In the last several weeks of my internship we concentrated on reinvigorating the urchin larvae growth experiments, which I discussed in my last report. We spent much of our time on the kayaks collecting water samples in the morning with the plankton net and then searching for the correct type of microalgae on the microscope in the afternoon. After a while of not using the microscope, it took a bit of time to adjust to staring at it for so many hours, but I eventually got the hang of it.
As my time in Galapagos went on it was clear that we were really focusing on the in-lab science portion, mostly because of scheduling. Often times we got to work, organized the lab, weighed algae samples that were drying for several days, and then prepare and label new samples for drying. Other days we simply spent organizing databases and occasionally there were the lucky days when we got to go kayaking to collect microalgae and sea urchin larvae samples. We usually spent those afternoons looking in the microscope.
Among many important lessons, I learned that one summer or nine weeks is not nearly enough time to try and change or even tweak a system that is set in its ways, even with the participation of many local and enthusiastic scientists and educators. An effort like this requires much planning and a strict schedule of how time must be divided between lesson planning, working with local teachers and organizing meetings. On that note, I’m looking forward to my future as a science educator and to spending far longer than a summer trying to improve and ‘localize’ a science curriculum.
The last few weeks of my internship have been eventful and particularly active. We are currently working on two separate projects in the lab and one in the field. In the lab, we’ve been working with algae biomass samples that have been collected and then frozen over the past several years. This alga was collected in various locations on different islands of the Galapagos during differing climatic events; El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), La Nina and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The purpose of collecting, drying and weighing the algae is to observe how these differing climatic events can affect the algae biomass in areas of low, mid and high nutrient productivity. From this data, we can then speculate what the results might mean for the local marine ecosystems. Additionally, the research aims to provide a better understanding of what ecological interactions may be causing the temporal differences in algal biomass. Perhaps the changes are caused by top-down effects; changes in the consumption by herbivorous marine life; marine iguanas, sea turtles, and certain fish. Alternatively the cause may be bottom-up and depend on different nutrient cycling and potentially anthropogenically influenced climatic events such as ENSO. If the results point to the latter, our research will have important implications for climate change research.
The second project is the urchin larvae (Lytechinus semituberculatus), growth manipulation research, which has recently taken us to the field (the ocean) and also required some lab work. We spent several days preparing, cleaning and fixing up the mesocosms in order to manipulate the temperature of the urchin larvae and ultimately observe the differences in growth and metabolism based on water temperature difference. You can see a photo of the mesocosms below. In the last week, we have been kayaking out in to the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to find a specific square shaped microalga to feed to the urchin larvae. I am looking forward to continuing this part of the research.
Most tangibly, these projects have provided me with a larger knowledge of marine research techniques. I have learned to use the oven to dry the algae for biomass measurements, attach a plankton trawl to a kayak, anesthetize microorganisms and identify and classify them in the microscope. Academically, the newer urchin larvae research has led me to realize the enormous amount of ecological change that can be affected by sea surface temperature rise. In past environmental science courses I have learned about how SST increase will lead to sea level rise and ocean acidification. This research however had made me realize the vast extent of micro-level interactions that can have cascading effects on entire marine ecosystems. Additionally, I have also acknowledged that we are just scratching the surface and even after a lifetime of research done by my professor and his colleagues they have an abundance of unanswered questions about what may happen to the oceans as the climate changes.
This experience of doing lab and fieldwork without having a simultaneous lecture or organized class has also left me with many questions. I’ve realized that in order to really stay on top of the research I am doing I need to be up to date with the related research in the field. Reading the papers of my professors and colleagues of my professors is integral in order to have a complete understanding of the material.
Several weeks ago, I began my internship with Dr. Luis Vinueza at the Galapagos Science Center. Our first project was particularly time sensitive, so Professor Vinueza made sure that we focused on this research since the opportunity presented itself. In the past few years, Dr. Vinueza has been taking GPS data of sea lion Zalophus wollebaeki, and marine iguanas', Amblyrhyn chuscristatus, locations around the coast of San Cristobal Island. He collects this data periodically to see how the spatial distribution of these species may change with different anthropogenic factors as well as different climatic events. During the first two weeks of May 2015, the Galapagos experienced two intense storms, comprised of harsh wave action that destroyed much of the commercial boardwalk and coastal vegetation. It sunk several boats in Wreck Bay, the island’s primary port, and unearthed sewage lines, among many other effects. Of course, because of all these physical damages, many of these central, charismatic species were also displaced as their typical coastal habitats were altered.
Following the storm, we attempted to examine the effects of increased wave action on the distribution of sea lions and marine iguanas by using GPS devices to record the placement of the species. One of the driving forces behind this research is that in recent years, many scientists have linked the increase in frequency and intensity of storms and tropical cyclones to the warming and changing climate (Chu, 2013) . Currently, in our research we are working on compiling the new data into Geographic Information Systems maps to compare the placement of species post-storm against a more typical species distribution. Figure 1 below shows one of the pre-storm distribution maps we created with data taken in late April. During our post-storm field work, we trekked through the same set of coastal areas to gather data.