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Caribbean Classroom

04/06/2011

Over the spring break, six biology students in Dr. Anne Goodwin's "Field Studies in Marine Biology" course combined the sun and surf of the U.S. Virgin Islands with advanced research. They will present their findings later this month at MCLA's annual Undergraduate Research Conference.

"This is a high-quality research experience," Goodwin explained. "They all wrote grants for their projects. They all designed viable projects. They all spent days collecting data. They are doing data analysis right now. To be able to carry a project like that over the semester is an amazing and very marketable experience for them."

Each student came to the experience having previously taken a number of prerequisite marine biology courses from Goodwin. They wrote project proposals before carrying out their field studies in St. John.

"As a group, we practiced a number of techniques that are used in the field for marine biology," Goodwin said. "Then, each pair of students had worked on their own project that they had designed."

Those projects included looking at the health of marine life - including sea grass and coral - from their home base at the Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station, where they lived and ate during their stay.

Morgan Chichester '12 and his lab partner, Cassandra Lillie '11, conducted research that helped them to understand more about corals, their diseases and their decline in the region. In addition, the trip not only allowed all the students to conduct their research; it also provided opportunities to explore the Caribbean.

"Every morning we went out and snorkeled in a new bay in the area where we took lots of pictures and identified fish, algae, animals and coral," Chichester said. "We went on hikes some afternoons looking at ruins of old sugar plantations that were left there by the Dutch who colonized the Island. Other afternoons we went back out into different bays and conducted our studies that we had designed before our trip."

"We snorkeled at some mangroves and at an amazing bay, called Hansen Bay," Lillie added. "This bay had the widest variety of corals and much more of them. We also saw a Hawksbill turtle and a huge eagle ray there, which was amazing to see."

Pleased with the quality of her students' work, Goodwin expects to repeat this trip every two years so that others may have the same, valuable experience.

"This trip is very beneficial for students interested in research because of the wide array of areas to study," said Christina Shepley '12. "Not only was there the chance to research marine life, but also plants, birds and land mammals."

"Overall, the experience was amazing," said Danielle Morrissey '11. "I learned so much and saw so many amazing things. Aside from seeing beautiful views and amazing animals, most importantly we gained experience in designing experiments and implementing them. It gave us research skills that will be essential in science careers or graduate school."