The Ultimate Science Adventure

Helicopter, Airboats & Wildlife Make for an Exciting Day of Water Quality Monitoring

I have a confession to make: I’m an adrenaline junkie. The feeling of epinephrine released into my blood—That increased heart rate and heightened sense of awareness as part of an innate response to perceived danger—is euphoric. I’m also a science junkie, and I chose an SCA biology internship because it seemed like it would involve a ton of conservation field work that would satisfy both my science and my adrenaline needs, and that’s definitely turned out to be the case. Naturally, when six months into my internship the opportunity to participate in the ultimate science adventure with the water quality program at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR arose, I couldn’t resist.

Not many people get this view of the Refuge interior. From above, the white PVC pipes, which marked the location of our site, can be hard to see, even with GPS locations. We circled above before finding a good landing spot. Looking down, the Refuge transformed into a network of marshes, tree islands, gator holes, and game trails, birds flying everywhere.

When the helicopter landed, we grabbed the gear and walked through the water and muck to the site. Ryan Hudgins, seen here with me on my first flight, is nicknamed the water ninja because of his graceful movement through the wetlands. I still find getting stuck unavoidable, so I wouldn’t call myself a ninja just yet.

Along the canal surrounding the Refuge, the hum of the boat engine, the wind in my face, and the reflection of the clouds on the glassy water created a meditative state of mind. However relaxing, it’s hard not to think about the system of canals and levees as a symbol of humanity’s impact on the Everglades. We’ve engineered an entire landscape to create agricultural areas and land that is dry enough to build on. Loxahatchee NWR has the responsibility of mitigating this transformation to provide suitable habitat for native plants and wildlife. Water quality is monitored because we need to learn how to best mimic the natural state of the Everglades, with seasonal variation and nutrient-poor marsh.

A Fellow SCA intern Jackie Blakely collected a water sample at our sight.

While she did that, I placed this sonde in the water to measure temperaturee, pH, conductivity and dissolved oxygen.

At each site, newly programmed sondes with fresh batteries were exchanged, so data from the previous month could be downloaded.

This sonde was decimated by a wildfire.

The day ended with processing the water samples, which were taken back to the lab and prepared for analysis.

Helicopters, airboats, and motorboats satisfy my desire for adventure, but what really motivates me is the importance of water quality in preserving the health of the Refuge and greater Everglades ecosystem. The plants and animals have adapted to the hydrological rhythms. Reproductive cycles are linked to the wet and dry seasons. Learning how to test water quality has given me a concrete way to contribute to “the most expensive and comprehensive [ecosystem] restoration effort in history,” protecting an ecosystem I care deeply about.

Having recently completed my aircrew member certification, a process that required online videos, webinars, and exams, I got the chance to accompany the burn boss on a flight to monitor the status of a wildfire.

I was also trained as an aviation dispatcher, using the Automated Flight Following online computer program to track the location of the water quality mission flight, and radio for check-ins and communication.

There are so many opportunities as an SCA intern, it makes everyday an adventure.

 


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