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Misa and I, Rookery Bay Reserve's communication interns for Fall semester, joined a research trawling trip with Pat O'Donnell. Pat is the fisheries biologist and has been working at Rookery Bay for 18 years. It's safe to say he knows his fisheries pretty well! Neither of us had done anything like that before and we had no idea what to expect of it.

Along with us in the trip came Sue (a volunteer) and Sarah (sea turtle intern and graduate student) as well as Ben and Nicki from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Following Pat's lead, we sailed into the Faka Union Bay. The goal of this expedition was to gather information about the marine life in the Fakahatchee Bay – part of the Rookery Bay Reserve.

Arriving at sample siteThe day began a little rainy as we left the dock and passed slowly through the no-wake zone. Soon enough the first rays of sun began coming out as we prepared our first net release. Pat guided us through the process, making sure we were optimizing the range our net could reach.

The fish of the day was definitely the catfish. We caught just short of 1,000 juveniles! Another common one was the mojarra, which fortunately didn't hurt our hands as much when it came time to get their headcount. Among the 11 species of animals we caught in the bay were shrimp, lizardfish, striped anchovies, mantis shrimp and even a juvenile lookdown!

Sorting the catchParticipating hands-on in the research process was an eye-opening experience through which we came to understand the importance of volunteering at Rookery Bay. Without the volunteers, Pat's work wouldn't be possible, and all the knowledge we have of the area wouldn't be available. Without this knowledge we are empty-handed in our efforts to reduce our ecological footprint.

After seeing and touching the marine life in this estuary, we couldn't help but to feel close to the animals that come here looking for a safe haven, a spot to rest and to reproduce. During this experience it became clear why estuarine systems are so important and why our constant monitoring of their health is so crucial for this ecosystem we are so proud to be part of. Come get to know your estuary!

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 Hillary and Damisa


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