Biology student dives into coral restoration project
Caitlyn Collins has reached new depths in her study of marine biology.
The second-year biology (M.S.) graduate student spent part of her summer research work at the Roatan Institute of Marine Science in Honduras where she not only helped with a coral restoration project but learned to SCUBA dive to fully participate in the underwater data collection.
“The idea of jumping into the water, not knowing what was under you, and looking straight out into the blue would freak me out,” said Collins, who visited the institute with her coral reef ecology class through the Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Wallops Island, Va. “Now, I feel like it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait to get back in the water.”
She added, “I found the endless blue calming and the weightlessness of diving relaxing. I got to swim with sea turtle and get up close to groupers and sharks, something I never thought I would do. I learned the diversity of coral and was able to see it in person, something you can’t really understand by just learning about it during lecture.”
Her underwater work was done as part of a coral restoration project being conducted at the Roatan Marine Institute.
“They’re taking fragments of Acropora cervicornis (Staghorn Coral) and Acropora palmata (Elkhorn Coral) and connecting them to a tree,” Collins said. “This tree will allow them to grow without the threat of predation and disturbance. Once the fragments reach a certain size, the fragments are replanted onto the reef.”
This is done in an effort to help restore coral reefs. Both of these corals are extremely important to the foundation of coral reefs and are a critically endangered species, according to Collins.
“I was able to collect data on what species are on the reef, the type of substrata they’re living in, and the temperature and depth they are found at,” said Collins, who was taught to SCUBA dive up to 20 meters into the ocean and collect data. “Before this trip, I had no experience SCUBA diving and doing field work in the water. Now, I have done 25 dives and have learned techniques for collecting scientific data underwater.”
Even after experiencing the depths of the ocean up close, Collins believes the best part of being in Roatan was being exposed to the culture of Honduras.
“I got the opportunity to meet local people who knew so much about the ocean and the coral reefs around them that you would never know after being there for only two weeks,” said Collins, who’s working with Thomas Klinger, professor of biological and allied health sciences, to study the effect thermal stress has on the metabolic rates of sub-tidal species of sea urchins found in the Caribbean. “This data will be used as part of my thesis work to show the ecological impact these species of sea urchin will have on the coral reefs in the Caribbean.”
All of her collected data will give insight into the potential impacts of climate change on oceanic life.
“After I graduate, I would love to work at a marine station like the Roatan Institute of Marine Science,” Collins said. “This trip gave me valuable experience I would need to start a career like this. The experience helped me build field skills as a marine biology and also learn how to collect data while under water.”