Current Research Partnerships & Projects
Since the late 90s, MRDF has had an ongoing mangrove restoration project in the area of the “spit” on MRDF property. In more recent years, we has been working on improving the mangrove site by monitoring growth more closely; the goal is to continue to plant mangroves while leaving as minimal a footprint as possible. Red mangroves are the focus of the restoration project because the reds are the primary colonizers of mangrove habitats and their roots can be completely submerged in seawater at all times. The protocol that MRDF uses is the Riley Encased Method (REM).
Monitoring water quality has become an everyday part of a MarineLab instructor’s duties. Since 2010, MRDF has been partnered with Florida International University (FIU)'s water quality monitoring project at FIU’s Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) (http://serc.fiu.edu/). The data collection is part of the Water Quality Protection Program of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS).
This project has been ongoing since 1995 and includes data from 50 quarterly sampling events at 154 stations within the FKNMS including the Dry Tortugas National Park. MarineLab instructors (and some of the more advanced students) serve as volunteer scientists on this project to add data from additional sites (primarily in Florida Bay where FIU had to cut sampling stations due to funding) and to provide data in between the regular quarterly sampling. The data collected for this project by MarineLab follow the protocols the rest of the scientists involved in the project are subject to. A calibrated YSI sonde is used to collect temperature, salinity and DO, and in some instances, pH.
MRDF's MarineLab program has been a member of Seagrass Watch since 2011. Seagrass Watch is a “global scientific, non-destructive, seagrass assessment and monitoring program” based out of Australia. Monitoring sites are located in Largo Sound at Scott’s Channel and Radabob Key. Data is collected using three 50 meter transects; seagrass species and abundance data is calculated every 5 meters with half m2 quadrats. Some of our more advanced students assist in data collection during their seagrass snorkel. In October of 2012, we received the permits necessary to set up permanent transects in Largo Sound for our seagrass surveys. (Largo Sound is a part of Pennekamp State Park). Our data is now more comparable from survey to survey. We plan on conducting our surveys on a quarterly basis in order to provide long term data to Seagrass Watch.
In 2012, MRDF became a monitoring station for NOAA’s Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN). We tow for phytoplankton and monitor levels of target species at least twice a month.
Phytoplankton play a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Phytoplankton consume carbon dioxide from the ocean during photosynthesis and emit oxygen as a by-product. As a result of photosynthesis, the oceans are a net sink (or consumer) for carbon dioxide. If the amount of phytoplankton in the global ocean is reduced as a result of climate change, for example, atmospheric carbon dioxide could increase.
Since May of 2012, MRDF staff members have assisted Dr. Larry Brand of University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science with research on blooms of cyanobacteria and other algae in Florida Bay. MarineLab instructors venture into Florida Bay every two months to collect water samples, following a predetermined track. Dr. Brand’s research will assist in determining the effect of increased freshwater flow into Florida Bay as a result of the Everglades Restoration Project. There is concern that the increase in nutrient rich water could cause cyanobacteria blooms. Cyanobacteria produces a neurotoxin that has shown to biomagnify throughout a food chain. These blooms could affect organisms ranging from shrimp to fish to dolphins, and possibly even humans. Dr. Brand’s lab will analyze the water samples collected in order to determine cyanobacteria levels and monitor any harmful algal blooms, along with associated toxins.
Artist Chris Scala has often placed objects in the lagoon, creating massive scultpures using nature processes. His latest work is not fully submerged, but rather is suspended above the lagoon, while seawater is dripped on it, drawn through a hose to the top of the structure.
Since 2004, Video Ray has loaned a VideoRay Pro-3 model to MRDF. VideoRay approached MRDF about this partnership, attracted by our unique manned undersea habitat programs. Over the course of the past 10 years, we have helped develop prototype displays, housings, and remote telepresence technologies. This unit is used in the MarineLab programs with SCUBA students doing Mini Adventures in the habitat, and in virtual education programs with students remotely operating it over the web. It has been used in a research project exploring the cisterns of Malta. Habitat Operations Director Chris Olstad is responsible for ROV operations. The unit "lives" in the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory, providing an opportunitiy to measure and monitor its performance while being submerged constantly.
This research and development effort started several years ago between MRDF, Jim Lewis at NASA-Boeing, Dr. Bill Soeffing at the University of Sioux Fall South Dakota, Dr. Brian Howell at Western Carolina University, and the R & D team at VideoRay LLC. It has now been applied to provide students from distant classrooms and labs around the United States and Canada a virtual presence in our manned underwater laboratory, and the ability to control the VideoRay ROV in the seawater lagoon outside the undersea station from thousands of miles away over the internet.
In addition, in 2007 we began working with WebEx Communications, Inc. (now part of Cisco) to create a fast, ultra-reliable, secure, multi-application compatible, internet pipe between our underwater lab and other laboratories and classrooms anywhere in the world. The WebEx solution which provides very high security (used by the US armed services), reliability, and essentially "zero set-up" capability, has made the long distance internet control of the VideoRay ROV and a virtual student presence in the undersea station attractive to school system teachers and their network administrators.
In addition to monitoring the growth of corals planted at MRDF's restoration site at Molasses in January of 2011, MarineLab has created a research restoration site with Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) scientists to measure growth rate variability amongst three genotypes of staghorn coral. 30 sites, each with three corals (one of each genotype grown in CRF’s coral nursery) were planted at Molasses in January of 2012. Total length measurements, routine maintenance (reattachment of broken branches, predator removal, etc.) and general observations (disease, bleaching, etc.) are done on these corals monthly. Pictures will be taken quarterly so you will be able to watch our “babies” grow. Biologists of both MRDF and CRF are eager to see if one genotype is “stronger” than another. CRF methodology is currently being spread throughout the Caribbean and this type of information could be important in enhancing Acropora coral populations throughout the entire reef tract.