Friday, April 29, 2016

A Change of Pace

I had already worked on a project in the Childress lab when I was taking Behavioral Ecology in Spring of 2015 while juggling biochemistry, organic chemistry, and a time consuming microbiology Creative Inquiry. I was working with Thomas and two other students on PAV1 and how it affected social behaviors in the Caribbean spiny lobster only to find that lobsters from high disease areas are less active than lobsters from low disease areas. But even with these minimal results, I found that I liked being up on the fourth floor of Jordan handling the lobsters, I liked watching footage of the lobsters interacting, and I liked working with a team of people who all depended on one another.

This spring I was fortunate enough to gain a position as an undergraduate TA assistant and help with Behavioral lab set up and take down as well as doing animal care for the lab. The main job I was required to do every week were water changes on betta fish, guppies, cichlids, cray fish, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and my favorite, the spiny lobster. The spiny lobsters are my favorite; they are the crustacean equivalent to chipmunks and would get really startled if you came anywhere close to their antennae. For a sharp and pointy crustacean that had a tendency to freak out if you got too close, they’re actually kind of cute.

I never imagined I would love doing animal care so much; I never thought I would become so knowledgeable about the needs of each of the animals so quickly. I’ve since gotten attached to the animals and would feel a personal responsibility if one of them passed under my care. I remember when a lobster died. I went to do a water change and noticed that the water was kind of nasty looking and that the filter wasn’t running in that tank. I wrestled the filter out of the tank and cleaned it like I normally would and got it running again when it occurred to me that I should probably check if the lobster was alive. It wasn’t. I was angry at myself for not being more attentive and for not telling my lab mates to constantly check the filters when they feed the lobsters. Because of the personal responsibility I felt for the death of this one lobster, I became more vigilant and meticulous with my animal care. I don’t think I’ve lost a single lobster since.

Aside from animal death, the only mishaps in the lab came in the forms of filter malfunction (they just love to stop working 6 at a time as soon as you start doing water changes) and accidentally getting a mouthful of dirty lobster water; it’s a real delicacy and it’s just about as tasty as it sounds. Water also had a tendency to get EVERYWHERE due to a hose falling out of a tank, which I liked to blame on the animals. When in doubt, always blame the cray fish.

Even with some of the mishaps—the long water changes when a bunch of filters decided to stop working, or the long nights when Behavioral lab take-down required us to empty out tanks and put them away—I found myself growing attached to the animals and to the people in the lab; they’re the most dependable bunch out there. Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand when it’s needed and they’re all smart, funny, and unique. Every week is a new adventure. The great working environment and the great people I work with were a refreshing contrast to the lonely microbiology lab I previously worked in and was the perfect change of pace. My experience has inspired me to stay in the Fall and work with Ash on training the lobsters to be more social. I can’t wait!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Crossing Borders

          This past Thanksgiving I was able to celebrate a little differently. I packed my bag and set off for the beautiful Dominican Republic with 10 strangers from across the country. Me and these ten other college students were members of a club called CURE University at our respective schools. CURE aims to provide free medical care to underserved areas around the globe and we got to be a part of that for a whole week.
         The hospital is located in Santo Domingo right in the middle of the city. For most of the week, we were at the hospital helping out in the different wards and getting a chance to learn more about the field of medicine. I got to watch two surgeries be performed and several check ups. The hospital partners with the MLB so i surprisingly also ran into the KC Royals coach one day during a clinical visit. He was down in the Dominican doing some work.
         On top of helping out around the hospital we also got to explore the beautiful beaches, the shopping center, and did a couple outreach missions to spread the word of CURE throughout the region. We got to taste test some of the best coffee and chocolate I had ever had too!
         The most rewarding part of the week was getting to interact with so many patients at the hospital and talk to them about their culture and learn more of their language. It was fun getting to meet all the children who came in for the clubfoot clinic and check-ups. The staff was so incredibly nice and helpful and they provided us students with such a great experience!

Hello to New Projects, Goodbye to Old Friends

Throughout my life I have always heard that one of the things that people strive the hardest for is to create something incredible. This could be in the form of music, artwork, or in our case, projects.

When we started our second summer down in the Keys with CMR, both Lauren and I knew that we were going to be in for a lot of work. We spent many of our evenings staying up reading scientific papers, coming up with a project design, and preparing to present our thoughts to a community of marine biologists. By the end of a long summer of designing our projects and collecting data, we went into our next semester ready to start analyzing everything we had done.

It took many months of long days in the lab identifying substrate, organizing huge data files, and watching videos of damselfish behaviors before we got to the point that were able to actually put it all together into something worth seeing. During this time, I fell in love with my project. It was truly like building something from the ground up and being to see it come to life

This past semester was incredible. I was given the opportunity to present on the project we’d worked so hard to develop at the Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference (SEEC) at Florida State. We spent weeks practicing, running data, and fine-tuning the PowerPoint to become something worth showing to people from all different colleges around the country. Presenting the project was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Despite some (unsurprising) troublesome technical issues, it was a lot of fun being able to talk about something I cared so much about.

What built on the experience even more was our trip to the Keys the next day for our quarterly data collection. Kylie, Daniel, Lauren, Thomas and I had a blast that week. Not only did we work extremely hard to finish everything up in time, but we also got to spend our time hammocking, fishing, and even jamming on the boat to some our favorite “Key’s songs”

As great as this semester has been, there are a few things that are really sad about it ending: two things to be exact; losing two of my favorite people from our lab. Daniel has been with me from the start of my time in CMR. We became certified together, cheered side-by-side many times for our favorite magician (Michael Trixx), and have shared many dinners at Jersey Mike’s. Lauren has become one of my closest friends both inside and outside of the lab. From making crazy jokes that no one else really understands, to laughing uncontrollably at scientific names, and even bonding over getting lost on field trips together, we have really had some adventures. Needless to say, I am going to be completely lost without these two people in the lab next year.

While the purpose of this Creative Inquiry is to learn and develop us as scientists, I truly feel like it’s about much more. This lab has given me some of the best friends I have even known, but as sad as I am to see some of them leave, I know that they are going onto bigger and better things because of what CMR has taught them. Here’s to a great semester with some awesome people, and two more to come!

Post Traumatic Fishing Disorder

I remember some things that have happened in my life way better than others because either the memory was super cool or super terrifying. One of the more terrifying moments in my life was the first time I touched a fish. My grandpa is an avid fisher and was determined to teach my sister and I the ways of the fish. He decided to take us to a nearby trout farm. Once we arrived at the farm, we got our bamboo fishing poles and set up camp next to one of the ponds that was filled to the brim with trout. There was so many fish in that single pond that we didn’t even need to bait our hooks. To be honest, putting a worm on a hook scared me a whole lot more than the actual fish did. It wasn’t long until I got a tug on my line. I was so excited that I actually caught my first fish, that I dropped my pole and did a little dance. To say the least, my grandpa was not thrilled about my dance or the fact that I almost lost a pole to the fish at the end of my line. Because we had bamboo fishing poles, the only way to get the fish out of the pond was to yank it out and hope that the fish came with it. So I mustered all the strength I had and yanked that fish out. Unfortunately,  I didn’t follow through with my yank because before I knew it, that trout at the end of the line came flying at me and smacked me square in the face.
Quillback Carpsucker
For years since that day, I was too terrified to even touch a fish. That is until this semester. When I declared my major as wildlife and fisheries biology, I thought that I would be handling wildlife on a daily basis. But I was definitely wrong about that. We talk about wildlife for than anything but this semester I got to take a class that turned out to be one of my absolute favorites. Fisheries biology has been such a great class to help me get over my fear of fish and even learn a lot about fish in the process. I never knew that there was so much information on fish that I never even knew. But probably the best part of the class was actually learning and doing different fish sampling techniques, which meant that we got to handle the things that we were learning so much about. Two of the more notable fish that we caught was a Notchlip Red Horse and a Quillback Carpsucker. Both are part of the sucker family (Catostomidae) but the Notchlip is more noticeably part of the sucker family because of the shape of its mouth. When in spawning season, the males have tubercles that form on its head, anal fin, and the lower lobe of the caudal fin. The Quillback Carpsucker looks a lot like a carp but can be distinguished from the carp by their lack of barbels around the mouth.

Notchlip Red Horse

Over all, I think that I have really learned a lot more about freshwater fish in these past 3 months than I could have learned about in an entire lifetime. This class has prepared me for the summer in the Keys by allowing me to learn more about the anatomy of a fish and how it affects the way that they live and the food that they can eat. I can honestly say that fisheries biology has easily been my favorite wildlife class that I have ever taken.
Wrapping Up

       As my time as a student comes to an end at Clemson University, so does my time as a Conservation of Marine Resources team member.  I like to look back and see all the things I've learned and experienced. 
       I began with CMR in the summer of 2014.  We left early in May of that year for the Florida Keys to conduct field research and returned near the end of July.  Over that two and a half months I was submersed in a new environment (mostly water) that I fell in love with.  I found that as long as I was thirsty for knowledge and kept my eyes peeled, there was more to be learned than I could fit into a Summer.  For example, on my first ocean dive, the first thing I noticed was the clicking sound that resembled the sound of static or white noise.  It never seemed to stop and I had no idea what it was.  I later found out that the noise is caused by thousands and thousands of tiny snapping shrimp that inhabit and defend sponges and usually go unseen.  The ocean is full of situations like this one.  You can look at one piece of substrate, and to an untrained eye it looks like nothing, but with a little digging or conversing with Dr. C you may find that there are a multitude of ecological processes going on that you can't even see.  
      Along with the the knowledge I feel that I grew as a person in CMR.  I became more comfortable presenting and talking in front of a crowd.  I learned to trust myself and the original thoughts that I have.  I gained a better understanding of the scientific process; I don't mean the one you learn in 7th grade but the process of conducting scientific research at a university or government level.  I feel that understanding this process better enables me to form arguments and draw conclusions from things I observe and evaluate.
      Lastly and perhaps most importantly, I gained new friendships.  Unfortunately, we are at a time in our lives where each of us will inevitably move on and follow new opportunities and dreams but I will always have the friends that I made in CMR even when we go our separate ways.  It's perfectly reasonable to think that ten years from now I would stop by wherever Randi may be to catch up, or show up in the Keys to help Kylie nail rebar under water.  We are all chasing different dreams and goals and I want to wish each of my CMR teammates, my friends, the best of luck in all that they do.  They are great people that will certainly do great things.   

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Semester Two!

This semester was a busy one, but it had even more great experiences than the last! The first half of the semester was spent continuing the lobster project that Ash and I were working on from Fall semester. We eventually finished up watching our behavior videos, and finished up our data analysis. We didn't see any significant difference in lobster den sharing behavior based on disease or shelter prevalence, just leading us to have more questions for next semester! We had the opportunity to present these results at a few conferences, including two here at Clemson and also the Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference at FSU. This was my first time presenting at a conference, so I was nervous but it went pretty well! The second half of the semester was spent preparing for the research I will be doing in the Keys this summer working on my own project for my departmental honors requirement. I will be studying the role that neon gobies have in the reef community. After looking around in the reef fish book I ended up finding these little fish that clean parasites off of other fishes, and thought they were pretty cool! The plan is to see what kind of influence the gobies have on the species abundance and territoriality of the herbivore species that we already study, the parrotfish and damselfish. If gobies cause increases in herbivore abundance or changes in their behavior/territoriality, this could have impacts on the macroalgal abundance and coral health! I'm very excited to start this project, and it will be a busy summer but I can't wait!
The highlight of this semester, however, was my first trip to the Keys for spring break. I had never been to the Keys before, or really anywhere quite as tropical as that, so I was very excited. Seeing the beautiful blue water for the first time was incredible. As soon as we parked at the marina we were staying at, I went over to the water and immediately saw some beautiful fish, including a rainbow parrotfish! The first day was spent getting organized and buying supplies, and I spent most of my time trying to learn all of the traditions the rest of the team has from past trips, even in the groceries we buy. We went to Keys Fisheries for dinner (one of the traditions) and watched an incredible sunset. The next day was our first day of diving, and unfortunately the water was super rough. We managed to get two sites done, but I ended up getting pretty seasick. Even still, my first dive in the Keys, and my first dive on a reef, was amazing. I tried to focus on searching around for gobies and learning the techniques, but I couldn't help from just looking around at all the beautiful fish and corals. The rest of the week the water was perfectly calm, and we quickly made up for the lost time. I quickly learned the way we operate for each site and learned lots of new things such as measuring the coral health. It was a very busy week, but it was so much fun. There were too many great experiences to list all of them, but I had two main highlights. Seeing so many cool animals, including sharks, sea turtles, and manatees, and getting to spend so much time with the rest of the team! I can easily see now why this lab is so much like a family, just from spending one week there. I'm looking forward to the summer!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

First semester with my new family (+Damselfish)

This was my first semester as a member of this lab. I feel extremely lucky to be part of such a wonderful team that works so hard, but has a lot of fun doing it. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve gotten close to everyone! Although I’m really disappointed I was unable to travel down to the Keys with the team over spring break (and I’m unable to go in the summer), I still had quite the experience with animal care, presentations, research, and watching videos.
I actually didn’t think I would become so accustomed and confident in my animal care as quickly as I did. It was so cool that we had such a variety of animals this semester - including guppies, cichlids, bettas, crayfish, lobsters, hermit crabs, and urchins because of the behavioral ecology lab animals were kept with ours. Although I had heard quite a few scary stories about the crayfish and how they are “little devils”, I didn’t mind them too much! Sure, they did sort of freak me out sometimes when they jumped around and tried to escape, but only one ever escaped with me and it was quite the adventure to get him back in his crate. I actually love feeding the lobsters and crayfish to observe how they eat because it’s so fascinating. But I’d have to say I love the cichlids the best because they are so pretty and very aggressive whenever you throw their food in. They act like they are starving so they quickly inhale their food.
Aside from animal care, I had weekly meetings for short term and long term goals. The beginning of the semester was kind of overwhelming because I was new and had to learn everything about Damselfish for the first creative inquiry forum held in February. I was very thankful to have such an amazing partner, Randi, who was patient and helped me understand all the research she was learned and conducted so far. The forum was held in the Watt Center and was pretty fun! I was able to show off everything I learned to anyone who stopped by my poster. It also challenged me to know more and stimulated more questions concerning Damselfish.
I finally met and understood more of Bicolor and Dusky Damselfish personalities mid-semester as we watched many videos that were taken over summer 2015. While watching the videos, we noted the fish that entered the area, the time spent in view, and how the Damselfish in focus treated the visiting fish. Aside from the fact it took several hours to complete them, it was fun to watch the videos of the fish. It helped give me a better understanding of their personalities. But with each video I watched, I began to become more jealous of my teammates that actually get to travel down to the Keys over breaks because it’s so beautiful!

I love this creative inquiry and I’m excited for the fall semester. I can’t wait to see what new information we can discover from the field work that will be conducted over the summer.