During the spring semester, I have been helping Master’s student Matt Souza with his projects focused on seagrass distribution and impacts on invertebrate populations. In particular, we have looked at areas of invasive seagrass, Halophila, and if the presence of invasive species impacts biodiversity or invertebrate abundance. We have traveled to different sites around St. Thomas to record the species of seagrass within the bed, conduct transect surveys to count individual invertebrates (both line and radial), and collect invertebrate samples for identification in the lab. Another aspect of the project involves assessing edge effects of seagrass beds (invasive, native, and mixed) on local invertebrate populations. This is done by laying quadrats on three areas within each sample site: a full seagrass bed, a mix of seagrass and sand, and a fully sand. In each of these quadrats, benthic invertebrates on the seagrass bed and below the sediment surface are collected to be identified. This will provide insight into the edge effects of seagrass beds, as the biodiversity and abundance may differ in samples taken from a full seagrass bed from the mixed or full sand location.
It has been an incredible experience to assist with field work while studying at UVI, especially because I love studying community ecology and invertebrates. Until this week, I was “snorkel support” where I would snorkel around the sites to help divers with the equipment, determine ideal sample locations, and ensure everything is going smoothly. I have recently been approved to begin diving with Matt Souza’s work as an AAUS Scientific Diver in Training, meaning I will be able to dive to directly help with the field work. This will be the first time I can scientifically dive and work under the water, up until now I have only dove recreationally or for training. I am so excited for the rest of the semester because I will be able to dive twice a week to collect data (as long as the weather allows).
I have truly enjoyed all of the field work I have been able to assist with while at UVI. I feel spoiled that I am able to go on a boat a few times a week to study seagrass and invertebrates. My favorite things to see while conducting field work are sea cucumbers, conch, and stingrays. A part of me wishes I could stay at UVI longer to keep helping with this research, but I am very excited to see my family and start the summer internship in the Florida Keys. During the summer, I hope to keep diving scientifically with a focus on lobster and crab ecology. While I am doing a lot of field work this year, I know that my future career may not be as field-based, so I am grateful to have a period of time where most of the research is outside of a lab. I still enjoy lab work, but field work (especially scientific diving) is such an incredible experience. It has made studying at UVI for the semester unforgettable.