Saturday, May 04, 2013

Wild Waccasassa River Field Trip

Last week, I took my Cedar Key Environmental Science students on a field trip to measure the water quality of the Waccasassa River.
A year ago, I wrote (and won!) a SPLASH grant from the SouthWest Florida Water Management District ... aka "SWFWMD".

This 1300.00 grant funded the purchase of water quality testing equipment as well as paying for substitute teachers, bus drivers, and other assorted field trip costs.
None of this would have happened without the SPLASH grant program.
Our individual classroom budget this year was $75.
So, you see the challenge for teachers and their kids...
This post is about the field trip though, so let's put education funding aside for a minute.
At test site number two, the boat ramp on the Waccasassa River, we encountered a starving "Deer Dog".

If you are reading this outside of Florida, "deer dogs" are used to hunt deer ... an alien concept in most states, but one still practiced here.
It's a holdover from long ago subsistence hunting in the thick Florida brush.  I'm pro-hunting, but I'm not a fan of dog hunting for deer ... but I digress.

The dog, who the kids immediately named, "Larry" (due to the owner's name on the brass collar plate) was as sweet as he could be ... which is pretty amazing considering his emaciated desperate state.

We had already eaten lunch, but the kids found a honey bun and fed it to Larry. He inhaled it in one quick gulp.
They called the number on his collar, as did I, but we only got a busy signal.
Finally, I called the animal shelter and gave them the info needed to help Larry.

Larry hung with us the whole time while the kids tested the lower Waccasassa River for dissolved oxygen (DO), ammonia, phosphates, and nitrates.

At this site, the DO was good (8ppm) and all the pollutant tests turned up negative ... no measurable amounts.

Our test kits use ampules filled with a reagent. By snapping the tip of the sealed glass ampule in a water sample, the reagent mixes with the sample (which is pulled into the ampule).

The ampule containing the water sample and the reagent is then compared to a color comparator to find the best match, which corresponds to a particular quantity in parts per million (ppm).

In the picture above, no color change occurred, so the amount of ammonia was recorded as "less than 1ppm".

At our first site, the US-19 bridge over the Waccasassa River at Gulf Hammock, the kids waded in a much narrower section of the river, farther upstream from the boat ramp. Here, they performed the same chemical tests, again with no pollutants measured and good DO levels.

This narrow ... 20 foot wide portion of the river was knee deep, clear, and rocky ... perfect for learning about using macroinvertebrates to help determine the quality of water.
The concept is simple, some critters can handle poor water quality while others require excellent water quality to survive.

Our job was to survey the river for biological indicators and come to some conclusion based on what we found.

Blah, blah, blah ... that's the science part of it, the fun part of it was they got to wade in a beautiful Florida stream, looking under rocks and logs for critters, dipnetting, and generally treasure hunting.

They had a printout of typical macroinverts and a lab sheet to fill out as they "worked" ... and they did an excellent job.

We found mayfly larvae, damselfly larvae,stonefly larvae, hellgrammites, freshwater clams, grass shrimp, gambusia, apple snails, ramshorn snails, and a leech ... well, the leech found one of my students.


("Wrath of Khan ... Chekov's ear ... you feel me?)

A katydid nymph showed up and felt so at home on this young lady's finger that she left her a little gift.

A female grass shrimp with her precious load of eggs attached beneath her abdomen.

I love these little shrimps ... this one went right back in the water to continue her important mission.

These are apple snail eggs.
We brought home 3 apple snails and placed them in an aquaculture tank and two days later we had eggs on the side of the tank, so we are raising apple snails now in our Cedar Key School AquaLab.

In a neat little bit of serendipity, this couple in the boat were launching at the same spot on US-19 as we arrived earlier that morning.
They were very friendly and as they passed by, we had a conversation, each wondering what the other was up to.

The man in the water has a permit to harvest the aquarium plant Anacharis. When we first talked, he had an empty boat and was heading downstream. The picture above is as he was returning from his harvesting efforts.

I think he was surprised that we knew what "anacharis" was, but we grow it back at the lab, so my kids instantly knew what he was seeking.

It's little things like this, the unexpected things, ... that make a field experience memorable ... watching a bunch of kids search their lunch bags to feed a starving dog, meeting a person making a living in way you might not have imagined, and later in the day ... watching my students' expression as when they first glimpsed a giant, 906 year old cypress tree in Goethe State Forest.

As far as the water quality of the Waccasassa River, based on this one expedition, it's very good.

No measurable Ammonia, Nitrates, or Phosphates.
Good Dissolved Oxygen levels.

The Macroinvertebrate survey data showed more of the "intolerant to poor water quality" species than those who tolerate poor water quality conditions.

That's what we were hoping for, ... after all, the Waccasassa River empties into the Gulf right next to the "Clam Farming Center Of The Universe ... Cedar Key, Florida.

We need that good water.



threecollie said...

What a cool science trip! And what a shame about poor Larry.

robin andrea said...

Such a great science trip. Wonderful photos too! Hope Larry found someplace safe with lots of good food.

Pablo said...

I'm sure I had teachers like you back in the old days, but I guess the memories and experiences are too deep now to recall them. Your students are fortunate. Science, compassion, friendship, awe. All in a day's work.

jbrunk said...

Did I understand you to say that, prior to the grant, your individual classroom budget was $75?

Floridacracker said...

3Collie, I hope he got some help.

Wish I could post pics of the kids in action, but privacy issues prevent that.

It was a good day with all 4 of those components. Win win!

Yes. If I did not seek out AND win grants, my budget would be $75.

Aunty Belle said...

What a grand spring y'all is Havin'.

Yore students is a blessed bunch. Would be fun to know how many go on to some work that requires a good smattering' of science.

On deer dawgs, Uncle pure T will not go out wif' nobody what uses dawgs. He say it ain't fittin'.

Hope you an' yores is well up thar.

mkdally said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile now (don't even remember how I came across it!), but have never commented. But just wanted to say that it's always so informative and interesting! Thanks for sharing. And, I hope 'Larry' found a good home!

Anonymous said...

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All the best,