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!