Thursday, October 8, 2020

Corals from Quarantine: Research in the time of COVID-19

In March 2020, I was eagerly awaiting my first trip to the Florida Keys.

I spent a ridiculous amount of money on sunscreen, an embarrassing number of hours in the aisle at Target making sure it was all reef-safe, and over a semester listening to my lab buddies tell stories of their time there. Going to the Keys feels like a rite of passage for Childress lab members, and I was ready to - quite literally - dive in.

But then, of course, the world turned upside down. And, well... here we are! 


From a campus walk after everyone left. I had never seen Cooper so empty.

But of course, there was still work to be done! Data to be collected. Fish to be counted. And while my Ikea desk in my college apartment is a far less exciting workspace than the Atlantic Ocean, I was still determined to get as much out of my research work that semester as I could. We were all adjusting to a new normal, and we all just had to make it work.

So I spent hours identifying fish species on our reef sites in photographs from last year. I could probably recite the table of contents of the Humann/Deloach Reef Fish Identification of the Florida Keys book. I drove myself crazy trying to figure out if the speck I was looking at was a wrasse or a rock. (and, being the nerd I am, I had a really good time doing it!)

Between fish ID work and Clemson's virtual new-student Orientation sessions (I was actually orientation ambassador of the year, thank you very much!), I had the opportunity to begin my journey as a Hollings Scholar with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They also were scrambling to move everything online, of course. But it was an exciting new thing to start during a pretty monotonous time!

Day 1 of online NOAA orientation

It feels like all of this just started, but also like we have been doing it this way forever. And for the foreseeable future, it looks like our research will continue online. This semester, I have graduated from counting fish and am studying foraging behaviors and social groups of Butterflyfish in the Florida Keys. Our work has translated to a virtual setting very well, and I truly am learning something every day. 

But I am so ready to be back in the lab!

(Oh, and I did manage to sneak down to the Keys over the summer on my own... and got to do my first saltwater dive with my dad as my buddy! Finally got to put all that sunscreen I bought to good use.)

And thus, my life was changed forever.

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