Jacques Cousteau, the Frenchman whose adventures stoke the popular imagination about marine biologists, inspired a generation to pursue breathing underwater on strange contraptions, seeking alien life in watery depths.
And while the romantic vision of communicating with dolphins no doubt looms large in perceptions of what a marine biologist does, day-to-day research diverges from Cousteau’s famous films.
A research challenge is less “What fantastic creature can I discover today?” and more “How do I count fishes swimming around me very fast while not drifting too far in this strong current, maintaining adequate buddy contact, writing underwater while dealing with a busted pencil tip and floating data sheets, and ensuring that my data’s reliable?” Never mind that data collection in the field is one skillset, while research question refinement, data entry, analysis, and report writing are quite the others!
Seven students experienced these challenges and joys firsthand this past summer in a special projects class offered through UOG Sea Grant and the biology program, with assistance from the University of Hawai’i Manoa’s Marine Option Program Coordinator Jeffery Kuwabara.
The class, Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques, was based on a decades-long established SCUBA field course at the University of Hawai’i and a snorkel iteration at American Samoa Community College.
UOG undergraduates spent their first two weeks of the course in class, prepping for the field by learning the scientific, Chamorro, and English names for over 60 fish, algae, and invertebrate species. Thirteen subject specialists also lectured on coral reef ecology, citizen science initiatives, Chamorro fishing techniques and Tumon history, reef restoration efforts, underwater photography, and how government agencies make decisions about resource use.
Classroom learning was one part—but as the course title indicates, “underwater” comprised a critical educational component. Students developed their snorkel skills in the pool with in-water instructors. They then carried out their own data collection efforts about fish, sea cucumbers and other invertebrates, and seabed cover (technically called benthic cover, which can be comprised of reef) at Tumon and Tepungan bays.
And lest one thinks that the course was just an excuse for students to play in the water, they spent the final course week building a database, entering and analyzing their quantitative data, writing reports about their findings, and reporting in group presentations.
Through the pilot of this robust course, UOG Sea Grant strives to develop high quality academic and community-based learning opportunities about our island’s coastal resources.
For more information about this course or other Sea Grant education activities, contact Marie Auyong (Assistant Instructor, UOG Sea Grant) at firstname.lastname@example.org.