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Dispatches from the Oceans of Micronesia

Follow the explorations of USC Dornsife students and instructors studying the underwater ecosystems of Guam and Palau on Scientific American's "Expeditions" blog.

By Michelle Salzman
May 19, 2011

Students in the 2011 Guam and Palau class show their USC Dornsife pride. Photo by Jim Haw.

Students in the 2011 Guam and Palau class show their USC Dornsife pride. Photo by Jim Haw.

What happens when 24 students take to the ocean to study the fragile ecosystems of Micronesia’s coral reefs?

Anyone can soon find out as dispatches from the field are posted to Scientific American’s “Expeditions” blog, which is devoted to capturing scientific exploration directly from researchers on the ground. Or, as in this case, the sea.

Students and instructors from the course “Integrated Ecosystem Management in Micronesia,” offered through the Problems Without Passports program and the Environmental Studies Program in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will be blogging about their experiences throughout the four-week class. They will also share photos and videos from their dives.

Students will spend the next few days at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island developing both basic and advanced diving techniques in addition to working on their research skills.  The class will travel to Guam on Saturday, May 21. Their first blog went live on “Expeditions” May 19 and regular posts will continue to appear on Scientific American’s site through mid-June.

“Last year, the blog for our Guam and Palau course had thousands of readers, many of them already part of the USC community,” said Jim Haw, director of the Environmental Studies Program, who is leading the course with David Ginsburg also of environmental studies.

“With the help of Scientific American, this year we will be able to reach many more readers, including prospective students and their parents, and inform them about the exciting opportunities in USC Dornsife.” 

The course will allow students to learn firsthand about the tropical coral reefs and endangered species of Micronesia. Students will study ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. They will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies, and to protect the coral reefs of Guam, Palau and other Micronesian islands.

“Our students will be witnesses to some of the most sensitive and protective ecosystems on a changing planet. Through our blog we hope to reach other people who are excited about the challenge of our Guam and Palau course,” said Haw, Ray R. Irani Chairman of Occidental Petroleum Chair in Chemistry and professor of chemistry and environmental studies.

In 2010, and now again in 2011, USC Dornsife students travel to Guam and Palau through the Problems Without Passports program after receiving their scientific diving certification.

During the four months prior to departing for Micronesia, students prepared with courses covering SCUBA diving, marine ecosystems, dive tables, transect methods (a system to determine the inhabitants of an ecosystem) and basic first aid.

Letticia Lee, a freshman majoring in environmental studies, said she was drawn to the course because it promised “an untouchable journey.”

“As students, we will have the chance to become certified SCUBA divers and experts in conducting underwater surveying techniques,” Lee said.

This is the second year students have travelled to Micronesia as part of a scientific research diving course. In 2010, Haw led 14 USC Dornsife undergraduates to Guam and Palau where they were trained as scientific research divers to study coral reef ecosystems.

Haw and Ginsburg are joined by Tom Carr, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program, and Gerry Smith, USC’s dive safety officer.

Follow the course’s explorations in Guam and Palau on Scientific American’s “Expeditions” blog.

Additional dispatches will be published on the blog “Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife.”