Final Reflections…

I write this from the Miami International Airport.  Yesterday morning students presented their final research presentations – they were excellent and it was evident that students worked very hard on their projects.  We spent the afternoon cleaning the facility and performing minor maintenance and upkeep.

In the evening I took Jessica, Michelle, Alex, and Cortney to Islamorada to get their Greyhound bus to Miami for their early morning flights.  The rest of us left early this morning from Layton either via vehicle or plane to return home.

We leave you with individual reflections authored by the students.  We are all grateful for another spectacular year exploring the intricacies and wonders of the marine system.

Spatial complexity
I was especially astounded by the similarities I observed between micro-communities of invertebrates living on Thalassia testudinum blades and the epiphytic communities that exist in the dense jungles of life on individual tree branches in tropical cloud forests.  The spatial complexity and biological diversity in these two microcosms are amazing to me, and my curiosity to discover and to elucidate further the fine details of arthropod taxonomy and diversity has been deepened.  The importance of chemistry to ecology is likely just as important, if not more so, in marine systems as in terrestrial systems.  Common chemical defense systems exist in primary producers toward their herbivore predators, as well as from the herbivores toward their predators. – Luke Zehr, senior Biology & Environmental Science major

Biophilia during the night snorkel
In my last two semesters of college, I spent most my time studying the ways that humans relate to the environment. I fell in love with Human Ecology, Ecological Anthropology, Environmental History, and all of the fields that intertwine the human story with the rest of the earth. yet, in the thick of academia, I nearly forgot one of the most essential and personal parts of my discipline. While doing a night dive during Marine Biology, surrounded by bioluminescence in the warm water of the Florida Bay, I remembered what I had forgotten. E.O Wilson calls in biolphilia. It’s the innate desire of humans to know and be in contact with nature. To me, there is nothing more beautiful or important than learning the intricacies of the ecosystems around us and understanding how our human communities can fit into them. I couldn’t hope for a better message in my last class at Goshen College. – Lydia Yoder, senior Environmental Science major

Schooling by fish…
There are many highlights that I could share, but one significant memory occurred one day as I was collecting data with my partners, Will Kanagy and Alita Yoder.   We had laid down our quadrat and began to count sponges, when thousands of small nekton (fish) surrounded us.  I yelled out of excitement as these small creatures moved together in a massive way.  The sunlight reflected off their shiny bodies and they moved together all around us.  I was astounded by the number of small fish that surrounded us, but also by the way that they moved together.  The three of us stopped our research immediately and floated in awe among these tiny creatures.  Experiencing a school of fish like this was much cooler than watching it on the discovery channel.  There’s no better way to learn than to submerge oneself within the material and experience it first hand.  A person can read articles all day, but never have the understanding of another who dives-in and discovers first hand.  As a music education major, I am incredibly grateful that I could experience the biological world through this class. I’m excited to continue engaging in this type of learning throughout my life.  – Brook Hostetter, senior Music Education major

Mairne biology has been a unique experience for me. It has involved fascinating marine creatures from Manatees to seagrass. I thoroughly enjoyed going out on the boat each day to experience a brand new underwater world of discovery and complex interactions. These marine systems remind me about how deeply connected the natural world is and how deeply dependent humans are to it. In the same way, humans are connected to a loving and wondrous God who nurtures and preserves us in waving underwater prairies of Thalassia, sustains us in brilliant coral reefs, and redeems us in sunny days and stormy weather. Marine biology has offered this unique setting to study and become enamored with God’s creation. – Jon Mark, senior Environmental Science & PJCS major

When we first arrived in the Florida Keys and went snorkeling for the first time, I was hesitant to explore and actively search for organisms hiding in grasses, under shells, or within sponges. I have enjoyed becoming more comfortable with exploring unknown places which has lead to exciting discoveries, causing me to be more interested in things that previously went unnoticed. This was true in my research group. When we chose to look at the biodiversity of organisms living in sponges, I had no idea we would be pulling numerous crabs, large worms, and sea cucumbers out of the sponges. I’m impressed that we continued to actively seek and collect these sponges even once we knew that we might arrive back at the lab with crabs, thumb splitters, and fire worms. I have greatly appreciated the way this marine biology class has encouraged me to be curious and explore much more than any other class I have taken.  – Ellie Shertz, junior Biology major

The Details
I thought I came here to look at colorful fish, swim everyday, get a nice tan, learn something about sea turtles, and relax. While all of these things happened at some point (some more than others), I wouldn’t look back on any of these as my biggest highlight from the trip. I found joy on a daily basis in the most unexpected places, and I learned to look at the details. It was the tiny blue fish with light blue spots. It was the sea cucumbers molding themselves under coral. It was the larval stages of a pipefish under a microscope. It was finding God in the stillness. It was little crabs climbing to the top of the tall mangrove tree. It was the phone call with my mom where I cried explaining the astounding, breathtaking beauty of a microscopic hydrozoa eating and digesting phytoplankton. The details kept and continue to surprise me. My love for marine biology will forever be a lifelong passion that I hope to return to frequently.  – Aspen Schmidt, senior Education major

Changing your perspective

Marine biology is a cold splash on the face (literally and figuratively) because it changes you not only academically but also your life perspective. Now marine biology may be a biology class but even those from the major seemed to have a reality check to what is happening around us. There is so much learning and thinking in marine biology terms. It’s amazing how much field experience can motivate you to learn and think about what you want to do with all this hard work and knowledge. Like I said marine biology will affect your life perspective. How can one not look in a microscope and see a tiny, perfectly shaped sea star (seriously the size of a grain of salt) and not be amazed at the vastness (and smallness) of the ocean’s creatures. Then the lectures and discussions come and leave you terrified that in a few decades all the ocean will be is an empty fish tank. It makes you think of that tiny starfish or that rainbow-colored-shapeless-looking nudibranch. I want my kids, husband, sister, brother, aunt, uncle etc. to see them too! I just want all those people I care about to crowd around a microscope like all of us have been the last 3 weeks. I want them to “oooh” and “omygosh that is crazy!” at all the beautiful critters that are out there. So that’s where I got to thinking: “What am I going to do now so that this can be seen by everyone?” And that is the hardest part of marine biology.   – 2013 Marine Biology student

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