The student reunion back at the Center after a short mid-semester break was bittersweet for everyone; we were all glad to be in familiar territory with the intimacy of South, but all secretly knew of the imminent workload that was coming. This workload I speak of is not only jumping back into class, but also the initiation of the long anticipated Directed Research (DR).
Some people, such as myself, had a very relaxing and enjoyable day of introductory research. Others had a more task-intensive day, which is more representative of upcoming DR days for us all. For instance, the “sharking” (the affectionate term for doing shark research) students got to spend the first few hours of their day repairing gill nets, then went out for four hours of “sharking” after lunch, and then left dinner early to head out to shark some more! Enjoyable work, no doubt, but it must have come as a shock after so recently returning from a field trip and spring break. Even with all the work to do, everyone seems to be incredibly excited for their research, including myself.
I am personally doing research with our Resource Management professor, Tamsen Byfield, and three other students. We are working on assessing the stock of queen conch (Strombus gigas) including habitat, size, and age distribution, in order to determine the status of this well over-fished animal. I chose this DR because of its use of local knowledge as well as the applicability of the results for the community, not to mention conch is an interesting species! Through this research I am working to determine the viabilities of Marine Protected Areas in providing suitable habitats for different age classes of conch. We do our research by snorkeling (and sometimes diving) for hours a day, laying transects and collecting conch, measuring them on a boat and returning them to their homes. The photo is of a collection of conch waiting to be measured; over 100 were collected in this photo alone! It is a rough life indeed.
Every research project presents incredible opportunities both for us as nascent environmental scientists and for the people of the community, as most everything we are researching is partly driven to helping the people either socially or economically.