Summer Research Adventure: Getting Your Hands Dirty!

Posted: July 17, 2015

Adventure and education go hand in hand at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) on South Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands. This summer, students are engaged in field research that addresses local stakeholder questions. As part of the Summer II program, student concentrate on data collection, marine research techniques, and data interpretation for a final report and presentation.

I was a student at the CMRS more than 20 years ago. The program was interesting and exhilarating for someone from a land-locked school that wanted to experience the marine environment. Over the years, the program has continued to evolve and this summer has been no exception. In the past, students participating in the summer programs seemed to enjoy the activities, but often expressed interest in more “hands-on” research experiences. Now, summer programming incorporates applied scientific methods as a core course rather than a component of the course.

Last week, students from around the world arrived on South Caicos. Some participated in the previous Summer I session and opted to continue for the Summer II session to really get their hands dirty. Summer II research focuses on shallow reef health and condition, mangrove/seagrass economic value, and commercial fin-fish assessment. Everyone will be involved in the data collection for all three projects, and then each student will analyze and write about one of the research projects. Unlike many other study aboard programs, this will be an opportunity for students to be involved in a variety of projects and scientific methods of data collection, which benefits a student from any academic discipline.

At the start of the program, students were introduced to scientific methodology, research ethics, survey techniques, construction of a scientific paper, and data entry and analysis. It has been interesting to observe the students at different levels of their academic careers deciding what are his/her areas of interest for research and how to address a specific focus. Each project has different field research activities such as: diving and snorkeling on the reefs to lay transects and determine the species richness and health of the coral reefs; snorkeling and hiking through seagrass and mangroves while inspecting quadrats for coverage and taking ambient parameters to determine health and the economic value of those resources; and speaking with the local commercial fisherman about daily catch and measuring individual fish sizes and weights for further analysis.

In order for the students to be able to work on the projects effectively, CMRS faculty have developed potential questions for projects and the students can determine which focus they wish to pursue for their papers. It has indeed been gratifying to observe the students take the initiative to dig in and start reviewing literature for their research papers.

Academics have not been exclusive to the three projects. Faculty research projects have also been introduced to the students for participation in data collection. A project that has been ongoing since 2012 and prior to that for the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) is spiny lobster juvenile recruitment monitoring. Students capture juvenile lobster, take measurements of the individuals, and release them. The data from this project will potentially assist DEMA in predictions of the spiny lobster fishery commercial catches. It has been exhilarating to see students involved and excited about the research activities at the Center.

Through all my years of experience with CMRS, I appreciate the program’s continued growth and development while working with the local and scientific community. It has been my pleasure to work with staff and students that are intrigued and excited to be active participants in the program.