Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance

Mary Grace McClellan did some of her time working with Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s mission, which can be found on their website, is this: “The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance of Northwest Florida State College is an organization committed to sustaining and providing optimum utilization of the Choctawhatchee Basin watershed. CBA provides opportunities for citizens, educators, and technical experts to promote the health of the Choctawhatchee Basin watershed.” CBA monitors the quality of the Choctawhatchee Basin watershed, the seagrass, and the oyster reefs. These are all key factors in a healthy water system.
            I volunteered for CBA’s “Touch Tank” at the Destin Seafood Festival. The Touch Tank is a tangible aid for explaining to people (mostly children) what the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance does and why it is important. To set up the Touch Tank, we first went out to Joe’s Bay with a seine net to collect samples of the life that the CBA helps to foster by building oyster reefs (which we also took a sample of) and promoting seagrass growth (we had a very very small sample of that, too). Once we had our critters, we set up our tank at the Seafood Festival. We put the fish and other samples of in a shallow bin so that kids could reach in and touch all the things we had collected.
            Oyster reefs are important because oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Water needs to be filtered to avoid the water becoming eutrophic, meaning that the water has become too nutrient-rich to sustain life. Filtered water also promotes water clarity, which can help the sunlight reach underwater vegetation. Larger oyster reefs also act to break wave energy before it reaches the shore, which aids in shoreline restoration. A lot of life can flourish around the oyster reefs as well, which is important for the ecosystem as well as for the tourist industry.
            The sample of seagrass we had often brought the comparison to some pipefish that we caught for the Touch Tank. Aside from securing shorelines, seagrass is very important for the promotion of the pipefish population. The pipefish can pretty much exclusively live among the seagrass because the two look so similar, a fact that I think the parents and kids alike found pretty interesting.

Pace Water System

Elio Latella did his service hours working with Pace Water Systems: 

I enjoyed my time at Pace Water as the staff were highly knowledgeable and easygoing.  We began the day in cold rain jackets checking the chemical amounts from water samples of the larger already-treated water.  Interestingly, slight variations in percentages of chemicals such as chlorine make a big difference in the end result of usability. Used for killing harmful bacteria in the sewage, and further from toxic chemicals to kill bacteria used by the plant itself. 

After testing the amounts of various chemicals, the decision of “safe” or “unsafe” to release water is made.  It shocked me that the plant provided water to such a large grid of users.  The pipes spanned through local wetlands, residential areas locally and further out of the immediate area for power and energy purposes.  Such a positive effect for a non-profit company was pleasing for me and others to see.

After testing, and the temperature rose, we got a tour of the facilities.  The plant was large, but not huge.  Utilizing the two parts of treatment (primary and secondary), the employees showed to me how each small instrument in each section worked.  I had some idea of water management before I arrived at the plant, however I felt enlightened upon leaving.  Sections such as “grit chambers” and sedimentation tanks, I was showed, allowed a slow process of allowing the sediments to sink and the water to rid itself of larger objects accumulated. Aeration tanks and another (secondary) sedimentation tank – which was HUGE! – furthered the process and all as crucial as the last for a safe final product.

Finally, the water is disinfected and stabilized.  Dewatering then allows the water to be utilized and biosolids to be disposed of.

What I liked a lot learning the process of water treatment and distribution to the local areas needs was how my knowledge applied to our studies, not only from the textbook, but from my discussions with others as well.   Where water comes from,  and how we use it was noted in our class textbook.  Far more interestingly, however, was my research conducted in discussing how eating less meat can save water.  

My statistics I found in research, such as only 2.5% of water we use comes from fresh water sources, allowed my understanding of the relevance of how important the plant is to the local environment.  Tying my first hand experiences to my class learning gave me a full perspective on the water cycle.  Outside knowledge such as environmental forums such as “The Environment Site”, “Hugg” and “Care2” added to films like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” further helped apply my learning. 
Overall, I enjoyed my time at the plant and met some really nice people.  Aside from water treatment, the employees treated us to bbq lunch of sausages, chips and drinks! They spent the afternoon moving spare parts and utensils from the warehouse in which we helped.  After the sweat session, we progressed to by far the prettiest part of the area, 50 acres (or more!) of wetlands to distribute water where we fed fish, saw birds and reptiles.  So not only did I apply knowledge learned in class about water, I was able to experience a natural ecosystem first-hand to note varying effects of nature and how we affect it. Great day!
Fish fed near the warehouse

UWF garden work

By the far the most popular service learning this semester was with the UWF student garden in partnership with MANNA. Even more popular: students learning to drive the tractor :-)

The nature Conservancy

Maygrelin Olivier did some work this semester with The Nature Conservancy: \

The Nature Conservancy is a Non-profit organization that works in all 50 states and over 30 countries worldwide with a mission “to preserve animals, plants and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.” I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Blowing Rocks Preserve located in Jupiter, Florida. The blowing rocks preserve began in 1969, when residents of Jupiter Island donated the 73 acres of their island to the Conservancy. This preserve is 73 acres of breathtaking sights and home to many protected plants and animals such as mangroves and manatees.
 The first two days that I volunteered for the blowing rocks preserve I didn’t do much as far as something that was highly relatable with a lesson. The first day at the site, I spent two hours clearing a trail for visitors to walk by and cleared the main path way of tree debris. It was also my first day on the site, so I also spend a lot of time observing and what not. The second day was a little more interesting; I spent a couple of hours trimming trees and bushes that were overcrowding another pathway of the preserve and on that day I also spend much time doing beach clean up after Hurricane Sandy ruffed up the waters. I don’t ever think that I have ever seen so much waste in a shoreline before. The shoreline clean up made me realized that we can’t just throw things away and not expect it to affect us in anyway. I picked up beer bottles, water bottles, plastic bags, garbage cans, boat seats and much more that you would not even imagine.  To me, this clean-up was relatable to my learning of chapter 12 of water pollution. Specifically, the science behind the story “Is it better in a bottle.” Majority of the things I picked up on the shoreline were indeed plastic bottles. What we don’t realize is that drinking out of water bottles is not even that great because plastic bottles contain around 38 chemical pollutants. 

 On the second day, I also did some gardening of Crownbeard in the butterfly gardening, mostly just trimming other weeds off so that they were able to grow and flourish for pollination. But of course, my supervisor and the biologist saved the best part for last! On the last day of my volunteer experience we planned to go snorkeling to look and count for the Lion fish, which I learned is an invasive species to Florida, and the state of Florida is concerned; we were to report the count. I learned that Lion fish came to be mixed into the ecosystem due to their release by saltwater fish tanks. I also learned Lion Fish are predators whom like structure and hide under the Mangroves, so we went along the Lagoon looking under the Mangrove roots for Lion fish. With our luck, visibility was horrible so we did not see any. After hours of intricate search under mangroves, we decided to Kayak and search the inlet for any invasive plant species; Australian pine, Brazilian pepper and lather leaf. After they spot areas with these plant species they mark them on a map so they can hit them with pesticides and prevent them from spreading further. This last day, I learned so much in regards to invasive plant and animal species to Jupiter Island. To me, this last experience was relatable to my learning of invasive species in chapter 4; species interactions and community Ecology. Invasive species pose threats to the community stability of plants and animals. I learned that many exotic animals and plants don’t usually become invasive but when they do, they can greatly alter a community; they can become competitors, predators, or parasites. Since I also spent much time looking and learning about mangroves, (which by the way they had the white, red, and black mangroves), this experience helps solidify my learning of Mangrove forests in the tropics in Chapter 12; Freshwater, Oceans, and coasts. Mangroves are very important because they filter pollutants, capture eroded souls and protect the coast line. 

(Fresh picked, ripe Coconuts. Before they hit the Coconut Tree with pesticides; they considered it an invasive species.)

Brendan O'Brien helped propogate seagrass

Journal: Lab Assistant at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Brendan O’Brien

            I had the great experience of working the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. I worked with Jason Purdy and Marshall Chislom at the 160W Government street lab/office. These gentlemen are in the business of regenerating sea grasses around the gulf coast and many other conservation efforts as well as permit enforcement. The sea grasses help support ecosystems and prevent erosion and thus are the reason for their efforts. The purpose of my visit was to assist them with the different seagrass projects they are currently working on. The first project was to change the water on the Thalassic t. species of sea grass. Their experiment had 2 batches one cleansed with ethyl alcohol and one with bleach. We were to drain the tubes, fill them with their respective sterilizing agent for 30 seconds, drain again and fill them with a solution of water containing penicillin streptomycin for 10 minutes, and drain them again and fill them with salt water. This experiment was not going as well as they had hoped, the seedlings weren’t responding as they usually would, exhibiting odd behavior such as being dormant when believed to be dead. 
 The second task I had was really interesting, I was to help Jason subdivide and propagate the Ruppi m. species of sea grass. Essentially this process I like cloning. You are to cut the plants every 3-4 nodes to ensure new growth, the cuttings are placed into growth media which prevents root growth but not tissue growth, labeled and return back into the grow room. These grasses come from different local areas, and will be returned with stronger more diverse grasses as Jason explained to me.
This was much easier to relate to course work, as we learned how important certain elements are in ecosystems, this sea grass is a huge player. It can prevent erosion which will lead to preferred levels of feedback. It can create a habitat for the sea life as many of these beds have disappeared over the years.

Perdido Riverwalk Trail

Tiffany Nelson spent some time on Perdido Riverwalk Trail for her project:

Perdido Riverwalk Trail Volunteering

Walking in the forest all alone, gun shots echoed in the distance as I tried to stay warm in the blistering wind, when I finally took a moment to just stop. The leaves of fall spread around me in a magnificent array of colors. Trees of astounding height soaring high above me. All of these brilliant wonders that I recently uncovered right in my backyard, well maybe not literally, however they are pretty close to where my house resides. The name of this glorious place is The Perdido Riverwalk Trail, a “part of a conservation easement for the Perdido Landfill.”  During my visits there I participated as a volunteer at a 5k run that held every year called the Dump Dash. This event supports organizations with a cause, while also increasing awareness to all the sumptuous beauties of the forest. During the Dump Dash I was involved, in setting up for the event and cleaning all the trash that might have been left behind. And all though I did enjoy volunteering for the 5k run, I have to say my favorite part of volunteering was when I went on the trail myself to remove the fallen branches that were on the trail path. The removal process literally consist of a worker picking up branches and casting them back off into the forest where it can decompose and become part of the soil once again. This sounds easy enough, but as the hours go by it does become quite tedious. However, I have to admit, all the annoyed tendencies that usually come over me did not even come to mind. I was just completely enamored with this forest aesthetic beauty, a beauty that gives people an incentive to not tear a forest down, as talked about in Chapter 2. If more people get an emotional attachment for a certain natural beauty, they are more than likely to doing anything to preserve or conserve it which in turn will help out our environment while also helping out the economy due to all the tourism While on the trail, I also discovered deer trails all around the forest. I instantly thought how amazing this was, how animals and humans could almost come together to equally share a highly prized treasure, which touches on Aldo Leopold’s philosophy that there is no “good” or “bad species. I think the book says it best in Chapter 1, “a healthy ecological system depends on the protection of all interacting parts (p.17).” In order for us to sustain life on this Earth, we have to be conscious and rely on one another (living, non-living, animal, or human). We’re all specific vessels with a purpose, all of which come together to sustain our well being and further growth as one. If everyone kept that in mind, imagine how far we would evolve. I can honestly say I’ll be back to visit this trail, especially when I want to wind down. I can express how thankful I am for this experience. If it wasn’t for volunteering, I probably never would have “discovered” this beauty that’s 3 minutes away from my house! To think I lived here for 7 years, and I have never noticed it! It really makes you think about what else you may be overlooking throughout your life.
Just a little side note: The gun range mentioned in the beginning was only used for the fire range. Theirs is absolutely no hunting allowed on this trail…unless they want to be persecuted by law.