Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Warwick Academy Explores Threats to Our Ocean

 By Lara Funk

Last week an enthusiastic group of 15 Warwick Academy students visited BIOS to learn more about marine science issues facing Bermuda.  The students are in their final year of the International Baccalaureate Program, an internationally recognized college preparatory program that challenges students to become critical thinkers and thoughtful members of an increasingly global society.  Jessica Young of Warwick Academy instructs the students in Environmental Systems and Societies, an interdisciplinary course examining the interactions of culture and the environment.  JP Skinner, Director of BIOS’s Ocean Academy, eagerly welcomed the group and led them on a tour of BIOS.  The students had the opportunity to see some of BIOS’s research labs such as the Coral Reef Ecology and Resilience lab and the Reef Ecology and Evolution lab.  The students were very impressed by the science going on at BIOS, one commented, “there is so much more science and research going on here than I thought.” 

Students also visited scientist Ruth Curry of the Mid-Atlantic Glider Initiative and Collaboration(MAGIC) lab.  Here the students were given the opportunity to meet “Anna”, BIOS’s first Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) glider.  Anna is a remotely controlled glider that makes dives in the ocean, taking measurements of a variety of oceanic parameters.  Via physical and biochemical sensors, Anna is capable of measuring aspects of the ocean such as pressure, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and dissolved organic matter at a variety of depths.  She then transmits this data via satellite back to the team at BIOS, and is programmed for her next assignment. 

Ruth Curry was proud to show off Anna’s new sticker, a badge celebrating her achievements during Hurricane Gonzalo in October 2014.  As HurricaneGonzalo approached Bermuda, Anna was sent directly into its’ path in order to help scientists better understand the oceanic conditions during a hurricane.  The data that she collected was the first of its kind, and forever earned Anna a place in the history of AUV’s. 

The second part of the morning for the Warwick Academy team focused on marine debris in the Sargasso Sea. Behind a table brimming with hundreds of different types of plastic objects, JP explained how plastics get into the marine environment and the harmful effects of such pollution on the marine ecosystem.  Some of the items he pointed out included large, black cylinders used for catching octopus off the coast of Africa, shot gun shells, and lobster pot tags from North America. However, as JP explained, the most deadly type of plastics floating in the world’s oceans and rivers are not these large pieces of plastic debris.  Instead, what we need to focus on are the small, ‘micro’ sized plastic pieces known as microplastics.  These tiny plastic pieces come from items like cosmetic body scrubs, or result from the degradation of larger plastic objects.  Because they can be accidently ingested by living organisms, these small pieces of plastic can harm wildlife. Chemicals associated with plastics, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), also enter the food chain and can be detrimental to health as they become more concentrated at higher levels of the food chain, a process known as biomagnification.

The last stop on the tour for the Warwick Academy group was to visit Lais Lima, an intern working with BIOS’s Dr. de Putron. Lais explained her research in understanding the effects of temperature variation on the starlet coral.  Lais explained how corals are very sensitive to changes in water temperature, and can undergo coral bleaching if exposed to extreme temperature variation.  In this bleached state, the coral is weak and vulnerable to disease and possible death if normal conditions do not return.  As the climate changes as a result of increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, coral bleaching episodes are expected to increase.  This research seeks to better understand how corals deal with extreme conditions.
(c) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Warwick Academy’s visit ended with a snorkel trip to observe some examples of coral bleaching. Our boat, Polaris, headed out towards North Rock where there was word of a coral bleaching event. Kyla, BIOS’s Ocean Academy Program Assistant, led the group in search of examples of coral bleaching.  The students were able to observe some corals that were stressed, and also explore the reef with their buddy team.  Kyla managed to find a West Indian sea egg and sea cucumber, and taught the students about the two species.  After a fascinating snorkel, the group headed back to BIOS, with a greater appreciation of the challenges that face our ocean and coral reefs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bermuda Program Interns Part 4

Welcome back to our blog! 

The Bermuda Program offers a unique opportunity for Bermudian students, ages 18 and older, to broaden their knowledge of marine and atmospheric sciences and learn about the daily operations of an active research station.  Since 1976 more than 130 young Bermudians have taken part in this exciting program, with many applying their summer experiences toward further university studies.  Beyond that, some Bermuda Program graduates have successfully translated their summer internships into employment opportunities at BIOS and other related organizations in Bermuda.  See more at:

JD Symonds
JD is a Marine Biology major at the University of Tampa.  JD initially attended BIOS in 2008 when he participated in the Waterstart program.  For the next 4 years he returned to do the program every summer, and then enrolled in the Marine Science Internship program in order to enhance his science diving.  Inspired by the impact of Waterstart, JD returned as an intern in both 2014 and 2015 to assist with the operations of the program.   

1. Why did you choose to do the Bermuda Program?
I chose this internship because over the years I have acquired a love for reefs and the ocean. I saw this internship as an opportunity to share my love and passion for the ocean with the younger generation, so that they too can understand the importance of the underwater ecosystem. Every year I find myself wanting to come back to BIOS because of the atmosphere here. Everyone is so cheerful and helpful; they make you always want to come back even if it is just to visit.

2. Has your time at BIOS had an impact on your future plans? 
Being here at BIOS has completely shaped what I want to do in the future. BIOS introduced me to the field of marine biology, a field that I hope to work in for my career. In primary school I participated in the Jason Project, which took us on field trips to BIOS to learn about the station and its work. It was during these visits that I first learned about some of the man-made issues facing the marine ecosystem, and I realized that I wanted to be part of the change. From then on, my love for the ocean just grew.

Kweshon Woods-Hollis
Kweshon is a Cedarbridge Academy graduate who has been attending programs at BIOS for 9 years. For the last 3 years, he has been a Bermuda Program intern assisting in the running of Waterstart. Waterstart is perfect for budding marine biologists, students who want to build their SCUBA skills, and kids who want to learn about ocean science and have fun doing it. During a typical weeklong program, participants will take a PADI SCUBA certification course, go on multiple research-based field trips, conduct environmental and laboratory investigations, and work on team-building during group activities and projects. Learn more on the BIOS website:

1. Has your time thus far at BIOS changed your thoughts on what you might want to do in the future?
At first I was looking at doing scientific research for my career.  However, I soon found that I preferred the educational, hands-on practical experience with the kids.  I have really enjoyed teaching science technology topics like how to build and operate Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs).  BIOS helped show me that working with kids is something that I really enjoy doing. If it hadn’t been for BIOS, I don’t think that I would have had as much direction in my life.

2. Would you recommend a Bermuda Program internship to other students and why?
Yes I would recommend this program because it gets Bermudian youth into a program that they wouldn’t otherwise experience.  It is the only program on the island that introduces students to SCUBA diving and marine biology education, underwater robotics, and fun.  In a place surrounded by water, it makes sense for Bermudians to learn more about the aquatic environment and how best to preserve it.  

Meredith Bibbings
Meredith is a recent graduate of McGill University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Anatomy and Cell Biology.  This summer she is researching bacteria in the Microbial Observatory Lab with Rachel Parsons.  

1. Has anything in particular impressed you while you have been at BIOS?
BIOS occupies a beautiful campus, with convenient access to a truly individual ecosystem: the world’s northernmost coral reefs. The surrounding deep ocean of the Sargasso Sea is the famous home to Craig Venter’s pioneering microbial sequencing expedition. When combined with Bermuda’s widely varied inshore habitats, BIOS clearly holds a collection of considerable ecological diversity.  The people at BIOS make up a fantastically welcoming community. Since my first summer at BIOS, I have felt a sense of sincere camaraderie shared between the staff, students, and interns.

2. What have you enjoyed most about your internship?
I definitely have felt the benefits of my summers at BIOS throughout my time at McGill University. In my last semester, my coursework included a six-hour lab in cell and molecular biology every Tuesday. Each week, some aspect of my experience at BIOS, ranging from a working knowledge of some piece of equipment to very specific knowledge of a technical protocol, provided me with a vital leg up in a very competitive setting. I have also gained improved problem-solving skills from the “outside the box” style of thinking required in research.

3. If you could sum up your internship in 3 words, what would they be and why?
Practical – My internship has provided me with an excellent foundation of practical, and broadly applicable, lab and research skills.
Social – The community at BIOS makes coming to work feel more like a second home.
Encouraging – My time at BIOS has challenged me to become a better scientist. I have been very lucky to meet scientists from all over the world, who are happy to offer advice and encouragement.

Jecar Chapman      
Jecar has been undertaking internships at BIOS since 2010, working with Dr. Andrea Bodnar on sea urchin research to investigate why and how sea urchins don’t show symptoms of aging. 

1. How did you hear about BIOS, and for how long have you been participating in any BIOS-related program?
In 2010, when I was in my first year at Bermuda College, I was introduced to the program by the lab tech who worked at BIOS as an intern under Andrea Bodnar's supervision. The lab tech told me about how the lab were using sea urchins as a model to investigate why they don't get cancer or show any negligible senescence (lack of symptoms of ageing). It peaked my interest and I specifically asked to work in the molecular lab for that reason. To come to BIOS to work in this lab was the best decision I have ever made. Every year I have worked on a different project related to answering questions such as: "Are sea urchins highly resistant to DNA damage?" and "Is there a difference in DNA damage and repair between young and old sea urchins?" 

2. Has anything in particular impressed you while you have been at BIOS?
I love how the people of BIOS are very friendly and helpful to each other. Having close interactions with other people who work in a different lab or field is quite useful because everyone benefits and learns from each other.  My favorite thing about working at BIOS has been the experience and knowledge that I have gained, and also the friends that I have made that are from all over the world!