Students Flourish in Summer Research Program

Khalil Smith

Khalil Smith (middle), a 2018 Bermuda Program intern, worked with BIOS reef ecologist Yvonne Sawall on a large, cross-Caribbean seagrass project. He assisted with the in-situ work in Bermuda, which included measurements of seagrass productivity, a census of seagrass-associated invertebrates, field experiments to determine grazing rates of invertebrates on seagrass, and maintenance of the underwater cages used in the field experiments. After his Bermuda Program internship ended, he continued working with Sawall as a research intern during the fall of 2018.

Since 1976, BIOS has been providing crucial hands-on experience in ocean science research to college-age students through the Bermuda Program, the capstone in the suite of Ocean Academy programs at the Institute. Originally conceived as a way to introduce students in Bermuda to the possibility of careers in ocean science, the program has held true to its roots over the years, offering participants insight into fieldwork, laboratory procedures, and what it’s like to work at an active research station.

Each year, a handful of students receive paid fellowships that allow them to work alongside scientists on a specific project of interest for a period of four or eight weeks during the summer. This year, Bermuda Program interns conducted research in a broad range of areas, including marine biology and ecology, water resource management and policy, technology development, and ocean biogeochemistry.

In 2019, ten students were selected to participate in the program, including eight first-time participants, a second-year intern, and a student returning for a record fourth year in the Bermuda Program. From early June through mid-September, these students worked full-time—and occasionally nights and weekends—on their projects, culminating in research presentations during a traditional academic seminar at the end of their internships.

Tiffany Bean

Tiffany Bean, a first-year Bermuda Program intern, used her previous experiences as an intern for BELCO and the Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection to work with government representatives and community stakeholders on the development of a water management plan for the island’s drinking water. During her six-week internship, she learned a variety of sampling and analysis methods, gained experience testing water for biological indicators, and improved her skills writing research papers.

Tiffany Bean, 30, a recent graduate from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, worked with a local consulting company on a project developing a water management plan to ensure that Bermuda’s drinking water is safe for domestic use and consumption. Her internship involved not only collection and analysis of water samples, but also participation in two courses at Bermuda College that introduced her to the stakeholders involved in all aspects of water management on the island. The final paper she wrote will likely serve as a template for other projects on integrated water management plans.

“It was very rewarding being able to share space with so many informed individuals and to be able to bounce ideas off everyone,” she said. “I’ve been focusing on resource management for some time and this project was a big help determining which sector I’ll focus on as I continue with my academic journey.”

Megan Zimmerer

Second-year Bermuda Program intern Megan Zimmerer, a student at the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester, returned to continue her work using environmental DNA in water samples to study fish biodiversity on Bermuda’s coral reefs. She credits her Bermuda Program internships with improving her molecular biology lab skills, teaching her sample collection techniques in the field, and giving her a deeper understanding of what it takes to design and carry out a research project.

Megan Zimmerer, 19, a third-year undergraduate at the University of Manchester in England, returned to the Bermuda Program for a second year to work with BIOS research specialist Tim Noyes. Her project involved using environmental DNA to characterize fish populations. Fish continually release environmental DNA, or eDNA, into their surrounding environment in the form of waste, shed scales, mucus, and reproductive cells. Zimmerer’s research looked at the effectiveness of studying eDNA in water samples collected from Bermuda’s reefs to identify the fish species living in these habitats.

“Being exposed to real science is always exciting,” she said. “Through the Bermuda Program, I’ve been able to acquire a fairly unique set of skills, such as using coding software and handling biological specimens, that will help me stand out on my graduate school applications and with future employers.”

Marcus Rewan

Marcus Rewan, an alumni of BIOS’s Ocean Academy programs, spent his Bermuda Program internship working in the Microbial Ecology Laboratory looking at aggregate formation in the ocean. Prior to his internship, he was chosen by BIOS education and research staff to participate in two research cruises aboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer. He says the most important skills he learned this summer are organization, persistence, critical thinking, and working as part of a team.

Participating in the Bermuda Program was a natural step for Marcus Rewan, 17, who began as a student in BIOS’s Ocean Academy at the age of 11 and completed a Marine Science Internship in 2017. During his Bermuda Program internship, he worked with microbiologist Rachel Parsons on a project investigating the role of aggregations of organic matter, called “marine snow,” in the ocean carbon cycle. Specifically, he looked at the bacterial lineages present in the aggregates, which break down organic particles as they sink through the water column, releasing carbon at depth.

“My experience this summer gave me so many new ideas about possible routes for education and career choices within the ocean sciences,” he said. “There is such a huge diversity of research at BIOS that you end up meeting a variety of people and picking up loads of new skills and knowledge.”