ISU students and professors take a trip to marine biology | Academics

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A group of 12 students and two instructors spent their spring break 1,824 miles south of Ames studying marine biology in what can only be called paradise.

Students enrolled in Biology 394A / B arrived on the scenic island of Roatán in Honduras after completing two flights totaling four hours and 15 minutes to study what they couldn’t get their hands on. ‘Iowa.

The students, working in various groups, were conducting research for projects based on marine biology which they will present to their classmates on April 13. The ability to participate in the class was based on applications, letters of recommendation and interviews.

Donald Sakaguchi, Program Director for Spring Break Overseas Travel and Professor of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, has accompanied students nine times since this semester.

The study abroad program, which was open to all students, aims to provide students with “hands-on experience of a marine environment,” Sakaguchi said.

Hands-on experience is exactly what Cristina Cuhel, second year animal science student, and Logan Ott, senior in microbiology, got when they spent their spring break abroad.

It’s not often that students are excited to wake up at 6.30am during their break from college, but these students were more than ready to wake up for scuba diving and snorkeling adventures.

Jeanne Serb, co-director of the program and associate professor in ecology, evolution and biology of organisms, replied with a laugh, referring to the structure of the student’s daily itinerary.

The student’s schedule was “very busy”.

“We started our day at 7 [a.m.]Serbian said. one or two dives and snorkels. Our day usually didn’t end until around 7 p.m. “

Cuhel mentioned that the days were very long, which made students anxious to sleep as free time ran out.

Unlike other Spring Break trips, this one focused heavily on students doing research and data analysis for the group projects they spent the first part of the semester preparing for.

The students were using all the time available to them, seeing as they were experiencing unique wildlife in places surrounded by water unlike what they have access to in Iowa.

“Here on campus we look at things like experiments and controlled systems, whereas when you are in the field you can see the things you have learned and you can get a feel for how they actually work,” Ott mentioned. .

Ott’s group focused their research project on the impact of humans on phytoplankton.

“We were trying to see if this organism biome was affected by things like human runoff, pollution, coastal development and things like that,” Ott said.

The question that Ott’s group set out to answer was “how does coastal development and human impact affect coral reefs in marine communities?”

The group found that there is an increase in microscopic life just off the coast of developed areas, which inhibits the growth of natural coral reefs as they depend on clearer water to thrive so they can. receive light.

Ott, who had never left the United States before, said he spent his first trip overseas obtaining a scuba diving certification, which enabled him to investigate the fish. on many different indicator species such as parrotfish and damselfly.

“It’s like living in another world, being able to just float with the fish,” Ott said.

The purpose of the fish survey was to accumulate data that his group could compare with plankton data in the hopes of revealing a correlation between the two in Roatán’s waters.

The correlation would potentially show that there is an impact on the upper end of the food chain for which humans are responsible, and that humans have a negative effect on coral reefs by causing things like nutrient shortages, said Ott.

“What we have found so far is that there is an increase in microscopic life just off the coast of developed areas, which inhibits the growth of natural coral reefs because they depend on a clearer water to grow so they can get light, ”he said.

In order for Ott’s group to get data on phytoplankton, he said they used phytoplankton nets, which they dragged through the water to collect water samples that they would examine under a dissecting microscope.

They then counted living or organic organisms and specified the number of different types of living or organic organisms. Ott’s group continued this form of sampling at the docks outside the Roatán Institute of Marine Sciences in a nearby channel off the coast and in open water, he said.

Through this collection, Ott’s group discovered that there was a peak of phytoplankton directly offshore and that there was a drought of organisms further offshore.

A hypothesis that Ott’s group is playing with regards the idea that runoff provides additional nutrients right next to the shore, causing organisms to proliferate and increase dead space further from the shore where nutrients missing.

“Those [phytoplankton] play a huge role in the ecosystem of other marine species such as larger fish, corals and anemones. Since there is a boom closer to the shore that causes dead space further away, it inhibits the growth of other organisms, ”said Ott.

Ott said he plans to continue studying the interactions microbes have on the rest of the world after college.

“In particular, I want to study different types of diseases caused by microorganisms,” said Ott.

Ott has said he’s interested in studying marine environments, but he’s not sure if he’ll be able to take that route after college. He plans to complete a medical or master’s degree program in the future.

Like Ott, Cuhel spent her time in Honduras doing research that she would also like to study after college.

At the end of the week, Cuhel concluded that her experiences in Honduras were worth it for her to decide that she wanted to pursue a career in dolphin training after college.

“This trip really helped me narrow down what I wanted to do,” Cuhel said.

Cuhel recalls that snorkeling with the bottlenose dolphins in her enclosure was a “super fun” experience, as she was able to play with the dolphins by putting seagrass in their mouths.

Cuhel is currently looking for dolphin training internships, she said. She recently applied to one in Honduras and is interested in the research aspect of training dolphins instead of training dolphins for water shows.

After changing the focus of their project several times, Cuhel’s group spent their time studying different methods of collecting data on dolphin behavior.

“We got a lot of our data from the other group that was there,” Cuhel said. “We mainly observed them and how they observed the dolphins.”

Cuhel’s group did not get their data from scuba diving and snorkeling with dolphins, she said, but instead collected their data by observing dolphins from above the water.

The group focused on focal sampling, sweep sampling, audio recording and video recording by examining different methods of studying dolphin behavior.

Cuhel and Ott both enjoyed swimming in Roatán on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and had the chance to study the environment they were immersed in.

“A lot of these trips are a little intimidating at first as they require more financial investment and more commitment, but it’s definitely worth it,” Ott said. don’t give it up for the world. “

Cuhel and Ott have both said they would like to continue studying abroad if they can to gain more experience in real-world applications of things they learn in Iowa State classes.

While she liked the research side of the trip, Cuhel said her favorite part of the trip was on the last dive.

“On our last dive we were able to explore a wreck,” Cuhel said. “At one point, I went to stand in front of the arch and recreated the titanic pose.”

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