Summer Student Series – Jessica Ramirez, M.S. in Marine Biology

Ever wonder what the summer looks like for graduate students? For each program, the summer semester looks a little different, with students taking summer courses, participating in internships, conducting research, among other activities. This summer, we will be inviting current graduate students to share their experiences in their own words. Our next guest blogger is Jessica Ramirez, a student in the M.S. in Marine Biology Program.

Jessica Ramirez

Hello! My name is Jessica Ramirez and I am a rising third year graduate student at the College of Charleston. I am a student in the Graduate Program in Marine Biology. My thesis advisor is Dr. Paul Pennington at the NOAA NCCOS Charleston Lab. Broadly, my research project is investigating oil spills in salt marshes. Within this theme, there are infinite questions that we can ask. How is oil toxic to salt marsh grasses? How can we restore the marsh after an oil spill? What materials should we use for the restoration? How long after should we start seeing the marsh recover? How do we know this was a successful restoration? These are some of the questions that I am exploring with my project. Thus far, I have completed an experiment measuring Spartina alterniflora growth after being dosed with Fuel Oil No.6 and studied regrowth of the marsh grasses after cutting the standing crop.

This summer, I am continuing my thesis project. My research is usually performed at the NOAA NCCOS lab greenhouse, but the lab has been closed since March due to COVID-19. Fortunately, I was granted space in the CofC greenhouse downtown. I currently have an experiment that is determining the effect of fertilizer on Spartina alterniflora growth and root structure. An important factor when restoring salt marshes is to use plants with strong root structures to combat erosion and further loss of the marsh. If we can guarantee a strong root structured plant, we may have a more successful restoration and lower chance of eroding the marsh edge. The tasks associated with this experiment are watering the plants daily, measuring stem density and heights, and harvesting the above and belowground biomass at the end of 2 months. Once the belowground biomass is harvested, I will be able to measure the root length using imaging software. Then, I will be able to statistically analyze if the nutrients had an effect on the growth of the plants.

When I graduate, I would like to continue working in the field of plant biology and wetland restoration. During this project I was able to grow Spartina alterniflora from seeds, which is what is commonly done for restoration, but watering these plants everyday and seeing them grow is gratifying. I often ask colleagues, advisors, and other scientists how they got where they are now. Every answer is different, but a common thread is that they worked in various fields of research. Which is one of the great things about science, that there is a need for collaboration between disciplines and I have a foundation for those disciplines through my undergraduate and graduate studies. For now, I will continue focusing on my thesis project and keep an open mind to the future.

To learn more about the Marine Biology graduate program, please visit http://marinebiology.cofc.edu/. To learn more about the NOAA NCCOS Charleston lab, please visit https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/facilities/. 

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