Exploring Our Marine Backyard: Integrating Marine Science into Colombian Secondary Schools

Latest update June 11, 2019 Started on October 31, 2018

With over 3,208 kilometers of coastline along both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, there is the potential for a significant amount of ocean discovery in Colombian´s marine environment. However secondary school students have limited interactions with their local marine environment in their science courses. This program through the collaboration of scientists and marine science educators hopes to create curriculum and professional development that provides opportunities for teachers to integrate local marine science lessons into their biology, chemistry, and physics curriculum. Additionally we plan to provide resources to schools such as low cost foldable microscopes, so students can study the microscopic marine environment. The ultimate goal is for students to learn and experience first hand their local marine environments.

October 31, 2018
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In The Field

It has been a busy semester, since we last posted. We have many, many things to post, since students have been traveling to Cartagena, Malepelo on the west coast, and a duo that are spending the entire summer on San Andres Island. Lucky!

Not only have the students been busy traveling, but Dr Juan Sanchez has been traveling all over the globe for various projects. Currently he is at the Keys Marine Laboratory in Florida. http://www.keysmarinelab.org/ for an Octocoral Workshop.

The workshop is funded by an NSF project arranged by Peter Edmonds of CSU- Northridge, who has projects on St Johns and Moorea, (https://www.csun.edu/science-mathematics/biology/peter-j-edmunds) and Howard Lasker, who runs the Buffalo Undersea Reef Research Lab (http://burr.bio.buffalo.edu/)

The workshop invitation process was highly competitive and included expert researchers, phd students, and post docs to teach and learn about techniques for visual identification of octocoral, as well as lab work with octocoral samples in the KML facilities.

The ROV was put to use to help capture some of the characteristics of octocorals, since in the future this technology may be a useful tool for coral monitoring projects, instead of using divers. This was the first time we tested the 100 m tether and so there was a bit of a learning curve to maneuver the ROV.

Dr Juan Sanchez says, "for many it was one of the highlights of the workshop because it is such a cool little machine." All of the participants were able to play with the ROV and explore the local reefs both during the day and at night.

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Last week I joined up with one of Dr Juan Armando Sanchez's students, Catalina Zuluaga, to help with one of BIOMMARS current projects, looking at parrot fish feces. Catalina's project is similar, but slightly different than another project, examining the zooxanthellae in the feces to determine how influential parrot fish are as dispersal agents. Instead of looking at the diversity of zooxanthellae present in the feces, she is analyzing the bacterial assemblages. Just like with any other organism, bacteria can be both helpful and damaging to other organisms. They require a host organism for survival. It is not all that different at looking at the bacteria in human feces to understand more about how human digestive system and other aspects of health.

Catalina and I made a good team, each of us armed with as many syringes as we could fit inside of our BC vests. Over the course of 3 days each with 2 dives, I got very good at selecting the right fish to follow in hopes of collecting a sample. Although there was one time that I chased one fish for more than 1/3 of the starting air in my tank. I eventually gave up because he never seemed to go to the bathroom. He was quite tricky, as he would hide under coral and I would lose him. Just when I was about to give up on him, he would come back as if to invite me to swim with him again. Seriously, we swam together for a long time.

Here are some pics of Catalina preparing her samples and filtering out the feces for analysis back in the lab, which will include DNA analysis of the bacteria.

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We thought it would be helpful to share some background information on the coral reefs near San Andres. The coral reefs are part of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve in the southwest region of the Caribbean. The following link is a report on 2 coral reefs within the reserve near San Andres Island: Roncador Bank and Serrana Bank. It was recently published in Frontiers Marine Science on the 26th February 2019 with Dr Juan Sanchez as one of the leading researchers on the report.

Steady Decline of Corals and Other Benthic Organisms in the SeaFlower Biosphere Reserve (Southwestern Caribbean)


The article is written by the following authors: Juan Armando Sánchez*†, Matías Gómez-Corrales†, Lina Gutierrez-Cala, Diana Carolina Vergara, Paula Roa, Fanny L. González-Zapata, Mariana Gnecco, Nicole Puerto, Lorena Neira and Adriana Sarmiento

In summary, the report addresses the current status of both banks and the need for more monitoring in the future especially for foreign sources of nutrients, carbon budgets, and other components of reef resilience including herbivorous fish. There is no clear explanation why the rapid decline in the last few years, especially considering that these banks are isolated from human populations and rivers, which increase the nutrient input and suspension of particles in the water column.

The live coral cover is decreasing at both reefs with Roncador midwater reefs changing from 22.6% live coral cover in 1995 to less than 10% today. For the Serrana shallow reefs the change is 35.4% in 1995 and today it is less than 21%. Check out the article for more on the changes in coral and other substrate cover (algae, cyanobacteria, and octocorals), as well as changes in urchin poulations and foram assemblages.

Images are copyright from the original article posted in the link above.

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We are ready to send out the full curriculum materials for the Masquerade Game, a low cost activity that teaches students about natural selection and ecological concepts including the impacts of predators, invasive species, and fungal diseases.

It is based on the actual research done by professors at Universidad de los Andes near the Malpelo Islands. See the original research paper here: https://peerj.com/articles/2051/

If you are interested in testing out the materials, please send us an email at stef587@gmail.com. There was a lot of interest expressed in comments on previous posts. However we have no way to contact you through the Open Explorer Page.

We look forward to getting feedback.

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In The Field

Dr Juan Armando Sanchez teamed up recently with El Tiempo to show them how the ROV works in San Andres. They used it to look at coral reefs and caverns. Check out this very cool video they produced. They talk about the interesting orange sponges they are finding, as well as unsettling issues of the immense trash accumulating in the waters of San Andres.

The video is in Spanish, so we have also included a Google Translation of the transcript for our English audience:

[Music] 00:11 we are in eldorado airport is 00:13 waiting for our flight that will take us 00:15 the next crown adventure 00:16 underground this time we will go to more than 700 00:19 kilometers over the Colombian Caribbean 00:20 we go 00:21 in the bowels of colombia they hide 00:24 mysterious treasures from the section of 00:26 science of time we will travel the country 00:28 to get into some of his 00:29 most amazing caverns and discover 00:31 your secrets 00:32 [Music] 00:41 very few know that the island of San 00:42 André there are caverns as there are and very 00:44 underground cordoba varieties 00:45 we came to explore the 00:49 all this rocky coastline is generating 00:53 an intertidal notch where the 00:55 sea ​​the sea goes plowing is eroding and 00:58 will generate a ceiling when the level 01:01 of the sea was more much below him 01:03 also generated these new ones that is 01:05 intertidal then here's why 01:07 we have these caves all this area and 01:09 some enter up to about 10 meters 01:10 can bring a person to plant a 01:13 diver and what is so special about that 01:14 it's a very different environment than it is 01:16 the reef is much darker 01:20 now scientists count 01:22 with technological tools such as 01:24 underwater robots to explore the 01:26 cavities from the surface the 01:28 robotic devices because they are 01:30 revolutionizing the exploration in below 01:33 of the sea thanks to the little ones 01:35 submarines Juan Sanchez and his team 01:36 research have managed to make some 01:38 striking findings of particular 01:41 interest for example are sponges 01:44 calcified the is clear sponges that 01:47 it's called cerato because it's 01:49 special because they have grow very 01:52 slow then they are a sponge that 01:54 They are about 50 centimeters in diameter 01:57 It has more than 500 years 02:01 and then the interesting thing is that it has 02:04 that information is so valuable 02:07 inside of the skeletons 02:10 evicted she lives in the coat 02:12 superficial and inside is already all the 02:15 skeleton that deposited for hundreds 02:18 of years then as fascinating not 02:19 know good when I take colom the 02:22 temperature was the same as it was 02:23 changing the temperature throughout 02:25 the years yes things of that style do not 02:28 they can do or if during the bombs 02:31 atomic of the 50s that signal came 02:35 topical review of the skeleton 02:37 [Music] 02:52 there are some fossil corals 02:55 that have remained let's say as a match for 02:57 half and you see all the lines of 03:00 growth there is a huge economy 03:02 possibly as an equal to the brain 03:04 body that already 03:06 but preservation is impressive 03:09 of the electoral forest and not like 03:11 [Music] 03:14 unfortunately, there is a lot of garbage 03:16 but but the site is very interesting 03:21 ah 03:21 [Music] 03:23 I'm afraid of the dark and see me 03:25 but they say there's a camera you 03:27 you go down going down below and 03:30 you find a conduit that takes you 03:34 below and goes out to other caves follows 03:39 [Music] 03:44 we come to the larroque reef clip more 03:46 ancient that emerged with the origin of san 03:48 andrés millions of years ago was a 03:50 cavern of karstic origin that broke 03:52 exposing striking 03:53 blunder more 03:55 this rope because so far we see 03:57 which is a rocky shelter with a 04:00 mirror formation very themes 04:01 developed to indicate what is 04:03 quite old many millions of years 04:05 and it is a zone of collapse then the 04:08 loose blocks but the safest thing is 04:10 that this was a cave that was 04:11 totally closed afterwards by processes 04:14 of dissolution instead all 04:16 blocks that we see scattered then that 04:19 is an indication that here a cave 04:21 quite developed and it's very likely 04:23 that there are other advances here we see a 04:25 advance that at first glance are like 04:28 ten meters then I'll see what it is that 04:30 there is 04:33 Well, it's full of wood trash, I think 04:36 that here was a cambuche very very well 04:37 mounted a bed inclusive to walk with 04:39 Be careful because there are glasses 04:43 ah 04:44 We are in a small gallery that 04:47 we found in this rock formation 04:49 It has obviously been used during 04:51 a long time as a population change 04:53 from the street and very probably 04:54 delinquents because we are in one of 04:56 the most dangerous neighborhoods of Saint Andrew 04:59 and I think that few inhabitants of the 05:02 street have given themselves the luxury of having a 05:03 Room so well decorated is full 05:05 of some beautiful speleothems that is 05:07 an indication that x circle water during 05:09 many millions of years 05:11 there are more very beautiful curtains that has 05:13 as a form of some fangs of 05:16 shark and also the formations that 05:19 they are loose which are common but 05:20 ticas 05:21 [Music] 05:29 amount as long as you are divorced 05:34 if there is a descent by meters but what 05:39 yes, it worries me is that there is a lot 05:40 good pollution 05:42 suddenly we found this plasm sis 05:43 there is a huge colony of bats 05:49 but as it gets behind me there is a 05:51 huge colony that we're going to try to 05:53 bring so that to see what else there in 05:56 this cavern 05:57 [Music] 05:58 to these forms that we should take are 06:02 typical of each time the second ones were 06:04 flooded expressly and there was flow of 06:07 water then we see how with water is 06:10 elaborated and goes in the sense of 06:13 entry 06:15 of the cave and in the sense of 06:17 orientation of salander is very 06:19 interesting to see that this is once 06:21 it was a cavern flooded in this 06:24 cavern we did not find galleries or 06:26 passages what we could observe was 06:28 to several links of the food chain 06:29 cavernaria this is a typical animal of 06:31 the caverns is a skillful rogue 06:35 this copy that we have here is small 06:38 it looks like a spider has a look 06:39 as if it was terrible very poisonous but 06:41 it actually feeds is like 06:43 cockroaches is very important inside 06:45 the trophic chain of the cavern 06:49 yes 06:52 there are organisms that are our glories and 06:54 The three balloons are graphics 06:56 which are adapted to open 06:57 practically all in its cycle and in 07:00 cabals while the theological ones 07:02 they can both be inside or outside 07:04 caverns then this woman towards that 07:07 Blanquita may be another glory 07:09 and the other cockroaches that we see that 07:11 they have pigments can be cloudy rows 07:12 [Music] 07:14 the fresh water that is contained in the 07:16 aquifers in groundwater 07:17 André is super important for 07:19 survival of people and I think that 07:21 about 30 percent of the water 07:23 that the San Andresans obtain comes from 07:25 the remaining aquifers have to 07:27 bring from other places on boats with 07:31 tanks 07:33 san andrés is the perfect example of 07:35 the care of the aquifers although it is 07:37 surrounded by salt water the island counts 07:39 with small underground reserves of 07:40 fresh water that must be protected to 07:43 the welfare of its inhabitants 07:45 [Music] 07:46 [Applause]

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First time in the water with the ROV! Dr Juan Armando Sanchez recently returned from a trip to San Andres. Here are some pictures from the ROV's first dive. You can also see Juan on land controlling the ROV.

The ROV is super cool. It can go into tight spots that the divers could not. They were able to get good images even in some of the dark places that they dove. One thing still to work out is how to keep from getting the tether tangled up. With practice it will get easier, for sure!

Check back soon for details on what we did with the ROV on this most recent trup to San Andres! Dr Sanchez and Camilo Martinez, a grad student with BIOMMAR, teamed up with El Tiempo to do some cool exploration.

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After the last post, you may be asking yourself, "Why are they collecting parrot fish poop?" And that is a very appropriate response, because it does seem a bit strange to chase a fish underwater with a sterile syringe to suck up its poop. The reason though is very fascinating.

If you are a marine scientist or oceanographer or have ever gone diving on a coral reef, you are probably very familiar with parrot fish. They get their name from their mouth, which is shaped like a parrot's beak. With this beak like mouth they can crunch on hard coral and if you have ever been diving on a reef, you have probably seen them doing this. You probably have even seen them excrete the chalky white sandy substance. In fact parrot fish are best known for their role in bioerosion and sediment removal. The next time you are sitting on that tropical white sand beach, think about how much of that sand has gone through the gut f a parrot fish. Want to have a good laugh? Check out this video about parrot fish excretion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA3PqJxQkhU

Don't worry! Parrot fish are not going to eat up all the coral. Some researchers have found that 95% of the bites are on dead coral with algae. The parrot fish are thought by some to be a keystone species, which is an organism that has an important role to the entire ecosystem, for coral reefs by promoting reef building and coral diversity.

Ok so lets get back to the question here: Why are members of the BIOMMAR lab at Uniandes (https://biommar.uniandes.edu.co/) collecting parrot fish poop? A few years ago they discovered that feces contained viable cells of Symbiodinium spp., a dinoflagellate. Symbiodinium spp. are the zooxanthellae that live within their coral host as part of a symbiotic relationship that is mutualistic with the corals. Corals can acquire zooxanthellae through either vertical acqusition (the transfer from parent to eggs) or horizontal acquisition (uptake from the environment). It seems that the parrot fish not only have a role in bioerosion, but are helping to disperse different species of Symbiodinium to other part of the reef or to the edge of reefs to help them expand. Corals then are able to uptake the free living Symbiodinium spp through horizontal acquisition.

Another interesting observation made by Dr Juan Sanchez and BIOMMAR is that the percentage of viable Symbiodinium spp. found in the feces is similar to that found from terrestrial organisms such as bats and birds that are known to excrete seeds as part of the germination process of plant.

There are so many more questions that BIOMMAR want to further study on this topic. They are extracting the Symbiodinium spp cells to determine which species are present in the feces compared to those that are found in a free living form in water samples. They also are investigating the behavior of the fish to determine the potential distance and range of dispersal.

This project is so fascinating, that we are considering using it as one of our marine science video units. The units we are developing involve a series of lessons that take the student through an investigation from start to finish. Each lesson begins with a video that shows the actual work of the scientists and then allows them to step into the marine scientist's shoes (or should we say fins) and actually perform aspects of the science for themselves. This includes using underwater video footage from our ROV to count coral diversity by doing a coral transect or identify different species of parrot fish to determine their abundance on different reefs. The lessons can all integrate into the core science curriculum, and encourages student to collect data to form conclusions of the science.

Stay tune for more details on this curriculum project. Also if you are interested in being a pilot classroom for any of our curriculum, emailsp.toro@uniandes.edu.cofor more information.

Also check back in a few days. We are going to feature one of the members of BIOMMAR lab who is working on this project.

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I got to follow along on one of the research projects currently being done in San Andres by the Biommar Lab (https://biommar.uniandes.edu.co/) run by Dr Juan Armando Sanchez at the University of the Andes in Bogota. I have decades of dive experience for both recreational and scientific purposes, but I was not prepared for this data collection. We were going to chase parrot fish, watch them eat chunks of coral and continue following them until they pooped. Yes, that is right! We were collecting Stoplight parrot fish feces using sterilized syringes.

This went against everything that I knew about diving: stay calm, breath normal, move slow to conserve energy and not scare away organisms. Now you may be thinking it can't be that hard to chase a parrot fish, right!The dive started off easy enough, but then we locked in on a fish. The chase was on! I would soon quickly learn though how not to chase a parrot fish.

You have to swim really fast to keep up with parrot fish, especially since I think the fish realize they are being follow and decide to swim faster. I swam so fast, that I found myself unable to catch my breath.....under water. It was the strangest feeling in the world. I just couldn't breath at all and all I wanted to do was to dart to the surface and take in a large breath of air. Of course that was not an option and once I realized that I began to panic. What was I going to do, I just wasn't able to breath. I almost aborted the dive, thinking I would leave this project to the much younger graduate students. After some much needed self talk, I was able to calm myself down and start to breath normal again.

I still wasn't sure if I was capable of chasing more parrot fish. I took the time that we were searching for our next victim to plan a different approach, a more laid back approach. With the second I realized that I could follow slowly from a distance and keep the fish in view. After all they tend to swim all over the place, so I could sit back and not follow its every move. Success! We collected the feces and I did not lose my breath. I was very excited and much relieved, but then we saw a third and then a fourth. From that point on it seemed they were in pairs and we had to choose which one to follow. It seemed we chose wrong every time. We only would get 2 samples on this particular dive, which apparently is the trend with the evening dives.

When we came to the surface, it was dark. We ended up having to swim back at the surface. Apparently I was not the only one who used up a lot of air chasing parrot fish. I was just glad to see that I had as much if not more psi's than the youthful graduate students. Not only was it dark at this point, but the tides had changed and not in our favor. In order to get out, one of us had to volunteer to ditch our equipment and rock climb out to get some extra hands to help with our tanks. Somehow that volunteer ended up being me. Rock climbing with surging wave is definitely not easy (see the pictures for an example of what we had to climb out, except the water level was lower).

With the dive done, it was time to prepare the samples for the next step: cultures. Check back later this week for our next post that explains why parrot fish feces is being collected and studied. We will also share our plans to turn this into a video science investigation unit too.

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The Trident ROV from Open ROV arrived. Whew! We were a bit worried since the university was on winter break and we weren’t sure who had it. Juan Armando got to open it today.

We can’t wait to play with it and start really figuring out all the things we can do.

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Even though San Andres is a Colombian island, it is actually closer to Nicaragua. This makes it a popular tourist attraction for Colombians, and has become well known for its all inclusive resorts on the north east of the island. In fact outside of the city center, which has most of the all inclusive resorts, there are only a few other spots that you will see tourists.

Unfortunately the island feels the effects of the tourism in many ways. Locals such as some of the fishermen we talked with do not speak fondly of the tourists. They feel that these all inclusive resorts may schedule trips to other parts of the islands, but they do not support the locals or contribute to the economy. For example the resorts may take a group of tourists on an excursion to other areas of the island. However they bring all the water and the food with them. There is little communication or organization to set up partnerships between the tourism industry on the island and the locals. Some of the best food comes from little tables that the locals set up on Sunday. I love the crab empanadas.

Perhaps the most tragic part is to see how the island is trashed. There are so many missed opportunities to help those visiting the island learn and appreciate San Andres for her beauty and charm. Here is a picture of a spot near a location called West End, which is a popular excursion for tourists staying in city center. You will see many shuttles dropping people off. Hopefully by improving the marine science education, we can raise more awareness to eventually prevent these sort of things.


One of the things we did on this trip was meet locals who have a great wealth knowledge of San Andres Island. Of course who better to talk to than a local fisherman.

Meet Victor Pomare McLaughlin pictured with his boat. He has been fishing with his family since he was a kid, so that means he has over 70 years of local knowledge. In order to collect samples and create marine science lessons, I wanted to talk to Victor to learn more about the ecology and habitats, such as rocky intertidal, sandy shores, coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves. Sitting on his front porch with its picture perfect ocean views, I got much more than an ecology lesson of the island, but a glimpse at how life has changed for the local fishermen on the islands.

Victor has much to share regarding the changes to the ocean and coastal habits that he has seen in his lifetime. His stories include the typical of changes to the color of the coral reefs and the increase pollution the tourism brings. However I had no idea how much the conch fishery had been impacted. I had never even seen conchs on any of the menus in the restaurants of San Andres.

According to Victor they used to actively harvest conch on a frequent bases, which for him translates to before the 70s and 80s. They would work in groups of 3 men per boat, one to drive and the other 2 to harvest. His favorite spots he calls east cay and east-southeast cay. On a typical Friday his team would head out and come back with 300-400 conchs from east cay and 1000-1500 conchs if they went further to east-southeast cay.

Unfortunately Victor's stories of the conch has a nostalgic tone because San Andres has experienced a complete crash in the population. He says the numbers changed in the 70s and 80s when the Colombia government became more involved with San Andres Island. Prior to this time the local fisherman sold their conchs by individual to the fish markets, which meant there was an incentive to only taking large individuals. Buyers would not purchase small conchs, since they were the same price as the small conchs. Victor talks about the local knowledge the islanders had for the ecology of the conchs and shows me with his hands the right size to harvest. Not only were these men harvesting only large ones for the economic benefits, but they were well aware of the natural history of the conchs including their reproductive cycles and size of mature individuals. Victor says with the influence of the Colombian commercial fisheries, the conch market changed to price based on lbs of meat, not by individual, a method that did not provide any incentive to only harvest large conchs. Victor explains that this influx of new Colombian commercial fishing led to overharvesting of the conchs, since they had little care or knowledge about the impacts of the size of conchs being collected. Today Victor says coming back home with 30 conchs per team in a day is considered an amazing success. Now his team is lucky if they can even find any conchs at all in some of their favorite spots.

While conch has always been a family favorite to harvest, they also would catch lobsters during the process. Victor says he has observed similar declines in the lobster populations too throughout his lifetime. The conch fishery is in decline in much of the Caribbean. In Colombia they have closed the conch fishery in many locations starting in 2003 in an effort to save the organisms that are critically endangered.

To read and learn more about the population of conch and the management strategies in Colombia, check out this publication by CORALINA from 2009 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272999243NonDetrimentFindingsfortheQueenConchStrombusgigasinColombia.
Also here is an article from the Living Oceans Foundation in 2012 that is studying the population in Colombia: https://www.livingoceansfoundation.org/saving-the-archipelagos-conch/


Getting back to the world of internet... For the past week, I have been in San Andrés enjoying all that island life offers: friendly people, delicious food, beautiful ocean views spectacular sunsets and much to learn! Of course we managed to squeeze in some “work” here and there. Over the next few weeks we will share several blog posts about the trip so everyone can follow a long and leant about the work, the people of San Andrés and a bit of the marine science research projects.

The purpose of this first official project trip was to accomplish 2 things. First was to learn about the island and it’s ecology, history, culture, and educational system from a variety of perspectives. Second was to learn more about the specific marine science projects being done by the students of Dr Juan Amando Sánchez and even follow along on their scuba dives.

Make sure to check back over the next few weeks, so you can see all the fun!


It was anticipated to send out the first draft of the simulation lesson to all those that commented with a request for it on our Nat Geo Open Explorer Page. As those of you in education know, we must expect the unexpected. You never know what fires you may need to put out. There will be a bit of a delay on this first draft going out. It should be done by tomorrow and definitely by Wednesday. We cannot wait to hear your feedback once you have a look!

Also we have been virtually chatting with some amazing marine science educators to help us brainstorm more lesson ideas and ways to bring marine science into the classroom. Thank you, Bethany and DJ, for giving up a large portion of your day to talk with us. Let me tell you a little bit about this amazing marine science educators!

Bethany Smith is a marine and environmental science teacher at Chesapeake Bay Governor's School for Marine & Environmental Science in Warsaw, Virginia. Bethany teaches dual enrollment marine and environmental science courses to 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, since she studied biological oceanography at College of William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science in 2008 and worked as a fisheries management and data specialist for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and as a lab technician studying algal biofuels. Her marine science courses focus on higher level thinking and authentic field research experience.

DJ Kast (in the picture with Stephanie) is the STEM Programs Manager for the USC Joint Educational Project, she is in charge of the Young Scientist Program and the USC Wonderkids Program, and she is the STEM coordinator for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program. Whew! She does a lot. She also has a great deal of knowledge having completed a Bachelors of Science in Biology, Masters in Marine Environmental Biology, Masters in Teaching with science teaching credentials all at USC (University of Southern California). And she is full of marine science lesson ideas!

Fun fact: DJ, Bethany, and Stephanie (on this project) all 3, were Science Communications Fellows on the EV Nautilus. It is a great community that keeps us, marine science educators, connected!

What ideas do you have for marine science lessons? We would love to hear them. We are particularly interested in lessons that related to our marine science research, as well as lessons that bring the outdoors into the classroom. We also have a big interest in trying to create lessons that encourage the use of microscopes. So how do you have your students do authentic science and bring the fieldwork into the classroom? How do you integrate marine science into core subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Physics? Comment below!

Check back this Wednesday for updates and the first draft of the the simulation lesson going out!


We are very excited about creating ways that we can bring marine science to the students of Colombia. One exciting project is to use underwater ROVs to record video footage and images of the marine science research as we do it. After careful editing, we can select certain transects or images to provide to students for them to collect their own data. We hope to use a PBL approach from start to finish by presenting background information of the research and allowing students to design their own hypothesis. They can then collect the data from the video footage and the images, create graphs, and interpret their findings to form conclusions.

However we need help in getting an ROV and it is simple! We are still looking for people to follow our adventures here at our Nat Geo Open Explorer Page. We are also hoping to find teachers from any country not just Colombia who would be interested in providing feedback, piloting the lessons, or just want to receive some very cool marine science lessons. Follow us and comment on a post saying that you are interested in receiving the first lesson directly. Hopefully by the end of this week we can share that with everyone!


PS The picture is copyright from the National Geographic Open Explorer Science Exploration Education Website. It is not our image. You can see it in its original form at the link below.

Here are some links to the ROV we are hoping to get from S.E.E. Initiative (Science Exploration Education) and Trident Open ROV if you are interested in learning more: https://e.nationalgeographic.com/pub/sf/FormLink?ri=X0Gzc2X%3DYQpglLjHJlYQGp9fzc0Xl4o3DW9zdMe5oaAkv1llzgsTCI0ala9tSBCpNzgeMiRPzffVXMtX%3DYQpglLjHJlYQGNqvOJsvRKDNtzaBzdonc2yBImW4RtCT5EtAIwvIzc2syDELgbOvO&ei=EreT5VTcWr2a5wrt4PHDzdOjwJm4QmSGF2r4LRppRr2OHAnYa-2lYPnGvab137OQtACRdNpzAK0&fbclid=IwAR2nxxPi8pDl-H9uB5o1sQkKepTvjAR-PCS1djPVUhzio3cuzpMNTeAbI

Trident Open ROV https://www.openrov.com/products/trident/?aff=openexplorer


The first lesson is almost finished! It should be done next week and ready to be shared with YOU. Follow our expedition and comment about your interest in receiving this first lesson, so that we can directly send you the materials.

It is a low cost simulation game by Juan Sanchez, Manu Forero-Shelton, Angela Fuentes-Pardo, Jaime Cantera-Kintz, Ide Ni Almhain, and Nestor Ardila-Espitia based on their research with the mimicry behavior of egg cowrie snails to blend in with their host organism, octocorals, in Colombian Pacific Ocean environments.

The game focuses on population dynamics and investigates topics of natural selection and adaptations, as well as predation, invasive species, and disease. The curriculum materials include instructions and suggestions of how to integrate this into your curriculum, as well as reflection questions to help students make the connections with the game and the concepts they are learning in class. The curriculum materials also provides suggestions of how to scaffold this for younger learners or scale it up for more advanced students. Target audience is high school, but it could be adapted for middle school. As you can see in the pictures, the materials needed are affordable and easy to obtain.

Just need to finish translating into English! Comment your interest to receive the materials and check back for more updates.

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Yes there will be an English translation. I am a US Citizen, so it will be a native translation. Hopefully it will be done by the end of the week!

We would love to receive feedback from teachers who try these lessons in their classrooms. Even if you just read over the materials, we will listen to your feedback too.

Hi Bob Mackey! One day we need to plan it so that I can come down to Haiti and do some science teacher training. Now that I am at a university, my schedule is much more flexible. We can include some of these resources too!

Leigh, just stay tuned to this page for updates!

Hello Everyone! We are ready to send out materials. However we have no way to contact all those who expressed interest. You will need to send your email tostef587@gmail.comso that we can reply with the materials. THANKS!

The need for developing middle and high school curriculum was inspired by the research performed in the Malpelo Islands of Colombia. Dr Juan Sánchez​ and Dr Manu Forero-Shelton, who are collaborators on this current project, were joined by Angela P. Fuentes-Pardo, Íde Ní Almhain, Néstor E. Ardila-Espitia, Jaime Cantera-Kintz to investigate the mimicry behavior demonstrated by egg-cowries with their host species of octocorals.

This research explored the factors influencing the mimicry including natural selection from predation as well as phenotypic plasticity. To read the research published from these investigations click here: https://peerj.com/articles/2051/

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Expedition Background

Dr Juan Sanchez and Dr Manu Forero-Shelton, professors in the Biology and Physics Departments at the University of the Andes in Bogota, are among several scientists that study the marine environment in Colombian. After a project studying the mimicry adaptations between egg-cowries and octocorals, they realized their discoveries could be used as a lesson for secondary students in Colombia. They developed a simulation game, that helps students learn many ecological and evolutionary concepts such as competition, predation, invasive species, and the process of natural selection. With the help of Dr Stephanie Toro, a marine science educator and researcher with the Center for Teaching and Learning at Universidad de los Andes, they began brainstorming ways to create more lessons that are adapted from marine science research in Colombia, as well as how to integrate them into secondary science classrooms in Colombia. We hope to begin the work with schools on the island of San Andres and eventually include schools of other coastal communities. We are planning a field visit to create lessons that utilize the marine backyard that is available to the teachers and students there. In addition to providing curriculum, we will provide ongoing professional development to teachers using the expertise of Dr Stephanie Toro with a phd in science education. Furthermore, we will provide low cost foldable microscopes to schools to help students learn not only about the macro, but the microscopic environment in their backyard. The ultimate goal is to integrate marine scine into the curriculum using local marine science research as the subject of those lessons.


Thanks Carrie! I can't wait to share it and get your feedback. I know you will have very valuable insight.

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