I started the semester afraid of scuba diving after getting certified in murky, cold Massachusetts waters. My first dive in South Caicos was the antithesis of this experience and I immediately fell completely in love with diving and observing the vibrant intricate complexities of coral reefs.
SFS PROGRAM: Marine Resource Studies | Turks & Caicos Islands | Fall 2013
HOME SCHOOL WHILE AT SFS: Clark University
CURRENT POSITION: Ph.D. Candidate, Pennsylvania State University
Hannah is an alumnus of the SFS Turks and Caicos program (Fall 2013). Since SFS, she has continued her studies of coral reefs. She is currently a PhD Candidate in the Symbiosis Ecology and Evolution Laboratory (Penn State Biology Department) where her dissertation focuses on describing the importance of micronutrients in maintaining a healthy coral-algal symbiosis. Hannah returned to South Caicos in April 2017 to conduct research on South Caicos corals and to talk to the undergraduate group about her research.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OR MOST STRIKING SFS MEMORY?
I re-read the journal I kept while in South Caicos to try and do this question justice. I started the semester afraid of scuba diving after getting certified in murky, cold Massachusetts waters. My first dive in South Caicos was the antithesis of this experience and I immediately fell completely in love with diving and observing the vibrant intricate complexities of coral reefs. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t even realize my dive mask was completely fogged the entire time until my dive group laughed at me after.
LOOKING BACK, WHAT DID YOU GAIN FROM YOUR TIME AT SFS? DID SFS CONTRIBUTE TO WHERE YOU ENDED UP?
SFS was where I decided I would study coral reefs for my PhD. The day before I left South Caicos, I went on my final swim of the semester with my research mentor, Dr. Heidi Hertler. At the end, I cried as I thanked her for her contributions to my academic development, stated my SFS experience motivated me to pursue a PhD studying coral reefs, and gave her my Clark University swim cap. I haven’t changed my mind ever since! Stay tuned for an eventual longer blog post where I’ll do my best to eloquently describe how my SFS experience helped me blossom into a coral biologist.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A PROSPECTIVE SFS STUDENT?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential mentors and to have lots of them. Always find the best in them (and everybody else) and emulate it. You’ll learn a lot that way.
DESCRIBE A FAVORITE SPOT IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS FOR EXPLORING AND/OR REFLECTION. WHAT WAS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE SPOTS DURING YOUR SFS PROGRAM?
As a (former) competitive swimmer, coral biologist, scuba diver, and Rhode Island-er, water is a central part of my life. My all-time favorite spot for reflection is walking along the South Kingston Town Beach in Matunuck, Rhode Island. I have family ties to the area and grew up vacationing on this beach while simultaneously watching it erode due to climate change. As a student at SFS, my favorite outdoor routine (aside from the obvious scuba diving) was my afternoon swims with Heidi in the swim zone near the center. Many swims were complete with sunsets and delicious rice crispy treats for afternoon snack! During my most recent visit to South Caicos in April 2017, I enjoyed sunrise walks with my favorite potcake Lola. We’d walk to regatta beach and collect shells before breakfast.
IF YOU WERE AN ANIMAL OR PLANT, WHAT KIND WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
The scientist in me wants to say the Seargant Major Fish, Abudefduf saxatilis because I’d be able to swim on the reef all day AND have the most fun scientific name to say! The rest of me wants to say a cat so it would be socially acceptable to sleep 12-16 hours a day. So, if you combine the two you get a mercat (mermaid-cat), which is the organism of my dreams!