Joys of marsh field work



Upper left: Berit Batterton, a Ph.D. candidate with the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, tries to collect soil pore water in a Lavaca River Delta marsh in 2021. Above: Batterton rests during a long day of sampling. Left: The Beachcomber, a University of Texas Marine Science Institute airboat, is anchored while a storm approaches in the Nueces River Delta marsh in May this year. Waiting on the boat is a research assistant, Malvika Patil of Austin. Photo by Lisa Young

Upper left: Berit Batterton, a Ph.D. candidate with the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, tries to collect soil pore water in a Lavaca River Delta marsh in 2021. Above: Batterton rests during a long day of sampling. Left: The Beachcomber, a University of Texas Marine Science Institute airboat, is anchored while a storm approaches in the Nueces River Delta marsh in May this year. Waiting on the boat is a research assistant, Malvika Patil of Austin. Photo by Lisa Young

Imagine the hottest, sweatiest summer day in Port Aransas.

Now subtract the cool sea breeze and add several layers of clothing, sunscreen, bug spray, waders or snake boots and earmuffs for the airboat.

Go ahead and throw in some mosquitoes, the lovely smell of rotten eggs and mud up to your knees.

Don’t forget the sunrise wakeup call and the 50 pounds of equipment, and you’ve got yourself the classic day of scientific fieldwork in the Texas coastal marshes.

While I know this sounds exactly like the most ideal, perfect day already, it rarely works out that nicely. Take, for example, the thunderstorm that nailed our field team one day in May and made us crawl into a hog wallow for shelter for three straight hours.

Or the 20-mile-per-hour wind that suddenly crept up on our trip across Nueces Bay, nearly tipping our airboat and causing some bruised butts.

And the several times we got the airboat wedged in a tiny creek between two marsh islands, just like the Ever Given container ship in the Suez Canal.

Photo by Lisa Young

Photo by Lisa Young

Can’t forget about the time all three members of our field team simultaneously got our boots sucked off our feet in the stickiest mud you’ve ever seen and had to noodle them back out of the ground.

What about when our field technician, and only boat operator, got a rusty nail through the bottom of her rubber boot and I had to figure out how to get us back to the boat ramp with zero boating experience?

You get the point. Marsh fieldwork is not only chaotic, but both mentally and physically draining.

Despite the craziness that always seems to happen out in the marshes, all of my best memories from my graduate school research have come from being in the marsh with my best friends and colleagues.

The numerous chaotic experiences in the marsh have always been far outweighed by the fun experiences, like my advisor purposefully driving the airboat through tall grass and getting a million spiders caught all over us, the delicious field lunches, and the amazing views.

Photo by Berit Batt erton

Photo by Berit Batt erton

The marsh is such an incredible ecosystem with beautiful winding tidal creeks and magnificent wildlife. While I try to find every reason to complain about the work, I truly am fortunate to be able to study these awe-inspiring habitats and, hopefully, help take a step in the right direction towards preserving and conserving them.

Berit Batterton is a University of Texas Marine Science Ph.D. candidate specializing in coastal plant ecology.

Berit Batterton is a University of Texas Marine Science Ph.D. candidate specializing in coastal plant ecology.

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