Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Without Words

Reading to a young child usually isn't reading at all. Most of the time, they want to look at the pictures, point at the farm animals while making moo, cluck, and oink noises, and curiously inquire what's that? when they come across an unknown creature. Cutting you off as you struggle to power through the paragraph about Farmer John and his herd of happy cows, the kid turns the page, eager for the next picture. Not much changes as children grow up - in a society with information overload, we are still scanning, skimming, and searching for what's relevant in everyday life. I'm definitely guilty of flipping through the pages of a new book to see if there are any pictures that catch my eye. Photos simply speak to us in ways that words cannot.

I love to take photos that portray the incredible beauty and magic of being submerged in a spring, but it is also important to document how they are changing over time in order to raise awareness about the periled status of these irreplaceable ecosystems. Besides their artistic and conservation purposes, photos of 20+ return visits to Gilchrist Blue Spring in just over a year serendipitously led me to document some incredible changes in the underwater world.

Over the past year, I quantified and documented the turtle "invasion" at Blue Spring in Gilchrist County, Florida. On this blog, I wrote a few posts about the turtles (see It's Raining TurtlesTurtle Soup, and Turtle Party 2). With other researchers, I designed projects to (1) tag and quantify the number of turtles in the spring and the (2) quantify the amount of vegetation they ate (grazing rates). The former project was performed out under the leadership of Dr. Jerry Johnson, a turtle researcher from Santa Fe College who runs the Santa Fe Turtle Project, while the latter was a field-based project that a fellow grad student Savanna and I did in Fall 2013.

We prepared a note (a short scientific article) about our vegetation study for publication in Herpetological Review. The note documents this unprecedented ecological phenomenon, which turned out to be the highest ever recorded density of freshwater turtles. In the note, we also quantify and report grazing rates of the freshwater turtles (Suwannee Cooters, Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) and report a significant decline in hydrilla biomass (but not other types of vegetation) during the month between sampling events. Our data makes for a nice bar graph and a highly significant p-value - all exciting things for scientists... but without words and fancy graphs, what exactly does it look like when 500 turtles graze a significant amount of vegetation?

I went back through my archives and found photos of Blue Spring before the turtles arrived. At that time, Blue was not blue at all - in fact, it would have been more aptly named Green Spring or Hydrilla Hole. Because I visited so frequently over the past year (mostly with Danielle and Greg), I had a time series of underwater photos visually documenting the decline in vegetation and was able to piece together a photographic version of our scientific research. This "photo science" is not quantitative, but I think it's pretty dramatic. Without words, I will let the photos speak for themselves...

Naked Spring Run

February 19, 2014
May 29, 2014
July 14, 2014

Dock at Naked Spring Run Crossing

February 28, 2014
May 10, 2014
May 29, 2014
Please visit the "Photo Science" Project section of my photography website to explore many more areas throughout the spring! I will be adding more photos tomorrow and over the coming weeks as I edit those from more recent trips and continue to return to the same spots in the future.

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