Thursday, September 4, 2014

   A Handful of Divers and a Boat
     This summer I embarked on an adventure entirely new to me in almost all ways.  On May 12, 2014 I piled into a Clemson University vehicle with motley crew of students with our sights set on the Florida Keys.  Working with graduate student Kylie Smith in the lab of Dr. Michael Childress, we were tasked with a summer of research in the water, obtaining data on the coral reefs of The Keys.  With fair weather and water as blue as the sky, we hit the ocean swimming.  We began our data collection with a census of the parrotfish population at 14 previously established sights.  During the census, we also performed behavioral observations of all parrotfish species.
     I was a greenhorn to the diving world upon arriving in The Keys but quickly adapted to the salt life in a very literal sense.  We spent a minimum of a couple hours in the water on most days but still couldn't seem to get enough.  After completing the census, the team began replacing cages on the reef that had been placed there for Kylie's ongoing experiment observing correlations between parrotfish grazing, macro algae and corals that were transplanted as part of the experiment.  Cage instillation was a true test of will and grit but it proved no match for our dream team of divers.  We accomplished this feat some two weeks ahead of schedule.  This extra time allowed us to broaden our horizons and venture out to new sites to gather census and behavioral data.
     It is fair to say that our data collection period from approximately May 12 to July 24 yielded a bountiful crop of data in the form of video, and hundreds of data sheets printed on underwater paper.  However, this was not the only success.  The team shared many experiences, laughs and good times.  We that were new to The Keys were able to experience what were considered the most sought after aspects by locals and researchers that have been there for years.  It was nothing short of a summer for the books and I am proud and privileged to have been a part of it.
                                                                      -Daniel Coster

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Summer in the Keys

All my life I have always wanted to do two things: make a difference in someone’s life, and be in the water. This summer was my first opportunity to do both of these things. The beginning of my summer consisted of conducting leadership workshops for high school students within my role as a state officer for the South Carolina FFA Association. I also organized and helped to present an annual state FFA conference at Clemson University. Every day was a new challenge and new reward, and after it was all over I was convinced that there was no possible way my summer could get any better. I proved myself wrong when I wound up in the Florida Keys only a few weeks later.

My first day in the water was one of those rare experiences in life that I know I could never forget. Seeing all of the things firsthand that I had always looked at in an aquarium or watched on discovery channel was something that was absolutely incredible to me. Every day was like this for me, it held something new and unbelievable. From swimming with sharks to capturing juvenile lobsters, I began to learn just how much I loved the ocean, and life in it.

It was not just my love of the ocean that grew during my time in the Keys, but also my respect and reverence for science. Almost every day we would go to two or more of our fourteen sites and observe parrotfish, count the number of different species present, and analyze the condition of our caged corals. This in itself was incredible to take part of, but it was the relationship I learned that all of these parts have to the whole ecosystem that I found fascinating. Every site was different, and the interactions among the organisms while similar, were also varied. Seeing these ecosystems firsthand convinced me even further of how important research and the people who conduct it are to the sustainability of life in the ocean.

Before joining this Creative Inquiry, an experience like the one I had this summer was merely a dream for me. Becoming dive certified, staying a month in the Florida Keys, learning about an ecosystem in a world that seems completely different from our own, discovering that this is for sure the career for me and spending time with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met were just a few of the many reasons that this class is the most important (and obviously most fun) one I have yet to take at Clemson. Although my other classes have helped to make me feel more prepared for a life after graduation, it is because of this one class that I know I will have the confidence to pursue a career that I will love and one that I will be much more prepared for. All I can say to this program as well as Dr. Childress and Kylie is thank you for this opportunity, I will continue to make the most of my time in this class as well as at Clemson.

MedEx Academy

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to be involved in a pre-medical program in association with the Greenville Health System called Medical Experience Academy. The program invited 40 students from surrounding colleges to spend six weeks at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville. We were able to gain clinical shadowing hours at the hospital, classroom time with clinical staff and medical students, as well as research and presentation experience. I had the privilege of spending days with physicians in ten different specialties, and gained hours observing both office visits and surgeries. Through my time both at the school and the hospital, I learned more about the field I hope to work in and it made me so excited to continue pursuing medicine. The program also allowed me to gain more experience presenting on various research topics, which I hope to apply to my work in Dr. Childress’s lab. This semester, I am looking forward to working with Kylie and Randi on analyzing the data for our coral transplants. We will be further monitoring the relationships between coral condition, macroalgae cover and parrotfish grazing behaviors

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Parrotfish Party

The Conservation of Marine Resources Creative Inquiry reloaded with some new faces this year, and I was happy to be one of them. I spent the month of June working with Kylie and Daniel in the field working on cage installation and data collection in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Our first job was to construct new PVC and vexar "cages" and secure them to the seabed using rebar and zip ties. The cages were installed at the seven "A" sites, and we even found quite a few of the cages installed last summer by the team. We had the good fortune of removing and recycling the old equipment, which looked and smelled just about how you would expect for something sitting in the ocean for a year. 

Following installation, we moved our focus to data collection using surveys, fish observations, and GoPro cameras in the absence of divers. Because the observations had to be done at both A and B sites, there were 14 total sites that we went to. Our "Dream Team" would attach GoPro cameras at the site, then move to another area of the reef or a completely different site to conduct observations of the parrotfish behavior. Each fish was followed for at least 3 minutes, and every observation of the grazing and overall behavior was noted on fancy underwater paper. The battery life on the cameras lasted about 2-3 hours, giving us just enough time for lunch and a relaxing lay on the boat before we went back down to remove the cameras.

Throughout the semester we will analyze our video, pictures, and fish observation sheets. The goal is to continue to collect data and evidence to contribute to Kylie's project, and begin to look at additional aspects of the parrotfish/coral reef relationship. For example, the videos taken this summer will be analyzed to better understand how jaw morphology and bite rates of the different species and phases of parrotfish will influence what they are consuming within the reefs. Hopefully a better understanding of how the species differ in their grazing capabilities and tendencies will allow a better understanding of parrotfish herbivory on coral and algae within the Florida Keys.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Big Summer Adventure

This summer I traveled all the way to Chaing Mai, Thailand for a veterinary program through Loop Abroad. During the first week, I stayed at ENP (Elephant Nature Park), which is a rescue sanctuary for approximately 40 Asian elephants. Many of these elephants were landmine victims, abused, and/or logging and trekking workers. These amazing creatures are being given a second chance at a better life. While there, I prepared the elephants’ meals, created medicine balls out of hundreds of bananas, cleaned and treated an elephant’s abrasions, went tubing down a river, visited a village school, bathed elephants, cut down corn stalks with a machete, scooped elephant poop, and attended a Thai culture class.

During the second week, I stayed at the Spicy Thai Hostel, located in the true city of Chaing Mai. Most days consisted of driving out to ARC, a dog/cat shelter, to learn about some aspect of veterinary care. I learned how to draw blood for the first time, how to find and calculate a heart rate and respiration rate, how to diagnose and treat common canine/feline diseases, and how to carry out a heartworm test. I also observed a leg surgery that was done on a dog that had been presumably cut with a machete, as well as an eye surgery that was done on another dog that was unable to fully open its eyes. Lastly, I assisted in two neutering surgeries, one of a dog and one of a cat. For the dog neutering, I administered a pre-anesthetic before operating and then scrubbed in for surgery. Needless to say, it was very hot wearing latex gloves, a face mask, and a hairnet in Thailand’s summer climate, without air conditioning.

In our free-time, we were able to experience Thailand’s culture by going to more tourist-like attractions. We visited the night markets, a couple of malls, various Thai temples, and an orchid and butterfly garden. We also hiked up Doi Suthep Mountain (took 3.5 hours!), watched a cabaret show, swam in a waterfall, released paper lanterns (like in the Disney movie Tangled), stayed at a Thai hotel, and walked through underground caves. One of my favorite things we did that week was visit Tiger Kingdom, a tiger reserve, where we were able to interact with tiger cubs, as well as full grown tigers.

From having two flights cancelled and having to drive all the way up to New York, to sitting on a fourteen hour flight, to meeting amazing people from all over the world, this trip was absolutely amazing and something I’ll never forget. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Over the past year, I have been working on a project with Katie Cunningham that looked at the social behaviors of juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters and how the sponge die-off in the Florida Bay might affect how they choose to associate. This spring, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present the research I had been working on for the past year at several different times. Katie and I presented our research both at CBASS as well as Focus on Creative Inquiry.

I was also fortunate enough to travel down to Jacksonville, Florida and present our research at the Benthic Ecology Meeting. While at this meeting, I also had the opportunity to attending many talks people gave on the research they have been doing. The Benthic Ecology Meeting really opened my eyes to the number of potential things I could do in the field of marine biology and ecology.

CI group at the Benthic Ecology Meeting in Jacksonville, FL.

I am so very grateful for being a part of the Creative Inquiry program for the past year. The knowledge and experience I've gained while working on the projects has been so helpful and really solidified my desire to pursue research.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I joined the creative inquiry team for the spring semester and it has been a fantastic experience so far. It’s been eye-opening to be involved in research outside of a normal classroom environment. Being my first semester, it took a little while to adjust and get caught up on all the projects that were going on. I jumped in right in the middle of data finalization and poster preparations. Kylie and Dr. Childress, along with the rest of the team helped get me on track as soon as possible.

The CI team at the Benthic Ecology Meeting 
Over spring break, I had the privilege of attending the Benthic Ecology Meeting held in Jacksonville, Florida. This was a great opportunity to not only present research I had been working on, but also a wonderful chance to really get to know everyone on the team. The conference brought labs from all over the country and even some from Canada to present their research in the form of short talks and posters. Talks were spread over three days and covered a variety of interesting topics dealing with benthic ecology. We were invited to attend any and all of them while we were there. On Thursday night of the conference, those in the lab that had posters presented them to various judges and others interested in our projects. Two of our undergrads, Sarah and Brandt, and our graduate student, Kylie, gave talks on their research on coral ecology and parrotfish grazing effects in the Florida Keys. Their ability to clearly present their ideas and findings was a true indicator of the amount of work that this lab puts in, and I was so proud to be a part of the team. I can’t wait to continue in this creative inquiry and am so excited to begin working on a new project when we return in the fall.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Creative Inquiry Experience

Me, Sarah Hoffmann (CI student), and Kylie Smith
Summer 2013 was my first trip down to the middle Florida Keys to assist Dr. Childress and Kylie Smith with data collection.  I was lucky enough to return to help again during fall break in October and recently took my last trip as a creative inquiry student over spring break.  With the end of the semester nearing I felt that writing a post reflecting upon my creative inquiry experience would be appropriate. 

Working underwater in the Keys
 Down in the Key we are working on collecting data for Kyle Smith’s master’s degree.  We sample 14 sites for parrotfish density, parrotfish feeding behavior, and reef substrate composition.  This year I have been working on the data we have collected pertaining to the parrotfish feeding behavior.  We follow fish around for approximately three minutes and we assess what they are choosing to eat based upon their species and age.  This data has allowed me to present a poster at two different campus events, the Clemson Biological Sciences Annual Student Symposium and the Focus on Creative Inquiry poster session.  In addition to the posters, I gave a talk at the annual Benthic Ecology Meeting in Jacksonville, FL.  This was a huge opportunity for me because it was my first talk and it was the first time our lab had undergraduates (Sarah Hoffmann also gave a talk) giving a talk at this meeting.  It was a great learning experience and a terrifying, albeit rewarding task to tackle.   
2014 Focus on Creative Inquiry 

            I have been working on this project for four semesters now and the amount of knowledge and practical research skills I have gained is infinite.  The mentoring and teaching I received from participating in creative inquiry has helped to shape my desire to peruse a career in the marine sciences field.  Creative inquiry has afforded me the opportunity to travel down to the Keys three times over the past year and travel to two conferences, and for that I am immensely grateful.  I would not have the skills or knowledge without this program and I would encourage every undergraduate to find a creative inquiry project that would benefit their career goals and to do it. 

            This class has prepared me for the next step in my life as I go on to an internship working with sea turtles at the Bald Head Island Conservancy, and eventually when I enter graduate school.  While I am sad to be leaving and I am leaving grateful for the opportunities I was given in this creative inquiry. 
This semester, I presented a poster at both CBASS in February and Focus on Creative Inquiry in April with Julianna Ellis. The poster was titled “Do spiny lobsters prefer to associate with familiar individuals?” It was a great opportunity to present and explain the research we have been doing on juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters not only this semester, but in the many semesters before. We were able to present our work to all different majors throughout Clemson University during the Focus on Creative Inquiry and talk about the work we have been doing. It was a great experience.

 After graduation in May, I’ll be starting dental school this summer at the Medical University of South Carolina. I’m very excited for this next step, but I’m very thankful for the time I have gotten to spend in Conservation of Marine Resources Lab these past three semesters!

This semester in Conservation of Marine Resources we got to present our data and hard work from the past two semesters. I worked on the goby modeling project. Last semester I spent a lot of time working on the data that we would enter into the model for both land-use and stream elevation. This required many hours of mapping streams in Hawaii wishing that I were there for real and not just through Google Earth! Once that data was imputed we were able to do preliminary runs changing the immigration rate from other islands. At the beginning of this semester we did a second run of the model looking at the potential impact of climate change, specifically increased drought and increased rainfall variability, on the Hawaiian goby population in terms of abundance, population structure, and phenotypic distribution. Overall we found that the populations would be fairly resilient to moderate changes in climate. We made a poster to show our data and were able to present it at three different events throughout the semester. The first was at CBASS which is a weekend planned for prospective graduate students to come visit campus. That was my first time presenting a research poster and I was glad that it was a fairly laid back and friendly environment. The second weekend of spring break the lab traveled to the Benthic Ecology Meeting, which was held in Jacksonville, FL this year. There were lots of people there and we got fancy name tags that made me feel very official.  During the poster presentation I got to meet a lot different people, a couple of which I will be working with this summer in the Florida Keys.  There were many talks on all different topics, as well as a video competition. The final event where I got to present our research was the Focus on Creative Inquiry Event. My favorite part of this was that there were so many different projects from every department on campus. Because all my classes are usually in the Biology department I don’t get to hear much about the research from other fields.  This summer I will be down in the Florida Keys working on my own project about juvenile lobster movement and I am looking forward to getting some field experience and hopefully continuing that project next year.