Florida Tech Alumni Marine Biology Husband and Wife Train Young Scientists to Conduct Field Research

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Owners of Isla Mar Research Expeditions in Puerto Rico

Chelsea Harms-Tuohy in her classroom. Each summer, she and her husband, FIT alumnus Evan Tuohy, host a dozen Florida Tech students, who descend on the island for a two-week field course in coral reef ecology with their professor, Ralph Turigan, Ph.D., Department of Biological Sciences. (Image by Florida Tech)

(FLORIDA TECH) – When Chelsea Harms-Tuohy, a former marine biology student, decided to move to Puerto Rico after graduating from Florida Tech, she had no idea Florida Tech would follow her.

But each summer, she and her husband, FIT alumnus Evan Tuohy, host a dozen Florida Tech students, who descend on the island for a two-week course in coral reef ecology with their teacher. , Ralph Turigan, Ph.D., of the Department of Biological Sciences.

As co-owners of Isla Mar Research Expeditions in Puerto Rico, they organize and lead field courses, train young scientists interested in the skills they need to conduct field research in the marine biology system, coordinate internships and lead local awareness and research activities.

The couple both graduated from Florida Tech’s marine biology program, Evan in 2009 and Chelsea in 2010, earning their masters in 2011.

“As a former student, we are really excited about this ongoing partnership which allows us to network with current students and give back to our alma mater who has helped shape our careers to what they are today.” , Harms-Tuohy said.

During their stay, students help with local research and monitoring of an important marine reserve in Puerto Rico, the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve in Rincon. They are taught to conduct surveys to assess the abundance and diversity of fish, the health of coral reefs, and the habitat composition and complexity of the reef.

Explore ecosystems

During the course, students gain experience in field research methods such as underwater visual census and fish identification. They explore the marine environment and learn about the entire coral reef ecosystems, including mangroves and seagrass beds.

“They go scuba diving or snorkeling and then we also expose them to other unique features of the island’s biogeography like waterfalls, caves, tropical rainforests, dry forests and a night in. Old Town San Juan for a truly unique and cultural experience, ”Harms-Tuohy mentioned. “We, as Isla Mar, coordinate everything for this course. “

During their stay, students help with local research and monitoring of an important marine reserve in Puerto Rico, the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve in Rincon. They are taught to conduct surveys to assess the abundance and diversity of fish, the health of coral reefs, and the habitat composition and complexity of the reef.

During their stay, students help with local research and monitoring of an important marine reserve in Puerto Rico, the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve in Rincon. They are taught to conduct surveys to assess the abundance and diversity of fish, the health of coral reefs, and the habitat composition and complexity of the reef.

Rave reviews

Sierra Gipson is a psychology student with a concentration in Animal Behavior who will graduate from Florida Tech with her BA in May 2018. She was part of the recent field course in Isla Mar and says the experience motivated her to pursue marine biology.

“Chelsea and Evan were amazing instructors for this course! They showed the beauty of Puerto Rico while teaching us all an immense amount of useful knowledge for the field of biology, ”said Gipson.

“This incredible experience offered to us by them helped me decide that I want to return to the marine biology department. I hope to follow in their footsteps.

Chasing a dream

Another student in this summer’s program, Erin Walters, is currently working as an electrical engineer, but has decided to return to school to fulfill her dream of working in marine science.

“Chelsea and Evan at Isla Mar Research Expeditions put on an incredibly well-organized two-week course that was packed with educational adventures,” Walters said.

“We hiked mountains and learned how vegetation and runoff can affect the ocean. We have snorkeled all over Puerto Rico and have seen how diverse marine environments can be, even in close proximity to each other. And we learned practical field survey skills and used them for data collection. “

Walters hopes to graduate from Florida Tech with his Masters in Ocean Engineering in 2018.

“Thanks to Chelsea and Evan, I know a lot more about fish identification, fish behavior, marine habitats, how marine protected areas can affect both fish populations and fishermen in surrounding communities, and much more, ”said Walter.

“I left the course confident in my newly acquired reef survey skills and nurturing a growing love for the fieldwork and for Puerto Rico. I wish all of my classes were more like this.

During the course, students gain experience in field research methods such as underwater visual census and fish identification. They explore the marine environment and learn about the entire coral reef ecosystems, including mangroves and seagrass beds. (Image by Florida Tech)

Explore the island

On the program, many hikes and guided excursions.

“This year, a graduate student in geological oceanography led a hike along a beach with incredible rock formations to educate students about the formation of the island and the sea level in the geological past,” said Harms-Tuohy said.

“The students experienced the bioluminescent bay of La Parguera, where they were able to swim with the dinoflagellates responsible for creating the beautiful glow – it was one of the most memorable experiences for the students this year.”

Always something new

Students also had the opportunity to visit a local small-scale organic coffee farm and network and learn from local scientists who have lectured on their ongoing research in Puerto Rico.

“Every year is something new, but there is one thing that we always keep the same, our goal of giving students a very hands-on experience of researching the field and exploring the hidden gems of the island of Puerto Rico they wouldn’t find on a vacation, ”Harms-Tuohy said.

“We had the opportunity to network with these students and we are very proud to learn that many of them have gone on to graduate school or found employment in their field, and that the training they received here made it all the more competitive in the workplace. Marlet.

Last year, Chelsea Harms-Tuohy received her doctorate. from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez and focused on monitoring and managing the lionfish invasion in Puerto Rico. (Image by Florida Tech)

A paradise for marine biology

The couple have been coordinating and working with FIT on this course since 2012, but officially under the name Isla Mar since 2015.

Last year Harms-Tuohy received his doctorate. from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez and focused on monitoring and managing the lionfish invasion in Puerto Rico.

In addition to her business, she also works as a freelance biologist for projects in the Caribbean ranging from habitat vulnerability assessment, industry environmental impact on fish assemblages, monitoring of fish Spawning aggregations of commercially important fish and participation in NOAA’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Program to assess fish and coral communities on a biannual basis.

“The natural beauty of the island is a huge plus and the people we work with are amazing,” Harms-Tuohy said. “We have built an excellent network of very supportive colleagues, scientists and organizations with whom we work frequently. It’s hard to beat that.

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