Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teachers Take an Expedition to the Sargasso Sea

Over a two day period last week (October 22-23, 2012), 45 teachers from 25 primary and secondary schools in Bermuda took part in "Expedition Sargasso" - the professional development workshop put on every year by the BIOS Education staff.  The theme of workshop activities changes every year to reflect the various explorations conducted over the summer by students in the BIOS Explorer Program.  This year's focus highlights the policy conversations and scientific research taking place in and around Bermuda about various initiatives to preserve and protect the "golden floating rainforest" of the Sargasso Sea.

The workshop kicked off with a talk by Chris Flook, Director of the Blue Halo project - a Global Ocean Legacy project of the Pew Environmental Foundation that is working to establish a marine protected area (MPA) within Bermuda's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).   Teachers learned how they could get their students (and themselves!) involved in voicing their opinions about Bermuda's role in forming what would be the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic.  BIOS has a unique role in this process, serving as a science advisory to the Sargasso Sea Alliance.

Afterward, teachers began their exploration of the Sargasso Sea with a variety of lesson plans encompassing the chemistry, biology, and physics of the region.  Teachers even built a food web with some of the unique and cryptic species that live in the floating mats of Sargassum seaweed.  Next, they engaged in some "gyre science," learning about the ocean currents that form the Sargasso Sea and why this massive body of water moves in a clockwise direction.   The morning concluded with an investigation into ocean acidification and a simple activity using "sea monkeys" to give students an opportunity to learn ocean chemistry and practice their data collection skills.

Creating a food web of Sargasso Sea organisms

Sea Monkeys!

Counting sea monkeys for the ocean acidification activity

After lunch, the day concluded with a field trip to Cooper's Island Nature Reserve, which is a great place to bring students on a school outing.  BIOS, in partnership with the Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce, has been collecting data on plastics at designated beaches on the island to measure how much plastic washes up on Bermuda's shores.  Teachers learned that Sargassum seaweed is an important fertilizer and contributor to dune formation...as well as a trap for many pieces of floating plastic in the ocean!   As part of their investigation, teachers worked along a 2x25m transect line to record the plastics washed ashore during the last high tide.

Recording plastic debris found along a transect

A sample of some of the plastic items found washed ashore

Kaitlin Baird educating teachers about Sargassum seaweed

Participating teachers gave the workshops positive feedback, including one who said, "I just learned so much, I couldn't even write it all down. I never thought I liked science but my experience with BIOS has changed my mind."  On a funny note: the workshop evaluation forms asked whether teachers would recommend the workshop to their colleagues - some participants checked "no" because they didn't want future workshops to fill up and not be able to attend themselves!

BIOS thanks all of the teachers who participated in the 2012 workshops!  Stay tuned for the 2013 Explorer Program dates so your students can take part in next year's Expedition!

Friday, August 17, 2012

MSI Session 2 Update
Our interns had a busy conclusion to their 2nd week.  On Thursday they participated in parrotfish follows to determine some of the differences between male and female parrotfish behavior.  In the afternoon, they learned about bathymetry and created bathymetric models and maps using clay and transparency paper.

On Friday morning, the interns identified algae by collecting various samples from the dock next to BIOS.  In the afternoon they went on an algae scavenger hunt, and spent time in the lab classifying what they found with guest algae expert Thea Popolizio, from the University of Rhode Island.

Additionally, this week our interns spent some time learning about Lionfish.  This is a very important subject for everyone to learn about because the lionfish are an invasive species that is very dangerous to local ecology of Bermuda.  Here are the facts our interns learned about lionfish:

Diet:  Carnivore
Average life span in the wild: Up to 15 years
Size: 11.8 to 20 in (30 to 47 cm)
Weight: Up to 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg)

·      Can have up to 18 dorsal fins that are similar to needles - A lionfish will often spread its feathery pectoral fins and herd small fish into a confined space where it can more easily swallow them.
·      Their needles contain defensive venom - If attacked, a lionfish delivers potent venom via its needle-like dorsal fins. Its sting is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.
·      Feeds mainly on fish and shrimp – They hunt mostly during the day, and in the nighttime they hide in small underwater caves and under ledges.  Its stomach can expand to 30 times its normal size.
·      Habitat: coral reefs and shallow bays - Native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, although they've found their way to warm ocean habitats worldwide.
·      Family: scorpion fish – They are also called turkey fish, dragon fish and scorpion fish.
·      External spawners – A single female lionfish can spawn over 2 million eggs per year.
·      They Can be cooked and eaten as food.

Lionfish are a problem for Bermuda because:

·      In Bermuda they have no natural predators.
·      Lionfish prey are commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important.  Dense lionfish populations can consist of over 200 adults per acre, and can consume more than 460,000 prey fish per acre per year.
·      People have to kill 27 percent of their population just to keep their numbers the same as they are now, and that’s a big task.
·      They are an invading intruder that has been known to breed at an alarming rate of 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every four days.
·      They are gathering their forces at 200ft, which is a deeper depth than recreational diving permits.  They come up into the shallows to spawn. 
·      The current methods of regulating the lionfish population range from spear fishing to the use of experimental traps.
·      Many people believe the lionfish invasion is the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic Ocean has ever faced.  It’s worse than an oil spill because you can plug an oil leak and mop up all the oil and it dispenses and goes away.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MSI Session 2 Update

On Monday the interns used vernier calipers to measure baby corals at the ship scar of the Mari Boeing wreck site.


Tuesday morning the interns went to Clearwater Beach to watch the release of the sea turtle Pinney, who is part of the Tour De Turtles.  Check out this video of the turtle release:

Tuesday afternoon, they went to Cathedral Reef, where they did fish follows of butterfly fish to learn about butterfly fish diets.

This morning, the interns entered the data from the previous days’ dives in the computer lab.  This afternoon they are heading to Hour Glass Reef to participate in a deep dive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Waterstart Week 6!

This week at Waterstart the students were especially enthusiastic. While the majority worked on their Advancedd Open Water certification, some worked on their Open Water as well.

This week was unique because of the perfect weather conditions which allowed us to spend a few days on the North Shore. As Phoebe Heslop described Wednesday’s dive at the Madiana wreck, “We were all so lucky that the water was so clear and calm. This allowed us to visit both Hog Breaker and the Madiana! It also allowed for amazing visibility. I had so much fun this week with all the amazing diving as well as the fun people I was with!”
While Phoebe enjoyed the company and visibility, Tyler Dickinson was fascinated by the two wrecks The Madiana and The Pelanion. In his words, “Diving on a wreck is very special to Bermuda and is probably one of the best diving experiences.”

This week was special because the students stayed at BIOS on Thursday night, allowing us to have a bonfire and night dive at Whalebone Bay. One student glowed that, “We had great times together and have an unbreakable bond between us. We saw each others true colors at the bonfire and had so much fun!” When discussing the dive Jessica Petty said, “The night dive was completely hectic, seeing as the entire population of fry was attracted to our underwater lights! We managed to penetrate their walls, but with a lot of chaos! It was amazing!”

As the week drew to an end, it was clear that our students had bonded over these experiences and many  more. We hope to see many of them back for future Waterstart adventures!
To learn more about Waterstart, visit us on Facebook at http://www.facebookcom/bios.explorer!

MSI – Session 2 Update

On Wednesday morning the interns participated in a fun dive at the Madianna wreck.  They followed that up with a second dive at Rock Up Reef, where they did stationary point counts to identify as many different fish species as they could.

Yesterday, the interns dove at Crescent Reef, where they did fish counts using the belt transect and roving diver methods.  Check out this video of our interns hard at work doing their fish counts.

When the interns returned to BIOS, they created bar graphs to represent the fish populations they counted on their dives.  Then they played Coral Jeopardy, which Caroline Vanacore won.

Today, the interns identified different species of sea grasses growing in Bailey’s Bay.  Additionally, they measured shoot density and blade height of turtle grass.

The interns are eagerly awaiting next week's activities, which will include deep water and night dives.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

MSI Session 2 Update:

Introducing the BIOS Marine Science Internship 2012 Session 2 Interns:

 Jamie Gauk

 Hattie Woodward

 Eliza Gardner

 Caroline Vanacore

 Jackie Buchanon

On Monday our interns started off by searching through Sargassum to find organisms living within the patches of seaweed.  The interns found swimming crabs, Sargassum fish, shrimp, and a sea hare, which is a type of nudibranch.

Then the interns headed out for their first day of diving.  They practiced laying down 30-meter transect lines and identifying the corals found along the transect.

Today, the interns practiced identifying corals in the lab.  They also looked at Zooxanthellae under microscopes.  Additionally, the interns practiced separating coral from algae.  During today’s dive, the interns practiced coral counting and videotaping strategies.

In their own words:  Jamie
“Today we laid a 30-meter transect and counted coral colonies along the transect.  Then we video taped the coral face approximately a meter to the side of the transect.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MSI Update – Final Update for Session 1, 2012

The interns had a fantastic final week of MSI’s first session.  On Tuesday morning the group visited Rachel Parsons to learn about microbes.  In the afternoon, part of the group went to Natural Arches to collect algae, while the other part of the group went to Whalebone Bay to complete the navigation dive requirement for PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification.  When students returned, they classified the algae they found at Natural Arches and made herbariums.  The interns completed this task with assistance from Thea Popolizio, an algae expert from the Bermuda Aquarium.

On Wednesday MSI traveled with Waterstart to Dockyard, where the group visited the Nation Museum of Bermuda to learn about artifact restoration for items recovered from the Warwick wreck.  On Thursday, the group participated in fish follows.  The group spent time at Watch Hill counting parrotfish and observing their behavior.  The week culminated with an excellent Friday dive at the Hermes wreck.  Check out this video clip of our interns exploring the Hermes. 

Our interns did an amazing job during this first session we wish them the best of luck with their future endeavors as marine explorers and biologists.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

From Acid to Lionfish!

Today Dr. Mara led us in testing the effects of ocean acidity on artemia. In this case we used vinegar to alter the pH of seawater in order to observe how it would affect their hatching. In the end we discovered that significantly less artemia were able to hatch in the lower pH created by the vinegar.

On the diving side of things, we had a great boat ride out to hourglass reef while waves rocked the boat. There, some of us went on a deep dive down to 60 feet where we saw many parrotfish, sergeant majors, and trumpet fish. When we got to the outer reef we saw a HUGE lionfish: about 17 inches long. After surfacing, Dready and Beth tried to go back down to spear it but alas! They couldn’t find it. No lionfish sushi tonight! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Field Trip!

Following a hearty breakfast we took a bus ride all the way to the other side of the island to Dockyard, where we hopped off and met up with Doug Ingles, an expert on the wreck of the Warwick.

From him, we learned that although the Warwick was first thought to be a British merchant ship, after the recent discovery of many guns, canons and ammunitions during excavations this summer, Mr. Ingles’ team now believes the ship may have been a heavily armed privateer vessel in its day. We then explored some examples of concretions and methods of preserving weaponry, followed by a trip to the National Museum of Bermuda where Elena Strong showed us the new items in the Shipwreck Island exhibit.
Afterwards we headed out to Cooper’s Island where some of us did our Underwater Naturalist dive and others continued to experiment with underwater photography. Here, the fish were brightly colored and abundant. This made struggling against the powerful currents worth it. Thus concludes another fun day at BIOS. 

For more BIOS fun, log on to our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/bios.explorer!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lionfish, Navigation, Photography, OH MY!

Our Navigation dive didn’t start underwater but on the field, where we practiced our compass navigation through completing different patterns. We then moved to the water where we used our skills in a more realistic situation. This was a fun way to learn the essential skill of underwater navigation.


Our photography dive was exciting because it was a challenge to carryout our first dive using an unfamiliar skillset. On the dive we took photos of aquatic life whilst keeping in mind the factors of both color and light loss and absorption as we dove deeper. Although it was difficult to capture moving sea life, the dive was more than worthwhile.

O.S.F. Lionfish & Shark Presentation
Although most of us were aware of the presence of sharks and lionfish, Corey Eddy from the O.S.F. further educated us on the features, diets and impacts of these fish.  The presentation inspired us to contribute to attempts at lionfish eradication in Bermuda. Many of us were also surprised to learn about the various species of sharks that swim in these waters!

To learn more, visit our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/bios.explorer!  

Monday, July 23, 2012

MSI Update

Our interns have been very busy gathering data!  On Wednesday the team dove in Harrington Sound, where they measured the sizes and populations of conch.  On Thursday, the team did a fish count in the Bermuda mangroves at Hungry Bay with Dr. Robbie from the Bermuda Aquarium.  When the interns finished collecting data, they shared it with Dr. Robbie, who plans to use it with his research.  On Friday, the team measured the coverage of sea urchins at Concrete Beach off the shore of the Biostation.  Friday afternoon, the interns relaxed at a celebratory barbeque.


Today, the interns collected and identified different species of algae from the dock at BIOS.  Then, the interns learned about bathymetry and created bathymetric maps using clay to represent underwater terrains.  Finally, the interns created small ROVs and practiced driving them in fresh water tanks.