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.