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Above, from left, Kennedy Valois ’17, Chad Raimer ’17, Amanda LeBarron ’16, Jordan Vanuni ’18, Indy Jones ’18, Tazia Johnson ’16, Levon Hilling ’18,  Jonathan Saloio ’17, Erinn Rayno ’16, Sabrina Superneau-Gilman ’18, Dom Hyndman ’16 and Evan Patev ’16 in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Below, LeBarron snorkeling in St. Johns and a spotted eagle ray.

Students Snorkel for Research in the Caribbean

06/06/16

Dr. Anne Goodwin and her students combined research with spring break in the tropics this past semester as they studied marine biology in the Caribbean. As part of the “Field Studies in Marine Biology” course, a dozen students hiked, snorkeled and conducted research in St. Johns, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With a deep passion for science and marine biology, Jordan Vanuni ’18 of North Adams was one of the students who accompanied Goodwin on the trip. A double major in biology and environmental studies, she plans to attend graduate school to study marine biology, with a focus on mammalogy or education-based marine conservation.

“This trip really put into perspective how excited I am to fulfill my dreams and pursue this kind of career,” Vanuni said. “It was so exciting to explore and learn something new every day. I learned so many field techniques, as well as data collection and data analysis skills.”

Along with Indy Jones ’18 of Bennington, Vt., Vanuni focused on fire corals, to discover if environmental conditions – as well as depth and location – affected abundance.

“This project really solidified my understanding of the impact humans have on the environment, and the need to work to save and preserve our beautiful ocean,” Vanuni said.

The students visited a variety of habitats, including sand beaches, seagrass beds, mangrove forests and coral reefs.  Their work included writing proposals, analyzing data, and preparing a research report, which they presented at MCLA’s Annual Undergraduate Research Conference in April.

The various projects included a comparison of barrel sponge and rope sponge populations by Evan Patev ’16 of Leominster, Mass., and Jonathan Saloio ’17 of Huntington, Mass., and a study of the effects of depth and substrate on the number of long-spined black sea urchins by Tazia Johnson ’16 of Stoughton, Mass., and Amanda LeBarron ’16 of Cheshire, Mass.

For his part, Chad Raimer ’17 of Cheshire, Mass., examined the effect that reef complexity and depth has on biodiversity.

“The most important thing I learned from this trip is that everything is connected,” he said. “Habitats may look so simple to humans, but they play a vital role in the health of the animals that live there.”

Raimer, who is interested in animals and ecology, is an environmental studies major who aspires to work in conservation or forest management. He decided to participate in the course because it included the hands-on field work.

“The course will be a great resume-builder for future jobs,” Raimer said, adding that going to St. Johns provided important experiences to help prepare him for his future career, should he opt to enter a marine biology-related field.

Students swam a minimum or four to five hours each day, as they collected data. Although challenging and sometimes exhausting, their efforts resulted in the gathering some “superb” data, Raimer said.

Other activities included a sunrise hike and a nighttime snorkel experience. However, a highlight of the trip for Raimer was the opportunity to see a massive, spotted eagle ray.

“The sheer size of the animal put a chill down my spine,” he said. “It was the only spotted eagle ray we saw on the trip, which made it really special.”