So this is the end of week 4 of our trip, and we are nearly done! We got our site in the Keys, where we found large pipefish with cool patterns on their bodies. They were in a habitat with slightly lighter and coarser sand than the usual substrate we find the seagrass in, and the fish had a more mottled coloring that we think might allow them to blend in better with the sand. They were also pretty dense; we caught 12 fish in one net! It was a pretty exciting site, and afterwards we got to hang out in the Keys for the afternoon.
After that we returned to Tampa to plan out the schedule for the week, and once all the work was done we took the opportunity to visit the Florida aquarium and see some awesome Syngnathid fishes (the leafy seadragon is the featured image)! Before sampling in Tampa, we drove back across to the Atlantic coast to get our final site near North Palm beach. We were successful, as the tides, weather, and seagrass lined up perfectly so that we could access our fish. Not only that, but we caught over 50 dwarf seahorses, which is a much larger number than we usually catch.
We now also have our Tampa Bay latitude finished as well–we went out on the boat the past couple of days and collected fish at three different sites, one in the north, one in the south, and one in between. Our final collections here are going to be at power plants, where the water is really warm (95 degrees Fahrenheit!), and maybe even a freshwater site, if we can find one. On our way back to Texas we’ll also be looking for a couple more freshwater sites, but we have all of the fish collected in Florida for our population genomics study! We still need to get the fish from Texas, but for now let’s celebrate the progress we’ve made.
(click to embiggen)
So as of Monday we’ll have been on the road for a full three weeks. It feels like so much longer! My last post focused on our successful collection of freshwater pipefish, with an addendum about catching some in the Cape Canaveral area. Since then I have driven across the state (east to west) 3.5 times (you’ll understand the 0.5 shortly). We first stopped by Tampa to drop off some samples in a -80C freezer, and then we drove north to the Crystal River/Cedar Key area. Unfortunately, the seagrass in that area is rather deep off the coast, so we were entirely unable to access it. Luckily, some folks at fish & wildlife pull trawls through the area and will be setting aside some S. scovelli for us in the next month or so! From there we crossed back over to Jupiter, Fl, which is an hour or two south of Cape Canaveral. We started to get a little discouraged in that area and the one a little bit further south because we had trouble finding seagrass beds–even ones that showed up on boating maps & Google Earth. We talked to some state park rangers and they told us that about a year ago there was a big algal bloom that killed off a lot of the seagrass in the area.
Just as we were giving up on the latitude, we saw on the map that the Harbor Branch Institute (an extension of Florida Atlantic University) was nearby. In a last-ditch attempt to find grass we decided to stop in and talk to some people there. They gave us the best news possible and told us that they have wonderful seagrass beds right on their property, and were incredibly accommodating and let us sample there! We got our fish, processed them, and headed out within a few hours. We are so grateful to them for letting us use pull through their grass.
Anyway, the next day we scoped out our next site, in North Palm Beach, but thunderstorms rolled in so we couldn’t actually collect any fish there. After checking the weather on my computer at a local Starbucks (thank goodness for caffeine and free wifi!) we decided to move on to our next site, since the forecast for the area was thunderstorms for the next 3 or 4 days. So we drove back across the state to the Fort Myers area, where we found a beautiful seagrass bed full of adult pipefish. This morning we collected our fish and then had to decide where to go next. Since there are a couple of tropical storms/hurricanes in the general vicinity, we decided that we’d go where the weather looked the best. It just so happens that of our three remaining sites (North Palm, Tampa, and the Keys), the Keys seems to have the best weather for the next couple of days. So now we’re down near Miami, and tomorrow morning we’ll be scouting out some seagrass beds. Wish us luck!!