Saturday, November 21, 2020

Not a Goodbye Just Yet

Two and half years ago I began my journey with this team. Now, as I see the end of the tunnel and the start of another, I begin to reflect on that time. In this lab I was able to meet great people, contribute to research that had meaning, and live my dream of being a marine biologist. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always as fun as they make it seem on tv, but it is something I would never take back. Something I will never take for granted. 

As I write this, I look back at where I began, the new guy from engineering who knew only the names of a bunch of fish. For a moment there I thought I'd be over my head, but that wasn't the case at all. Because the people around me cared so much, they were there to help me learn and become essential to this team. Whether it was learning CPCe at the beginning, or statistics at the end, there was always someone there to help.

The work that we've been doing these last few years was monumental. The shear amount of data that was collected and analyzed was truly something. We looked at thousands of fish over the years and from that we were able to draw many conclusions about our coral reef communities. Also because of this, coral reef restorers have better insight and knowledge of the fish community. That is why this means so much.

I wanted to end on a goodbye, but I don't think that will be necessary just yet. While I may be graduating with a degree in Bioengineering in December, I will also be starting a Masters of Science with that same department in January. So, I will still be around; just not in any official capacity. I hope to see more great things from this lab in the future! Also, I know I'm writing this now in November when we still have one more meeting, but I had to write it at some point. 

Thank you Kara, Dr. C, Kelsey, Kylie, Mason, Emma, Rachel, Kristiaan, Reanna, Caroline, Rob, Riley, Stephanie, all the new people from zoom, and everyone else! I really hope I didn't spell those wrong.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The COVID Summer of 2020

This past summer was originally supposed to be the best summer of my life, backpacking across Europe and going on South African safari rides. But, as many can probably relate, that all came crashing down around me in March when the world shut down due to coronavirus. 

Still, it’s hard to complain about quarantining at home when home is on the south shore of Long Island and a 5 minute bike ride from the beach (although, it would be nicer if there were places to go diving). 

I found things to occupy my newly found free-time, including relaxing at the beach and working as a hostess at a seafood restaurant. The amount of times I had to remind people to put their masks on, and got yelled at for it, is too many to count. 

My favorite activity though, was working as a virtual volunteer for the New York Aquarium. Even though the zoos were all closed due to Co-vid restrictions, they still wanted to provide opportunities for the public to connect with the animals and continue to learn. As a Discovery Guide volunteer, I worked on a team to put together interactive and educational activities for kids that could be accessed virtually. It was such an amazing feeling to know I was helping people stay in touch with the aquarium even if they couldn’t visit in person, and give them something fun to do during the boring days of quarantine. It also taught me a lot, as I learned about the different animals that lived at the aquarium, and listened to seminars from professionals in the conservation field. 

Here's an example of one of the activities we made. 

But I was more than ready to come back to Clemson in August for the fall semester. I participated in Something Very Fishy spring semester of my freshman year, and now as a sophomore, this is my first semester with the Dr. Childress lab. Growing up by the coast, I’ve wanted to pursue marine conservation for a while, and worried about finding a research lab that interested me in the forestry-heavy focused areas at Clemson University. That made finding and being able to participate in the Childress lab so exciting, and I’m excited to continue, especially on the project I’m working on now concerning marine debris and how it affects organisms.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Waiting on the World to Change

 Hi everyone!

My name is Madeline Odom, and I'm new here to Dr. Childress' CI. My freshman year, I helped with Something Very Fishy, but I'm a junior now and that really seems like forever ago. College has flown by. I'm actually an animal and vet science major, hoping to be a vet one day. And I can't tell you how excited I am to be doing marine work at a Clemson! 

I do work at a vet office, but the weirdest thing we have seen there is a snake. No marine life :( I had applied for an internship with the South Carolina aquarium but you know.... COVID-19. So, I am overly thankful to be participating in this CI, and I can't tell you how much I've learned about marine species and debris and (the topic of our discussion this week) forensic entomology in the ocean. 

I've always been a criminal minds fan, so this discussion will be fun. 

But apart from me, this semester I have been helping Kea with her Dive Against Debris project. We have spent countless hours organizing all of her images that she took from dives into categories, based on species type, debris type, location, and more. It is tedious work-- but when work like this interests you as much as it interests me, the work passes by quickly. 

As much as the pandemic has affected us, it still gave me the opportunity to be a part of something I've been looking forward to since I was a senior in high school. I knew one of the old members of the team, and the way she talked about it, I just knew I had to be a part. I actually emailed Dr. Childress the summer before my freshman year. 

I've never been diving, but I have snorkeled a lot in Florida on vacations. One of my top goals for this year is to get my certification and be able to dive and (hopefully) help Kea develop this project. 

But until this pandemic is over, we're just waiting on the world to change. 

And loving every minute of the work while we wait. 

Thank you, 

Madeline :)

Thursday, October 15, 2020

My First Dive

 In light of COVID taking away a lot of opportunities for our undergraduate team to do field research in the Florida Keys last spring and over the summer, instead of discussing the countless hours I spent on my laptop, I thought I’d share the experience of my first real dive ever that really began my passion for the ocean. 

In 2013 my family took a trip to a Guanacoste, Costa Rica, the Pacific side of the country. After listening to my dad’s countless stories about diving throughout the Caribbean and even in the Charleston Harbor, I really wanted to go SCUBA diving. My dad signed us up for a resort diving course with the resort we were staying at.

We woke up first thing in the morning, where the dive instructor taught me the basics in a pool. Afterwards, we boarded the boat and took off to our first destination. The first dive was about 25 feet down. The most difficult part was trying to clear my ears and equalize for the first time, but once I got past that I got to see the beautiful world that lies just beneath the surface. Schools and schools of beautifully colorful fish. The most amazing starfish that looked like blue porcelain. It was a very serene experience. The dive went by so quickly and we were back on the boat before I knew it.

The second dive solidified my newfound love for diving in which the dive instructor took us a little bit deeper than we were supposed to go to see an extraordinary white tip reef shark. As a 13 year old girl I was both scared and amazed. It was very surreal. Quickly after returning from the trip I began the journey to getting certified.  

I don’t have many pictures from the experience as I was a 13 year old with an underwater disposable camera where most of the pictures were of the island we dive around, Monkey Head Island, which looked like a monkey’s head, and blurry fish. 

This picture is of me, my father, and the dive instructor. 

 Coming to Clemson, a school far from the coast, I didn’t think I would find a marine research lab. When I found out about the Childress lab and Something Very Fishy I felt I had found my place. My experience in this lab has been amazing and I have met many talented students and future scientists in this that have helped to motivate and teach me. 

I am currently studying the effects of marine debris under PhD candidate Kea Payton and I am really enjoying it! 

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.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Living Like Larry: Spiny Lobster Homing

Hey everyone! My name is Coral Holt, and I am a senior biology major in the Childress Lab. I have been in the lab since the fall of 2019 working on the spiny lobster homing project with Dr. Childress. I am working toward a Departmental Honors thesis and manuscript this year, and I hope to be able to present a poster presentation as well if the state of the COVID-19 pandemic allows.

In this post, I want to talk a little bit about the data I am working on this semester. To start, I want to give a brief explanation of my project. Homing is an organism's ability to find its way back to its home shelter if displaced. Lobsters have been identified as a type of animal capable of this, and it is thought that they navigate utilizing an internal organ sensitive to earth's magnetic fields, like a compass! Previous studies have looked at adult lobsters' ability to home using acoustic telemetry. This tracking technique involves setting up a grid of receptors and placing acoustic tags on lobster subjects. The tags send out frequent acoustic signals, and depending on when they are detected by different receivers in the grid, a precise location can be triangulated.

In the specific studies I am working on, we look at a species called the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Panulirus argus, a species found in the Florida Keys ecosystems our lab focuses on. This specific species of lobster has been found to be especially good at homing. However, until last year, only adult lobsters were utilized in the studies. The studies I am working on look at juvenile lobsters to see if they have a similar ability to their adult counterparts. If they do, this may suggest homing is an innate ability rather than learned.

Last year, I worked on a data set from a study conducted near Lower Matecumbe Key. We found that control/nondisplaced lobsters tended to move in larger areas than the experimental/displaced lobsters on the night following displacement. We speculated that this could be due to nondisplaced lobsters moving in a more meandering pattern, creating a circular area of activity, as opposed to a more directional and linear area of activity in displaced lobsters as they try to find their way back to their dens. We also found that the displaced lobsters were visually and statistically accurate at homing in regards to both direction and displacement. Take a look at my poster presentation from this spring!

This year, I am looking at another two data sets from experiments conducted in Lower Matecumbe Key and Coral Gardens in the summer of 2020. In the end, I plan to combine them with the data set from last year to write up a manuscript for publication and my Departmental Honors project. Here is how we go about conducting the studies and analyzing the results:

We first set up the field experiment over the summer. The acoustic telemetry receptor array is set up first. Then, lobsters are caught and tagged before they are released either at their original den (control) or at another location (displaced). The lobsters are then left to move about for a period of about three weeks before the field study is concluded.

Then, we take the location data collected from the field study and organize it into an Excel spreadsheet. First, I cut the data to include only night time location points, from 10pm-10am, and I also cut out any data points in which the number of receivers that detected the tag is below 3 (this is because an accurate location cannot be triangulated without three receptors!). I make a separate CSV file for each day of movement for each lobster, and I upload each CSV into Google Earth to visualize the movement. In Google Earth, I use a color template to make the first point of the day red, all of the intermediate points orange, and the last point yellow. This helps me in making measurements in ImageJ!

Next, I upload the Google Earth images into ImageJ to measure the distance and angle of movement from beginning to end (red to yellow) and area of activity by making a convex polygon around the data points. Finally, with the distance and angle measurements, I create vector diagrams that compare the distance and angle displaced (black arrow) to the distance and angle of movement on the day following displacement (orange arrow) for each lobster. Perfect homing would be represented by an orange arrow pointing 180 degrees away from the black arrow and extending all the way to the border of the circle. As you can see in the above diagrams, the lobsters are pretty accurate!

We also create graphs and conduct statistical analyses on the distance and area of movement of control and displaced group lobsters on the few days following displacement. That is how we found last year that the control group lobsters moved in larger areas on the day following displacement, and that this difference was statistically significant.

You may be wondering, “So what does this all have to do with marine conservation?” Well, while lobsters have this ability to find their way back home if they are displaced, most other marine organisms do not. Therefore, anthropogenic disruptions to marine ecosystems are very detrimental. In addition, lobsters’ ability to home does not make them immune from disruption. If displaced too far from their home dens, perhaps by capture-and-release practices, they may not be able to find their way back. Also, even if they are not displaced, just being captured and handled stresses them out and causes them to move around more, as we found in last year’s study. Lastly, environmental disruptions such as man-made magnetic fields, such as those created by submarine power cables, can disrupt the mechanism by which lobsters navigate, discussed earlier, and negatively affect their ability to home.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell you a little bit about the research I am working on! I am excited to see what this year has in store, and I am looking forward to giving some cool updates in the future! Until then, keep living like Larry :)


Friday, April 24, 2020

Congratulations to our CMR Class of 2020

I am so proud of the accomplishments of our CMR Class of 2020, Emma Crowfoot, Michelle Logan, Rachel Radick, and Kelsey Sox. You have triumphed over adversity and we wish you well on all of you future adventures. Here are some of the fine research projects they accomplished this year.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

SVF Eco-Tour Station 5 & 6 - Backstage tour

What STEAM program would be complete without a peak behind the curtain to reveal the magic of the theatrical arts. In these eco-tour stations children get to come on stage to meet the cast and crew and to ask questions about how to make magic on stage.

It is more than a little strange to find my research equipment being used as props and set pieces but it adds realism to Sandy Carson's coral reef research. 

It was a lot of fun helping Kathy to bring these reefs to life by making different kinds of corals and decorating them with all kinds of props from around our lab.

Meeting the puppets was a highlight for all of the children.

Getting to work with this talented and dedicated cast and crew really made Something Very Fishy special this year. Thank you so much for participating in our STEAM exhibit!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

SVF Eco-Tour Station 4 - Mangrove Beach

Rising sea levels and loss of mangroves are a double threat to the stability of our beaches. In this station of our eco-tour the children meet a sea turtle biologist and National Park ranger on a beach in the Florida Keys. 

They learn about the importance of mangroves as a nursery for many fish and invertebrates and how crabs, shore birds and sea turtles all rely on the beach to lay their eggs. The cut-away sea turtle nest helps the children to understand why sea turtle biologists sometimes relocate nests to higher ground to help give every nest a chance to hatch.

They discuss how our beaches also accumulates an enormous amount of marine debris including discarded fishing gear and single-use plastics. Children have an opportunity to help clean the reef by recycling plastic bottles at our recycling station. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

SVF Eco-Tour Station 3 - Aquarius Habitat

Next stop on our tour of the Florida Keys underwater is the Aquarius Underwater Habitat. This unique underwater laboratory supports teams of six aquanauts that spend 7-14 days living at depth while conducting their research.

Our eco-tour station is set-up to resemble the inside of the Aquarius habitat with a table of SCUBA equipment and items related to underwater research.

We even play a video showing how divers enter the habitat through the unique 'wet porch'.

The docents share information about how important it is to keep the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the habitat. Much like the importance of understanding how increasing carbon dioxide in the water and decrease oxygen impact the health of all marine life.