Working with the Cambrian Foundation

June 10-13, 2011

Looking upriver at Blue Spring.

WOW. I’ve spent the past few days in central Florida working with the Cambrian Foundation, which is a not for profit organization full of really diverse, and fun individuals. They’ve got their hands into everything from deep sea and cave microbe research, to giving educational presentations at schools, and exploring and mapping cave systems all over the world. I was specifically helping with the Florida Springs Biodiversity Project, which is focused on studying bacteria in extreme environments (i.e. the dark, oxygen lacking depths of caves). Our group went to three different springs, Blue, Wekiva, and DeLeon, where our divers went into the cave systems and collected bacteria. All of the springs were beautiful, but Blue Spring was by far my favorite. We got there VERY early in the morning, and there was life everywhere! We saw hawks, an otter, a ton of gar (a big fish), and the water was just so…BLUE! I was so jealous that the divers got to go down into the cave!

All of the dive gear set-out and ready to be hauled to the water!
Me with the sample bags at Wekiwa Spring

At every site, the divers (Renee Power, Karl Shreeves, and Jef Frank) would go down into the cave that the spring came out of and collect five or six station’s worth of bacteria and water samples. Once the water samples were up, myself and three other volunteers used CheMet kits to run water quality tests. There were four different kits, and each tested for a different property; ammonia, alkalinity, sulfur, and iron. We all used our respective reaction agents to turn the water different colors to see if, and how concentrated each trait was. Well…we attempted to turn the water colors.

These are some of our CheMet Kits! Mine is the one on the left, I tested for Iron.
This is what I looked at to determine the amount of Iron in the water. The tube in the middle is the sample...I got zeros most times, which is good!

It didn’t always work, but that simply meant that there was no iron, or whatever other trait, in that water sample (And sometimes, no data, is good data!). It was really cool, and whenever someone’s water actually changed color we all got really excited. Rima Franklin and Aaron Mills, the leading biologists on this project, take all of the bacteria and water quality data back to Virginia Commonwealth University. Two of Rima’s students, Shawn Hill and Amber Taylor were also helping-out.

Sampling the water from Blue Spring
All of the interns at Wekiwa! (Steve, Andrew, Shawn, Me, Amber)

They study the genetics of the bacteria, and are trying to identify how it survives in the ecosystem that it lives in. It was really exciting to listen to them talk about their different projects, and realize that, in some small way, I was helping them conduct pioneer research!

I had a fantastic time. Everyone was always so happy, and there was tons of laughing and joking around..oh..and working..we got heaps of work done too! It was so nice to meet everyone, and I was really happy to see Amy Giannotti again. My hosts were also extremely welcoming, and I had a blast living with them. This entire experience has been really fun and inspiring, and I learned a lot from everyone. One of my favorite questions to ask everybody that I meet during this internship is “How did you get into diving?” or “How did you get to where you are today?” It’s incredible listening to all of the different responses, and I can’t wait till someone is asking me those questions.  I got to hear some pretty amazing stories, and I hope I can help-out again in the future. In the meantime, thank you so much, and may the force be with you all! 🙂