Marine Ecology Projects

Pictures from Amy Goose, Alicia Castle, and Alex Carleton

Bonaire Intensive Coral Reef Ecology Research Program

Over an 8 week period during the summer of 2016, I studied with a research station in the Southern Caribbean Sea on an island called Bonaire. To complete a full semester course load, the program contained a rigorous course load, with full schedules of lectures, lab projects, scuba diving classes, and field trips. The courses completed included Advance Scuba Diving, Coral Reef Ecology, Marine Ecology Field Research Methods, and Ecological Research: Photomosaics. Below are overviews of three of the four courses and materials learned based on the course syllabi, completed by Dr. Enrique Arboleda and Nathaniel Halloway.

Coral Reef Ecology introduces students to basic ecological and biological principles such as competition, diversity, symbiosis, disturbance, adaptation, reproduction, and recruitment as well as basic biology and identification of the major taxa living in coral reef ecosystems. This course also examines the importance of seagrass and mangrove ecosystems and gives an introduction to planktonic communities.

Marine Ecology Field Research Methods course focuses on training students in field observation, data collection, record keeping, and data analysis in order to study coral reef, seagrass and mangrove communities. During the course, students conduct fieldwork using SCUBA and are involved in ongoing research projects in collaboration with the Bonaire National Marine Park. Equipment commonly used includes: compasses, transect lines, quadrats, underwater video cameras, fish survey T-bars, writing slates, benthic corers, light meters and secchi disks. Students become familiar with photographic equipment, underwater housings, and image analysis software. Students learn AGGRA scientific data collection methods for quantifying and calculating numbers of fish, corals, and benthic structures along transect lines.

Ecological Research: Photomosaics includes tracing and identifying the benthic community represented in the photomosaic. This provides a spatially explicit digital representation of the benthic community from “reefscape” to single coral colony scale. The benthic community composition of damaged area and the area adjacent will be compared to assess the impact of the damage and monitored as it changes over time.

Photographs by Alex Carlton and Nathaniel Holloway

Photomosaic Analysis of Coral Reef Morphology with Varying Depth

Coral reefs serve as an important component to the marine ecosystems functionality and composition. However, coral cover in the Caribbean reefs continues to decline due to climate changes. Corals are adapted to thrive in a limited range of environmental conditions, where small changes in the oceans structure can lead to wide-scale loss of organisms. The research investigates five categories of coral reef morphology: massive, meandroid/brain, flowering, plating, and branching to assess how variations in depth change the corals coverage and abundance. A section of the coral reef was surveyed off the coast of Bonaire, Netherland Antilles, in the Southern Caribbean. The study collected large-scale imagery, called photomosaics, which create a robust, archived dataset with detailed representation of the benthic organisms. The site contains two 50m2 subplots, one shallow and one deep, to represent two separate conditions based on variables such as light intensity and nutrient availability. Each subplot was traced in Photoshop based on each morphological type. The GPS coordinates of each subplot boundary allow for the images to be placed into a geographic information system to get precise percent coverage data from each type of morphology. The results demonstrate how plating and massive corals, having a higher surface area for sun exposure, are more adapted to deeper depths. Other types of corals are more abundant at shallower depths. With variations in morphology and rising sea levels, certain species of coral may dwindle in numbers, leading to declines of biodiversity and coverage.

Here is a link to download the poster I created for this project:

PADI Dive Master Certification: University of Oregon and Eugene Skin Divers Supply

In order to achieve my PADI Dive Masters certification, I qualified by obtaining my open water certification in spring 2012, my advance and rescue diver certifications in Bonaire during Summer 2016, and totaling 40 logged dives. It took my 10 months to complete over 100 requirements for becoming a dive master, where extensive classroom work, exams, and lectures prepared students for assisting instructors with any possible scenarios that may occur in the open water. We then assisted with new open water students in the pool, where we gathered gear for students, helped them assemble it correctly, assisting with mistakes in skills they were struggling with, and any emergencies necessary. Additionally we were required to assist with students in the open water, where the gear and requirements are more extensive due to the coldness and lack of visibility in the Pacific Northwest waters. Additionally during my certification period, I obtained PADI specialty certifications in dry suit diving and underwater photography.

Potential range of lionfish with lethal thermal minimum of 10°C (Morris and Whitfield 2009)

Reef shark eating lionfish in the open ocean above coral reef (Busiello, 2011)

Invasive Lionfish in the Caribbean Sea

During high school I was able to write an extended essay/shortened thesis looking at the different techniques for eradicating lionfish from the Caribbean Sea. Lionfish were introduced to the Caribbean Sea in 1992, where they have no known predators, reproduce in large quantities and fast rates, as well as eat a large amount of smaller fish species. As lionfish grow in population, they are causing the ecosystems to shift and other species to dwindle in population numbers. However, there are several techniques in place to try and halt the rapid increase in lionfish, including human killing of the fish, genetic altering to stop reproduction of the species, and even teaching larger marine species to each and hunt for lionfish. My essay aimed to answer the question "To what extent are the different solutions for the removal of the invasive lionfish in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans effectively eradicated the lionfish population?"

Below is the extended essay I wrote, fair warning, it is a long paper. But additionally includes my personal experience in Grand Cayman talking with researchers, dive masters, and other individuals in the field in the appendices section:

Additionally, here is a poster I created for a class showing a geographical representation of the spread of species based on surface temperatures and collected data from identified locations of lionfish in the Caribbean Sea over time: 

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