For my third co-op I chose to work at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in the Ocean Acidification department. Mote was founded in 1955 by Dr. Eugenie Clark as an independent, nonprofit marine research organization. What started as a one-room lab in Placida to study sharks is now a laboratory of 31 buildings and field stations spread across five locations with 25 different research programs.
As an Ocean Acidification intern, I wear a few different hats and find myself working in other departments whenever time allows. The first hat I wear is that of a scientist. One of my main jobs is to run tests on the water and sea cucumbers from our experimental setup. We asses the water quality in each of the sea cucumbers’ tanks every morning and every afternoon using a YSI (It reminds me of Yellow Springs every time I use it). With this probe, we can measure the salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. We also use a spectrometer to measure Calcium Carbonate concentration in the water, and graduated cylinders and stopwatches to measure the flow rate of each tank.
As scientists, we also have to clean our equipment properly, which means I can often be found hunched over the sink acid-washing our glassware and the chambers. Acid-washing sounds scary, but it’s just rinsing the glassware with 10% HCl (very dilute Hydrochloric acid), and then rinsing it three times with distilled water.
Another hat I wear is the animal caretaker hat. When we first got the sea cucumbers, they had to be acclimated to the new water temperature and chemistry very slowly. After, many days were spent scraping very smelly algae from the walls of the tanks in a never-ending battle that most recently resulted in me acid-washing all the tanks, powerheads, and heaters, to keep the sea cucumbers’ water free of algae infestation. We also sometimes have to retrieve the sea cucumbers from other tanks or the raceway that the tanks sit in, as for some reason the sea cucumbers like to crawl up and out or their little tanks. Recently, a good portion of the sea cucumbers have been dying, presumably due to some sort of bacterial infection, so we have been monitoring them for signs of stress and disease.
Here are a few of our sea cucumbers Holothuria floridana
I also wear the hat of researcher. When we have downtime, Emily, my boss, often has certain subjects for use to research. I wrote a mini-review of sea cucumber care before we got our sea cucumbers, and I have been off-and-on looking for papers about the connection between sea cucumbers and ocean acidification. When we first noticed the sea cucumbers dying, I took it upon myself to investigate, and it was my research that led me to believe that they have some sort of bacterial infection. Hopefully my hypothesis will be confirmed soon when the Mote veterinarian is done running her tests.
When I wasn’t busy in the OA Department — more often than you’d think — I was working with other departments. One of the first departments I worked with was Phytoplankton Ecology; one day when there wasn’t much to do, Emily had me meet with Jennifer to learn about what they study and how they do it. Phytoplankton Ecology focuses primarily on red tide, a phenomenon in which Karenia brevis blooms and produces large amounts of potent neurotoxins. These toxins can kill fish, birds, sometimes marine mammals. If you go to the beach during red tide, you can not only smell it from all the dead fish, but you will also feel it in your throat as it can cause respiratory irritation in humans. We will be helping with another study on Karenia brevis, but that isn’t finished being set up yet.
Moving forward, I am hoping to take what I learned here at Mote and apply it to my work in the classroom and hopefully, my final co-op and beyond.
Mahadevan, Kumar. “Mote Marine Laboratory Exploring the Secrets of the Sea Since 1955 .” Gulf of Mexico Science, mote.org/media/uploads/files/MoteMarineLaboratory-history.pdf.
“Mote Marine Laboratory &Amp; Aquarium.” Mote, mote.org/.
“What Is Ocean Acidification?” What Is Ocean Acidification?, www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F.