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Protecting Marine Life: The Impact of My Summer Biology Trip with Alumni

August 17, 2022

By Emily Jones '23

I kicked off summer vacation in the best way possible, with a trip to Florida with my marine biology class.

The trip lasted two weeks with each day being packed with exciting activities that made a memorable experience. For our trip, we drove around the coast of Florida from the Atlantic side to the gulf side.

We spent our first day driving to Georgia where we met Catherine Smith, a Mount Union alumna, who hosted us for a lovely dinner and welcomed us to stay the night in our home.

The next day we went to the Georgia Aquarium, which was massive! I had never been to an aquarium that large. It was filled with interesting exhibits with various sea animals such as fish, sharks, penguins, and puffins. They also had whale sharks which were fascinating to see. Our behind-the-scenes passes allowed us to view the giant tank from above, and we were able to see the whale sharks and manta rays come close to the surface.

We went snorkeling in a freshwater lake the following day to practice for our ocean snorkeling later in the week. During lunch we met up with another Mount Union alumnus, David Stewart, who talked to us about his days at Mount Union and how different Florida has been for him. It was nice to hear someone’s perspective of Florida who had originally lived in Ohio.

We were able to snorkel at Rainbow Springs National Park (freshwater), Biscayne Bay National Park, Bahia Honda State Park, Dry Tortugas, and John Pennekamp State Park. The Dry Tortugas were especially noteworthy, and we had to take a ferry to get there. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip! Snorkeling in various places allowed me to be able to see a lot of the animals and fish that we learned about in class and see how they behave with other marine life around them.

During our trip, we stopped at Robbie’s Marina where we fed some massive tarpon. Ryland, one of my classmates, had one of them take his whole hand into its mouth and managed to scratch his hand with its teeth. It was kind of cool to see but at the same time it must have hurt!

On our trip, we learned more about both coasts and their similarities and differences. The gulf side had more marshes and swamp areas than the Atlantic coast.

We were able to meet with two alumni while on the gulf side too, Phil and Cindy Henninge. They hosted dinner for us for two nights and generously offered us use of their pool and kayaks. They were very kind and welcoming, and we enjoyed our conversations about the gulf and their stories about their days at Mount Union.

While on a boat tour, we saw many birds, dolphins, and even a manatee. A couple days later we met Ray Slingerland, another Mount Union alumnus, and his family. Ray took us to Pensacola Lighthouse and the National Aviation Museum while Dave Anderson, Ray’s relative, offered us the opportunity to fish at his house and swim in his pool. Around sunset he took us alligator spotting. We needed a lot of bug spray for that part of the trip, but it was fun to see the gators late at night.

We had the opportunity to visit the Coral Restoration Foundation and learn what they are doing to help plant and grow more coral. We learned about the many types of pollution and its impact on our coral reefs in class. This trip allowed me to learn more about in-class concepts and build my own perspective on them, such as making informed decisions in order to prevent contributing to the coral’s decline. We also put in practice what we learned in class by making conscious decisions regarding what we bought and used as consumers and what impact it could have on marine life. For example, we all wore reef-safe sunscreen to make sure we weren’t contributing to coral death in that way.

I already had an opinion on why we needed to do more to help protect marine life, but this trip helped reaffirm that and made it stronger.