Archive for the ‘oceanography’ Category

Students fish seining (netting) and going through their catch at Howard Park.

Students fish seining (netting) and going through their catch at Howard Park.

From cave rappelling to fossil gazing, the Science Adventurer’s Club at St. Petersburg College makes experiential learning fun and interactive for all students.

The Science Adventurer’s Club is one of three student science clubs at the Clearwater Campus. In this environment, students who are interested in natural sciences can participate in research projects, field trips, lectures and community service activities. They do not have to be science majors to participate—all that is required is a passion for learning an interest in all things science.

The club got its start about three years ago when students were dissatisfied that there wasn’t an extracurricular opportunity for students to enjoy science together in a social environment.

“On several occasions, students in my science classes made comments about how they wished there was some place they could hang out and speak with other students about science,” said Monica Lara, Instructor of Natural Science at the Clearwater Campus. She is one of the club’s four faculty advisors, along with Clearwater Campus instructors Carl Opper, Erin Goergen and Mike Stumpe.

Science clubs at SPC include:

  • Environmental Consulting Society – SPC Downtown
  • Environmental Science Club – Seminole Campus
  • Sustainability Club – Tarpon Springs Campus
  • Science Adventurer’s Club – Clearwater Campus
  • Undergraduate Science Research Society – Clearwater Campus
  • Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society – Clearwater Campus

Lara’s teaching assistant, Michael Goltz, who often was present when these conversations took place, asked whether she would be willing to serve as a club advisor if students started a new club. Goltz, who ended up serving as the club’s first president, has remained connected to the club even though he is now a student at the University of South Florida.

“I agreed to it because I thought it would be a lot of fun and that there had been a lot of people hinting that it was something they would be interested in,” Lara said. “It supplements a lot of what we discuss in class and helps it make more sense.”

Lara said the club also fosters a collaborative culture among the students. In this environment, students primarily learn from each other. As they share their experiences, they teach one another best practices on how to go about taking on various tasks and projects.

“We do have some fun, adventurous trips, but the main focus is that students have to do the science,” she said. Through the club’s many field trips, including rappelling into the Dames Caves in Citrus County, students learn about geology, sea level rises and drops, ecology and conservation.

In addition to field trips, students also participate in volunteer projects such as science fairs, beach and reef cleanups, and Marine Science Day at the University of South Florida. These opportunities and experiences allow students to network with professionals in the field and prepare them for the workforce or graduate level work.

Students also benefit from the club’s partnership with Lara’s out-of-class research group and Reef Monitoring, a 501(c)(3) non-profit research organization that she helped establish with SPC instructor Heyward Mathews in 2005.

“I enjoy getting that experience as it is helpful in preparing me for a potential career in science,” said Shannon Senokosoff, 29, a biology major and vice president of the Natural Science Adventurer’s Club. Since graduating with a degree in art from the University of South Florida, he was not satisfied working as a motion graphics designer and decided to go back to school and pursue his passion for biology at SPC.

Students in the Science Adventurer’s Club go rappelling during a field trip to the Dames Caves.

Students in the Science Adventurer’s Club go rappelling during a field trip to the Dames Caves.

“Getting out there, getting involved in the community through volunteer work and conservation, it puts you in a position where you’re interacting with people that might have positions in different organizations like the Florida Wildlife Commission,” Senokosoff said. “It helps build those connections.”

Lara said the hands-on experiential learning serves as a way to get students to understand what science is really about by doing it and not just hearing about it in a classroom.

“Getting those kinds of experiences – that experiential learning – really sticks with them for the rest of their lives,” she said.


Want to learn more?

The Science Adventurer’s Club meets every other Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the marine biology lab (NM 161) at the Clearwater Campus.

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Guest column by Dr. Heyward Mathews, Oceanographer

St. Petersburg College has had a scuba program for more than 50 years, but only in the last two years have our scuba students been able to use their scuba skills to conduct scientific research.

With help from Reef Monitoring Inc., a non-profit research group formed by Dr. Heyward Mathews and Dr. Monica Lara in 2010, SPC students are monitoring the artificial and natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico off Clearwater, and the mangrove marshes of Pinellas County.

Scuba photo 1

Students Charles Lutz, John Eschelmen and Darwin Stalls collect traps used as part of the research.

After the recent major oil spill in the Gulf, SPC students began what we call the “canary in the mine” study. The purple sea whip, one of the soft corals, is a common resident of both natural and artificial reefs, and is a species that cannot tolerate any type of pollution. By making growth studies on five of these soft corals, our students will be able to tell if any adverse water conditions, man-made or natural, occur at this site

A second study is to determine how artificial reefs provide spawning areas for many marine fish species.

Our students put out light traps in the Gulf, St. Joseph Sound and upper Tampa Bay. These traps have battery-powered lights that comes on at dark and go off at dawn. Small ½ inch openings allow small juvenile fish that are attracted to the trap to enter and not escape.

The student divers deploy these traps late in the afternoon and then retrieve them the next morning. The small fish then are preserved, counted and identified.

Another student study involves having divers collect bottom sediment samples out away from the artificial reef to compare with samples collected adjacent to the reef.

It has been well-documented that artificial reefs provide habitat for a large population of algae and benthic invertebrates. However, this project is finding large populations of benthic organisms are populating the sediment around the artificial reef.

The sediment samples the student divers are collecting then are passed through a series of geological sieves to determine the mean particle size. The sediment out away from the artificial reef is fine grain quartz sand. However, the large number of benthic invertebrates growing on the artificial reef have totally changed the character of the sediment adjacent to the reef structures.

This coarse sediment composed of shell debris is supporting a large and diverse population of marine worms and crustaceans, while the fine grain sediments provides minimal habitat.

Marine research

Charles Lutz and Cory Trier examine sediment samples in the Clearwater Campus lab.

The sediment samples are preserved in an alcohol solution containing Rose Bengal, a chemical that stains all the biological material in the sample. The students then spend hours with tweezers picking out and identifying the small invertebrates that are an important source of food for the fish that populate these reefs.

Once the samples are analyzed, the students write up the results and present their findings to the local diving and fishing community at free symposiums sponsored by Reef Monitoring.

These SPC scuba students now are viewing diving as both a recreational activity and tool for a career in marine science. We are finding students are signing up for both open water and advanced scuba to be able to participate in these ongoing research projects.

This is a win-win for our students. They have acquired a new hobby and a useful skill for a future careers in marine science.

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The Village Square will host “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: Time for a strategic retreat from the beach?” on Wednesday, March 20.

A panel of scientists will explore issues of coastal community vulnerabilities, beachfront inundation and sea level rise in a dinner forum co-sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at SPC and the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.

A panel of scientists will address the issue of rising seas:

  • Dr. Don P. Chambers, Associate Professor of Physical Oceanography at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science
  • Dr. Mark R. Hafen, Senior Instructor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Planning at the University of South Florida, Tampa
  • Dr. Albert C. Hine, Professor of Geological Oceanography at the USF College of Marine Science
  • Dr. Orrin Pilkey, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University

The event will be in the Conference Room in the Seminole Community Library at the SPC Seminole Campus, 9200 113th St. N., Seminole, from 6 to 8 p.m. Presenting media sponsors are the Tampa Bay Times, WUSF Public Media and WEDU TV.

Advance registration for the dinner program is required. Tickets are $30 for Village Square members, $40 for guests. Register for the event online. For more information, call 727-394-6251.

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Reef cleanup

From left: Mark Jenkins, Jason Newel, Britney Stover, Travis Teuber, Peter Mavronicolas and Monica Lara, Associate Professor of Natural Science. Lara gives instructions on how to check and put together sets of dive gear in preparation of the underwater reef cleanup.

Faculty and students from SPC’s Clearwater Campus helped clean up the Gulf on Saturday, Sept. 24. The event, organized by the campus’ Science Adventurers Club, is the first for the newly formed organization. Twenty students signed up to pick up debris from Clearwater Beach at Rockaway Street.

See Bay News 9’s coverage of the event.

This effort is in conjunction with an underwater cleanup happening off Clearwater Beach. The organizing non-profit group, Reef Monitoring, was started by Heyward Mathews, Instructor of oceanography at the Clearwater Campus. As of Sept. 20, 175 divers signed up to participate.

“All sorts of divers signed up through the cleanup website for Reef Monitoring,” Monica Lara, Associate Professor of Natural Science, said. “It’s open to the general public. We also have a bunch of teams competing; the Sherriff’s Office dive team is going out with their boat, and USF is going out with their boat.”

Trash on the beaches and reefs is not only an eyesore but also an entanglement threat to wildlife such as birds, fish, marine turtles and dolphins.

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A serious Red Tide bloom that killed life on two reefs off the coast of Clearwater Beach five years ago may have provided critical data that will help scientists predict damage to life in the Gulf of Mexico from the ongoing BP oil spill.

Heyward Mathews, a professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College, says information he gathered following the Red Tide bloom in 2005 may provide a critical baseline of information when he and others try to predict how long it may take life in the Gulf to recover from the oil spill.

Dr. Hayward Mathews, St. Petersburg College

“We don’t know when the oil will reach our beaches here, or even if it will get here at all,” Mathews said. “But if it does, and if we experience serious damage to fish and other life in the Gulf, we may have a good baseline of data that could be immensely valuable.”

The Red Tide bloom in 2005 was one of the worst such events in about 50 years. The tide killed fish, and the decomposing life forms absorbed oxygen on the bottom of the gulf, killing almost all the remaining marine life on the reef.

Two reefs off Pinellas County were affected – a natural reef, and an artificial reef that Mathews built in the 1960s. After the Red Tide bloom, Mathews and some of his students would boat out to the reefs and then dive down to count fish and other life forms. Over time, they were able to get a handle on how long it took for life to return to the reefs.

Fish came back first. Conchs and starfish are still missing.

The baseline of information that resulted from the Red Tide bloom can be critical to predicting how fast the Gulf area off Pinellas County may recover if it is damaged by crude oil from the BP leak, Mathews believes. But he thinks future research may offer another benefit, as well.

Diving down to the reefs and photographing the active life there might be an effective way to convince tourists and others that the waters off Clearwater are still clean and pure, he said.

“I think that short, three-minute videos that really show the good quality of the reefs might be more effective in convincing tourists to come than the kind of ads that we see running on TV now,” Mathews said.

Mathews and some of his associates plan to form a non-profit corporation to gather and distribute video of the offshore reefs to television stations and other news outlets. Those videos, he said, should be valuable in convincing tourists and others that the Gulf waters off Clearwater are pure and undamaged.

He said the non-profit will apply for grant money to fund the effort. If that fails, he said he will fund the non-profit from his own pocket.

See videos of the interview with Hayward Mathews:

Video 1:

Video 2:

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SPC professor organizes offshore reef monitoring

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