For Hometown News
FORT PIERCE -- This past summer, Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute offered a summer program through its Friends of Harbor Branch group and Ocean Discovery Center called Passport to Science. A series of 12 films from the PBS series Journey to Planet Earth were shown each Wednesday accompanied by a mini-lecture and discussion session with Ocean Discovery Center's Jim Masterson.
Dr. Masterson's task was to take a global issue and bring it to the local level, so he explained climate change, salt water intrusion, sea level rise, carbon dioxide in the environment, alternative farming methods such as aquaculture in relation to population growth trends and the depletion of ocean resources. Each week his short talks touched on some of the ongoing research by Harbor Branch scientists. After each film, a lively discussion ensued with many questions raised.
This informal education had an additional reward. Once an attendee's passport was stamped six times at admission, that person qualified for a Saturday of Science held on the Institute's grounds at the conclusion of the summer program.
Early on Saturday, Sept.14, 40 guests and volunteers from Harbor Branch's Friends program arrived at the Ocean Discovery Center to embark via HBOI vans for several science stops, including a pontoon boat adventure with researchers Laura Herren and Marie Tarnowski leading a snorkel collection of sea grass in the Indian River Lagoon. Captained by local guide and naturalist Chop Lege, the "Gator" took the group to a nearby spoil island while Chop, Laura and Marie explained the condition of the Lagoon and the challenges we face with nutrient pollution and excessive stormwater discharge.
Next stop, aquaculture and a chance to watch the tank-raised pompano enjoy their Saturday morning feeding with marine biologist Chris Robinson and grad student Matt Russell.
Dr. John Scarpa explained the expanding field of aquaculture while touring the bivalve facility, stopping for microscope instruction and showing sunray venus clam larvae under the scope.
What is more exciting than Ocean Engineering and the colorful history of Harbor Branch Institute's work in the deep sea? This history has led to a future so promising that mechanical engineer Ben Metzger had trouble containing his tour to 30 minutes, with a visit to the manatee gate construction lab where protective devices akin to underwater garage doors with sensing units are created and turbines and platforms for the generation of Gulf Stream power are designed and fabricated. Visitors also got an up-close look at the Johnson Sea-Link II manned submersible which, along with its companion sub, the Johnson Sea-Link I, completed nearly 10,000 scientific dives over a span of almost four decades.
Passporters by this time were ready to join Dr. Masterson and his IRSC student and Harbor Branch volunteer, Carlos Santana, at the seining site to see firsthand some of the biodiversity of our Indian River Lagoon, and they were not disappointed as a plethora of sea life came to shore briefly in the nets.
Dr. Masterson demonstrated simple water quality testing tools like a refractometer, used to measure salinity of seawater. Current issues relating to salinity levels, tidal flushing, and freshwater discharges made a little more sense after Dr. Masterson's animated talk, delivered while shuffling in the shallow Lagoon to discourage stingray encounters.
The Passport to Science Program will continue next summer with a new film series and mini-lectures by a Harbor Branch scientist. The Ocean Discovery Center is open Monday thru Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Please call the Friends of Harbor Branch office (772) 242-2259 if you are interested in other trips, tours, and lectures provided by Friends of Harbor Branch.