Hello all and Happy Summer! My name is Sarah Harrison, and I’m working as an intern for Dr. Valerie Paul at the Smithsonian Marine Station in my sunny hometown of Fort Pierce, Florida.
At the start of the summer I—along with two other undergraduates and a graduate student from the College of Charleston—went with Dr. Paul and Dr. Linda Walters of the University of Central Florida to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for two weeks. We collected spawn from mustard hill coral (Porites astreoides) for Dr. Walter’s experiment on coral larvae settlement. We also collected about 70 medium sized spiny sea urchins (Diadema antillarum) to investigate their eating habits—which thankfully did not include sunburned undergrads!! Between counting settled larvae on tiles and weighing urchin chow, Dr. Paul led the group in collecting almost a kilogram of three varieties of blue-green algae: Lyngbya, Hormothamnion, and Dichothrix.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on extracting and isolating natural products from these algae samples—something Dr. Paul has been doing for the past thirty years to put together a larger chemical portrait of how blue-green algae (a.k.a. cyanobacteria) and those that dine (or are chemically deterred not to dine) on cyanobacteria can interact to change the dynamic of coral reefs. Besides exploring these underwater rain forests for, Dr. Paul’s lab also periodically sends off isolated compounds to the National Institute of Health to see if there is any medicinal use for our beloved goopy algae.
And finally, five things I wish I could have known earlier this summer…
1) Fire coral is aptly named.
2) An urchin will poke you whether it is hungry or not.
3) Talking to the rotational evaporator nicely does not guarantee anything.
4) Cuttlefish are not afraid to see if your dive mask tastes yummy…or to take a taste osf the sample you’ve just collected.
5) The nice folks at Customs & Immigration at the airport should be warned that the cooler they’re about to open is very, very seaweed-y.