Click here to watch a video about student Claudia Tamez and her research
University Students Initiate Marine Science Research as Part of Grant
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – The day was overcast as biology and environmental science students from The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College maneuvered a boat off a trailer and into the water of the Bahia Grande.
The students worked on a recent Friday morning collecting samples to determine water quality, community metabolism rates and nitrogen patterns and checking on aquatic species for the wetlands that were restored in 2005.
“I love being in the field,” said Claudia Tamez, 28, a graduate student in biology and a graduate of Memorial High School in McAllen who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from The University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg. “I love that I’m collecting base data.”
The work is being done as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Environmental Cooperative Science Center, an initiative made possible by a $15 million grant from the federal agency awarded last fall to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla. The center was created by NOAA funding in 2001.
The grant’s purpose is to connect minority-serving institutions with students being trained in marine, costal and environmental sciences, improve scientific knowledge for coastal resource management and planning and establish community outreach efforts.
“We are trying to train the next generation of scientists in the STEM fields that are relevant to NOAA,” said Dr. Michael Abazinge, Director of the NOAA Environmental Cooperative Science Center and Interim Dean of FAMU’s School of the Environment. “Of course NOAA probably cannot hire all of them so that is why we are training them more broadly so other federal agencies that have science needs can hire them. They can hopefully be the engine to compete globally.”
As part of the partnership the university will receive $1.2 million during the next five years. Thirty percent of the money will fund six undergraduate and graduate students’ research efforts. Students will also attend workshops and webinars.
“If we do what we are supposed to do and we show we are graduating students in these marine science fields, I would imagine we could be included in other proposals,” said Dr. David Hicks, the university’s Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.
University students are also doing research at San Martin Lake between Brownsville and Port Isabel and in South Bay, an extension of the Laguna Madre south of the Brownsville Ship Channel. A lot of the information could be reported to staff at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos to determine how to manage title flows and other decisions affecting the habitat.
“We anticipate many publications coming out of these research efforts for the next five years,” said Hicks.
Crystal Martinez, 28, a graduate student in biology from Brownsville and a graduate of the South Texas High School for Health Professions in Mercedes, checked what barnacles have attached themselves to 10-feet long pipes she planted into the sandy floor of the Bahia Grande. So far she has found Balanus eburneus, or ivory barnacle and Balanus amphitrite, or purple striped barnacles. She has also installed piping at San Martin Lake and South Bay.
Martinez, who already has a bachelor’s degree in biology from UTPA, will look at how seasons and water quality affect barnacles. She will scrape some barnacles off the pipes and have an isotype analysis done on them at a laboratory at one of the NOAA grant partner institutions.
“It’s more of the health of the water column,” she said. “It’s kind of watching what you eat. If you eat healthy your environment is healthy as well.”
Undergraduates are getting opportunities to work alongside graduate students.
“They have taught us a lot of base principles,” said Samuel Camarillo, 21, a senior biology major from Brownsville and a graduate of Pace High School. “They taught us about sampling and using a boat. It gives you a lot of hands-on experience.
Camarillo said the work will be valuable as he begins pursuing a master’s degree in forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
Martinez said undergraduate students have a valuable role in the work.
“It helps a lot,” said Martinez. “When Mario (Marquez, another graduate student in biology) goes out it’s him, myself and another person and the work gets divided out. If they catch on, the research time takes a lot less. We get to teach the undergraduates. That means they have an interest and desire to go to graduate school too.”
Besides the university, other academic partners in the grant include Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, Delaware State University, Jackson State University, and Creighton University. Agency partners are the National Estuarine Research Reserves, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System.