I watched the fireworks on the fourth of July with two women: one from Indonesia and one from Canada. We overlooked the Indian River Lagoon in Ft. Pierce, FL, hearing “American Soldier” in the background. They were captivated by the fireworks and grandiosity of this American holiday. They asked me how I typically spent this day, and I described a tradition that included picnics, BBQ, and family.
We are settling into phase two of Envirovet: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. It has been a bit of an adjustment since we just came off the island. Nothing can compare to St. Catherine’s Island. The format of learning was so unlike the classroom back home that consumes all of my time. We only spent an hour at a time in the classroom which was a simple one-roomed building with a small projector screen and an easel. The other times were in the field, literally. We spent time in the forest tracking lemurs and orienteering. We trapped amphibians and reptiles in Gator Pond. We performed health assessments on gopher tortoises under a tent that served as our makeshift hospital. On our last day we relocated sea turtle eggs on the south beach of the island. Our free time was spent at the beach and eating meals as a group buffet style. The kitchen staff consisted of one “Life is Good”-wearing chef whose 14-year old lab sprawled out on the floor beneath her hoping for a spill.
Day one at Harbor Branch was spent in lectures – freshwater and marine ecology, water quality, and ecological restoration and ecosystem management. Our classroom is freezing cold but students are still falling asleep! The fatigue is starting to set in and a little bit of the Envirovet novelty is starting to wear off. I have confidence that things will pick up here. Yesterday we saw our first manatee right outside the area we have our meals, and today we visited a coral hatchery. I had no idea how complex corals are and how important they are to the marine ecosystem! In the Caribbean, 70% of corals have died off due to environmental changes (temperature increases) and disease. Loss of corals leads to loss of habitat for fish and decreased biodiversity. As we have learned well, loss of biodiversity decreases the overall health of the ecosystem leading to animal and public health consequences.
While I am not a marine chemist or oceanographer, I recognize the importance of Envirovet Session II. I hope to use my background in environmental health to determine how changes in ecosystems (air/ water pollution, land use, temperature) impact the health of humans and animal species. So much of health relies on water and it truly links all species. Whether it be freshwater contaminated by agricultural run-off or ocean acidification due to excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, man has altered the earth’s water sources. Water is required for all life and a certain quality is required for health. We only get one life and one Earth – to protect them both, think “One Health.”