Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Journey South

In October of 2017 I made my first trip to the Florida Keys as a member of the CMR team. Although I was not selected to dive on this trip I was able to join a group of volunteers organized by Dr. Childress to help out our friends and colleagues impacted by hurricane Irma. The team was able to organize a donation drive and pack a van full of supplies to take down to the Keys. The devastation inflicted by Irma was jarring even a month after the event. Appliances lined one side of the road: stoves, washing machines, dryers, ovens, and refrigerators. Mountains of wood and concrete debris ten meters tall and dozens long lined the other. Fortunately, we were able to offer what help we could to the researchers at the Keys Marine Laboratory. The volunteers scrubbed tanks, shoveled gravel, picked up trash, vacuumed pumps, collected specimens, and helped paint the house of Dr. Rod Bertelsen, a friend of the team. On our last day staying in the keys we all got to enjoy snorkeling and diving on a few reefs and spending time with the great people at KML. I hope to return to the Keys and to KML as much as possible and seek to hold myself accountable for remembering the residents of the Keys and their struggle which is far from over.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Swimming with the Fishes

The summer of 2017 was one of the busiest and life changing times of my life. Never have I been more exhausted in my life, and I wouldn't take it back for the world. From May 27th to July 22nd, I was blessed with the opportunity to work doing field research under the summer CI stipend with the Conservation of Marine Resources team. During this stay in the Florida Keys, the team and I worked on many projects in order to gather as much data for research as possible. One major project that we took on involved coral transplants that we placed on eight different reef sights. Four separate hard corals were placed in random order along a 50 meter transect on each site. Six of each type of coral were transplanted on each site, adding up to about 200 coral transplants that we did over the course of a week.

We also studied several different organisms, including spiny lobsters, damselfish, and parrotfish. After our work this summer, the stoplight parrotfish have a special place in my heart. My individual project for this creative inquiry involves studying the influence of parrotfish as herbivores on the reefs of the Florida Keys. We know from past data collections the particular diet of the stoplight parrotfish, however I wanted to see just how their territories are shaped by their diet and the structure of the reef, as well as how female stoplight parrotfish play a role on the reef. To do this, we followed supermale and female stoplight parrotfish for ten minute time periods, dropping flags as they turned in order to mark where their territories end. We also recorded their size, any notable behaviors, and other parrotfish they came into contact with. In order to study their territory sizes and movement patterns on a more accurate scale without diver interactions, we placed acoustic tags within several supermale stoplight parrotfish that will send out signals to receivers throughout a particular area of reef sites. We have been analyzing the data we've collected so far with this project throughout the semester, and will continue to do so over the following year.

Being in the Keys this summer has taught me an incredible amount about the ocean and about myself. I learned so much about the interactions between reef species just by my observations alone. I now can accurately identify several species of fish, some even just by their shapes. I've gained the ability to tell apart common coral and sponge species throughout the Florida reefs, and I now have a better understanding of how different parts of the ocean interact as a whole. I feel in love with the ocean this summer. Not only was this an amazing experience for my future career, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that has cemented my passion for the sea and the creatures within it. I could not be more thankful for this creative inquiry and the people within it that continue to shape my life within the lab.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Summer break or study break?

This summer I was mostly studying, but also took a break to go back to Costa Rica again as a medical mission trip. I was studying for the MCAT in order to apply for medical school for the 2018 year. I was super nervous and spent most of the summer at my house in New Jersey, studying from day until night. Fortunately in the middle of the summer, I got a chance to be Dr. Gallicchio's teacher's assistant on my trip to Costa Rica. I remember last summer it being such a great experience and wanted to go back and make another difference there. I wanted to go back to the communities and see the difference that we were making. Last summer when I had come back to CR i was so upset by not having enough medication and supplies in our clinics last year that I had an idea to create a club for those members who wanted to help these communities/who wanted to attend the mission trips. This club would raise money for the supplies and medication for the free clinic as well as teaching students the necessary techniques that needed to be performed while in the clinics. These techniques include physical exam, taking vitals, and taking patient history in spanish. With a small idea, I was able to turn it into a huge success by raising close to $5,000 for the following summer. When going back this summer, I wanted to see where all the hard work was going to and it was just a reminder of why I am so passionate about helping these people. I spent 2 weeks in Alajuela, Costa Rica. There we were able to help around 200 patients and it felt amazing. I was so happy to help a lot of these people who lived in conditions that we couldn't even imagine living in the US. When I got back to the US i continued to fill out my medical school applications and was accepted at the end of September to University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville Class of 2022. I am so excited to be able to graduate this December and then start this new chapter of my life in July of 2018. I am so thankful for this lab for giving me the skills, guidance, and support to have helped me where I am.

 All that I have learned in this lab is something I am going to take with me no matter where I am, and although it doesn't hold a future career path for me, it certainly is something that I am going to make sure that I am educated about. I think that everyone needs to be educated like I have in this lab and am so lucky to have had this opportunity.It is truly remarkable to be able to listen and learn from students who are interested in conservation of marine resources including Kara, Kylie and Dr. Childress who have such passion for improving our environment. I've learned in lab how special people like this are, who want to change our world for the better and to dedicate their lives basically to the research of it. I can't wait to see what this lab continues to do for students at Clemson.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A French Holiday

I didn't have a crazy cool summer internship doing research or playing with fish in Florida but I did get to experience the Atlantic Ocean from above for the first time. In July I flew to Paris, France to live with a relative for a month and it was the most amazing experience.
 I started off my journey in two states I had never visited, New York and New Jersey. I flew into Ithaca, NY to visit Cornell University where I got to talk to REU students and get a feel for the program while exploring the gorgeous campus. Afterwards I drove to Belmar, NJ, a beach town with lots of personality and fun and friendly locals. A quick flight to Boston, MA to visit some relatives and then I was Paris bound. My journey had a rough start as day 3 in France brought with it a 3am trip to the ER to have my appendix removed but I was out of the hospital by day 4 and ready to explore the city. I saw some amazing monuments and museums with some of my favorites being the Musee Marmottan, Arc de Triomphe, Tour Eiffel, and the Jardin des Plantes.

On the weekends we traveled out of the city to Giverny, Chartres, and the Loire Valley. In Giverny I got to see the famous water lily garden of Claude Monet and it was every bit as beautiful as I imagined.

Chartres brought with it a gorgeous cathedral and a French history lesson while the Loire Valley took me to the center of wine country.

Between touring immense chateaus and vineyards, we managed to sneak in a hot air balloon ride, one of my absolute favorite experiences of the trip.

It was an unforgettable experience and I loved every minute of it (except maybe being stuck in a French ER with no knowledge of French). I hope to make more incredible memories this summer which hopefully involve a trip to the field to do some research!

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Summer by the Sea

From June to August this year, I had the distinct opportunity to intern at the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant's Skidaway campus in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. This was a great way for me to get experience in the marine science community.
The majority of my work was spent with the Stormwater program. This involved locating and assessing over 200 low-impact development (LID) sites in the coastal Georgia area. Such sites consist of instrastructure in which water run-off and rainwater is collected, filtered of pollutants, and held in storage via natural means. Some common examples include, green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain gardens.

 On a daily basis, I planned out which sites were in close enough proximity that it would strategic to visit that day using a GIS viewer (global information system), which is essentially a map overlaid with points representing each site. A typical work day consisted of 8-12 sites. Upon arrival, I would talk to the property owner and explain what work I was doing if it was on private land or begin my assessment if on public land. When in the field, I carried around an iPad which I used to fill out the essential information about the sites, which consisted of: pictures of the practice, general information, dimensions of the site or any in-flow/out-flow pipes, and the overall effectiveness.

In addition to field work, I also worked at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium one or two days per week. I usually spent part of the day processing the information from field work, but I oftentimes had the opportunity to help take care of the touch tanks available to visitors. This provided me with animal care and aquarium maintenance experience. I got to interact with critters such as horseshoe crabs, whelks, and blue crabs! Additionally, I was able to go on two trawls on research vessels from the center. For this, nets were dragged in the estuary adjacent to Skidaway Island so that summer campers could see fish found in our local waters.

My internship this past summer was an experience I will never forget. It allowed me to get a feel for what it is like to work in the field of marine science both in the field and in the office. But most importantly, it showed me how much of an impact any one person can have on conserving the world’s most precious resource, the oceans.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

There's Something About That Salty Air

This past summer was absolutely incredible! A great way to start my last semester at Clemson, I spent the summer in the Florida Keys swimming with the fishes. 

We worked on several projects this summer, including a mark-recapture study with Caribbean spiny lobsters. This focused on the den behaviors of lobsters found at the site, as well as those we released onto the site. This involved returning to the site for four days and recording the lobsters we were able to find again each day, and what den they were found in. So far, we have found that immigrant lobsters tend to move around more than do the resident lobsters found originally on site.

As well as working on the parrotfish and coral projects; we also had some fun exploring the different reefs around the Keys. After spending two months on the water down there, I must say that there is so much more to learn than meets the eye. When you first see the turquoise blue water extending towards the horizon, you can’t help but be in awe and wonder at its beauty. But that’s not the whole story, because there is an entirely different world waiting just below the surface. Undeniably a gem among our natural wonders, the coral reefs we see are some of the more damaged ones found in the Florida Keys, but thankfully there is still hope for the recovery of some corals.

As my time at Clemson is drawing to a close, I reflect on this experience as one I will never forget. I am constantly reminded of how much I love the ocean and all the creatures that call it home. Ready to take on my next adventure, whatever that may be, I will be able to take my experiences and memories from this lab with me always.