Members of the Cambrian Foundation continued their research today at Wekiwa Springs State Park. They were joined by Girl Scout Troop 433 from Lake County, FL, led by Ms. Rosi Mulholland. As part of the Cambrian Foundation research team, the scouts were involved in several hands-on projects and demonstrations teaching them about their aquifer and the resources beneath their feet.
Amy Giannotti began the day with a brief overview of the Central Florida Springs Project history and goals, the day’s events, and an introduction of Cambrian Foundation staff. Amy then educated the scouts about speleogenesis (how caves are formed) and about the karst features found within these systems. They learned about different life forms present in the caves (troglobites) as well as the importance of naturally occurring bacteria as the base of this food chain. Amy explained that the Foundation was there to study this ecosystem in-depth in order to understand and protect our groundwater resources as well as the living organisms that inhabit these delicate environments. The scouts were excited to know they were there to observe and help with a real research project.
Terrence captivated his young audience as he taught them more about various pollutants in our water. He explained with interactive demonstrations how various contaminants such as fertilizers enter our aquifer and how the water and the creatures that drink it are affected.
Renee then facilitated a discussion of the various tools needed for conducting research in underwater caves. The scouts learned how an open water scuba unit differs from that which is use in a cave. She explained the various types of cave equipment configurations, and then “demonstrated” the use of a no-mount rig designed especially for very small passages, like the ones at Wekiwa Springs. This was a beautiful segue for the next portion of their adventure!
Next, Terrence and Renee served as human ROVs (remotely-operated vehicles) while diving inside of the Wekiwa Springs cave. Terrence donned a full-face mask with an incorporated comms unit and carried a handheld video camera with appropriate illumination. This made it possible for surface-to-water communication to take place. The divers first dropped down into the main vent at Wekiwa Springs. Terrence ventured into one of the side areas and was able to capture two cave isopods. The divers also pulled two cave crayfish traps, but no specimens were found. The scouts were able to watch all of this live on a monitor next to the water’s edge. They could see everything the divers did and asked many questions. Terrence then filmed Renee attempting to enter the main vent. Wekiwa Springs is a second magnitude spring, and entering this portion of the cave is impossible. Topside, the scouts could witness this firsthand as Renee repeatedly lost grip of the rock and was swept backwards from the forceful and swirling water.
After a brief respite, the divers entered another vent in the basin. This area has much less flow, and so the scouts actually got to take a tour of this cave from the safety of the land above. Terrence pointed out many neat features such as variations in substrate composition, ceiling structure, and bacterial communities. The scouts were captivated watching the divers squeeze through a tiny restriction and seeing all of the wonders within the cave.
The end of our adventure was marked with yet another hands-on activity for this troop. Andrew and Rhiannon ran a guideline around several trees and under objects to simulate a cave passage. Renee then explained the use of the guideline and how to safely move about it. She incorporated hand signals using touch contact in an effort to simulate zero visibility within a cave. The scouts were paired up in groups of two and then practiced what they had learned. The Cambrian Foundation dive team challenged the scouts with difficult situations as they encountered multiple tie-offs, obstructions, and restrictions.
All agreed that this was a very positive learning experience for everyone. Thank you to Girl Scout Troop 433 for joining us today and we hope to have additional opportunities with you in the future!