Category Archives: Undergraduate

A Summer of Gobies and Eelgrass

By: Alexandra Stella

Hello! My name is Alexandra Stella and I am currently a Senior at the University of Southern California! I am majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Political Science and Marine Biology.

Working on fish processing- where we measure and identify each fish!

Working on fish processing- where we measure and identify each fish!

My summer as a Zinsmeyer Intern at the USC Wrigley Marine Institute was filled with new experiences and unforgettable memories. I had the opportunity to work on two projects- researching sex change in blue banded gobies with Dr. Devaleena Pradhan and analyzing the health of eelgrass beds off the coast of Catalina Island with Dr. Dave Ginsburg. Most of my days started off early in the morning scuba diving to collect samples or data. After that, I’d move into the lab for fish processing or eelgrass data analysis!

Taking a break from the lab to take a swim in the kelp forest off our dock!

Taking a break from the lab to take a swim in the kelp forest off our dock!

My work with Dr. Pradhan required me to obtain a variety of new skills – from our special in-field fish capturing technique, to taking correct fish measurements for processing, to learning how to dissect the fish, to watching fish behavior, to even small tasks like labelling a centrifuge tube correctly (a very important step, I might add!). Overall, our goal with this summer research was to identify stressors that cause significant morphological and/ or behavioral changes in the gobies. We focused a lot of our time recording fish behavior in response to our test conditions to learn more about the gobies’ individual and group responses to change in the hierarchical make-up of their social groups. Understanding the effects of certain environmental conditions can lead us to a greater understanding of the survival and fecundity of this species which in turn has an impact on its surrounding ecosystem as these fish serve as an important prey source.

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Searching for blue banded gobies to collect and bring back to the lab for experimentation!

My second eelgrass project dealt with more management/ conservation issues. Eelgrass is often overlooked as insignificant in terms of the health of the entire ocean. But Dr. Ginsburg’s team recognizes how critical it is to the success of nearby habitats, and so dedicate themselves to study the health of the beds off Catalina Island. We performed various tasks underwater at multiple sites such as bed mapping and density data collection which involved recording the eelgrass length, width and height. Once we documented this information and compiled the data, we were able to compare it to last year’s data (the first year of this project) to understand how the health of the beds has adjusted over time. My work on this project is only one data point on what will hopefully be a large, comprehensive dataset as we continue to collect data year to year. Dr. Ginsburg’s project provides baseline data for eelgrass beds off the coast of Catalina – once completed, it will hopefully bring to light the significance of eelgrass for the health of other habitats in the ocean!

Presenting my eelgrass research project at the end of the summer!

Presenting my eelgrass research project at the end of the summer!

I learned so much this summer and am very grateful for these hands-on experiences! It feels so rewarding to walk away with a multitude of new skills and knowing you have added a point of discussion to some critical environmental research!

My REU pals and I went on a beautiful hike to Ballast Point!

My REU pals and I went on a beautiful hike to Ballast Point!

Flying Toward Zero Food Waste

By: Isabel Bosch

Hi everyone! My name is Isabel Bosch and I am currently going into my sophomore year at USC. This summer, I had the privilege of working beside Diane Kim and Adriane Jones on the Black Soldier Fly Project for five weeks through USC SURF funding.

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This is me next to the food dehydrator where food waste is dried so that it can be fed to the fly larvae.

This sustainable initiative is amazing because it helps produce zero food waste. The recycling process begins by collecting food waste and running it through a dehydrator to remove all of the liquid. Then, the dried food waste is fed to fly larvae. These larvae can then be used as fertilizer and feed for livestock or fish, resulting in no food waste being brought to landfills.

After being introduced to the ins and outs of the project and visiting the larvae in action at the Fly House, I was ready to start my own independent research. I specifically focused on the transfer rate of bacteria during the recycling process. In order to do this, I worked with two common foodborne bacteria: E. coli and B. subtilis. In separate trials, I inoculated the food waste with the two bacteria and plated them during each stage of the recycling process to ensure that no bacteria was left after the dehydration process – critical so that the food waste is safe to be entered into the food cycle again.

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Me in the lab, holding plates full of bacteria!

This experience was extremely rewarding because I felt like I was contributing to the solution of a major environmental issue. The Black Soldier Fly project is successful at making the Wrigley Institute produce zero food waste and could potentially be used on Catalina Island and even the mainland to limit the large amount of carbon emissions created by burning food waste in landfills.

My schedule on the island varied day to day. But usually, I worked five days a week until dinner and then on weekends for a couple of hours. This was because I wanted to conduct as many trials as I could in five weeks. In total, I conducted three results, one of which was successful and could be used as data. Even though it was disappointing when my trials failed, I soon learned that this is what science is all about, especially microbiology! After figuring out what went wrong with the help of my mentors, I could repeat the trial and learn from my mistakes––sometimes it was as simple as my nutritious broth being contaminated.

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A picture of my two friends and fellow research students kayaking and snorkeling before dinner.

Aside from working, I also had some free time to explore the beautiful Catalina Island – there is so much to do outdoors! With my peers, among other things, I went on long hikes, swims in the marine protected area around Wrigley, cliff jumping, night snorkeling and did sunset yoga on the dock. Sometimes, I would even tag along some of my fellow researcher’s projects, giving me the chance to go inland and see some buffalo! However, my favorite excursion was definitely night snorkeling. One night, all of us students suited up in our wet suits, brought some flashlights and were able to see a plethora of different animals underwater such as lobster and sharks. Because many of my peers were divers, they knew a lot about the different marine animals, making it feel like a guided tour!

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The viewpoint from a hike I did with my family when they came to visit me!

Overall, I am so grateful to have spent my summer on Catalina Island. I learned so much from my mentors, peers, and visitors to the island. This experience only strengthened my love for the environment and opened my eyes to all of the sustainable initiatives occurring. Research is extremely important and I am so glad that I could become involved in it at Wrigley. Thank you to my mentors, Diane Kim and Adriane Jones, the Wrigley Institute, and the other students on the island for making my summer unforgettable!