CDT

The second trip was a lot of fun. We were given a lot more opportunities to get our hands dirty and do a lot more hands-on data collection. However, between net pulls curiosity got the best of us and we dig a big hole on the beach. We were only a few meters up from the water level and had to dig approximately a meter before we hit water. I assumed the water we hit was just sea water that had seeped under the sand. However, Dr. Min suggested that we check the salinity level of the water that seeped into the base of the hole and compare it with the salinity of the sea water just a few meters away. Sure enough, the salinity of the water that pooled in the base of hole was 27 parts per thousand, while the salinity of the nearby sea water was 35 parts per thousand. I find it very interesting that the salinity was so much lower even though the two water samples were so close together. Dr. Min explained that lower salinity is due to the mixing of freshwater from under the island and the salt water of the ocean. The hole we dug happened to be within this zone of mixing. Dr. Min continued to explain the importance of maintaining stores of fresh water under the island. When the fresh water is depleted, more salt water mixes with the underground stores of water and a freshwater source may quickly become a salt water source. Such an event would be a big problem for populations along the coast that depend on underwater stores of freshwater.


Trip 2: ecosystem differences Click for more options

 This trip showed me how different ecosystems can be even within a fairly small area. It was really incredible and definitely sunk in after looking at how different each of our miniature ecosystems were. Everything from the marine organisms, to the vegetation, and even the sediment was different- which surprised me the most. I assumed that the sand would be the same no matter where we were in the area but it was very different at the seagrass bed and it was really cool to learn exactly why that is, I wouldn’t have thought that the abundance of organisms that usually inhabit it would have such an effect on the structure of the bed floor. In addition, it was interesting to see and learn about the anoxic zone beneath the aerobic layer. Prior to the trip I assumed the bad smell and the muddy texture were signs that the area was poor quality and/or polluted and therefore wouldn’t be rich in life. But really the short depth of the aerobic layer indicates how much life is actually living there. I think my favorite part though was just observing the species richness in all the areas and seeing what cool organisms we could catch and watching how they moved and interacted with everything else around them. Lastly, I was really surprised by the amount of trash at the sites and the size of it. I expected to see some smaller pieces of plastic and maybe a few water bottles, but I didn’t think there would be so many containers, and mostly intact. This is again really disappointing, but it made me think that maybe there is more benefit to beach tourism than I thought. The San Jose beach we went to first was mostly not a public beach with hotels and it is not where people on vacation would be going, and it had the most debris. This could reflect the importance of a pristine beach to the local tourism industry which in turn forces hotels and aquatic recreational companies to constantly pick up the litter and clean up the beach. Even if it is for selfish reasons, at least it is an incentive to get the trash out of the ocean!
 This picture shows how close to the surface anoxic layers are in the seagrass bed ecosystems, and by the depth of the footprint you can tell how squishy it is and how easy it is to sink and get stuck!

Shore Ecology Mini Ecosystem

Posted by Alyssa May at Tuesday, April 2, 2013 7:13:34 PM CDT

I had a lot of fun making our closed ecosystem. We got to pick different things from 3 habitats to include in our 3-liter jar.

The first thing we made in our habitat was a little sand dune. On the dune we planted some morning glory and some sea oats collected from the barrier island sand beach habitat to stabilize the dune and prevent erosion. We included Sargassum to provide nutrients to the dune vegetation. Moving down into our mid-littoral zone we included the more delicate green algae (from the hard shore habitat). And in our sub-littoral zone we included hardier, thicker brown algae (also from the hard shore habitat). As for animals, you can see (in the picture below), that we had a small hermit crab and a Portuguese Man O’ War. We also included a plastic bottle cap because, as we have learned, plastic is unfortunately all too common in the ocean.

I am afraid that our ecosystem will not survive for several reasons. First of all, we had to pretty much cut off the roots of our plants to fit them in the jar. So our primary producers will not be able to last as a food source for long and they will not be able to photosynthesize. Our hermit crab will most likely not survive even if the primary producers were doing their job because hermit crabs need fresh and salt water. (On a side note, it has been very difficult for me to not give the poor crab food or water!)

Although our ecosystem will most likely fail it has made me appreciate how complex, and sometimes fragile, marine ecosystems are!

Alyssa May

Unexpected snack Click for more options

Something that blew my mind this trip was the vegetation at the seagrass bed habitat location. Mainly: Saliconia and Batis meritima.

For those of you that did not try these plants, you kinda missed out, that is if you like salty things.
So this plant is really cool and again it’s edible. It is a succulent plant which are plants that have a fleshy texture to them, and retain water, making it easy for them to live in either arid or soil environments. Many succulents live in the dessert, they’re good plants to have in the house because they do not require a lot of water to survive. Saliconia is thin, sectioned, and is usually found green or red; it’s used in the culinary world, especially in England, and now in my culinary world!
The second plant I tried was Batis meritima and though it tasted very similar to Saliconia, it’s a completely different genus, it’s a flowering plant which means it needs more water than a succulent to survive. Though they are very different genetically both are called pickleweed. Nature never ceases to amaze me. In Louis C.K’s words depicting God “I put food on the ground! All you have to do is pick it up and eat it!”

Lab 2 Trip! Click for more options

What a great time was had on the second trip! I had a complete blast going through the transects and finding all the different substrates and organisms. I think that just finding all the things I had never seen before was the best part. That, or maybe the hordes of hermit crabs! I added this particular picture because it reminded me of the shrimp that were jumping all over the place. I think the best lesson learned though was that all of these ecosystems were connected. I mean, I kinda knew that already, but I had never really stopped to think about it or how important it was until this trip. Which brings me to the sad note of all that plastic littering the beach. You see, we go out there and learn how great and important all of this marine environment is and then you see about 40 yards of black netting submerged into the beach sand. It made me a bit sad. I did laugh a little though because as the net was breaking down it would leave these black strings poking straight up out of the sand, and it totally looked like the beach needed a shave. Ha! I’m sad we won’t be going back with this class anymore but I’m grateful that I now have that experience and knowledge and I can share it with anyone who cares enough to listen. Oh, and I think twice about ordering shrimp now because of that 90% by-catch…

Dune Exploration Click for more options


Sand dunes next to the shore of both lakes and the sea have been studied due to the insight they provide into succession processes. The way these dunes form is through sand that gets carried inland by the wind. The sand starts accumulating and soon small grasses start colonizing the dune. The presence of these grasses slows the sand coming in even more, making the dunes bigger and bigger as they get inland. The changes in the vegetation are very dramatic, since in some places, one can walk from bare sand shore to a full forest in the dune in just a few meters. 


In San Jose Island, we were able to see evidence for succession in the dunes. We took a closer look by taking sand samples from around 10 cm deep into the sand at different levels of the dune. These sand samples can be sieved, separating particles of different size to look at the components of the sand particles. A lot can be learned by doing this, as the components of the sand can tell you about what has been going on there. 


Sand particles form the dune as seen under the microscope. We were not able to find foraminifera shells.


In the dune, at some distances close to the shore, foraminifera shells can be found. These presents] evidence for the shoreline having been there. My group tried to go deeper into the dune, were the grass seemed to be well established, to see if we could still find the foraminifera shells. When looking at the sand particles under the microscope, we couldn’t find the shells in the fraction of the size they should have been found at, but when we looked as the smaller size, we found something very exciting! With the smaller sand particles, we found evidence of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi being present at that section of the dune, as we could see their spores. 


Smaller sand particles from the sand core as seen under the microscope. The small round pieces are AM fungi spores!


These fungi are very important as they create a mutualistic relationship with grasses by helping them obtain nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and in exchange getting carbon fixed by the plant. This tells us a lot about the dune and its succession process, given that in this section of the dune, the grass is so well established that there is an AM fungi community present and easy to see.  


Cristy Portales

Shore Ecology lab Click for more options

 Our journey to the Gulf coast this second time around was very fun and interesting, as we got to travel around to view three different sites which represented soft- and hard-substrate habitats. In order to observe the unique characteristics and biota present in each, we used various methods which included taking seine net samples and estimating the percent coverage within evenly spaced quadrats along the soft-substrate shores, as well as qualitatively recording the various organisms at the hard-substrate environment. In the end, the hard substrate environment proved to be as diverse as the two soft-shore habitats, only the species differed in each. This finding points out the fact that different habitats produce flourishing ecosystems unique to each environment.
Our group found the hard-substrate (jetty) environment to be most captivating. There, we observed numerous types of algae, snails, and limpets in the supralittoral zone, as well as a brittle star, sponge, and sea turtle completely submerged in the water (sub-littoral zone). These organisms are naturally fit for this specific habitat, with some having the developed capability to suction themselves to the jetty rocks which are periodically moistened from chaotic waves crashing up on the them. Our closed ecosystem project in the end was a recreation of this high-energy habitat, although it seemed quite calm in our jar.  The brittle star and snail we collected were our focal organisms, although plenty of algae were also included so as to provide sufficient oxygen as well as detritus (food) material for the star and the sponge which we also included. As algae would accumulate, the snail would be able to clean up by consuming the food source, as they do on the jetty rocks we found them on.
closed ecosystem - jetty environment
All in all, it was a great lab experience and I had a wonderful time with everyone as we observed the various ecosystems occurring within the Texas Gulf region.

ohnnie Wu Blog 2 Click for more options

 The second trip in my opinion was far more informative and activity based than the first trip, as it contains more interactions with the environment by getting our feet “dirty” and up close. Also in my last trip to Port Aransas [excluding the 1st trip in this course] I went with my group to the salt marshes to observe the filtering impacts the marshes have on water quality and how much pollution can be observed in the coastal environment. The drive to Port Aransas felt faster than our last trip although the time it took was not much different. Saturday morning was cloudy up until early afternoon and we crossed over to the barrier island sandy beach across the channel from MSI. After the brief spray we got crossing the channel on the small boat, we split duties doing transects, sample collecting, and core gathering. Identification was difficult even with the aid of photographs as the waves continuously eroded the sampling site giving us a lot of variability. Our main goal was to observe the condition of three different shore habitats in Port Aransas and analyze both the environment and biota. Due to the cloud cover and water turbidity the sample site in the water were immensely difficult. However even with this handicap the identification was finished relatively quick along with the sediment core samples. Most of the time spent was sample collecting for the small scale closed ecosystem jar and going through the seining analysis. 
This time around although I previously thought I discovered all the bird there was to see at Port Aransas I was able to still identify some new flycatchers and terns.
At the seagrass sampling site there were plenty of hermit crabs and anthropogenic waste cluttering the shoreline. However, the seagrass further out in the water contains more species than the marsh suggests otherwise. The decaying biomass created a sticky substrate that made treading through water immensely difficult and seining that more difficult. There were plenty of mangroves growing around with their roots sticking through the oxygen deprived water for air and batass whose tip tasted salty and would probably make a good salad condiment. We collected the majority of our samples for the jar before proceeding to the South Jetty with its hard substrate and rocky waves. At the South Jetty just outside of the MSI, visual identification of specimen underwater was conducted. However there were considerable biases in the sampling process due to the rocky waves generated by both ships and wind and the turbulence in the water. In the evening at the Gaff, I thought the atmosphere was a considerable improvement compared to the last time I was there. The sieving of the sand samples from the barrier island sandy beach was interesting, as the professor said organic material from the ocean were used to fuel the vegetation of the immediate surroundings. The foram we were trying to look for did not appear, probably due to my group’s sand sample being collected from the top of the sand dune. Other foram samples were found from samples collected at the tide level. The presentation of the ecosystem jars were very interesting as there was a lot of creativity, such as the jar that was created for crabs. An idea that would be good is the incorporation of all transects data.

Comparison of Coastal Habitats Click for more options

I found this lab to be more rewarding educationally because I learned more about the dynamics governing marine ecology. I enjoyed surveying the three different habitats and considering the abiotic processes (hydrodynamic regimes) and human impacts (litter waste) that affect them. By assessing species diversity and abundance in each of the three habitats, I grew more knowledgeable of the different coastal ecological communities in Port Aransas. I was surprised to discover that species abundance and diversity was greater in the intertidal zone of the shallow seagrass bed habitat after observing a higher level of human impact at this location. For instance, one of my group’s quadrats contained noticeable litter waste, which was only feet away from a large population of hermit crabs


The species abundance and diversity was also greatest in the intertidal zone of this habitat despite the extremely shallow anoxic sand layer. This layer was discernible due to its gray color and sulfurous odor, both of which indicated a low-oxygen environment. Although this environment appeared to be unsuitable for aerobic organisms like hermit crabs, it didn’t result in a lower species diversity and abundance in this habitat. However, species composition in the tidal zone of this habitat differed markedly from the same zone in the soft-short beach habitat. According to the data collected using a seine net, species abundance and diversity was relatively greater in the tidal zone of this habitat. One seine net sample included 655 anchovies!
My favorite part of the trip was the small-scale closed-ecosystem activity. I enjoyed creating a small ecosystem because it required the consideration of many factors such as biotic interactions and water chemistry. My group ultimately chose to simulate a shore habitat in which crustaceans (crabs) dominate. We included green algae to serve as the producer in the ecosystem and contribute oxygen to the water. A limpet and shrimp were added to serve as primary consumers, while a hermit crab and smaller sand crab were added to serve as primary or secondary consumers. We found that this ecosystem was difficult to simulate because it really signified a lateral physical system of greater length. In reality, this ecosystem spans the length of the shore from the intertidal zone to the sargassum line, so our ecosystem wasn’t entirely accurate.

-Michelle Camp

Trip 2 Click for more options

The overall goal of this lab was to compare and contrast the different types of shore ecosystems through the abundance and diversity of these systems.  The main surveying method was with the use of transects. Previously, I had used transect lines to observe differences in terrestrial tree species, but this application for shore ecology is much more exciting.  Three types of shore ecosystems were surveyed: barrier island sandy beach, seagrass bed, and hard substrate habitats. This lab had many of the topics covered in lecture applied, it is always nice to see the application of lecture material.  Although the transect for the sandy beach yielded low diversity, the hard substrate habitat (South Jetty) resulted in the highest diversity. It was also interesting to see the changes in substrate types in the specific habitat as well as between different habitats.  Comparatively, the seagrass bed had the most change in substrate types. Unfortunately, due to the weather seining did not produce the most diverse sample but it was good to learn of the forces behind the low diversity (cooler water). Core samples taken on the barrier island beach habitat was not as successful as others; my group only found some broken bivalve shells and a couple of worms. Creating a small ecosystem from specimens collected during the previous day really brought together and solidified the concepts of the lab.  Not only was collecting the specimens themselves enjoyable, but it also allowed me to learn more about the specimen’s role in the ecosystem. Overall I learned a lot and greatly enjoyed the class!

Trip 2 Click for more options

This second trip to Port Aransas included a lot of field work on the first day, and creating a jar ecosystem on the second day. First day, we went to the beach on San Jose Island and set up three transects and two seines. I had a little bit experience with the transects and the quadrats in other classes but it was my first time doing transects near the ocean. It was fun being on the beach, and we found a crab hole in our transect. The first seine at the beach was not very successful; we only caught some anchovy and a little bit other small marine organisms. The second seine was much more successful; we caught plenty of anchovy and other fish, too. I knew that the trash always wash up to the beach, but it was surprising for me to actually see it with my own eyes. As I was picking up trash on the beach, I realized some of the trash is already buried into the sand and very hard to get it out. There were even some vegetation growing on them, too. It was just amazing to see how nature incorporate man-made garbage and still develop life on those trashes.We tried to clean up a small portion of the beach, and we end up carrying multiple bags of trash with us back to Port Aransas.

The second habitat that we went to was the sea grass habitat. This habitat was a lot different than the beach. The water in the sea grass habitat is fairly low, the deepest that we walked to was to thigh-high. The habitat was quieter than beach. And, the fish caught in this habitat were much different than the beach.
Our group decided to use the organisms here as our glass ecosystem, so we pick a hermit crab, some algae, and some shrimps from the sea grass habitat. We also included a snail from the third habitat, the jetty in Port Aransas, into our jar ecosystem.

I kept this jar ecosystem after this trip. Unfortunately, this ecosystem did not last very long. The shrimps died in three days, and the hermit crab and snail are also suffering.- by Elly Lai

Trip 2

Posted by Caitlin Ortbal at Saturday, March 30, 2013 8:39:20 PM CDT
Last Edited:Saturday, March 30, 2013 8:39:27 PM CDT

We first went to the San Jose beach were we conducted two seines, the first of which was very unsuccessful but the second slightly better. I joined in on the second seine, which proved to be much harder than it looks, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be with actual fish in there. The seine we conducted at the seagrass bed at our next location was much more successful. By this time the weather conditions had improved and there was more wildlife out. We saw a huge amount of hermit crabs that many of us collected for our ecosystems. However, we witnessed much less diversity during this trip than I had expected. The next trip we went to the Jetty, where a few students attempted to snorkel. I got in for a little of the time, but it proved to be extremely difficult to see much while fighting the waves coming in from passing boats and trying to keep your balance on the slippery rocks. The weather was very nice and it felt good to to swim a bit.The amount of trash we witnessed on the beach during this trip was horrific. We collected 7 huge trash bags full of discarded plastic off the San Jose beach and barely even made a dent. At the seagrass bed there was a bush that was full of beer bottles and trash. It was depressing to see how little people care about the environment to just drop their trash wherever they are. Overall, I found this trip was very enjoyable and it also gave me some insight into how bad the plastic situation in the ocean really is.


-Caitlin Ortbal

trip 2 Click for more options

  The second trip was a new experience compared to the last trip. As we embarked to San Jose Island on Saturday morning, we got to see a closer look at the amount of plastic and trash on the jetty and the beach. Sadly, this was not the focus on this trip but fortunately we were able to pick up some  trash on the beach. Moving on, as we got on the beach we were told to do atransect of about 10 meters with the 1st meter starting from beach. We then got to observe an area that we marked with a quadrant but sadly we did not get to see much life in our quadrant. While we were there, we also got to use acorer to dig up life close to the tide and in the tide. But once again, we got nothing. One could say that weather was a factor or the area we chose wasn’t great but we still had a great time doing something new and gaining experience. While we were there, we also had to find organisms to put into our ecosystem when we stumbled onto our Portuguese Man o’ War. We then moved to our second site to locate seagrass. This site was more interesting with different plant life that meshed together in this small area. We got to see anoxic areas in which anaerobic life would sink due to the aerobic life above it. When the anoxic layer was disturbed, a stench of rotten eggs would arise. Lastly was the jetty area in which some of my group members tested the cold water to see the unique marine life that survive in the rough conditions of the jetty. When we finally got to make our ecosystem, it was a great time to see which organism could be put in and be beneficial for survival. Overall this lab has been a great experience and hopefully it will continue to be a great experience for others.

Port Aransas Trip 2 Click for more options

I enjoyed this trip to Port Aransas much more than the last one, because of all the time we spent outside. I absolutely love being outside, even if it is just to do work. The beautiful weather made it nice too. I really enjoyed going to the different habitats and seeing the diversity of species each had. While at the beach, I participated in both seines. The first seine was interesting, because the waves were rough and we failed at catching anything. I like to pretend that our first try was just practice. The second seine we managed to get right and we did catch a variety of species of fish. I was expecting to see a lot more shells and diversity on the actual beach, though. Our group didn’t find anything special in our sand samples or our quadrats. They mostly just consisted of sand. Something else I thought was really cool to see on this trip was the anoxic zone at the seagrass beds we visited. I had never seen something like that before. I did not participate in the seine at this location, but it was interesting to see the different types of fish we brought up at this location. I also really enjoyed our ecosystem project. Having to find a good balance of species to survive in a cooler overnight was challenging, but I loved searching for the things to use for our project.Overall, I really enjoyed both of our trips to Port Aransas and I wish we had more than just two trips. This class was a great learning experience and I would’ve liked to spend more time in Port Aransas.

Port Aransas Adventure part 2

Posted by Andrew Averitt at Friday, March 29, 2013 6:22:57 PM CDT
Last Edited:Monday, April 1, 2013 1:44:46 PM CDT

During this trip, I expected to see many more marine animals up close than we actually did. We visited three separate beaches and (some of us) entered the water on three separate occasions. The first beach was on San Jose Island which is actually privately owned (fun fact). One of the “activities” we did while we were at this location was a water sein.  I was very excited to get out in the water and attempt to catch the types of fish, especially after I had been told we would catch a lot. However, due to the constant barrage of waves (that would literally knock us off our feet) we were unable to make a significant catch. Part of this may be due poor seining technique performed by us, but another, perhaps more substantial reason for this is that the water conditions were not optimal for catching many fish. We performed another sein at the location of the seagrass beds where the conditions were much calmer. We were able to catch significantly more marine organisms during this sein. Also, there were a surprising amount of hermit crabs at this location, including one large one named “Voldemort.” The final location we visited was the rock jetty near the MSI campus. Here we were actually able to dive under the surface in order to see what the marine environment looks like under the surface. This was my favorite part though it was sometimes difficult to fight the waves coming in from the channel. On the rocks, I was able to see distinctively pink and orange coral as well as a brown and white striped sea anemone. On one dive further out into the water, I was able to see “hand sized” black and white striped fish which definitely made the dive into the cold water worth it.

Here’s a(an upside down) picture of our ecosystem  that contained two crab, one decaying shrimp, algae, and trillions of bacteria.

Overall, the trip was fun but the weather could have been better. I have gained a much better appreciation for the marine environment and a greater knowledge and understanding of how it functions. Thanks for the experience.

Blog Entry Two Click for more options

The last field trip completely focused on finding evidence of plastic in the marine environment, of which we found so little evidence. This time on the other hand, we found an terrifying amount of plastic in every environment we sampled. We started out on the San Jose Island, where we saw the first evidence of plastic, in between the granite there were plastic bottles, fishing wire, and even a broken plastic chair. Then we moved to the beach, and we saw that was only just the beginning. After we sampled the area, using our newly learned line transect method, use of a seining net, and sand coring technique, we decided to help clean up the beach. After collected at least 10 bags of trash, we found bottles of bleach, more plastic chairs, and even a bucket from the lovely Home Depot. Human beings are despicable. We then moved from the island to the salt marsh habitat. We again employed the line transect technique and the seining net. The most distracting thing we saw was this pile of what I like to call, party trash, accompanied by many car tires. Our next habitat, the jetty, was far more clean. I actually saw only one plastic bottle in between the rocks.
Moving on from plastic, I want to share some fun facts I have learned over the trip.
1. 600 pound cephalopods can fit through a hole the size of a quarter.
2. The mini-sand dunes that are in front of the bigger ones, actually support them, and if they weren’t there, the sand dunes would be unable to hold up.
3. The seagrasses in the marsh harbor air pockets, and actually make the environment quieter and supposedly attractive to juveniles.
4. There is a succulent that is sold at Whole Foods… that grows right there along the salt marshes, called Salicornia. It is DELICIOUS and tastes salty. 🙂
This was such a great experience, I am so thankful that I got to participate in such a class. :)Happy Friday


Trip 2 Click for more options

One of the things that stuck out to me during this trip was the time we spent picking up the trash on San Jose beach – the amount we found and threw away was ridiculous and we barely scratched the surface. I didn’t keep count with how many (huge) trash bags we filled up but it was at least 5 and they were allcompletely full; unfortunately, there was still a large amount of plastic debris left on the beach, most of which we probably didn’t see because they have been buried underneath the sand. I kept thinking to myself that we should have gone here for our first trip since finding plastic was the main theme, but I guess it was to see that plastic (and trash) is a huge problem no matter where or when you go to the beach. We also found a ton of trash when we went to the sea grass beds – it was mostly broken beer bottles and beer cans, and it was really disappointing to see how disrespectful people can be to these poor organisms that live there (such as the hermit crabs). Even though the focus on this trip was not trash, it still had a noticeable effect on what we were doing.

Anyway, a more enjoyable aspect of the trip was collecting the different specimens to put into our little man-made ecosystem. We collected quite a variety of organisms such as hermit crabs, shrimps, a sponge, some bivalves, algae (to provide oxygen) and a couple other things. It was jam packed with a lot of stuff but I thought it looked neat:
I enjoyed seeing the beach in a different light – other than a vacation spot, the beach is the type of environment that would be considered “high energy” and it’s home to a variety of different organisms that are well-suited to it; the sea grass beds were “low energy” and were filled with shrimps and hermit crabs. The jetty was also teeming with life, mostly algae and limpets were found on the rocks and in the water, there was coral and anemones. And even though the weather wasn’t exactly ideal, we still were able to gather enough information to call it a day. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy my experience out in the field and I hope that I’ll continue doing this in future classes.
Thao Vu

Trip #2 Click for more options

 The focus of this second field trip was to explore the different ecosystems that exist along our own Gulf coast.  In particular, the classic beach scene of the San Jose barrier island, the still water of the turtle grass beds and the chaotic environment of the jetty.  This comparison is one I’d been looking forward to for sometime.

 The first day began with a boat ride to the San Jose barrier island. My first reaction was one of shock. Trash and debris lined the dunes.  This stood in stark contrast to the first trip when we were looking for plastic and found so little. It never ceases to amaze me what trashy and careless creatures we humans can be. How quickly we adapt though, for the activities began and my reaction to the zounds of trash soon faded into background noise. We spent our time there taking core samples of the sand at various locations in order to see what resided in different areas of the sand.  Nearest the water we found lots of shell fragments and a few bivalves.
Once we moved further inland (by all of 7m) we found comparatively few shells and a baby crab! Next, we measured out a transect line with flags every 2m and lay quadrants to see if we could see a marked zonal change down the line.  Indeed we could! Even more interesting was that running the transect line a second time, we found that the items in our quadrants had change!  The beach proved to be a very active environment.  This was further seen with the casting of seine net, an activity that from shore looked to be quite difficult and in fact was, as shown by the need for a second run at it.  Quite a diversity of life was brought it. The final activity was, much to by delight, the picking up of multiple bag loads of the trash we had walked by at the beginning.  While I know it probably didn’t even dent the amount of trash still out there buried beneath the sand and in the ocean, it was very good to do.
 Next we explored the ecosystem of the turtle grass beds.  Again we marked out 18m transect lines and cast a seine net.  Again there was trash lining the shore, this time though the trash was not a scattered arrangement brought by the wind and water, but a deliberate dumping or neglect, even worse! The ecosystem proved to be quieter, in fact it was so still in the water that our footsteps from casting the seine net remained visible and it wasn’t necessary to run the transect line more than once.
 The final ecosystem, the jetty, stood in stark contrast to the still turtle grass beds.  Water rushed over the rocks and churned up the bottom to such a degree that when trying to view the life clinging to the underwater rocks it was necessary to be within a foot of them. There at the jetty, where all the creatures from the algae to the limpets and snails, the sponges and the brittle star, were shaped by the force of the water, where they clung with such force that to remove them was surprisingly difficult, I gained a better understanding of the workings of evolution. This far along in my degree in Biology, I’ve learned about evolution dozens of times and yet, it was here, on this trip, when there was no mention of it at all, that I gained a clarity on how different ecosystems provide different and unique niches/environments that shape all 
the organisms that dwell there.  The jetty environment was so astounding that my group decided to make it our ecosystem project.
Overall, this class has provided me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complexity of marine ecosystems and all its variety of components.

Field Trip #2 Blog – Daniel Perenyi

Posted by Ladislaus Perenyi at Wednesday, March 27, 2013 1:31:53 PM CDT
Last Edited:Thursday, March 28, 2013 1:10:08 PM CDT

While not a single Whooping Crane was seen during my 24 hour stint in Port Aransas, all of the other wildlife and the portable ecosystem that my group created made the trip completely worth it!    Perhaps the most interesting parts of the trip involved collecting samples for our ecosystem that we created on the last day. It was so satisfying to create a viable ecosystem for sea creatures and learn about their various niche and ecosystem function. Personally my favorite creature was the Hermit Crab as well as the Lichen. Lichen’s have also held a dear spot in my heart ever since growing up exploring tidal pools in southern California. Its also fascinating to see the interchange and competition of Lichens and Algae for habitat in the intertidal zone, it is such a balanced ecosystem. Hermit Crabs, on the other hand, are particularly interesting because of how ubiquitous and abundant they were near the sea grass beds.  They were particularly hearty creatures that had no trouble surviving overnight or in our ecosystem.

One thing that I was surprised by was how easy it was to capture shrimp in the salt marsh near the sea grass beds that we took samples from. I could grab one of the small nets, run it along the sides of the submerged cordgrass, and pick up at least one or two shrimp each time. This certainly shows the importance that the salt marsh grasses play in housing marsh organisms. This intrigued me because not only are the submerged sea grasses important for breeding infantile fish, but the salt marsh also serves as habitat for older fish and marine organisms.

Overall the trip was both educational as well as meaningful because of the great camaraderie experienced during our experiments. Personally it was encouraging to explore and observe a marine ecosystem with people who are also so fun to hang out with. It is so good to know that science can enrich life not only because of the scientific knowledge made through observations but also through the joy and satisfaction of interacting with the environment with great people.

Here are some great photos from the trip. The first one is a picture of the fog in the early morning on the island. The second photo is me face deep looking at a transect near the salt marsh. And the final photo is our groups closed ecosystem.

Daniel Perenyi

Field Trip #2 Reflections Click for more options

My environmental degree is focused in geology, so I’m always thinking in terms of sediment supply, energy regimes, or geomorphology of an area to try to understand its role and implications. This trip field trip allowed me to combine my geological background with biological factors in order to identify a habitat’s specific environmental conditions, and how the dominant processes influence species abundance and biodiversity in marine ecosystems. My favorite part involved collecting samples for our small ecosystem, especially finding all of the hermit crabs in the the salt marsh! Ultimately, this exercise required me to critically evaluate the roles and relationships between each component of a habitat, and reflect upon the sensitivity of aquatic species and vegetation to changes in conditions from human disturbances or natural disasters. Marine ecosystems are maintained by the ecological interactions between species, and everything plays an important role at balancing the overall community. Shrimp filter the bottom sediments and purify the water, algae provides dissolved oxygen and food, sargassum/sea grass is an important habitat, limpets compete with the algae and prevent it from overpopulating etc.

I realized how huge of a problem plastic pollution is during our last field trip, but seeing the amount of degradation along San Jose Island and at the salt marsh really hit home for me. This problem is huge, and there has to be something done about it, asap!  But really, what can we do? It a million dollar question. I feel as though the source of trash is very different between the areas. The open beach appeared to originate from ships with ropes/netting, foreign bottles, and I even found a construction hat from an oil rig. The salt marsh was all beer bottles and shot gun shells from fisherman or vacationers. We’re going to need to connect with multiple audiences if we ever want to improve the problem.

It also got me thinking about the relative importance of beaches, not merely for recreation/tourism, but as buffer zones that protect the bays and mainland from hostile, high energy forces and collect marine pollution and prohibit it from being transported into the more sensitive estuarine habitats. I feel like the transect sampling showed us once again how hard it is to define and quantify marine habitat diversity, even when we can directly observe the different fauna and biota. Our quadrats consisted of  mostly fine sand, some sargassum, and maybe crushed shell fragments or hermit crab, and greatly deviated from the zones that I noticed when looking at the entire area at a greater scale. It helped me realize that empirical data won’t always be representative of the study area, and many things will be very hard to measure because they are always changing and impacted by many factors (just like our last field trip). However, each step combined can lead us in the right direction.  That’s why science is so complex and fascinating. We will never have all of the answers, and will be required to engineer creative technologies and experimental designs to overcome biases and account for complexities .

Marilyn Kohut


Trip 2 Click for more options

Our first day started off with a very splashtacular trip to san jose island. The area seemed to be completely deserted except for a few fisherman. This likely has to do with most of the island being private land. I was really glad we took some time to actually clean up the beach. It only took a few minutes but we were able to fill many large trash bags. Ryan and Dan found a rope going down deep in some sand and I helped them try to excavate it before getting bored with it and leaving. After the beach we went to salt grasses on the other side of the ferries, then the jetty near MSI. My favorite habitat was probably the jetty since we got to swim, and it didnt smell rotten like the salt grasses. During this field trip we also carried around a small cooler to collect life forms from our sample areas. My group had lots of interesting finds, like a baby crab and a big shrimp. We went for only three organisms in our ecosystem to try and maintain proper balance with the photosynthetic organisms. The weather wasn’t all that great, but I had fun, got to swim in the ocean, ate san juans three times, and learned a lot about coastal ecosystems so I’d have to say I’m pretty satisfied with our trips


Bijal Patel- Trip 2

Posted by Bijal Patel at Monday, March 25, 2013 9:47:56 PM CDT

This trip to Port Aransas was extremely interesting. During this trip we saw three types of marine habitats and witnessed variation, similarities, and zonation between and within each of them. Between the beach, the marine salt marsh, and the jeddy, I saw many different organisms, plant material, shells and sediment. These environments are representative of how small differences within an environment’s conditions can alter the observed organisms and materials. Zonation seemed pretty clear in the environments—distribution of sediment and shells were extremely notciable. I never really considered how small alterations within an environment made it possible to accommodate a different ecological landscape. The morning beach transects were extremely interesting; it was very interesting to see the different beach organisms like sand dollars and crabs. I think the entire class enjoyed finding the hermit crabs at the salt marsh—it is always intriguing to find organisms in their natural habitat.


On our last trip, we did not find very much plastic debris disrupting the marine environment. However, I found the amount of litter and plastic debris to be shocking in both the beach and salt marsh. We filled close to 8 trash bags with debris on the beach and barely scratched the surface of all of the litter on the beach. So the theme from last trip carries here, and shows that we need to protect the natural environments. The people who fish at that salt marsh will no longer have a place to do that if they continue to abuse the land. Below is a picture of a giant pile of trash generated by people who visit the salt marsh:


Overall, both trips have provided me with an immense amount of information about the nature of the marine environment and the importance of maintaining it. They were wonderful and insightful experiences that gave me an opportunity to observe the importance of environmental conditions.

-Bijal Patel

Port A & R/V Katy Shenanigans

Posted by Juliet Laney at Monday, March 11, 2013 1:38:29 AM CDT
Last Edited:Monday, March 11, 2013 1:45:02 AM CDT

This was my second trip to Port A and my second time on R/V Katy with John the naturalist,and it was a heck of a lot colder and windier than my first pleasant experience. At some points

my hands were so cold that taking notes (writing at all) was difficult, but I managed to get the

important parts. As the weather cooperated more on my first trip, we were able to take samples

both in the ship channel and in Redfish Bay, as was planned for this trip. However, despite the

more limited sampling area, I think that we still had a pretty diverse haul from the bottom

trawls. The pufferfish (striped burrfish) were definitely unexpected. This poor little guy

took the longest time to deflate, and was floating around upside down the whole time:


But the squid were my favorite!! I don’t know what it is about them, but I find squid so

adorable and intelligent and fascinating all rolled into one. I mean, I’m pretty sure having

expert stealth skills because of chromatophores is a superhero power in itself, and it’s just

normal everyday life for these dudes. I made one ink when I dropped it into the water after

holding it and it made me giggle 🙂


Although it was sad to kill the creatures we caught, I thought the fish dissections we did

for gut content analysis was a worthwhile learning experience (as were the bird necropsies

we observed). I haven’t dissected anything in years, and it took my partner and I a few tries

(3 to be exact) with the practice pinfish before we could isolate the intestines & stomach

without botching it. We then dissected one of the burrfish, which turned out to be

considerably easier to work with than the pinfish, as the organs were larger, more well

defined and much easier to identify. I was struck by what seemed to be the liver, because

it just seemed so huge compared to the rest of the body! I later found out that the liver is

one of the most toxic parts of a pufferfish. Inside, we found a nice assortment of recent

snacks, including multiple small crabs (some almost whole), what appeared the be parts

of juvenile squid and shrimp, some pretty orange algae, and possibly a worm.

No plastic though, which while disappointing for our experiment, is actually quite

heartening when you think about it.


We didn’t find much of interest in our plankton samples – it was very hard to identify

anything but diatoms from the fine mesh sample, and the larger mesh sample yielded

mostly larvae of various animals, but no plastic. I’ll leave you with a shot of an adorable

little crab larvae :3
Juliet Laney

Carley’s Blog 1

Posted by Carley Tadlock at Sunday, March 10, 2013 9:35:01 PM CDT
Last Edited:Wednesday, March 13, 2013 4:39:06 PM CDT

The field trip to Port Aransas was a new fun experience. I have been on the R/V Katy before on a previous field trip but I have never trawled before. I never realized how inefficient trawling and shrimping could be. The boat was freezing but it was cool to see the dolphins off the bow and all the cool species we caught during the trawl including the puffer fish. I never dissected a fish before. We dissected a puffer fish that apparently was not completely dead. Our group was having some issues to make sure the fish was completely dead. The second fish we dissected was a spotted croaker and it had an isopod in its mouth. It was cool to see the isopod considering we learned about them the day before in class. Although we did not find any plastic in the stomach of the fish but when we went down to the beach we picked up lots of plastic. So although our experiment did not find the results we were expecting to get we could still see that plastics are an issue on the coast. The next day we did not get to see the sea turtle. We did get to see the dissection of three different birds. We did not find any plastic in the birds stomachs either. Finally we talked to Mr. Tony Amos who told us about his many experiences has an oceanographer. The coolest part of Mr. Amos stories I think were about all the messages in bottles he has found.


Plastic make it Possible Click for more options

 The prevailing theme on this trip to Port A was centered around plastic. I found it astounding the damage they do to our coastal environments. I mean, when we were collecting trash we found cans from what appeared to be the 70’s! That’s insane how it can still be relatively intact. Although I am a practicing vegan, the dissection was very interesting. My partner and I got to use the puffer fish as our specimen. I think the best part was being able to see the swim bladder up close and in person. Also, the ‘skin’ of the puffer fish was insanely hard to get through. The spines were super interesting as well. It was kind of upsetting that no one was able to find any plastic debris in any of the fish. However, it was obvious from the pickup we did that it is a huge problem and needs to be addressed. We are causing so much devastation to our natural world and turning a blind eye to the problem. It’s easy to to look away and pretend you don’t see what’s happening, but we few enlightened one’s can do something and potentially make a difference in these habitats. Finally, the calculated bycatch was ridiculous! If that is consistent with all trawls, then really the answer is to stop. People will survive without their shrimp. 


Laura Talley – Plastic harms animals

Posted by Laura Talley at Sunday, March 10, 2013 9:29:09 PM CDT

I had a great time during this field trip/lab because it combined several elements that I absolutely love: 1) the beach, 2) going out on a boat (so relaxing to me), 3) catching/working/playing with marine animals and organisms, and 4) dissection of animals to better understand their physiology.

Everyone remembers that picture of the fish entangled in the plastic 6-pack soda can ring.  That image is one of the things that made me care about animals as much as I do, and also made a lot of people aware of the pollution that gets around.  But that picture doesn’t do much justice to the other way plastics can affect animals: by being so small that it is ingested. This lab definitely opened my eyes  to this and how easily it happens. This understanding came in two ways:

The first was picking up of plastic hidden in the rocks of the jetty at the UT MSI.  While it looked clean, it was astonishing to see not only the amount hidden underneath, but also what was there.  Following this was the talk with Dr. Tony Amos at the UT MSI Animal Research Keep (ARK) and seeing his collection of different items he had found.  It’s no wonder how plastic are ingested, they are so easily put out there.


The second came when we did the dissections of all the different marine organisms that we caught and looked for pieces of plastic in their digestive tracts.  Seeing their physiology and how easily something so micro could still get lodged could still cause problems is astounding to me.  Followed by a dissection of a bigger organism (the birds) and how easily they can get sick, but also get sick from possible toxicology from the plastics made the entire fieldtrips message come full circle for me.


Plastic debris! Click for more options

Last week’s trip was my 4th weekend trip to Port Aransas. Thus, I was expecting very similar activities because there is a limited things you can do on the same Katy and at the same teaching lab. However, my 4th trip turned out to be quite different from any other previous ones. If my previous labs involved more of the water quality (dissolved oxygen, salinity, nitrate content), last week’s lab was more about marine organisms themselves. And for just a day and a half of time, I got to see from microscopic marine organisms (phytoplankton) to macro ones like sea birds.

Although I could not find any plastic debris inside the digestive track, looking at the turtle’s bite on plastic bottles and very brittle plastic sheets convinced me well enough that organisms may eat plastic and starve to death.
It was really exciting to see a dolphin swimming at the ship channels. Soon, that excitement turned into very awkward feeling when my classmates and I could gather a lot of plastic debris in a few minutes just beside where I found the wild dolphin.
This trip has made me more aware of marine species. People dump their trash because they think the influence is distant. However, if their blind eyes get opened and see the possible victims flying over them and swimming beneath the sea they see, at least some will voluntarily stop trash dumping. Furthermore, I wish true biodegradable plastic comes where plastic becomes un-plastic before it gets small enough to be eaten by marine organisms.

Lets drink plastic water!

Posted by Matthew Schulze at Sunday, March 10, 2013 8:56:34 PM CDT
Last Edited:Monday, March 11, 2013 4:21:12 PM CDT

The data collected was collected through vague observations and not through a detailed and carefully chemically calculated method. No naked eye even with the help of a dissection microscope can tell the difference between free floating particles/organisms from plastic particles, unless the plastic is an obvious color or shape. The generalization can be made that there is an exceeding amount of plastic by observing the shoreline. The shoreline is littered with cans bottles and plastics that can be dated back to a beer can from the carefully guessed 1970s. It is obvious there is a slow break down of these manmade harmful products. With the dissection of the birds, again no new knowledge occurred. There is no microscope present to see microscopic particles so a careful eye gaze obscures the data. Without proper technology no plastic is excessively found. The worms overtake the gizzard of the brown Pelican to the point that the professor does not try to surpass the infestation and only looks at the outside layer of worms. The fallacies in this experiment are prevalent. As previously discussed a small sample size is a strong factor. The location being in a bay affects the plastic control because the outer barrier island shores collect most of this plastic trash. Many processes of litter control happen due to the marine science institute which may encourage less plastic to be in the bay. The lack of technology prevents an accurate determination between plastic and other free floating material. The time of day obscures the amount of plankton or fish available for the trawls or tows due to night and daytime migrations up and down the water depths. Also, the jetty has a strong current that moves a lot of plastics to the rocky shore thus moving the plastics away from open bay waters. The shrimp trawling has very poor outcomes due to the fact that most of the bi-catch is thrown back into the ocean as dead organisms. This brings up the idea of shrimp farming, which is also a bad idea. Shrimp farming leads to mangrove destruction and an increase in tsunami destruction because the mangroves do not reduce the strength of the tides.

ish in Fish

Posted by Mark Moore at Sunday, March 10, 2013 8:42:50 PM CDT

“It’s cold.” That was one of the prevailing thoughts going through my mind while we collected samples on the R/V Katy. That, and the fact that I should have brought some warmer clothes. Really though, I was also considering how lucky I was to be out on a research vessel. One of the primary reasons I enjoy science so much is being able to go out in the field and study things in their natural habitat. Having the opportunity to go out on the boat was perfect to do just this. Realistically in the end, the cold was not even that bothersome.

Several things surprised me about the trip. First, I was surprised by the low amount of a catch that is actually shrimp. We had less than 5% of our catch from the bottom trawl as shrimp, and the amount of bycatch was astounding. I had never known that averages catches were so low. It was additionally surprising to learn how shrimpers take advantage of dead zones in the sea, catching shrimp right on the edge where shrimp are fleeing areas of low oxygen.

Dissecting the fish was also very interesting. My group dissected a lizardfish. What was most surprising was the fact that our lizard fish had an entire bay anchovy in it. It is likely the lizardfish took advantage of the dead bay anchovies and ate one. However, this helps show how plastics don’t just affect the smaller organisms. If that anchovy had a piece of plastic in it, the lizard fish would have as well. Plastics can truly affect all levels of the ecosystem.

Mark Moore

Port A Plastic Click for more options

 I’m from Texas and I’ve been to the coast many times. As a child I remember finding little bits of plastic all over the beach and at the time I didn’t think much of it. I would just kick it around or use it as materials for a sand castle. After taking this most recent trip to Port Aransas I will never look at plastic debris the same way again. The effect that it has on the ecological systems is quite astounding. I knew that sea turtles were greatly affected but I wasn’t aware that the birds and fish were also suffering to such a degree. Now I go out of my way to pick up any plastic trash I see just to make sure it doesn’t end up down at the coast where it could harm any number of animals. Those Mexican shrimpers’ bleach bottles really ticked me off too. They should be more careful with them or use larger containers that won’t blow off of their ship. And speaking of shrimp, a 90-95% useless by-catch for shrimp is ridiculous! There has got to be a better way to deal with that problem. I like the idea I suggested in lab where they have a series of boats that exchange profitable fish to the boat licensed to carry them. It won’t eliminate by-catch problems but it would be a place to start. Or maybe change the legislation to allow shrimpers to bring in their profitable by-catch to market. Regardless, something must be done to curb our wasteful and disposable nature. I know that after this trip my demand for seafood will be going down, for many reasons. One of them being my friend Puff Diddy in the picture who I tore apart in the name of science.

Plastics likely to persist regardless of regulation. Click for more options

 So after my trip to Port Aransas and realizing the extent of the plastic pollution within this ecosystem; I was pleased to hear that Austin had recently gone “plastic free”. With cities like Austin cutting down on plastic pollution I was hopeful that this problem could, at the very least, be kept from increasing exponentially. However, upon going to the grocery store I see that “plastic free” doesn’t necessarily mean what it advertises. It is true that plastic grocery bags have been banned, but they are still available and after watching someone pay extra just to use these plastic bags I realized that this ban doesn’t exclude the bags entirely. Additionally, plastic produce bags are still available and widely used so what have we actually accomplished here? Just the pseudo ban of a small portion of plastic in the grocery shopping experience? I mean despite using non plastic grocery bags I still walked out of the store with the plastic bags used to hold my produce so I wonder what kind of impact this ban really has? Below is an example of the plastic bags still present in grocery stores. Now don’t get me wrong I think the initial plastic free ban is great! It’s more of disappointment on my part as this ban overall will do little to nothing to limit the amount of plastic debris that find its way to the ocean. It seems that currently, an increase in plastic debris will persist regardless of initial environmental regulation.

Rachel Capps – Learning About Plastic’s Effect on Our Local Coastal Environment

Posted by Rachel Capps at Sunday, March 10, 2013 3:15:23 PM CDT
Last Edited:Sunday, March 10, 2013 3:30:02 PM CDT

This lab is the first course in which I have ever had to go on weekend lab trips, but this was not my first trip to Port Aransas. It was very interesting to go on R/V Katy for the first time and gain experience in fieldwork. Several aspects of the fieldwork amazed me. I was extremely surprised to learn about the inefficiency of shrimping. I had always imagined that trawling was a very effective method because it is so widely used. I was also surprised to actually find plastic in one of the plankton net tow samples. I never realized that all of the plastic debris in our marine environments could break down to such fine granules. In addition, I did not know that so much illegal dumping occurred in international waters. When we went to the jetties, I was surprised to find so much plastic debris in such a short amount of time. After reading the scientific articles on Blackboard and listening to Tony Amos, I became very aware of how common it is for animals to ingest plastic. It was amazing to see all of the objects that Mr. Amos had found while combing the beaches. After this experience, I am very aware of the damage plastic is inflicting onto our pristine marine environments. I am going to start recycling plastics aggressively and managing the waste I produce from my daily life. I also am inspired by this valuable experience, and my passion for marine science has increased tremendously.

By: Rachel Capps

Port Aransas Trip 1- Plastic Debris

Posted by Jettie Koen at Sunday, March 10, 2013 2:51:45 PM CDT
Last Edited:Sunday, March 10, 2013 3:00:35 PM CDT

A barge!

This trip really opened my eyes to yet another huge issue concerning the degradation of oceans. Plastic debris can have immense affects that go significantly far up the food chain. Before this trip I only thought of plastic debris as a minor problem affecting only the aesthetics of beaches and the occasional organisms that get entangled in nets or other debris. Now, I know that plastic debris affects many levels of life in and around the ocean. Even though, as a class, we only found one definite piece of plastic, I get the sense that plastic debris is definitely a growing problem. The study of loggerhead turtles that Dr. Amos discussed on Sunday is just one obvious example. It was really concerning to see the amount of plastic debris built up on the shore near MSI because we know that the majority of that trash came from the bay and some proportion of it came from the open ocean. After seeing this, it was embarrassing to admit that I had always thought of plastic debris as purely an aesthetic problem.
Plastic debris on shore near MSI

I also learned a lot from the sea bird necropsies we observed at ARK. It was really disturbing to hear the cracking of the birds’ bones as they were opened to expose the stomach, gizzard, lungs, heart, etc. Despite the sound and putrid smell, it was still interesting to see the inside of the birds and learn about the keel. Unfortunately we did not find any plastic but we did see parasitic worms in the brown pelican which had completely infested the stomach.

Royal turn gizzard

Port Aransas Trip 1: Plastics

Posted by Lauren Tien at Saturday, March 9, 2013 9:45:34 PM CST
Last Edited:Saturday, March 9, 2013 9:46:28 PM CST

I was already aware of basic littering of plastic bags into the ocean and the “trash islands”, but I never considered the harm plastic has on the organisms.  I did not know about bleaching, or micro versus macroscale plastic.  This lab was helpful to see plastic on both ends of the spectrum.  Collecting plastic bottles and debris between the boulders by the bay was the macroscopic view, because I could physically see what kind of material was washing up.  Dissecting the fish and birds helped provide insight into the microscopic point of view.  I didn’t realize how often turtles could mistake a plastic bottle for food until I was shown multiple diamond shaped cuts in the samples Tony Amos showed.

I also did not consider how many sources plastic pollution could come from.  Before I assumed it was trash from irresponsible beach goers, which would explain water bottles and plastic buckets.  I had no idea that international shippers are predominantly at fault.  It was nice to hear from Mr. Amos about Marpol and how the amount of trash on the bay has visibly decreased since the 1970s.

Though not necessarily concerning plastics, the bycatch simulation was especially terrifying.  It’s hard to believe that so much of the bycatch could be wasted (about 90% at least!), but I am an environmentally conscious student who’s not trying to make a living.  The shrimpers livelihoods depend on increasing their shrimp intake, and they are more concerned with immediate results rather than saving the planet.  So even though the shrimp quantity has declined over the years, it is still more profitable for them to catch as many organisms as possible and let 90% of them die in vain.  A more efficient way of shrimping must be handled, or the price of shrimp must increase so the demand isn’t so high.

My pufferfish that wouldn’t die!

Lauren Tien

Port A trip 1 Click for more options

This was my first time down to Port A so everything that we did was really exciting and new for me. The major highlight of this trip down was the trawling that we did on the RV Katy. While we woke up early (7:30a) and it fairly chilly (50ish degrees) plus the 20 mph winds, it was totally worth it. We did two shrimp trawls and three plankton net tows. In the trawls we caught 3 puffer fish, 2 foot long hard head catfish, squids, anchovies, lizardfish, and shrimp. We spent all morning on the Katy and later we did dissections of the organisms we caught while trawling. Our group dissected one of the puffer fish and found a whole shrimp in his mouth for his last meal. For the net tows, there was a bunch of different things we caught. Shrimp larvae, crab larvae, diatoms, jellyfish, and dinoflagellates just to name a few. As for finding plastics, it wasn’t a major success but we did find evidence of synthetic material in our group’s net tow. It was a piece of white fiber wrapped in a red outer layer, kind of like a shoe lace.
One scary thing that I learned was about the shrimping industry and how inefficient it is. For just our two trawls, there was only a 4.6% shrimp mass to the mass of everything we caught. When commercial shrimpers trawl for shrimp they get a lot of by catch so this kind of waste is significant. The by catch are usually thrown back into the water but by that time, they are either dead or incapable of surviving in the water due to injuries. The rule is that shrimpers don’t have the licenses to keep the by catch so it would be pointless for them to keep the fishes and waste cargo space on commercially worthless organisms. I’ve always taken store ready shrimp for granted so when I learned that shrimping was this wasteful and inefficient, it has changed the way I look at store ready shrimp.

Allan Chang

Trip #1 Reflections

Posted by Tai Wu at Friday, March 8, 2013 3:59:04 AM CST

This trip was quite fun and informative.  Mr. Puffer was a class favorite, though having to kill him was quite unfortunate.

The two things that surprised me the most from the trip are: 1) the inefficiency of the shrimp industry and 2) the lack of evidence supporting the influence of plastic on marine environments.

I never quite realized how awful shrimp trawling is for the environment.  Aquaculture farming can cause subsidence, contaminate groundwater, cause saltwater intrusion, and can have high impact on the surrounding ecosystem from the high concentration of waste.  Because of these consequences, I had assumed that farming was worse than catching in the wild.  However, after this trip, I realized how notonly does trawling destroy the seafloor, it is highly ineffective with a 5% catch rate.  Additionally, the bycatch isn’t even utilized since lack of licensing means it has to be thrown back in the ocean, resulting in a high mortality rate.  Making me wonder if I should cut down on the amount of shrimp I eat.


The second thing that shocked me the most was the fact that we didn’t find what we were looking for.  Prior to the trip, I was expecting to find plastic in many animals and be able to clearly see the increasing concentration as we move up trophic levels.  Instead, we didn’t find any plastic, not even in the seabirds.  While there are many explanations for the lack of evidence, I’m somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get to witness firsthand another way we’re destroying the environment.

The Impacts of Plastic Pollution Click for more options

Before this trip, I’d already learned of the huge gyres containing plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean. However, after studying the impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems last weekend, I recognize that the issue extends beyond the waste problem. For instance, plastic debris is ingested by marine organisms like seabirds and sea turtles and can result in their deaths due to starvation. This can trigger enormous trophic cascades in marine ecosystems as a particular species diminishes due to plastic exposure. Not to mention, plastics contain toxic chemicals that biomagnify in organisms in higher trophic levels. This is another cause for concern because plastics not only poison marine life but also threaten our health should we consume them. I was also surprised to learn about micro-plastics. This is the ultimate form of plastic after it breaks down (because it cannot biodegrade) and it is just as harmful to marine life. Dong-Ha mentioned that a study found that the volume of micro-plastics exceeded that of plankton in a particular marine environment, which is startling. This means that plankton, which comprise the foundation/base of the marine food web are being outnumbered by plastic debris. Also, I was surprised to learn that the nano-plastic balls in face wash products are a source of micro-plastic pollution in the ocean. The fact that those micro-plastics are entering our water system and exiting the water treatment plant undetected is worrisome. And after learning that sea turtles often ingest sharp plastic debris, mistaking it for food, it came as a surprise to learn that these natural (once-living) pins can pass through their digestive systems without harming them.

Despite the pervasive quality of plastic in marine environments, we did not find any plastic debris in our samples. We discussed possible reasons for this, including the small sample size, the ability of some organisms to pass debris through their digestive systems, the possibility of limited exposure to pollution in estuary vs. open ocean habitats, and the possibility of plastic being confined to certain locations within an estuary due to convergence. These pufferfish were my favorite and after dissection, were found to be free of plastic contamination!

-Michelle Camp

Ecological Consequences of Plastic Debris in Port Aransas Click for more options

I was excited to return to the UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas to learn about the antropogenic impacts on the ecosystem there, specifically the effects of plastic debris on marine organisms. One of the highlights from the trip was taking the Katy out to the open waters of the Corpus Christi ship channel and the Redfish Bay. Watching dolphins leap from the water, hearing stories about accidentally catching stingrays, and inspecting the biodiversity of organisms made up for the cold and 19 mph winds. In our net towings and trawls we caught plankton, shrimp, sea squirts, starfish, pen fish and many others but the most exciting catches of the day were by far the puffer fish and large catfish (Figure 1). I had never seen a puffer fish in person before and its cuteness was almost too much to handle. I thought that this would make dissecting one of the two puffer fish we caught difficult but I surprising enjoyed the process and found it to be quite informative. My group found a complete copepod in the mouth of the puffer fish but no plastic in its gut (Figure 2). Another group dissected a spotted croaker and found an isopod in its mouth, which was cool since we had gone over a similar scenario in class just a day before. It was neat looking at the plankton net samplings under the microscope but doing so also gave me an itchy feeling just thinking about how many of these organisms we come into contact with by swimming in natural waters.

We did not find any plastics in the laughing gull, royal tern, or brown pelican during the necropsy demonstrations however we did find some in the plankton net samples. It was difficult to assess whether we found plastic in the organisms or whether they were just shells. Nonetheless, it is apparent that the plastics littering the waters are harmful to the ecosystem. It saddened me to hear Mr. Tony Amos talk about finding sea turtles that died of starvation because their stomachs were filled with these plastics. Furthermore, I was shocked to learn that shrimping efficiency was at about 4.6% and that bottom-trawling methods usually averaged below 10%. These numbers are dangerously low! Changes need to be made to make these industries more sustainable and effective. I am hoping that studies like the ones that we conducted during this trip we bring us one step closer to making these changes possible.  


Figure 1 – Our naturalist holding a puffer fish                            Figure 2 – Dissection of a puffer fish.
and imitating it.

Tiffany Hoang

Marine Ecology Lab 1 Blog Click for more options

 First of all, I love that we got to explore the issue of plastic debris and anthropogenic impacts on coastal and open ocean ecosystems on this trip. We hear about these kinds of issues in our classes on campus, but it was a really great experience getting to directly observe and analyze it in the field. However, something that really stuck out to me for this trip was the analysis of the inefficiencies of the shrimping industry. Maybe it was because I was expecting to find a much larger impact of plastic debris in the gut content of our organisms and in the surface waters from the plankton net tow samples, so any kind of human impact on the ecosystem would have caught my attention. The massive inefficiency, though, I was not expecting. I was somewhat aware of the shrimping industry before, but being able to actually conduct the bottom-trawling and analyze what we had caught (specifically the amount of by-catch) brought it to an entirely new perspective for me. To bring the trawls on board and sort through the various organisms made it all the more personal, touching the head of a catfish or trying to deflate the puffer fish that had been aggravated. The actual calculations of the efficiency, however, is what struck a chord because often times, converting those emotional attachments and qualitative observations into numbers is what can actually get a point across. Not everyone is going to care whether a few catfish or a few puffer fish die in the process of shrimping – what’s going to matter is the numbers, and a 4.6% shrimping efficiency should not be enough to support such a destructive and unsustainable industry, especially if that inefficiency means a loss of money.
                The rest of the trip too, however, did make me overall more aware of the issue of plastic debris and any other kind of anthropogenic pollutants in natural ecosystems. While we weren’t able to detect any significant presence or effect of plastic debris on the organisms we sampled, it should still be apparent that the characteristics of plastic (inability to be digested/broken down, ability to last for a very long time in natural environments, etc.) make it a harmful addition to all ecosystems, not just estuarine.
Shannon Bush

Bay Ecology Reflection

Posted by Alyssa May at Wednesday, March 6, 2013 1:00:33 PM CST

My favorite part of this first trip was finding an isopod in the mouth of a Spotted Croaker my group dissected. I love it when I learn about something cool in class and then see it in real life!

Even though only one or two groups found any plastic in their samples, I do not feel like we wasted our time or that our fish went to waste. You’re not always going to get your expected results and the dissections still helped us learn.

The question that has been plaguing me since the field trip ended is not necessarily a very scientific one: What can we do to limit plastic debris? Even though most groups did not find plastic in their samples and none of the birds we saw dissected had ingested plastic (see picture of bird gizzard below left), we collected two big trash bags of plastic on the shore with about 10 minutes and saw numerous turtle bites taken out of bottles (below right). So the plastic is obviously there and is being ingested.

While I think it is important to prevent plastic from entering the ocean (via dumping, etc.), I also think that it is equally, if not more, important to get people to decrease their plastic consumption. There are already 45 pounds of plastic for every 1 pound of plankton in the Northeastern Pacific Gyre ( Since plastic is essentially not biodegradable, “every piece of plastic ever manufactured still exists.” It is scary to think of how our oceans will look if we keep consuming plastics at our current rate.

By: Alyssa May

My Reflections of Marine Ecology Field Trip #1

Posted by Marilyn Kohut at Tuesday, March 5, 2013 5:40:17 PM CST
Last Edited:Tuesday, March 5, 2013 10:04:24 PM CST

This field trip exercise was designed to teach us about the human impacts and ecological processes that take place in local estuarine environments, by giving us the opportunity to physically observe these processes and draw our own conclusions. My favorite experience involved venturing out into the open waters of Corpus Christi Bay (even though it was freezing the first 2 hours!), and collecting and studying the aquatic organisms that live there. I had never seen many of the samples we collected including the really cute striped Burrfish, and was amazed by the biodiversity found in a single 20 minute trawl. I had no idea so many things were living there, including the microscopic plankton and definitely reevaluated whether to go swimming in another bay again! The dissection process was very interesting (and very, very smelly). I understand why we did it and realize the insight it can give up to develop better experimental designs. However, I still feel guilty that we didn’t find any plastics and feel as though many samples went to waste throughout the process.

This trip was ironically full of inconvenient truths, and all of the exercises gave me a deeper understanding of many relationships. It also made me think more critically about how we could develop better methods to quantify the real implications and impacts of marine debris, and how that may translate over to better conservation and protection efforts. Not only is shrimping and the amount of by-catch that is wasted totally inefficient (our group found ~4.6%), but our beaches are constantly being littered with plastic waste from many different sources and killing fish, sea turtles, and birds. I also never realized how degraded and brittle plastics can become over time, through exposure to sunlight and eventually break up into very fine particles that still affect phytoplankton and zooplankton.   I never really knew the impacts of this stuff and the macro and microscales they occur at. Sure, I knew littering was bad, but I never really knew the real significance that plastics have for other ecosystems. Because I don’t really know how else I can improve these occurrences, I’ve become motivated me to try and reduce my consumption of single use plastics, by always remembering stuff like my cloth shopping bags and drinking from re-useable bottles since these objects are common culprits of marine pollution. Every little bit helps.  Also, making new friends at the Gaff was memorable and I can’t wait until trip #2!


By: Marilyn Kohut

What I learned Click for more options

  This trip taught me a lot about marine issues that I wasn’t aware of at all. I have always known plastics are not degradable and that things like plastic soda rings can endanger marine life by entanglement. But I was oblivious to misguiding labels of plastics claiming to be biodegradable, and the extent to which marine life was ingesting them. I guess mostly because I have never thought about it very deeply, I just assumed that fish and other animals would recognize that plastic isn’t food and spit it out. And really, these “biodegradable” plastics that are breaking down to smaller pieces are making things a lot worse rather than better. At least with bigger pieces they are easier to pick up if people were doing beach clean-ups or what have you, but these pieces are so small that they cannot be easily recovered and it is opening up a very large group of constituent smaller organisms that wouldn’t be as affected by only larger, non-broken down pieces that they wouldn’t mistake for food. So now we are affecting more drastically an even larger array of organisms. Yikes! In addition, I was not aware of the extent of bycatch in shrimp trawling. It is hard for me to believe that the method is even allowed with such low efficiency. Since the trip whenever I am dozing off in class I have been thought about alternatives for trawling and it is really difficult to come up with even a general idea of a realistic method, this has helped me to understand why it is how it is but nevertheless, new technologies or methods are definitely necessary. Lastly, I thought it was really cool to learn that our gulf has the rarest seat turtle, the Kemp’s Ridley. I think that promoting this fun fact could be a good way to bring more awareness to the issues of the gulf for Texan’s specifically and could be a way to draw people in to do more to protect our coast. This picture I found shows it’s distinct ridges it has as a baby that they were talking about during the necropsy.

Marine Ecology Lab Blog Click for more options

 The trip to Port Aransas was a great trip to explore not only the Marine ecosystem, but also to experience the joy of being out in the field. For me it was a joy to be on the Katy, even though it was quite breezy the whole morning we were out taking samples. Going into the trip I was not entirely sure what we were going to be doing, I know for certain I was not prepared for the amount of dissections that were going to occur on the trip. However, the dissections turned out to be some of the most interesting parts of the field trip. But I guess that how adventure works, the gnarliest and grossest things seem to leave the biggest impression.

I was impressed by our guide on the Katy, who not only was knowledgable about all of the fish we sampled in the fish trawls, but also had a knack for telling great stories from his time in the ocean and as a farmer. He inspired me because of his fervor and apparent joy that he got out of simply being on a boat. He also was great at explaining the different fishes that we caught from the speckled sea trout, ribbon fish, and flounder to the massive amounts of catfish we caught.
Perhaps one of the larger takeaways and new knowledge gained from the trip came in the form of our experiments examining the catch and by-catch ratio. I was astonished at how much fish is thrown away in the by-catch and the possible ramification that has for a marine ecosystem. The possibilities for the formation of a dead zone are much higher when there are many dead fish floating in the ocean in a certain area. It made me extremely conscious of the flaws in marine laws, and how many fish are thrown overboard because fishing boats are only allowed to catch one kind of fish.
Another key learning from the trip was patience in the scientific process. Our group, despite our best efforts and six fish dissections, found no plastic in any of our samples. It is disappointing to work hard and then not find what you are looking for, however, that is part of the scientific process. Had all of the groups found plastic in our fish and presented a statistical anomaly in terms of plastic content in the marine ecosystem, we would be performing unrealistic science. The whole point of the scientific process is to present what you find and search for meaning in it, not make up results. So while we wish we could have found a lot of plastic, we unfortunately did not. The silver lining here should be obvious, though. The less plastic we find, the healthier our ecosystems are, so we’ve definitely got that on our side.
All in all the trip was a great time and a refreshing change of scenery from Austin. There is nothing quite like being out on a boat and then dissecting the rarest turtle in world the next day. Talk about an adventure.

Port A

Posted by Nana-Ama Anang at Sunday, March 3, 2013 11:00:15 PM CST
Last Edited:Monday, March 4, 2013 6:01:21 PM CST

One of the things that stuck out in my mind on this trip was the Man o’ wars we saw in the port. I was shocked to find out that these blue things that I thought were bags, were actually deadly siphonophores, which apparently are not jellyfish, they are technically colonial organisms made up of zooids. This was also very interesting to learn because from the look of them they look like jellyfish which could be a slight problem if treating a sting. Man o’ war stings should be treated differently, for example when stung by a jellyfish you are advised to use vinegar but vinegar on a man o’ war sting would just increase the toxins and worsen the painful sensation.  I’ve always found jellyfish suuuper interesting! I’ve been stung by one before and, to bring this back to the objective of the lab, I thought it was a plastic bag that had touched my leg. Just another example of even humans can mistake plastic for sea creatures. Jelly fish are technically plankton, because they don’t fully control where they moved, they are considered free floaters. The biggest jellyfish I’ve ever seen out in the wild was a beautiful purple and blue one about 2 feet in diameter, in Kavala, Greece. And the smallest I’ve ever seen were black and 1 inch in diameter, with tentacles about a foot long, in Athens, Greece. They small one actually stung my cousin and other person at the beach giving them huge welts along their arms and legs.


And just for some scary info for y’all the biggest jellyfish recorded is a Lion’s Mane jellyfish which was 7’6’’ in diameter and tentacles up to 120 ft long. And the smallest are Irukandji jellyfish, which are no bigger than 1 cm3, but can have tentacles up to 1 meter long! Despite their size they are an extremely venomous type of box jellyfish and be deadly if a sting goes untreated. Extremely scary!

Bijal Patel- Trip 1

Posted by Bijal Patel at Sunday, March 3, 2013 6:10:33 PM CST
Last Edited:Sunday, March 3, 2013 6:11:47 PM CST

The morning before boarding the R/V Katy, while I was standing on the dock, I saw a dolphin grazing over the top of the water. This was the first time I have ever seen a dolphin in the wild. I knew that this trip would be a memorable experience for me. As we made our way out to the ship channel, we passed a very large vessel and the UTMSI staff told us about the dolphins using the force from the boat to glide in the water without using their own efforts. We could see several dolphins being propelled in front of the boat. Seeing these animals in their natural environment was an amazing experience. Here is a picture of the dolphins propelling in front of the ship:

I lived in Louisiana for 18 years, and I never saw the state bird, the brown pelican once. It was very exciting to observe so many of these beautiful birds in Port Aransas. And one of the most interesting portions of the trip for me was the necroscopy of the Brown Pelican. The obstacles these animals face in the wild to survive is truly amazing. This pelican had a stomach full or worms and bumble foot that lead to its ultimate death. That being said, it is sad that humans only make things harder for these animals. Throughout the weekend, we were informed about the dangers that plastics pose to the environment. With our negligence we could be harming animals like the dolphins and brown pelicans. I found this trip to be extremely insightful because of the analysis of each level of the food chain. Above all I have become more aware of the impact that I have on the environment and the importance of conserving the marine ecosystem and keeping it free of debris.


-Bijal Patel

Trip 1 Click for more options

We started off by a road trip to Port A in which we all got to know each other more and make new friends within our vehicles. We made a stop at Buc-ees which was the epitome of truck stops and filled with anything you could ever want on a road trip. Once we got to our destination we all divided up into our dorm rooms and got ready for the day ahead.
Early the next morning we took off on the R/V Katy to begin our sampling. My favorite part was the variety of marine organisms we collected. We caught a large amount of shrimp and catfish as well as some fish I had never seen before. I was amazed that our guide could just pull out anything out of our collection bucket and identify it right there. The one I found most interesting was the pig fish that when held up close to your ear, did actually make sounds like a pig. Later, we went to the lab where we could dissect many of the fish we collected to check their stomach content for plastic debris. This proved to be much harder than what we thought. The difference between fish scales from actual plastic was miniscule to my group. The majority of items found within our dissected fish was shell fragments, worms, and fish scales but no plastic. This became very frustrating but we continued to remind ourselves that it was a good thing that we were not finding any plastic.
The next morning we watch a necropsy of a rare sea turtle as well as many shore birds. These were very sad to witness because the sea turtle seemed to be perfectly healthy except for some ingested oil that most likely led to its death. The brown pelican was also sad; it had died from parasitic worms invading its whole stomach as well as a compromised leg. Yet, I did learn that there is no such thing as a Seagull which I found very surprising and interesting that many people have very little knowledge of the marine wildlife.
Overall, I found this trip to be very enlightening and enjoyable. I am excited to see what we will learn on the next one when the weather will be even better. Here are a few pictures I captured throughout the weekend.

-Caitlin Ortbal

Entry 1

Posted by Eric Ruff at Sunday, March 3, 2013 1:34:01 PM CST
Last Edited:Sunday, March 3, 2013 1:39:05 PM CST

As a student of biology, it was fascinating to observe the hidden world of the marine ecosystem. There are so many aspects of human life that depend on this ecosystem, but we often times forget or overlook the importance of this as a result of not being directly involved with it.

During the first trip to Port Aransas, one of the things I discovered was my true ignorance on the subject of marine life. We hear reports and statistics all the time about how polluted the oceans are becoming and all of the species of fish and birds that are being affected by this. However, it wasn’t until I was aboard the R/V Katy trawling for fish that I realized first hand what a problem this is. As captain John pulled out fish after fish, explaining how many of these would die due to by-catch legislation and plastic pollutants, I was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness.

Back in the lab, as we dissected mounds of fish intestines and stomachs, more evidence of pollutants appeared. Although we found only a few instances of ingested plastic debris, it must be noted that our sample size was also relatively small. Many published reports have found ingested plastic rates of fish near 35%, which is a massive amount when applied to the whole marine biota. There are also other harmful affects due to plastic pollutants, as was seen during the various necropsies we observed.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the trip was learning how many of these shore species of birds and turtles suffer injuries and die as a result. I will not soon forget the case of the brown pelican that incurred an injury to its leg, resulting in a tragic case of bumblefoot. Since the poor bird could no longer articulate its leg, it made mobility increasingly difficult and most likely subjugated the pelican to an insufficient diet. It came as shock when we sliced open the stomach to find a dense colony of parasitic worms. This made it clear that the pelican was not receiving any nutrients and most likely died from starvation.

The case of the sea turtle was another example of nature’s harsh realities. It’s emaciated frame and sand filled abdomen served as a reminder that although humans such as those working in the ARC program have saved many injured animals, the cycle of life is in constant motion. It is true that our carelessness and disregard for our environment has had a drastic effect on marine life, but with continued research and an effort to educate the masses, it is not beyond us to reverse this trend and preserve our oceans for future generations.

Here are some pictures captured by fellow classmates:

-Eric Ruff

First Marine Ecology Field Trip- Amilia Humber Click for more options

The trip to the coast began in Austin when we met at the vans to leave. After driving for several hours, only stopping for car maintenance, to eat, and to pick up some fish, we arrived at the marine science institute. We checked into our dorm rooms and went to bed for the night.
In the morning we woke up early and met at the R/V Katy, the boat we would use to collect our samples. It was a really cold on the boat, but there were plenty of sea birds and dolphins to take our minds off of the weather. The purpose of this Port A trip was to see firsthand the prevalence and effect of plastic in the gulf, so we took several net samples while aboard the Katy. First, we used a plankton net to collect samples and then examined the contents under a microscope. Next, we used an otter trawling net to collect fish, crabs, squid, and shrimp. This was my favorite part because it was fun to see the types marine life that live in the ocean. When we were done getting all our samples, we headed back to the institute and brought our samples to the lab. After a lunch break, we returned and started the real work: examining the stomach contents of the fish we had caught in the nets. While we didn’t find very many plastic pieces, it was interesting to see what sorts of things the fish had been eating. My group found some weird worms and a lot of fish scales in our fish’s stomachs. When we had finished with the fish, the class moved on to finding plastic in the samples that we’d taken with the plankton net. Some groups found a few pieces of plastic in those samples, but mine didn’t find any. There were, however, a lot of tiny crustaceans and shells.  After that, we were finished for the day and headed out to eat pizza at a nearby bar.
The final morning of the trip started with a sea turtle necropsy, followed by the dissection of four sea birds. It was sad to see that such a rare turtle had washed up on shore and to hear that the cause of its death was probably due to oil ingestion, when they mistake oil globs for jellyfish. The brown pelican was by far the most disgusting out of all the seabirds, because when its stomach was opened, it was full of worms that were still alive and moving. After this, we packed up and went to lunch before heading back towards Austin. I think that this trip was a valuable learning experience and I can’t wait for the next one.
-Amilia Humber

Experience at Port Aransas Click for more options

Last week was my second time going to Port Aransas. But, the experience I had at the MSI was the first time. Our objective for this trip was to find if there are plastic debris in fish and marine animals and in the water. On Saturday morning, we went on R/V Katy for shrimp/fish trawling and plankton collection. Last year, I went on the Katy and it was fun too, but this year was even better. We returned to the port for a short time and we found something interesting in the water. At first I thought it was just a blue plastic bag in the water. But, when we pulled it up, I realized it was actually a jellyfish.
When I saw this, I was convinced that marine animals could have mistaken plastic bags as food source because they are so much alike.

After getting on Katy again, one of the best part was to see dolphins. I was surprise to see so many of them near the port. The other best part was to see so many different species of marine organisms that we caught from trawling.

One unique experience I had last week was fish/turtle/birds anatomy. I had never dissect a fish before nor look closely at organs of turtle or birds.
It was interesting opening up fish stomach and searching for plastic inside it (although the smell was pretty intense). I felt almost like a surgeon (but a fish surgeon). Personally, I think the most exciting part was during the bird necropsy when we decided to open up a stomach of a young dead pelican. At first I thought there were only a few worms inside the stomach, but when we cut opened the stomach, we found out that the stomach was a pouch of worms. It was both interesting and disgusting at the same time.

Overall, I think the trip was a valuable experience to me because I learned about marine and coast animals that I probably would never learned in a classroom setting.

– by Elly Lai

Plastic in Marine Ecosystems Click for more options

When we arrived to Port Aransas for our first field trip we were looking for something; plastic. The theme of our series of first field activities was to see if we could find plastic either in the water, or in the stomach contents of animals that form different parts of the food chain. To do this, we looked for plastic in samples we got from plankton nets. We also did dissections of many animals, including different species of fish, birds and even a turtle. The first sample that I looked at was a catfish we got from going shrimping in the Katy. My lab partners and I did the dissection and looked at its last meal. In his stomach we found three things, a worm, a scale and a lump of half-digested food.  

We saw it and at first glance it did not seem like there was any plastic, but just to be sure we looked at the lump of food under a dissecting microscope. In the lump we found very small pieces of fish, plant tissue and yes… some plastic. Crumbled upon all what our fish was trying to digest were a couple little pieces of transparent plastic. At first it was hard to tell if it was, so we compared it under the microscope to other things like the scale and the plant tissue (on the picture below). Based on what we had, we identified it as plastic. Even though we found what we were looking for, the fact that we did find it is worrisome. Our fish are swimming in waters that contain plastic debris and are ingesting them, which can cause them a lot of trouble and even death. Seeing this was very shocking, because I could see that the trash that we dump in water bodies not only makes it into many aquatic ecosystems including the sea, but also gets consumed by the wildlife.

First Field Trip Click for more options

 Trips usually start with a day of travel. Friday afternoon we directed ourselves south and left Austin, a caravan of minivans and personal vehicles, bent on reaching the gulf coast. One pit stop at the famous Buck-ee’s and then no stops until the ferry in Port Aransas.  It was there, were the air hung heavy with moisture and salt that it finally registered that the first field trip for the lab portion of the Marine Ecology class has begun.  The focus of this first field trip was to see the effects of plastic on the gulf ecosystem.

 After a night’s rest in a dorm at MSI we boarded the R/V Katy.  It was beautiful! There were dolphins and birds all around.  I spent a good amount of time trying to identify as many bird species as possible.  The most predominate species were laughing gulls, brown pelicans and sandwich terns. The morning activities consisted of doing three separate plankton net tows and two trawls to see what kind of animals were living in the gulf. I really enjoyed getting to see the plankton under the microscope.  The fact that there is this microscopic existence that goes on around us constantly and with the right tools can be brought to our attention is absolutely amazing.  It was also really cool to see the amount of diversity that we have in our gulf ecosystem, my personal favorite were the little squids. 
 The rest of the afternoon, we learned about the waster generated in commercial fishing, looked for plastic in the fishes guts and in the sediment pulled up from the plankton tow.  I was surprised by how little plastic we actually found. Television and the news had me expecting to see plastic floating in the water, wrapped around the wildlife and dredged up from the bottom.  While this thankfully was not the case I did learn that plastic breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces to be a problem on every level of the food chain.  Especially distressing is the idea of sea turtles taking direct bites out of shrimper’s bleach bottles and albatrosses feeding their young plastic, resulting in their death. 
 The next day we witnessed the dissection of one of the rarest sea turtles, the ridley sea turtle.  The exact cause of death of that particular juvenile was undetermined. It was emaciated though so probably lack of food. Even more disturbing was the scene that followed with the sea bird dissections.  Things had been pretty mundane, just checking out bird guts, but when we got to the brown pelican, I almost lost my breakfast.  Upon opening up the stomach we saw a seething mass of worms! Repulsive! 
 Over all, this trip was quite educational for me.  I learned a lot about the life in the gulf coast and just how detrimental plastic can be to an ecosystem.  Very little plastic was actually recovered during our project and this leads, with the audacity of all hope, to the idea that perhaps in the years to come we can limit the amount of plastic that gets into the ocean and start down a road of recovery.


Posted by Natalie Paschall at Saturday, March 2, 2013 3:50:40 PM CST

As the dominant species in our biosphere, we are responsible for any and all damage that is brought about to our planet by what we produce and dispose of improperly. We were focused on understanding how the plastic that makes its way into the marine environment as a byproduct of the human race. It is remarkable how much waste that humans produce a year, 230 million TONS of trash by the United States alone. We focused on the synthetic polymers and how they “break down” and are consumed by all trophic levels. We all expected some remarkable amount of plastic to be found in each animal, in each sample taken. We thought that the evidence would be overwhelming, based on the hype that plastic doesn’t break down all the way, and it harms so many animals when they digest it, mistaking it for food. But that wasn’t the case. We have to remember that we sampled such a tiny subset of the population of all the plankton and fish in the ocean, and the fact that we saw any plastic at all shows how much plastic is floating around in the ocean. As a class, even if the only outcome of our research changes is the way that we conduct our lives and the way we reduce our waste, this trip would be a success.

The most interesting thing for me on this trip was the necroscopy of the brown pelican. Even though he didn’t have any plastic inside his body, the poor guy had no chance. He had bumblefoot because his leg couldn’t articulate any more, his entire stomach was filled with worm parasites, and somehow he managed to stay alive   for a while. I always knew that nature was hard, but imagine if you couldn’t go to the doctor for a broken leg, and you had to actually hunt for each and every meal… I bet there would be way less humans. That little guy was a fighter. ❤

We also saw a turtle necroscopy. This was the saddest thing I think I have ever seen. The turtle died completely hungry and starving on the beach. She was pecked by birds before she died, and sand was washed into her body cavities. Her entire digestive tract was empty, somehow she had made it all the way to the shore. Completely depressing.

I dont have any personal pictures from the field trip but here are a few that I have stolen from my classmates or from online. 🙂–250=&docid=SVR-b7Yj1gxWFM&itg=1&sa=X&ei=F3MyUYjuFdHrrAG3mIHgDw&ved=0CIUBEPwdMAo

First Trip Click for more options

The first trip to Port Aransas was an exciting trip to say nonetheless with the exposure to the wastefulness of shrimping and the hunt for plastic in marine animals. As the day started on gloomy Saturday morning, We got a real treat as we got to see some dolphins swimming by us and the gulls trying to steal from us. When we started the plankton tow, I did not know of the hard work it took just to collect a jar full of the specimen. Then what I found most exciting was seeing a Portuguese Man O’ War as we docked at a port for a while. My initial reaction was “Wow look at these random groups of blue bags in the water” and “Who would throw these out?”. As I was thinking about how these bags may be source of plastic being eaten by marine life, I was told they were a species of jellyfish called the Portuguese Man O’ War. They would have air sacs that would puff up to help them move by the wind and would have long tentacles to stabilized them and be extremely dangerous. As we went back to lab and started to write down our data, I found that the amount of by-catch was around 90% of the catch. It was quite disturbing that to catch shrimp, many other organisms died in the process and wastefulness was the norm. We got to find some plastic in our plankton tow and when we dissected our catfish we found what appeared to be Styrofoam balls. Though the findings for plastic was small, we could not make an accurate conclusion of the effect of plastic for many reasons such as small sample size, the relative young age of our catch, the area in which we fished, and many more. The last day was not a day for the weak in stomach or heart. As we dissected a sea turtle, it was my first time ever seeing a sea turtles body being cut into. As thrilling as it was to see it cut open, the reality that the huge sea turtle was only juvenile was what really amazed me. Lastly as we got to dissect the Brown Pelican, we learned of how well sea birds are adapted to the water and how their bodies worked to digest their food. Overall this trip was exciting and eyeopening and I cannot wait until the next trip. Even if I have to see a gut full of worms again.

Lab 1 Click for more options

This was my first time to Port Aransas and my first thought was how much cleaner it is than Galveston, which is the only beach I remember going to. Reading through the lab packet given to us before arriving, I was expecting there to be a lot more plastic than any of our groups actually saw. However, this trip still made me much more aware of the impact that we have had on the marine ecosystem.

I took this picture before our first shrimp trawl was dropped. This was one of the most upsetting parts of the trip for me, because I had no idea how much by-catch came up with the shrimp and most of which would be dead from stress once thrown back into the water. It made me really glad that I don’t eat shrimp, therefore don’t support the shrimping business. We used the by-catch for dissections to search for plastic and my group did not find any plastic inside the fish we dissected, so that was one positive thing about our trawl. However, humans obviously still have a huge impact on the lives of marine animals and the 10:1 by-catch ratio is outrageous to me. There definitely needs to be a more efficient way for shrimpers to get shrimp to help spare lives that they are wasting for such a small number of shrimp.

Something else I found really interesting about the trip was all the time we spent at the ARK. I’ve worked at a wildlife rehabilitation before, but we never really got in marine animals (the center I worked at is in Houston), so it was interesting to see something new. I was expecting to see at least some plastic in at least one of the animal’s stomachs, but it is a good thing that nothing too out of the ordinary was found. If I remember correctly, the NPS worker said she smelled petroleum in the intestines of the turtle, but never really elaborated on it. I really wanted to know what caused the death of it. Another interesting thing from the ARK was when Tony brought out all the hooks he had found in different animals. The size and shape of some of them seemed that it would be impossible that any animal could pass them through their throat, into their stomach, and sometimes all the way through their digestive tract. This was another example of how humans have impacted marine life. It is important that we pay more attention to our activities and clean up after ourselves to help prevent anymore unnecessary deaths.

Johnnie Wu – Trip 1 Click for more options

 Although not my first trip to Port Aransas and being on board the R/V Katy, this trip was still interesting as it’s my first time to actually see new marine organisms fished up through the trawling method and having these organisms identified. In my last R/V Katy excursion, the research vessel headed out to sea rather than into the bays and channel to collect nutrient data and plankton samples to observe the correlation of anthropogenic source of nutrients in run-off and the eutrophic zone. The drive to the coast at night was a first time for me and I got to experience the land breeze phenomenon that comes from the cool land air moving out towards the warmer ocean. During the research vessel excursion into the channel and bay, I noticed that although there were many sea related birds flying about, the majority of them belonging to the Laughing Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, and the Brown Pelican. It was good to sea the Brown Pelicans in large numbers as a few decades back they were in danger of extinction due to anthropogenic uses of synthetic long lasting chemicals, such as DDT, leeching out to the coast where it enters the food web and passes up in biomagnification into these Brown Pelicans, impacting their young survivability.
Our main goal was to collect marine samples from shallow and deep parts of the region and observe them for unusual physiological, behavioral, and morphological traits as well as the type of anthropogenic pollutants such as plastics found in them. The in situ observations yielded some little plastics although it appeared for the most part to be lower than expected for a coastal environment. For the first half of the morning we had expert advice and showcasing of caught specimens from the planktonic netting as well as helpful hints at the identification of various sea birds flying about. In the second half of the morning another expert went through trawling catches and helped us identify the organisms and what their condition and presence mean in the larger context. Some interesting side facts I picked up from this are that ocean and land temperatures are roughly the same and that by-catches are often dead due to shock of being caught, especially by trawling nets.
In the afternoon we dissected the fishes we caught and found that there were few plastic evidence found, which is surprising as coastal environments tend to have higher concentrations of plastics. It may be that these plastic particles were swept out to sea or that regulations and policies have been effective in keeping down pollutants. However, there were still small pieces of plastics found in some fishes which suggests that the plastics may have been confined to another part of the bay or channel and that smaller particles of plastic may exist in the fishes and environment. The highlights of the trip are the necropsy of the Loggerhead Turtle whose internal organs were relatively healthy and intact but whose cause of death appears to be the ingestion of petroleum based materials. A second expert performed necropsy on several sea birds [Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, etc.] and gave detailed explanations of what the causes of death were. The most memorable part of the trip was the unfortunate juvenile Brown Pelican whose critical infestation of parasites and inability to fly made recent survival very improbable and possibly painful. Although the amount of plastics discovered with the naked eye remains low, the amount of by-catches from the trawling nets was disturbingly high at a whopping 10% shrimp to total catch ratio. As the law forces the fishers to toss the dead by-catches into the water considerable waste and disruption of the ecosystem occurs. In the future it would be good to have analysis of water samples for unseen plastics and discovering other sources of anthropogenic materials that impact marine organisms.

Trip 1: Plastic in the Ecosystem

Posted by Thanapat Pongwarin at Thursday, February 28, 2013 11:55:42 PM CST

The focus of this lab trip was the impact of plastic debris on the ecosystem, specifically in the Aransas Bay. Previously, I have trawled before on the Katy during the spring, it was interesting to see how the diversity of animals was different due to the season. One of the more prevalent families represented, the catfish (Ariidae), was found in the second, deeper trawl. This was unexpected since the first, shallower trawl did not result in any catfish being caught. The gut dissection of these catfishes resulted in small amounts of plastic found, even though it was a small amount due to our sample size it could be expected that plastic is quite prevalent in the guts of catfishes (and possibly other benthic bottom feeders). The true efficiency of the shrimp trawling net was also a big shock as was the background information that went with it.  The plankton net tow was also noteworthy owing to presence of plastics of varying sizes found. One of the most exciting portions of the trip was the dissection of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii). Since it was my first time encountering such a rare specimen and the rareness of the turtle itself, the dissection was both engaging and informative.  It was a slight disappointment when the sea birds did not yield in any plastic. The lab itself was very educational, not just on the effects of plastics on the organisms of the ecosystem, but also in the sampling methods and applications were used to observe plastic in ecosystems.


Trip 1 Click for more options

Driving down to port A I couldn’t help but think that, If this trip is anything like this rental van, that I had many surprises in store for me. Reading my lab could only prepare so much for the smells and images still burned into my mind. We started Saturday off early aboard the Katy, and were able to gather up all kinds of samples using a circle net, a slightly larger holed square net, a fish trawl, and a metal scoop for the bottom. Aside from the samples I was very interested in what John, our kindly bearded estuary guide had to teach us. He made learning about fish species fun, but also had fun facts like how dolphins body surf in front of boats. Back at the lab we categorized the fish from our trawls and prepped for dissection. Cutting fish open wasn’t nearly as terrible as I had expected. My group had the best results using a scalpel,  forceps,  and razor blade; to be honest every fish that we dissected needed a little force to rip open.  We looked at the intestinal tracts under the microscope, and even carefully emptied the stomachs of some of the bigger fish. While we didn’t find any plastic, we did see one white worm like creature moving around. The stomachs were filled with gritty bits, not unlike sand, which made it nearly impossible to differentiate between an organic spec, and a potential plastic spec. After that it was time to carefully go through our plankton. Our group got one of the square nets so the pieces were a little bit bigger. We did find five small pieces of plastic, white and clear in color, but they were so small we may have missed others the same size. As it turns out we were only performing bush league dissections after finding out what we were in store for on Sunday. The morning air was calm when we walked upon the dissection table. There lay a juvenile sea turtle, the rarest in the world. The dissector said she had preformed her task over five hundred times as she snapped the plastron off to the side. I felt bad for the poor little critter, his last moments on this earth spent with gulls pecking out his eyes. Perhaps one of those gulls was the next for dissection, we saw two of them get cut open which lent for a great lesson on bird anatomy. Then finally we got to a brown pelican, which had been found fifteen minutes before. We all gasped as we discovered the primary cause of death, hundreds of parasitic worms occupying every available square millimeter of the poor birds stomach. We gathered back into our groups for a brief discussion about what we had learned. Then a debriefing with our fearless professor Dong Ha. The effects of plastics inability to biodegrade is something a lot of people don’t know about, and I wish the whole world could go on a trip like this and see it for themselves. My picture is of one of the gulls after dissection.

First Lab Trip Click for more options

To start things off, this was my first trip ever down to Port A and I thoroughly enjoyed the time that was spent there even though I was exhausted by the end of it; however, it was totally worth the experience. The big theme that we all focused on was finding plastic in the water and seeing its effects on the marine environment. Before this trip, I was aware that plastic was a problem but I didn’t realize how big of a problem it has become and how detrimental it is on the coast. We spent our Saturday aboard Katy and in the lab, trying to find evidence of plastic in the water column and in the digestive tracks of fish but it was actually hard to find any plastic in the samples that we collected (which I suppose it’s a good thing?). On Katy, I took part in trying to find fish scales and plastic in the sediment that was collected by the square plankton net tow and it was really difficult to find those things since it was mostly sand and shell particles.

Halfway through the boat ride, we made a stop to switch crews and it was there that people noticed in the water these floating blue things that resembled bags of plastic; it was actually jellyfish, the Portuguese Man-of-War to be exact. That really was one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the trip because it made me understand how animals, like loggerhead turtles, whose diet consists of the Portuguese Man-of-War, can confuse bags of plastic as food. It’s a little heartbreaking to think about a hungry turtle choking on a plastic bag and dying just because it thought it was food, and it’s basically us humans that are at fault.
The man who came with us on the second half of the boat ride was pretty interesting himself and was quite knowledgeable; it was pretty fun listening to him talk about the several different species that were caught in the trawl. Afterwards, we took the specimens that were caught into the lab and we dissected them to see if they had eaten any plastic. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), my group didn’t find anything other than worms and a whole lot of goo. We did find small pieces of plastic in the sample that was collected from the  plankton net tow though, which brings up the point that maybe there were plastic in the stomachs of the fishes but they were just too small to see.
The necropsies the following day were really interesting to watch as well; of course, seeing the stomach content of the pelican was the grossest (but the most mind-blowing) thing I’ve seen the entire trip. The poor pelican lived such a hard life – it had a broken leg, a stomach full of parasitic worms, and it was only a juvenile. Anyway, this trip was really fun and I learned a lot!

Thao Vu

Lab 1 Experience

Posted by Brittany Morgan at Tuesday, February 26, 2013 5:31:52 PM CST
Last Edited:Tuesday, February 26, 2013 5:43:33 PM CST

After travelling down to Port A for our first weekend lab trip, I’m finally starting to realize how interesting the marine life and environments really are to me. Though not my first time onboard the R/V Katy, and definitely not my first trip to the Texas Gulf coast, the activities we did on this field trip were one of the coolest experiences I’ve had at sea. Despite the very windy morning on the day we went out to collect our samples, the commentary provided by the very knowledgeable John onboard the boat, (and the dozens of happily jumping dolphins that we saw along the way) really made my day and was by far the best part of the trip, in my opinion!

Though the Saturday boat ride was my favorite part for sure, the Sunday morning necropsies were also quite interesting, especially seeing as how we got to witness the rarest sea turtle in the world–both inside and out (ick!). I thought it was unfortunate that there was no obvious cause of death for the little guy (I mean, girl), but if our general observations from the trip tell us anything it’s that life for marine animals is really difficult and challenging. Already having to deal with natural hazards such as injuring vital limbs, getting stomach worms, or coping with a limited availability of food sources in general, we humans have unfortunately added yet another challenge to the expansive list for marine life, having introduced plastics into the environment for them to have to deal with as well. Though our class’s samples did not show there to be a recurring presence of plastics across the board for our captured fish, nor in the gut contents of the necropsied sea birds and sea turtle, some groups such as my own did in fact find there to be some cases where plastic pieces were ingested and/or found to be present in the open waters (as evidenced by the plankton tow samples). It was unfortunate that so many “by-catch” martyrs were taken despite not even being dissected, but I think it’d really interesting to see how an even more expansive series of samples, being all cut open to check their gut contents, would further show or refute such impacts posed by littered plastics, as is said to be the case by the loads of literature out there on this subject.

Anyway, I had a fun time getting to explore this very intriguing topic and can’t wait for our next trip! See y’all again soon!!


P.S. I snapped a bunch more pics than those posted here, so you can view those here if interested!


Winsett_Frank: Lab 1

Posted by Frank Winsett at Monday, February 25, 2013 10:47:36 PM CST

I thought this field trip was an enlightening and enjoyable learning experience. The Katy was a lot of fun. It was interesting to learn about the processes by which biological samples are taken and some species are commercially harvested. The people commanding the Katy were equally as interesting. It seems the theme of this trip was plastics and the dangers they pose to aquatic organisms. However, it was not easy to find plastic in any of the samples we collected. My group in particular could not confirm that any of the contents of our specimen’s stomachs contained plastics. Furthermore, no plastic was found in any of the birds or turtle specimens. Despite our limited success in directly linking plastic in the water to organism consumption, I was still able to grasp the importance of this lab and the gravity of the situation surrounding plastic in aquatic environments. It is important to note that our sample size was very small. My group in particular only officially analyzed 2 fish specimens. Furthermore, we only observed 1 turtle necropsy and a few bird necropsies. Therefore, we lack sufficient evidence to say this result is representative of these species. It is also important to note that, while we did not find any plastics in our specimens, we did find plastics in the water column. My group alone found 5 pieces of plastic in a single square net sample. So it is evident that plastic is abundant in the water column and it is reasonable to assume that some of it is being consumed by marine organism. Teeth marks on plastic bottles and chunks missing out of plastic debris showed that even though we were unable to observe any plastic being consumed by marine organisms, it is obvious that they do feed on plastic in the water. This is a very real and big problem. Finally, this picture depicts one of the trawls in which we caught our specimens and one of the colorful characters that helped us with our trawl.

Frank Winsett


Port Aransas Adventure part 1.

Posted by Andrew Averitt at Monday, February 25, 2013 6:31:40 PM CST

I’ll start this sucker off by saying, “Hello.” Next, I’ll proceed to give a brief summary of some of the species encountered on the trip (with intermittent comments). I’ve learned that life must be pretty hard for a marine animal living in Port Aransas, Texas. If they hatch/replicate/are born, they are thrown into a world of “bigger fish”, variable temperatures/salinity, and plastic. On top of that, they must avoid the phytoplanktonic and shrimping nets of the (infamous) R/V Katy piloted by non-other than Captain Stan. If any are unlucky enough to swim slower than 3 nautical miles/ hour, then they will be scooped up by the Katy and be forced unto her deck where they will find the rough hands of a man resembling Long John Silver and 21 (give or take) curious UT marine ecology students. For all organisms caught on board, it is only the beginning of the end. For some phytoplankton, even the trauma of being captured by a net is not enough to deter other (larger and meaner) phytoplankton from trying to eat them (despite being under a microscope). The lot in life is perhaps even worse for any catfish, ribbon fish, squid, lizard fish, flounders, crabs, or sardines captured by Cap’n Stan and the Katy because they are given the title “by-catch”, indicating that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and their lives were sacrificed in the name of science. Hopefully, these creatures enjoyed their last meal on earth because they won’t even have the time to digest it. Their stomachs will be intruded the curious students looking for plastic samples that may have been consumed. You see, plastic is a large problem for marine species because often times it can appear to be food (which it obviously isn’t) . Further, the plastic is a synthetic compound that cannot be degraded or digested by the marine species (it’s kind of like a double sucker punch to the face, unless one is a sucker fish in which case it’s just like normal life). Plastic products can do a number on many species so it is a definitely a problem that needs fixing. However, by my (quite intricate) calculations, the most unfortunate marine organism encountered this weekend was the adolescent brown pelican. At first glance, it appeared his/her death was caused by the dreaded “Bumble Foot.” Upon further investigation, it was found that the poor guy/girl had contracted approximately 3,524 incredibly disgusting intestinal worms which consumed all of the nutrients from whatever food ingested. Though, life is not all bad in the ocean, despite the previous statements. Through conservation efforts, many species of shrimp and some sea turtle populations are on the rise. For these creatures, life is looking up (unless they consume petroleum, in which case it’s going downhill quick).  Overall, my knowledge of the challenges the marine organisms face on a daily basis has increased. Hopefully, through my own personal efforts and those of other like-minded individuals we can make life on the water not so tough.

-to anyone who read this, good work. Here’s a present:

Andrew Averitt