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Charlotte Amalie
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UVI Students Conduct Research at National Park in Florida

July 27, 2007 – Two University of the Virgin Islands students spent part of their summer conducting marine research at the Dry Tortugas National Park off the coast of Florida. The research is a collaboration between UVI, the University of Central Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Smithsonian Institution. The goal is to conduct long-term ecological comparisons between coral reefs at the Tortugas National Park and coral reefs at V.I. national parks.
Biology major Gaetan Gentius and marine biology major Jacinthia Greaux spent five days near Key West, Fla., measuring sea urchin population density, measuring alga diversity and abundance, conducting fish surveys, identifying various species of fish, and observing the types of algae the fish ate. The students got to the national park via a 26-hour trip from St. Petersburg, Fla., aboard the Research Vessel Bellows. The data was collected while snorkeling.
"Previous research has suggested that there is a relationship between corals and the algae, where some species of algae kill new coral," Greaux explained. "The overall goal of these experiments is to determine if the sea urchin (Diadema antillariu), which is known to eat the algae, can remove enough of the algae to allow new corals to settle and grow, which will lead to more healthy and successful coral reef environments."
Greaux said that as her first off-island project it proved exciting and educational. "I learned to identify many different species of fish and algae," she said. But she also got the surprise of her life, she said. While in the water collecting data with Gentius, Greaux spotted a reef shark a few feet away. "I almost had a heart attack," she said. "I can't say exactly how big it was, but it was bigger than me," she added.
It is the first time that UVI faculty or students have worked at the Dry Tortugas National Park, according to Professor of Marine Biology Dr. Teresa Turner, who conducted research at the site with the students. Along with the knowledge of the findings, this type of research gives students the opportunity to work with graduate students and to better determine options about graduate school and career paths.
Greaux said that the research encouraged her to push forward in her career. "When you go out in the field and have the opportunity to see first hand what you are learning about in the classroom it excites you and encourages you to strive to become a successful biologist or marine biologist," she said.
Similar research at V.I. national parks will be conducted over the next few weeks.
For more information about this research project, contact Dr. Teresa Turner at 693-1382 or tturner@uvi.edu.

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