During summer 2022, Daniel Kim ’23, a biological sciences major with a marine biology minor, took a course in underwater research at Shoals Marine Laboratory, a remote field station located on Appledore Island, Maine, that is jointly operated by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire. Below, Daniel shares highlights from his summer on the island.
This was my third summer taking a course at Shoals. I just keep finding myself back on the island, and each time I return, I fall more in love with it. This summer, I took Underwater Research, a course I’ve been wanting to take since I met Dr. Eugene Won tabling for Shoals at a prospective students event. Due to Covid, the course was not offered for the past two years, but luckily I was able to take it before I graduate next spring.
The Underwater Research course is designed to prepare students to, you guessed it, conduct research underwater as well as complete necessary training to attain American Academy of Underwater Sciences scientific diver status. We spent two weeks diving everyday and learning about navigation, species identification, data collection techniques and deep diving. The course concluded with a capstone proposal where we put all of these newly learned skills to use, gathering preliminary data on a particular pattern we noticed during our dives.
During the species identification portion of the course, we learned about the local marine ecosystem and took an exam while diving where we had to identify 20 species (mostly algae and crustaceans, and just a few fish). It was the most fun I’ve had while taking an exam.
In this video, some of my classmates are doing quadrat studies. A quadrat is a frame, traditionally square, made out of PVC pipes used in ecology, geography and biology to isolate a standard unit of area for study of the distribution of an item over a large area. So underwater, we used quadrats to take population counts of underwater life.
My capstone proposal
I sought to understand the relationship between crustacean predation and refuge competition in the shallow subtidal. I studied three species: Cancer borealis, Cancer irroratus and Homarus americanus, and set up three cinder blocks in areas of different species density to see which animal would be found inside. I conducted five dives to gather preliminary data, which ultimately showed a) a statistically significant relationship between crevice size and animal size and b) a statistically significant correlation showing that the mean size of Cancer borealis living outside of crevices were larger than those found inside.
I was fascinated by how different and dynamic the subtidal ecology of the Gulf of Maine is. A five-minute boat ride away from our primary rocky and sandy dive sites dropped us among massive kelp and red algae beds. We learned about the changing ecosystem around the isles of Shoals, including the negative effects that green urchins have had on kelp beds throughout the years, dominating the shallow subtidal areas where kelp once grew and replacing it with coralline algae (used by urchin larvae) and upsetting the ecosystem.
By far, this summer at Shoals was the best experience I’ve had during my time at Cornell. I absolutely adored every single one of my fellow divers, and the teaching staff was phenomenal. I’ve been diving since middle school, and it is definitely my favorite hobby, so I feel lucky to have spent two weeks diving for class credit!
I am pre-med and actively studying for the MCAT. It is rare to see pre-med students explore areas outside of medicine, so in my role as a student advisor in the Office of Undergraduate Biology, I try to assure students that it is okay to do things they love in addition to pursuing a career in medicine.
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