What did you do on your summer vacation? For ocean lovers, it would be hard to top what three marine biology majors at the College did with visiting assistant professor of biology Chris Freeman this summer. Through a combination of Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty (SURF), School of Sciences and Mathematics awards and a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Samantha Czwalina, Abby Stephens and Bailey Fallon spent six weeks at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) on Isla Colón, a small island on the northern (Caribbean) side of Panama.
While Freeman was studying the paradox of coral reefs – the presence of incredible biodiversity in ecosystems that are the nutritional equivalent of marine deserts – Czwalina, Stephens and Fallon conducted independent research projects on sponges. Czwalina looked at the role that common Caribbean sponges play in the cycling of nutrients on the reefs; Stephens studied sponge reproduction; and Fallon investigated whether microplastics are found in sponges.