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BIO 480 : Spring 2014

Field studies in biology

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Day 05 | Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Our fifth day of barrier island adventures kicked off with a trip to Bodie Lighthouse. Some lighthouses are "happy" while others are "bad," in reference to how close these navigational structures are to the water. Bodie the "bad" is found a fair distance inland, surrounded by salt marsh, so sailors need to know to stay far away from this structure. Here, we saw the invasive marsh grass Phragmites overtaking the back area of the marsh.

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Next we visited the mammoth lighthouse: Cape Hatteras Light. Standing a whopping 187 feet high with 257 steps to the top, this "happy" light is the tallest in the United States. That is not even the most interesting factoid about this lighthouse. Barrier islands are dynamic structures that move under the influence of the ocean and wind. In 1870, Cape Hatteras was built 1,500 feet from the ocean, but 100 years later it was just 120 feet away from the pounding waves. Threatened by the sea, the tallest lighthouse in our country was moved inland 2,900 feet just 15 years ago. We climbed to the top of this maritime building to get a gorgeous view of the sea it overlooks.

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The final activity of the day was a "Bio Blitz" in a sand dune area south of the town of Buxton on Hatteras Island. The goal of our Bio Blitz was to identify as many dune plant species as possible, giving us a greater understanding of the area we would re-visit later. During our blitz we had a brief intermission to observe a pod of dolphins swimming nearby in the surf. The afternoon was spent learning the biology of dunes, with Dr. Long's expertise.

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After the blitz, we marched through the dune thicket to get back to our bus. We found a dead sea turtle along the way, which shocked us. After romping through the marsh and mud, we huddled like penguins behind the bus to take shelter from the frosty breeze. We spent the night in the Cape Hatteras M otel located directly on the beach. Here we laid out our plans for the sixth day of activities, while listening to what sounded like waves knocking on our doors.

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