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David Zawada, SPCMSC Research Oceanographer, participated in the Environmental Science: Advanced class from Munster High School for the 34th time.

Top: trail along a vegetated beach on a sunny day. Bottom: mangrove tree in the foreground partly obscures a long low bridge.
Top: Big Bay along the Long Beach trail, looking east along the Long Beach trail on Big Pine Key, Florida (FL). Note the angled shape of the vegetation caused by salt pruning from the prevailing sea breeze. Bottom: Red mangrove on the Long Beach trail, looking east along Long Beach trail on Big Pine Key, FL. Red mangroves provide critical coastal protection.

For the 46th year the Environmental Science: Advanced class from Munster High School in Munster, Indiana, traveled to Big Pine Key, FL for a week-long, immersive field class. Dr. David Zawada, a research oceanographer in the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center and Munster High alumnus, participated in the class for the 34th time.

Zawada camped with the class, led daily hikes highlighting the geologic uniqueness of Big Pine Key, assisted with “hands-on” field experiments, and lectured on his current USGS research.  Zawada took the Environmental Science: Advanced class in high school and it is his “origin story” as an oceanographer.  His participation provides students the opportunity to engage with a scientist in the field.

“Project Biology,” as the class is commonly called by the teachers and students, is a unique, extracurricular class that requires students to apply for one of approximately 24 spots. The class was started in 1974 to teach students about the connections between the nearby Indiana Dunes and the Florida Keys, some 1,500 miles away.  Geologically, both sites were significantly affected by the end of the Wisconsin glacial period about 12,000 years ago.  The two locations also have plant and animal similarities, including the prickly pear cactus.  The class also provides many of the students their first experience diving on a coral reef.

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