Take a pair under the pier | Science and technology

Galbraith Pier has long been a staple of Eckerd’s campus and culture, but there’s more going on below than meets the eye. The pier offers many services to Eckerd students including a place to cool off, access to good fishing and a space to meditate. What may go unnoticed, however, is the startling biodiversity and biomass that exists hidden beneath the waves.

On calm days, when there is little wind or tide, the water in Boca Ciega Bay becomes less cloudy as the water clears. A quick glance from the jetty makes it easy to diagnose water clarity. If fish and the seabed are visible from above, it’s a good day to put on a mask and flippers to see what may be hiding there.

There is a ladder next to the jetty which makes it easier to enter the water. The water feels cool at first, but after a few minutes your body will begin to adjust.

The shallow waters first offer seagrass beds that large whelk snails, crabs and seahorses call home. Only a little further, in deeper water, schools of small and large fish appear. Gorgonian fan coral lines the bottom, adding to the tropical scene. A glance over the stilts reveals colorful encrusting barnacles, starfish and bryozoans.

Marine mammals are also present. The clicks and whistles of echolocating dolphins can be heard nearby. On particularly lucky occasions, a manatee may surprise you. Listening to the dolphins and watching the schools of fish tumble through the gorgonians, it’s easy to forget that you’re only a few meters from campus.

Just above the pier, students participate in different activities. Seisho Song is a second-year student who, along with many others, frequently fishes from the pier. He uses the pier as a place to clear his head and relax.

“I usually enjoy the pier while fishing or in my spare time and for my stress-busting activities, it’s not like complicated fishing, it’s just simplistic,” Song said.

It’s a great place for fishing as there are plenty of species like pinfish, mojarras, groupers, jaws, stingrays and even some sharks, according to Song. Some of the juvenile sharks present around the pier include scalloped hammerhead sharks, blacktip sharks, sharpnose sharks, bonnethead sharks and possibly bull sharks and great hammerhead sharks. Song’s favorite memory from the pier is when he caught a scalloped hammerhead shark.

Lukas Bohnet, a sophomore in marine science and business administration at Eckerd, spent many hours exploring Tampa Bay. On one particularly lucky day, he came across a baby manatee just under Galbraith Pier.

“It was super murky and I couldn’t tell what it was at first. It was a nice surprise once I figured out what it was,” Bohnet said.

Undoubtedly, the pier is frequented by many students, the majority of whom do not realize that they share this space with an abundance of biodiversity.

“They may think ‘hey, this species lives here,’ but may not realize they live two feet below where they’re standing,” Bohnet said.

Tally Nesvold, a freshman marine science student, said her favorite activities at the pier include jumping with friends, watching the sunset and swimming among bioluminescence at night during the plankton bloom, a unique phenomenon that happens produced periodically in the Tampa Bay area.

Dinoflagellates are microscopic phytoplankton that emit blue-green flashes when disturbed. During a bloom, the water is saturated with dinoflagellates which cause the water to glow with sparkling neon green spots when disturbed. The slightest movement is enough to trigger them, giving the impression that pixie dust surrounds your body. It’s a truly magical experience to swim in the dark, engulfed in glowing bioluminescence, according to Tally.

Regardless of how any pier lover enjoys their time there, many agree that it helps connect with the ocean and marine life. Or, as Nesvold puts it, “You have to go to the pier to be introduced to student life and Eckerd life.”

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