For the past two weeks, a diverse group of 13 international interns had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the work of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute.

From Jan. 2-15, the college-level interns took part in a crash course in coral reef ecology and underwater field research methods researching Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) corals under the guidance of CCMI science and society instructor Katie Correia. The group included undergraduates and graduate students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in marine science, biology, environmental science or some other related field.

According to the CCMI website, internships at the marine institute have various goals, among them enhancing student training in field research, increasing interest in coral reef science and conservation and providing useful data to assist CCMI in its long-term ecosystem research.

The interns hailed from Penn State University, the University of South Carolina, Texas A&M University, Yale University, Rice University, the University of Massachusetts Boston, the University of Washington, the University of Puerto Rico, Miami University, the College of Charleston, Bucknell University and the University of Utah. Admission to the program required that the students had, among other things, an Open Water Diver qualification with at least 20 logged dives.

Participants learned about tropical marine ecology and conservation through a combination of fieldwork and lectures. Students took part in data collection as part of the marine institute’s active research activities on coral reef systems surrounding Little Cayman and the Bloody Bay Marine Park. Interns also helped CCMI scientists with invasive lionfish and coral nursery projects.

Anna Knochel conducting a Benthic Habitat Survey of Martha’s Finyard.

The objective was for interns to gain hands-on experience in coral reef conservation through a range of research streams, including quantifying abiotic conditions of reef micro-habitats, learning to use 3-D habitat mapping software to assess such things as coral outplant growth, density dependent effects of coral outplants on reef recovery and to select suitable outplant sites, and determining localized extinction risks of endangered corals to aid coral reef conservation.

While on Little Cayman, the interns cleaned and maintained both of CCMI’s coral nurseries and outplanted more than 50 colonies of nursery-grown corals to the reef.

They also conducted 16 baited remote underwater video surveys to assess the local population of sharks and rays, and more than 50 reef surveys to estimate the local population of a Caribbean keystone species, the long spined sea urchin. At the end of the internship, participants received a certificate of completion of 45 hours in coral reef research and spatial ecology.

CCMI director of operations Peter Quilliam with a coral tree used to grow baby corals at the research center’s nurseries.

Intern Anna Knochel said, “I enjoyed every minute of this internship and acquired new knowledge, skills, friends, and an amazing mentor.”

Positive feedback also came from parents, with much praise and thanks for Ms. Correia.

“[My daughter] learned so much, and I was so at peace knowing she was in the environment she loves, helping reefs, diving amongst sharks and sharing it all with other passionate people, [it] was a dream come true for me as her mom,” said Renee Yerrace, mother of intern Sarah Yerrace.

Intern Caroline Hobbs also had enthusiastic feedback on the program and thanked Ms. Correia personally. “Katie, I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for us – that was the most incredible experience,” Caroline said.

“I’m stoked to focus even more on marine conservation and can’t wait to be in the water again. Thank you for being the best dive instructor, buddy breathing with me, and helping keep me calm so I could do what I love.”

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