Scientific COMmunicator: Survival of the Fittest (Research Method Training, Part II)

Welcome or welcome back to the blog series about my experience “in the field” as a marine science minor. Within Boston University’s Marine Program, undergraduate majors and minors (as well as graduate students) are required to fulfill a research-based semester with the opportunity to complete coursework in Belize. This is how I enjoyed the program’s curriculum and related it to my Communications major. Check out Part I to learn how we started research method training. 

Our first two days felt like a lifetime filled with exploration and learning. We had already endured 9+ hours of travel, observed coral bleaching, and learned to identify entirely new coral species. Impressively, we learned weeks of material and were eager for more. On top of all this, we were constantly being attacked by ruthless sand flies — and they were winning the battle. 

Still, it was the first full day and our excitement had not yet peaked. Among learning research methods, we had breaks to completely goof off and fall in love with the ocean all over again. 

Nothing but big smiles in between activities. Me on the left, and my friend Alex on the right. 

For our next order of business, we laid out a 10-meter transect line and studied three points on this line at 3 m, 6 m, and 9 m. Within 50 cm by 50 cm quadrats, we recorded everything within the square, focusing on the percentage of coral, algae, seagrass, sand, and other elements. Specifically, we identified coral species, sketching their outline for memory and cross comparison in case there were uncertainties. After that, CoralWatch Health Charts were used to monitor the coral’s health.

At this point in the semester, the only genuinely new method we learned was measuring rugosity — the “true” geometric surface area measured on a small scale — in each quadrant. 

Although detail and description were very important, the learning curve was managing positive buoyancy and maintaining a good view of your study subject. Once you mastered this, data collection was much easier!

Even so,  I am a former athlete who still remains physically fit, and I still found resisting the unrelenting current to be quite strenuous

Two students use quadrats along the transect line to record data. They are looking at the percentage and diversity of coral species within the frame. Picture courtesy of Michaela Rogers.

This exercise concluded our data collection for the day. Once we were back at the field station, we could discuss the similarities and patterns we found in our results. 

The next day, we didn’t hesitate to jump back into our education. 

Day 3, we started with identifying fish behavior, which served new difficulties. No longer were we studying stationary animals. (That’s right! Corals are animals).  For me, I was more acquainted with fish species and their scientific names, because I grew up studying fish out of curiosity and later as a volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There, it was my job to know these things. But for now, it was fun to observe, draw out fish, and take note of their distinctive characteristics and behaviors. 

When we wanted to relax or enjoy free time, we still remained productive. 

Densely populated Caribbean reef fish.

Eventually, it was the mangrove’s turn to dazzle us with its complexity. This was not something I expected in the slightest. Since I grew up spoiled by immaculate tropical coral reefs of the Florida Keys, I had a negative preconception that the mangroves would be murky, dark, and unspectacular — only to find the opposite was true.

The mangroves were toxic. Quite literally, they were covered with toxic fire sponges that stung your skin by touch. They were beautiful — something otherworldly that my curiosity couldn’t get enough of. 

My friend Alex in the Mangroves.

Our professor led the remaining “Ecosystem Tours” in the Mangroves, after Randi, the other research scientist, gave us a comprehensive understanding of the reef. 

John had each student “adopt a root” and play bingo. Simply by tagging an aerial root of choice and providing coordinates, we expanded the database on existing corals on mangrove roots. Easy!

After this, we were able to really explore the mangroves, searching for new organisms that we had just learned about in the classroom — both in Boston and Belize. Sponges, upside-down jellies, Christmas tree tube worms, juvenile fishes … the list goes on. 

Check out my next blog post to learn why I am utterly fascinated by the mangroves. 

Rebecca Campbell, Study Abroad Correspondent 

Becca is a senior in the College of Communications studying Advertising with a Marine Science minor. Currently, she works for Matter Communications as a Digital Copywriter. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach are her favorite hobbies when not discussing climate-based issues, the US Women’s soccer team, or the latest book read.

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