85 Degree Winter

Posted: April 15, 2015

Did you know, that if you’re lucky a seahorse might wrap around your finger in shallow waters?
Did you know a neonatal nurse shark has spots?
Have you had the chance to see a humpback whale calf swim up next to you?
Did you know that the largest lionfish ever speared was over forty-seven centimeters long?

We’re back and ready to tell you more stories about what its like to be an SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies Waterfront Intern! We’ve been cranking away at the Center this winter, helping everything run smoothly for staff and students.

Arriving a few days early in January, we had the opportunity to continue working on Dr. Hertler’s coral reef research and profile turtle nesting beaches on distant cays. For this research project, we were joined by Research Associate (and former staff member) Charlotte de Fontaubert. Early in the semester, we learned more about NOAA’s fisheries programs from our guests Aubrey Ellertson (Fall 2011 alumna) and Ben Church, and eDNA from Judith Baker of Salford University. Its been fast paced so far, but that won’t stop us.

Last semester Travis worked with Dr. Henderson and students on a series of projects including working to collect video data on the types of sharks in our waters, and collecting abiotic data in the surrounding shallow water nurseries. It was there that he and four students found two adorable seahorses that wrapped around their fingers for support! This semester he continues this work, welcoming ten new undergraduate students onto the different projects.


Travis Gomez-Phillips (SFS Alum, Fall ’13) cleaning lionfish to be used as bait for Dr. Henderson’s shark research.

Work with Resource Management Professor Kathy Lockhart has been in full swing as the students learn about the fisheries on South Caicos and the requirements for conch and lobster to be considered mature adults. Earlier in the semester, when I was helping students with their underwater conch assessments, I came across the smallest juvenile nurse shark I’d ever seen! The little spotted creature was only about eight inches long, and was probably only a day old.


Jess Bechhofer (SFS Alum, Spring ’13) washing down the vehicles after a long day of field research.

Emily continued her work with Dr. Hertler collecting benthic information and leading the rest of the interns on a series of research dives. One morning, she and Connor went out to the Arch (one of our local dive sites) and in the last three minutes of the dive, a humpback whale calf swam right past them. Imagine their shock as they turned around to see such a majestic creature beside them! This semester, four more undergraduates join Dr. Hertler’s project, focusing on the different abundances of fish species we see at particular reef sites.


Connor Burke (SFS Alum, Spring ’13) leads water quality groups, contributing to one of the long term data sets collected at the Center.


Emily Stokes (SFS Alum, Fall ’12) holding a sea hare that was found along the shores of South Caicos.

Anela’s been leading research all about lionfish: how to find them, when to dive and catch them, and how to record data on their length and weight. She’s a lionfish expert! Over the course of this semester, the interns have been able to go on dives and rid the reefs of over 50 of these invasive fish. There is an ongoing contest to see who can catch the most, and how big they can get.


Anela Akiona (SFS Alum, Spring ’13) measuring and weighing lionfish, part of an ongoing research project to help us understand the impacts of invasive species on our local reefs.

We are very pleased to welcome and introduce to the greater SFS community to our newest intern addition, Emily Penaranda! She works by our side, driving the boats, working with the students on community outreach, and working closely with Molly, our Student Affairs Manager. In her free time, Emily is getting her Open Water dive certification, so that she too can join us on dives and exploration of the big blue.


Emily Penaranda holding a juvenile lobster, one of the many we collect and measure every month to help us better understand the spiny lobster population.

Every week, along with our student researchers, we find out new and exciting things about the marine world around us. We’re looking forward to even more Directed Research in the next few weeks, but until then, we’ll be down at the dive shed getting everything ready!