BIOS Inspires Lifelong Passion for Ocean Science

Kwe'Shon Hollis spear a lionfish

BIOS staffer Kwe’Shon Woods-Hollis spears a lionfish as part of the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force, which seeks to rid the waters of the invasive species that threatens the health of coral reefs. Photo by James Doughty

By Lori K. Baker, Arizona State University

A world-class ocean science research facility, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) inspires the next generation of marine biologists, oceanographers, marine ecologists and more by providing K-12 and college students a captivating introduction to the science of the ocean. BIOS is now expanding its impact, joining Arizona State University as part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory™. BIOS brings over 120 years of research and education on Earth’s largest biome to the world’s first laboratory dedicated to reshaping our relationship with our planet.

Behind the scenes at this unique location in St. George’s on the island of Bermuda, known for pink sand beaches, deep turquoise waters and sheer limestone cliffs, meet four dedicated individuals whose passion for ocean science was sparked by BIOS in their youth. Today, that passion inspires their work to keep BIOS at the forefront of ocean science.

Mark Guishard: Science’s eye of the storm

Mark Guishard

There was nowhere for Mark Guishard to go if a ferocious hurricane made landfall on the island of Bermuda where he grew up. The island is in the region of the North Atlantic Ocean known as “hurricane alley,” the most frequent path taken by the powerful swirling storms that produce strong winds, storm surge flooding and heavy rainfall.

It’s no wonder Guishard carved a career path in predicting weather as a chartered meteorologist with 20 years of experience in atmospheric sciences, including research into Atlantic hurricanes and subtropical storms. As the former director of the Bermuda Weather Service, he was the local media’s go-to guy when a destructive hurricane was on a collision course with the island. He has served on intergovernmental committees focused on the warning and mitigation of natural hazards and is a regional focal point for disaster risk reduction for the UN Meteorological Organization.

Today, he is the chief administrative officer at the Bermuda Airport Authority (BAA), serves as a member of the BIOS Board of Trustees and still retains his influential voice on weather as the principal investigator of a BIOS-BAA report on the impact of climate change in Bermuda. Released in stages over the last year, the two-part report, “Climate Change and Bermuda,” covers Science and Physical Hazards and Impacts and Societal Risk.

“The purpose of the report is to put as much accessible information in front of individuals, organizations, decision-makers, policymakers and government officials as possible,” he said. “There’s been a lot of research around Bermuda and climate that is very academic or technical. The intent of this project is to synthesize that research and make it accessible to the layperson who may be wondering, ‘What are the conditions going to be like in 20 or 40 years?’ Here’s a report where they can go to find that information.”

Among the biggest takeaways in the report: there has been a 1.2 degree Celsius (34 degree Fahrenheit) increase in the Atlantic Ocean’s sea surface temperature since 1980, which is triggering an increase in storm activity.

“While our natural hazard profile has increased, we actually have a pretty resilient location because of our built environment. We have a very strong building code that is well adhered to by our local construction industry. The coral reefs and sea floor topography give us some natural protection against the worst effects of storm surge and wave action. While those are among the key conclusions, that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse for complacency,” he said.

“Sea levels are projected to rise to the point where in the next 20 to 40 years we will expect to see coastal flooding becoming more of the norm. When you think about that short timeline-20 to 40 years-it’s not a lot of time to prepare for that eventuality.”

Guishard has a long history with BIOS, having been a Bermuda Program intern in the mid-1990s. The Program, offered during the summer months, provides Bermudian students, ages 18 and older, opportunities to broaden their knowledge of marine and atmospheric sciences and learn about the daily operations of an active research station.

“Doing field trips through high school, starting a degree in environmental science and doing an internship at BIOS all cemented the idea that an analytical and scientific career is one for me,” Guishard said. “I’m very enthusiastic about the Bermuda Program and all the benefits that it can bring to young scientists, including exposure to scientific and analytical careers.” True to his word, Guishard continues to serve as a mentor to Bermuda Program students in his role as BIOS Trustee.

Jessica Godfrey: Master of the microscope

Jessica GodfreyBorn and raised in Bermuda, Jessica Godfrey spent much of her youth swimming in the western North Atlantic Ocean. As she snorkeled in the crystal-clear waters, she felt captivated by Bermuda’s wide variety of corals, from large, boulder-shaped ones, such as brain and star corals, to soft corals that flow with the water, such as sea fans and sea feathers. Over the years, she saw first-hand how the vibrant colors of the coral reefs were fading and turning white, a process known as coral bleaching.

“I could see how life was vanishing off the reef, and it really spurred my love for the ocean,” Godfrey said.

She was first introduced to BIOS in 2016, when she participated in Waterstart, a program for students ages 12 and up that combined experiential education with SCUBA training during weeklong summer camps. For students who wanted to study science, Waterstart served as an introduction to BIOS faculty, marine technicians, graduate students and postdoctoral students doing exciting, cutting-edge research.

“While we were doing diving certification, we also learned about marine biology, which was great because I didn’t know that much about it even though I grew up on an island,” she said.

In 2018, Godfrey returned to participate in the BIOS Bermuda Program, which offers Bermudian students, ages 18 and older, opportunities to broaden their knowledge of marine and atmospheric sciences and learn about the daily operations of an active research station. Pursuing her passion for protecting Bermuda’s coral reefs, she spent the summer working in the coral lab.

In 2019, she took a marine plankton ecology course at BIOS and learned about the role that plankton play in marine food webs. She attended lectures and ventured out to sea to sample a variety of plankton species for growth and feeding experiments.

She was fascinated by how these tiny creatures have such a huge impact on the global carbon cycle. Every spring, phytoplankton blooms occur in many parts of the global ocean, pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing oxygen, similar to their terrestrial plant counterparts-the trees. Phytoplankton also transfer vast amounts of organic carbon from the surface waters to the deep ocean, where it can remain for hundreds to thousands of years-a process called the ocean’s biological carbon pump. If the deep ocean didn’t store so much carbon, the Earth would be even warmer than it is today.

“Learning from researchers who are so passionate about plankton really opened my eyes to a whole new world,” she said. “Just listening to them and absorbing all the knowledge they had to offer was very encouraging and made me realize this is the field I want to be in.”

She completed her college education at Newcastle University in England, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology in 2020 and a master’s degree in industrial and commercial biotechnology in 2021. For her thesis, she collaborated with BIOS zooplankton ecologist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial. Godfrey used samples from the BIOS-SCOPE project focused on mycoplankton populations around Bermuda, specifically identifying what species were present and investigating potential biotechnology applications for those species.

Today, Godfrey works as a research technician in the Zooplankton Ecology Lab, assisting faculty members Amy Maas and Blanco-Bercial researching zooplankton ecology, physiology and diversity. She is also helping generate tools to translate basic findings into an understanding of biogeochemical cycling and the projected impacts of climate change.

She also works in the Microbial Ecology Lab with microbial ecologist Rachel Parsons, assisting in bacterial and viral research during Bermuda Atlantic Times-series Study (BATS) and Devil’s Hole cruises for the BIOS-SCOPE Project.

Only by studying what’s happening in the ocean at the microscopic level can we “fully understand what’s going on in the grander scheme of things,” she said.

Kwe’Shon Woods-Hollis: Undersea lion tamer

Kwe'Shon Woods-Hollis

Like many Bermudian students, Kwe’Shon Woods-Hollis first discovered BIOS during an elementary school field trip. His teacher asked if he was interested in the Waterstart program at BIOS. His answer was, “Absolutely!”

“When I came to Waterstart, it was essentially the gateway that shaped my future,” he said.

Today, his passion for the ocean inspires his work as the BIOS small boats and docks supervisor and a PADI Master SCUBA diver trainer. He’s putting his SCUBA diving expertise to work to fight an invasion of lionfish in Bermuda that is threatening the ocean’s ecosystem, including the survival of coral reefs.

Lionfish are not native to the Atlantic Ocean. The venomous, fast reproducing fish are voracious eaters that will consume anything, gorging themselves on unsuspecting fish. One two-month study documented lionfish reducing the number of small and juvenile reef fish by 90 percent. With no known predators-except human beings––lionfish threaten the survival of Bermuda’s coral reef ecosystems.

Across Bermuda, residents like Woods-Hollis are banding together to tackle this invasive species. A team known as the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force holds regular dives and fishing tournaments to rid the waters of these invaders. Its members consist of recreational spearfishers, local scientists and professional divers like Woods-Hollis, who participates in regular dives to hunt lionfish and teaches a course that trains residents on techniques prior to obtaining the required lionfish culling license.

“Bermuda is lucky because we have a lot of divers that are quite active,” he said. “We’re never going to get rid of lionfish, but we can keep their numbers down.”

Claire Fox: Teaching in the school of fish

Claire Fox

“I’m very lucky to have grown up in Bermuda, where the ocean is our blue backyard,” said Claire Fox, BIOS science education officer.

She traces her passion for teaching marine science to idyllic summers spent as a child playing in tide pools, launching hefty wooden kayaks her grandfather built into the ocean and venturing into otherworldly caves.

“My love for the ocean and pursuing a career in outdoor education comes from time with my family,” she said.

Her career aspirations were shaped at BIOS, where she held two summer internships as a college student in the Bermuda Program. She worked in the Phytoplankton Ecology Lab  collecting samples aboard the Institute’s 170-foot R/V Atlantic Explorer, spending weeks in the middle of the Sargasso Sea-one of the planet’s most biodiverse open-ocean ecosystems-with no land in sight.

“There can be some difficult days at sea,” she said, recalling her battles with seasickness for the first two days of excursions and conducting research day and night and during rocky seas.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and master’s degree in marine environmental protection, she planned on becoming a researcher, until a BIOS colleague invited her to give an evening lecture to a visiting group. She hesitantly agreed, warning her colleague that she’d always been terrible at presentations.

“My first presentation was on fish identification, a topic I love,” she said. “It turned out to be a fantastic experience. Here I was, standing in front of these high school students, talking about something I was passionate about and something they were really excited about, and I realized I could do it and actually enjoy it. It was then I realized that I am very passionate about getting students excited about marine science.”

For the past two years, as the BIOS science education officer, Fox has delivered programs for local students and visiting groups and led the summer Ocean Science Camp, a weeklong, snorkel-based program for teenagers interested in getting their first taste of marine science.

“My most rewarding moments are when I connect with students and show them that science is actually really fun and exciting,” she said.