Undergraduate ReSEArch: Seagrasses in Florida Bay

Post by Kai Lopez

Kai Lopez taking a benthic seagrass in a dense seagrass bed
Among Everglades researchers, Florida Bay and the shallow seagass beds within it are often forgotten. However, much of Florida Bay is encompassed within Everglades National Park.
Much of Florida Bay is dominated by seagrass beds, which provide important
ecosystem services, such as vital nursery habitat for many fish species, sediment stabilization, and increased water quality, in addition to providing food to turtles and manatees. As an undergraduate technician in the Seagrass Ecosystems Research Lab (SERL), I have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with Florida Bay seagrasses. 
Cassiopea, the killer jellyfish!
From fleeing smacks of jellyfish to almost being swallowed by liquid sediments in a canal, the adventure never stops in the seagrass lab. One time I even got to go mano-a-mano with a stone crab bigger than my head over a tidbit. But don’t get the wrong idea, everyone here in the seagrass lab has spent days engrossed in the monotonous work of scraping seagrass as well. As a wise man once said “Seagrass never sleeps!" 
My research focuses on how productivity of one seagrass species has been changing over time and what role salinity may play. This may give insights into how CERP (the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) may affect seagrass productivity and even community structure. 
A perturbed lobster coming to defend its home from the Seagrass Rangers!
When the GERS (the Gulf Estuarine Research Society) conference approached, the whole lab loaded into a rental van and off we went on a road trip of science! After many hours of “are we there yet?” and WAY too many country songs we made it to Pensacola Beach and the real fun began. I was one of only a handful of undergraduates at the conference. My uneasiness over being a novice in a room of experts was soon put to rest as my poster won second place for best poster presentation. It was an extremely enriching experience to be able to hear about related science in my field and to speak to the scientists responsible for the research. It has helped me better understand the scientific process and what direction I may want to pursue in my career. 

Kai Lopez accepting her second place award for best poster presentation at GERS
I would like to thank FCE for awarding student travel funds, which allowed me to attend this conference. I plan to continue furthering my research and I will be presenting at the Conference for Undergraduate Research at FIU (CURFIU) on March 29th. You can also check out my poster which is posted on the 3rd floor of VH. 


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