Monday, December 7, 2015

CMR: Semester One

My first semester of Conservation of Marine Resources CI is in the books, and it was pretty great. Being the only new member of the lab (at least for half the semester), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone else was used to the weekly lab meetings and knew all about the research being done, so I was a bit behind the rest. It didn’t take long to get caught up to speed, though. I quickly got used to doing animal care each week, and through the lab meetings I learned a ton about parrotfish and their potential impacts on corals. While getting adjusted to all this, I also got to work on research with the spiny lobsters. Ashley and I began researching the den sharing behaviors of spiny lobsters collected from the Keys, observing to what degree they choose to share dens together by placing two lobsters together in the cattle tank overnight. We also took GoPro videos of them to record interactions they had, observing their social and aggressive behaviors. From these experiments, plus more we carry out next semester, we hope to find results that could give insight on factors that affect the den sharing behaviors of lobsters, and that can also help explain why lobster attraction is decreasing.
Getting to be a part of this research has been great, but another reason I enjoyed this semester so much was getting to know everyone in the lab. They welcomed me in like the little brother Randi never had, and I quickly was given the nickname Tommy Boy and the crane as my spirit animal. I got to have many good experiences with them, like going diving in Lake Jocassee and going to the Georgia Aquarium with Kylie, Randi, and Abby. From passing the friendship rock underwater to taking blood samples of lobsters, I made many good memories this semester, and I look forward to the experiences to come!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Diving into research

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work in the Florida Keys with the Conservation of Marine Resources lab. This was a transformative experience for me on many different levels. I learned a lot about field research and I learned a lot about myself – my capabilities and my passions.      
I’ve always been interested in marine biology and conservation but before this summer I had very little experience in the field. We worked on a boat all summer long, diving and observing coral reefs. From this I gained problem-solving skills, techniques for experiments, and practical field experience with various equipment. Being on the water this summer taught me a lot about the ocean. I learned how to drive a boat as well as navigate in the ocean and how to work around ocean weather patterns. These are skills that I’ve always wanted to develop that will be really useful for pursuing a career in marine conservation.

The most incredible part of the summer was that Dr. Childress and Kylie helped me to design my own research project. I designed my experiment to examine parrotfish territoriality. I read through papers and talked with Dr. C and Kylie to formulate an approach for collecting data. The two of them gave me a lot of freedom in this project and it was amazing to figure out what does and does not work for an experiment. After designing how we would collect data, I got to go into the field and begin trials on various reefs. While collecting data, I also had the chance to present my hypotheses and methods at Tuesday Science Night, to a group of local scientists and receive their feedback. After that, I got to take their advice back into the field and continue to collect data. I truly developed a love for what I was researching and I feel a strong connection to the project. Now I get to go back to the lab and analyze all of the data that has been collected!

I am tremendously grateful to Dr. Childress and Kylie for the opportunity to work on an independent project because it has given me a glimpse of what graduate school will be like. I know now how much I love doing research and that I definitely want to pursue a Master's Degree. All summer long they gave me guidance and advice, mentoring me to help me become a successful scientist one day. Because of the work that I did with them in the Keys this summer, I finally feel like I have a place in the field of marine biology and that I am prepared to enter into the world of research. 

This summer was full of fun too! I am grateful that I got to work with a group of people who are so passionate about marine conservation and diving. The friendships that I made with everyone this summer are irreplaceable and I'm glad that I get to continue working with them this year. This summer I tried so many new things. I learned how to spear fish, free dive, and caught my first barracuda! On our days off all we wanted to do was play in the ocean and we went on all sorts of adventures. We got to see dolphin jump beside our boat, giant turtles hang out on our reefs, and we even went diving with a mantaray! This summer was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I'm thankful that I got to share it with all my Clemson friends!

Damselfish, Reef Sharks, Barracuda – Oh my!

Summer is a time for relaxing, enjoying some free time, and, of course, spending time in the water. My summer included all of these things with the addition of research, good friends, awesome food, and last but not least, fishing! This was my second summer in the Florida Keys with the CMR lab, and my fifth trip overall. I have to say, this was by far the greatest experience I’ve had yet.

At the end of May, Kylie and I loaded up her FJ with dive gear, research equipment (cameras, YSI, etc.), two HUGE suitcases and a couple of energy drinks and headed on our way to the Keys. After about 13 hours we finally made it to Layton, Florida. That first week we spent some quality time getting to know the Baeza lab (who shared the house with us) and got to “work”. We started off hitting about four sites a day, but the four of us (Kylie, Madison, Lauren and I) loved every moment of it. Between getting to see sharks, diving all day, and spending the evenings sitting around the house enjoying our time together,  it felt like being at home. Not to mention buying a Florida fishing license and taking some time after diving to fish up some grunts and snapper in the canal.

Every week just got better and better. Aside from a few minor mishaps we ripped through the work we had to get done within the first few weeks. On the days where it was too risky to go out on the boat we would spend our time exploring everything the Keys had to offer. After a few weeks, we added Dr. C to the group, but unfortunately had to say goodbye to Madison. With Dr. C there we started to work on the lobsters and learned how to work even better as a team.

On our days off we would beg to go out on the water, and it was on those fun dives where I discovered my love for spearfishing. I had not really had a chance to spearfish since I’d bought my spear pole from my older lab brother Kelan, and needless to say those first couple we

eks I had been itching to use it. The first fish I speared was also my first hogfish. Lauren and I were using some of the extra air we had after removing cages and we really just wanted to check out the reef. After spearing the fish I realized I was getting low on air (about 600 PSI), and after looking up from my gauges I saw the coolest thing I’d ever seen underwater. Swimming away from me was an extremely large heterocercal tail that had obviously been close to us, but neither of us had noticed. Although I had been seeing nurse and bonnethead sharks since my first trip to the Keys, I had never seen anything that big before. We later determined that it had been a reef shark, something I had been dying to see since I first started diving.

That was just one of many great stories throughout the summer. More included going offshore fishing for the first time with Dr. C and watching Lauren catch a barracuda. Another is the time Kylie took Dallas (our Baeza lab friend) and I offshore and I got the barracuda. There was also the last night our labmate Jac was in the Keys when we took mattresses to the roof after going to dinner and having a blast. Not to mention the time that John taught me how to catch a shark – and I did it! However one of the best overall was jumping into the water on our last dive of the summer and seeing a manta ray right under us.
I do have to say, though, that the research was also pretty amazing. This trip I got to start my own project working with my second favorite fish, damselfish. With the help of Dr. C and Kylie (as well as Madison, Jac, and Lauren) we developed the methodology, presented it in front of others involved in marine research at Tuesday Science Night, and collected the data. With every observation, I grew more and more excited to see how big an impact these little guys actually make on the reef.

There is so much more about this summer that I would never have time to type up or accurately be able to describe. The one thing I do have to say about this summer is how grateful I am to the people who made it so amazing. Without Dr. C and Kylie we would have never been able to be in the Keys in the first place. Had it not been for Lauren, Madison, and Jac I would have never been able to laugh as much as I did while I worked, or have enjoyed the times outside of the water as much as I did. And of course, the Baeza lab who put a new and awesome twist on the summer research trip. Overall, an awesome summer in the field, and what’s sure to be a great semester ahead!

San Fran Dan

      This summer I was given the unique opportunity to intern with the San Francisco 49ers as an athletic trainer.  I don't think I ever really believed it was real until I actually arrived to the stadium.  I landed in San Jose California and was driven to the stadium and put to work immediately.  It is a no-nonsense type of place with a very welcoming and fun undertone.  I loved it instantly.  A typical day in the life of an athletic trainer intern in the NFL starts at 6:30 a.m. with treatments.  This goes until a walkthrough practice where we would just make sure the players stayed hydrated and combat any problems that may come up.  Next, lunch and more treatments until practice.  After practice there would be more treatments until the players gradually left the stadium.  Traveling with the team for away games was also a great experience.  Everything is so organized and tactical.  The 49ers organization runs like a very well-oiled machine.  Getting to know the players was one of my favorite parts of the job.  They are all great guys and they're fun to be around.  Another one of my favorite things is the food.  I ate like a king while I was out there.  There were some days that I would eat steak for every meal just because I could.  I actually can't think of any aspect that I didn't like about being there.  Even the weather is perfect in San Francisco.   Once it was all said and done, I was sure that this was the career path I wanted to pursue.  I hadn't been able to say that until now.

-Daniel Coster

Keep Your Eye On The Horizon

     The two short weeks I spent in the Keys with my fellow CMR buddies was one of the most unique experiences I've ever had. In that small amount of time, I saw and did things that most people will never have an opportunity to do in their lifetime, all while working to conserve the marine environment! 
     I was honored to be involved in work such as lobstering for Dr. C's project, following and observing parrotfish, helping Lauren with her territoriality project, and learning how to free dive for Dr. Rod's lobster-tracking receivers. Although we call it field "work", we know how to have fun and take every opportunity given to us in that environment. Wether it was feeding sargassum to reef fish right out of our own hand, sitting in the sand watching the neighborhood nurse shark go by, or burying Randi in the sand with Kylie and laughing until our masks filled up with water, there was never a dull moment when I wished I was anywhere else in the world. 

     The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is lucky to have people like Kylie and Dr. C working for its betterment and for a brighter future in the reefs. I hope that I will have the opportunity to work with these people again someday, even if it's just to have a dance party on the boat or eat PB&Js after a long day's work. What I learned there, and the experiences I had with these people, are some that I will always carry with me. Even though I won't have another summer with them, I will remember the lessons I was fortunate enough to learn; because if life is making you sea sick, just keep your eye on the horizon!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Summer as an REU

This summer I got an incredible opportunity to be a part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program at the Duke Marine Laboratory. As a member of this program, I got to go and work at the Marine Lab for the summer as a research intern. I was given an advisor, Dr. Brian Silliman, who helped me come up with a research project that I carried out throughout the summer. I moved in at the lab at the beginning of June, along with eight other interns. None of us knew each other or anyone at the lab, and we came from places all across the U.S., so we were all pretty nervous about meeting each other. It turns out there was no reason to be nervous at all, because by the end of the summer we were basically family. Everyone got along well with each other, and one of the best parts about the summer was getting to know all of them. All of us were given projects to work on with our advisors, ranging from whale acoustic monitoring to crab larvae studies. My project focused on mud crab predation in salt marshes.
                I researched the numerical and functional responses of mud crabs to high density periwinkle snail fronts. I took observational data in the field looking at the number of mud crabs in areas with and without fronts, and I also set up field experimental plots to see if mud crabs responded numerically to snail and mussel additions. I also did feeding trials in the lab to see if mud crabs changed predation rates in response to increasing snail densities. Mud crabs did not seem to respond strongly to high snail densities, but were significantly more abundant in areas with high mussel densities (mussels provide food and shelter). Snail fronts can cause widespread cordgrass die-off in salt marshes, so control of population densities is important for conservation of marsh habitats. As predators of periwinkles, mud crabs could exert top-down control to protect marshes, but they do not respond strongly enough to do so.

                In addition to this project, I also got to take part in many other experiences. I helped out grad students in the Silliman Lab with their graduate projects, learning about seagrass beds and many field sampling techniques. I got to go on field trips to marshes and islands around the area and learn about the organisms that live there. We also toured the local NOAA facility and went on a shark census. One of my favorite experiences of the summer was my first dive in the ocean. We went to a wreck called the Indra, and saw all kinds of amazing things. There was an 8 foot sand tiger shark and some huge stingrays, and giant schools of fish. However, the most memorable experience I had was when I got to see a sea turtle nest hatch. All of the interns went out to an island that one of us worked at, and we got to watch 150 baby loggerhead turtles hatch from the nest and crawl to the sea. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I also enjoyed just hanging out with the other interns and doing things like going to the beach and surfing, and exploring the town of Beaufort. This summer was one of the best summers I’ve ever had, and it made me even more excited to get involved in marine research.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Summer at NOAA

This summer, I was given the special opportunity of assistant teaching at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Center in Seattle. The Northwest NOAA campus is a functioning location of NOAA consisting of wet labs, dry labs and a dive center. 
As an assistant teacher I was paired with a group of kids who were eager to learn more about Earth Sciences. The curriculum is structured around a "jigsaw scenario" where the kids are presented with a scientific mystery. Throughout the week, we give them academic tools they can use to solve the mystery. We teach them about the scientific method and how to collect data. We also teach them about the local environment and what we do when we are presented with real-life environmental situations. We also take them around to each lab where they are given relevant information that will help them solve the jigsaw scenario. We take them to the Mammals lab, Oceanography, Restoration, Hazmat, Fisheries, the National Weather Center and the NOAA Dive Center. 
The scientists are really engaging and excited to teach the kids about what they do. We were able to listen to whale calls, look at animal skeletons, do some chemistry experiments and even design our very own restoration plan. The best part of the day was snack time when the kids would ask to play Ocean Trivia and I would teach them random fun facts about the ocean. They were very interested to learn about what I do here at Clemson in our Conservation of Marine Resources lab. The best part of my job was leaving my groups of students knowing I had inspired more of the next generation to get involved with marine science and work towards a better future for our oceans!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Bottoms Up Episode 2 - Reef Fish Foraging Video

Another great video produced by my talented students in Conservation of Marine Resources.

Bottoms Up Episode 2

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Congratulations to our 2015 CMR Graduates

Our Conservation of Marine Resources Team for 2015, Daniel Coster, Taylor Burgess, Lauren Fraser, Jaclyn Whitt, Michael Childress, Madison Lindsay-Smith, Kelan Drake-Lavelle, Kylie Smith and Randi Sims.  Not pictured Ashley Ehlert.

Taylor presented Kylie with a very special work of art she created for us. We added this to our other awards for the year CBASS Best Undergraduate Student Poster - Second Place for Jac, Daniel and Kelan's poster and the Phil and Mary Bradley Award for Excellence in Mentoring in Creative Inquiry for Michael.

Even Nemo and friends made an appearance to help us celebrate our graduates. Bonnie and Trek kept a close watch on the cake to make sure all pieces were accounted for.

Seniors Caitlin Crawford, Michele Voyko, Taylor Burgess, Kelan Drake-Lavelle and Madison Lindsay-Smith open their graduation gifts. Not pictured Grant Davidson.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Real Clemson Experience

 I’ve had many useful classes and engaging experiences throughout my time at Clemson, however none have truly captivated me the way that my involvement in the Conservation of Marine Resources creative inquiry has. Between field work in the Florida Keys, creating posters and presenting them at various conferences, and the friendships I have throughout the year, this one class has been the highlight of my Clemson experience.
            For me the choice to go to Clemson was an easy one. I grew up loving the school and knew from the first time I thought about college that I was going to go here. However, there was one set-back that was hard for me to overlook. I knew that one day I wanted to work on the ocean, but Clemson did not have a degree in marine biology, and was also one of the furthest schools in the state of South Carolina from the coast. My freshman year I often struggled with if I had made the right decision to make Clemson my home. It was not until I met Kylie and Dr. Childress that I knew I had. And now through this creative inquiry, I’ve gotten more hands-on experience than I probably could have anywhere else.
            Throughout this semester we have all been working hard to develop our projects and create posters that help to explain the work that we do as well as the importance that it holds. I personally worked with my amazing partner Taylor to better understand the influence of macroalgae on coral growth. To do this we mainly worked with two programs: CPCe and Image J. In working with these programs we learned how to identify different common species seen on the reef, from red rope sponge to octocorals. When it finally came time to put our data into poster form, we worked closely with Dr. Childress and Kylie who gave us hands-on statistical training.
            As many who work in research know, it sometimes gets a bit dull looking at a computer screen, working on data. But it is completely worth it when you finally put something together that matters. I felt so proud of everything Taylor and I had accomplished when I first saw our printed poster. But it was not until we presented it at CBASS and FOCI that I really understood how important it was. Seeing everyone who presented at these conferences and how the things that they did were helping to impact Clemson and society showed me how important our creative inquiry program is. It was also an incredible experience to put our poster up at SEEC in Athens where students from Florida State, Auburn and other large universities were presenting their research.
            While the conferences and lab work are a large part of what has made my experience in this lab a once-in-a-lifetime one, there a few others that can not be left out. One of the absolute best things about working in this creative inquiry is the field research. Over spring break Kylie, Daniel, Lauren, and I packed up our things and drove down the Florida Keys for the week. During our time there we logged over fourteen dives, saw quite a few sharks (my favorite animal), speared my first lionfish, had the best dive of my life and made memories that none of us will ever forget. There is truly nothing like spending the entire day on the reef observing parrotfish and getting to see why what you are doing is so important.
Coming back home after those trips to the Keys is always hard, but it gets a lot easier when you walk into lab a few days later and see some of the best people you’ve ever met laughing and joking together. That is the last and probably most important reason why I love this creative inquiry the way that I do. The friendships and bonds that we have all made in our lab extend to our personal lives as well. Its because of this one class that I have been able to understand what the Clemson family is truly about.
            Looking back now, I would never take back my decision to enroll here at Clemson. I am so thankful for this program as well as Dr. Childress, Kylie, and my friends in the lab. This was the best decision I have ever made and I would not change it for the world!

All About That CBASS

      Joining this lab has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my undergraduate career. The opportunities to grow as an individual and as an environmentalist have allowed me to finally understand what my goals can be and my options for success. CBASS, though, is the experience that sticks out the most in my mind. I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in the talks or even if I could present our poster without sounding like I joined the project halfway through the year. Needless to say, I was very surprised when the outcome was just the opposite of that. The talks, no matter how far from the marine field, interested me and the longer I sat in that room, the more sure I became that this was where I belonged. Once it came time for the poster session I was running over my “spiel” a thousand times over in my head. But, when we began our presentation, the facts just flowed like I hoped they would. It also helped that Dan was there to keep me calm and having fun. I suppose our judges were impressed, because they decided we tied with another group for second place. Although this was a surprising and proud moment for our group, it wasn’t what made my CBASS experience exciting. It was the simple fact that I was finally eager about something that I could build a future around.

CI Swan Song

This past Christmas break, I had the opportunity to travel to West Palm, Florida to participate in the annual meeting for the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology, also know as SICB. I ended up being the only undergraduate student that was able to attend the meeting, but Dr. Childress’s graduate student, Kylie Smith and Kea Payton, a former lab technician and current graduate student in Charleston joined me. The event lasted for four days and consisted of short talks by both graduate students and faculty from universities across the country. Kylie gave one of the best talks at the meeting about her work with coral reef conservation in the Florida Keys. I was also able to hear about the work of several other graduate students from Clemson, and they all did a fantastic job. There were several large poster sessions for students where I was able to present some of the research that I had been working on that semester with the fabulous Randi Sims.  The project Randi and I are continuing to work on this year, correlates most directly with Kylie’s master thesis. By using two computer programs, Image J and CPCe, we analyze pictures from the field to estimate how much our coral transplants are growing and how influential macroalgal competition is. By going to conferences like SICB, I am realizing even more how important our work on marine conservation really is. I was able to hear so many talks on species that are directly impacted by the health of our coral reefs.

Conferences like SICB are just one aspect of the many wonderful opportunities I have had by being a part of Dr. Childress’s creative inquiry. I have learned more than I could have imagined outside of a classroom setting by both my peers and mentors in the lab. I have become a more effective student, researcher, and learner. As I near the end of my last semester at Clemson, I am incredibly thankful for the time I had in this program. In addition to the many lessons and skills I have obtained, I have also gained invaluable friendships and bonds.