Posted: March 14, 2016

As interns at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) in South Caicos, we often get asked to describe an average day in our work week. The truth is, there isn’t one. We fill a multitude of roles around the Center, anywhere from pool maintenance to certifying scuba students, from taking part in student program activities to assisting faculty with their research projects.

For example, in collaboration with South Caicos fishermen and commercial plant owners, we are assisting Kathy Lockhart, Resource Management Lecturer, in collecting body weight, morphometric measurements and maturity information of the local finfish and spiny lobster fisheries. At the docks, we record the location of capture and depth whenever possible. With this information we are hoping to visualize changes in fishing pressure and the average body size of commercial species landed in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Through mapping we can increase monitoring resolution and help the Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs (DEMA) to better assess the future impacts of the new seasonal closure.

We work with Dr. Heidi Hertler, Center Director, on her project to assess coral reef health (using AGGRA protocol) at different depths. Using this data, we hope to be able to track long term shifts in the local coral reef ecosystem and observe major events, such as coral bleaching. The CMRS interns also assist Dr. Hertler by measuring the profile of various beaches on and near South Caicos. This project will be useful in gauging how much climate change is affecting sea turtle nesting beaches. Lastly, we take part in a project that uses Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) devices to record video of the ocean floor (30-100 feet). Using this tactic, we can monitor shark populations in the South Caicos area, as part of a larger initiative called Global FinPrint, which Dr. Hertler has become involved with in association with Dr. Aaron Henderson, Research Associate.

To share our passion for these marine resource and ecology topics, this year we have launched the South Caicos Marine Research Club. The goal is to build local youth research capacity and interest in marine conservation by leading simple marine research projects. The children of South Caicos can be empowered as junior researchers, while SFS college students have opportunity to serve as research mentors during the data collection process. So far we have investigated questions on conch size and abundance within the marine protected area, coral bleaching and fish biodiversity. We hope by the end of the session that the junior researchers will be able to present their findings to the community alongside the SFS student Directed Research presentations.

Outside of our research duties, this session we have assisted Clarence Stringer (Dive Safety Officer and PADI Scuba Instructor) certify 15 PADI Open Water students, and are currently involved with certifying 27 PADI Advanced Open Water students. Additionally, we have recently established a new mooring line system for the Center’s boats and are constantly working to improve our maritime and boat care knowledge. From launching to docking, maneuvering to minor outboard maintenance and troubleshooting, we have developed a wide set of boating skills that are essential in conducting the numerous waterfront activities held throughout the semester.

Someone once said that “South Caicos brings you back to your roots; all you need to be happy is food to eat, water to drink and clothes on your back.” In our time here as CMRS interns, we have found this to be true. For us, each day holds something new. At the end, we usually find ourselves wind chapped, sun burnt, sweaty, salt-crusted and flat out exhausted. But no matter what is in store for us, suffice it to say that we are always learning; always getting more confident in our abilities but – at the same time – always being humbled by what we do not yet know. To us, this is the essence of the SFS experience. We look forward to the adventures that the rest of the year will bring us!

→ Marine Resource Studies Semester Program in the Turks & Caicos Islands