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January 29, 2013

We worked for 4 days upon our return to Hollins to synthesize our experience and analyze our data.  We had 10 research projects carried out over our 10 days on island and each student(s) summarized their data and developed a large research poster summarizing their data which they will present at the Hollins Science Seminar in April.  We were very pleased with the quality of their research and their willingness to throw themselves headlong into all the experiences that the wonderful island of St. John provided.  I think everyone was quite sad that our adventures have come to an end – and several of the students are hoping to return next year for the January 2014 Caribbean Ecology course which we are busy planning!  There is so much more to learn and so many more boundaries to push!

Profs CF

What happened with the TRASH?


As a service project, in both 2012 and 2013 we cleaned up 4 beaches on St. John (Waterlemon, Little Lameshur, Big Lameshur, and North Haulover).  We classified the trash as either marine or land in origin.  We were hoping there would be less trash this year which was true only on Little Lameshur….on the other three we removed more.  In total we picked up 6961 trash items (6363 marine in origin and 598 land in origin) which collectively weighed more than 146 lbs!  Thirty pounds more than last year!  We were so happy to have left the island a bit better than we found it – wouldn’t it be great if everyone could do just a little bit!

Dani and Sarah’s Stingray Project

you go girls

Dani and I conducted our research on Stingrays, specifically their response to an approaching diver when accompanied by a companion fish and when alone. Companion fish may associate with stingrays for protection against predators or increased foraging success (ex- Barjack). We found that stingrays without a companion fish were more responsive. In regards to water depth, those rays without a companion fish responded from a shorter distance in shallow waters (less than 5m). We collected data from a total of 18 stingrays, 12 of which responded. Response was measured as any action/behavior that resulted from the divers approach. Of the 18 observed stingrays, 8 were with a companion fish and 10 were without.

 We had such a wonderful time in St. John and are very thankful for Renee, Dr. Wilson, Joe Sweeney, the VIERS staff, and our classmates! Without them this experience would not have been possible. We enjoyed every minute of our time spent in St. John, therefore it was extremely difficult to leave. However, our memories will last a lifetime and for that we are thankful! We cannot wait for next year!!!! 🙂 St. John 2014 here we come!


Tori and Reagan Sanddiver Project

Tori and Regan snorkeling

The objective of our project was to compare response distances of Sand Divers. Sand Divers are primarily vulnerable to predators from above since they reside on the sea floor. As such, we were interested to see how Sand Divers would respond to a potential approaching predator from the front and from directly above. We compared the average distance (+SE) to response when approaching from above and front.  There was a trend towards a closer response in frontal approach than the above approach (t-test: two-sample assuming unequal variances: t= 1.345, P= .095). We also compared the average distance (+SE) to respond by small, medium and large size classes of Sand Divers. There were no significant differences noted (ANOVA post hoc test: P=.434).  

 Thoughts from Tori:  I would like to thank our amazing professors, Renee Godard and Morgan Wilson for giving our class the chance to explore the world in a new way. The VIERS staff had generous hospitality for us daily and went out of their way to make our experiences unforgettable. This trip made us gain a new appreciation for the marine ecology of the Caribbean and left us with ambition to help preserve the environment for the future. A special thanks to our classmates as well as everyone we met along our journey; our memories made in St. John will never be forgotten.

Thoughts from Regan:  St. John has to be the most exquisite place I have ever been, from the jagged mountains to the crystal blue ocean. I am so thankful for the opportunity to travel to the Caribbean and experience amazing, new things with such a wonderful group of people. I made some wonderful friends and always want to remember VIERS and the lessons learned not only about myself, but about others and the world as a whole. My appreciation for the environment and the natural world has been increased and I want the majority of the land to be kept in wilderness so that all the creatures that inhabit the land and waters can survive. I realized that humans need to be more considerate and respectful of the land on which they inhabit. The memories made down on the island will never be forgotten. I loved watching the world wake up as the brilliant, pink sun crept up over the horizon line and waking up to the sound of the conch shell. I hope to be able to travel back again and hopefully share this magical place with others.

Mary Ellen and Amber’s Study on Tourist Patterns


With a smile on our faces and clipboards in our hands, Amber and I interviewed 99 tourists on St. John. Before the trip, we created a 9 question survey that asked basic demographic questions (age, accommodations on island, number of times on island, etc…) about the tourist as well as assessed their understanding of the island’s history and environmental issues. Almost everybody we approached agreed to take the survey; only 4 people turned us down. Overall, people were friendly and we got the opportunity to talk with a lot of interesting, funny (and sometimes, very bold) people.  Back in the states, we analyzed our data and found that 96% of tourists interviewed were Caucasian with an average age of 44. Most people were aware of the lionfish and most planned to return to the island. There was a tendency for those staying on the East side of the island to have more knowledge about environmental and historical issues – but it was only a trend.  More data would be good!  We plan on doing further analysis of the data during the spring! 

 Thoughts from Mary Ellen:  Thank you so much to my parents for their love and support. Thank you Renee Godard, Morgan Wilson, Joe Sweeney, and VIERS. St. John would have never be possible, fun, or fabulous without you!  This trip to St. John was an amazing adventure and a life-changing experience. I never thought that I could learn so much about our world, its nonhuman inhabitants, a beautiful island, and the environment in a mere 10 days. I found in myself a passion for hiking and snorkeling, and I discovered my one true love…the smooth trunkfish!!!

Amber interviewing

Thoughts from Amber:  I had a great time with this project! It was exciting getting to know so many people – I made quite a few friends on the island through the survey. The whole experience on St John was fabulous! I loved the research project and exploring the island. But, my favorite part of the trip by far was snorkeling: swimming with and observing the vast diversity of marine life was an experience I will cherish forever.  I’m so grateful to Renee and Wilson for creating this class and for all of their heart-felt efforts into making this ten-day journey an incredible learning experience. I would also like to thank the VIERS staff for their unsurpassed ability to make us feel at home & feed us one wonderful meal after another. Of course, I would not have been able to be apart of this class without the aid of the Hobbie Trust Fund and the Claudia Belk Family – thank you to everyone that made this journey possible!


Molly’s Project on Sergeant Majors


My project was on patterns of light phase and dark phase Sergeant Majors.  Sergeant Majors have two color phases: a light phase (gray body with upper third of its body yellow & 5 black bands) and the dark phase (blue/purple body color).  The dark phase occurs in reproductive males who guard their eggs in the rocks. I found that in Coral Reefs and Colonized Pavement there were significantly more light phase Sergeant Majors than dark phase Sergeant Majors.  Also, fewer Sergeant Majors were found in the grass beds and sand.  I found that light phase Sergeant Majors are more often found swimming in the open, while dark phase Sergeant Majors are more often found in the rocks.   More studies with larger sample sizes would be needed.   This trip was so much fun and such an amazing experience!

Mya’s Project on Coral Health and Habitat


For my research project I looked at the relationship between coral health and habitats (mangroves, colonized pavement and reef) among brain and boulder coral species. Coral was assessed along 25 m transects in various locations within these habitats, then classified in one of 5 sizes (XS=<14cm; S= 14-24 cm, M=24-34 cm; L=34-50cm; XL >50cm) in addition the percentage of coral that was healthy was estimated. Through this assessment I found that coral in mangroves was healthier than coral in colonized pavement, may be due to coral adapting to warmer shallower water and the shading provided by trees. Brain and boulder coral was in good health overall but further work needs to be done to clarify these patterns. Lastly, very large boulder and brain coral was less healthy than smaller sized coral.  This trip was absolutely wonderful and full of excitement and new experiences. I loved every minute being on the Island of St. John!

Kristin’s analysis of Marine Biodiversity


This year, my research focused on comparing surveys of fish species and relative abundance taken this year to those taken last year to see if any differences could be determined. I thought that these surveys might indicate which species and habitats were being most affected by lionfish and climate change. My results showed that mangroves had shown the greatest decline in species diversity and abundance, with 54% of the species surveyed having declined in their abundance since last year. In coral reefs, 41.2% of the species had declined in abundance, and colonized bedrock and grass beds both had 21% of their total species showing decline. The types of species that were becoming scarcer was interesting too, with fish that feed on algae declining more than any other feeding category. This is worrying, since algae can smother and kill coral if left unchecked.
My experience this year was so much different than my experience last year, I feel like I saw many more species because I knew what to look for. Since I knew what to expect, I didn’t get overwhelmed on this trip, and I was able to absorb a lot more than last year. This was an amazing trip, and I had so much fun.  I would like to thank the Hobbie Grant Fund and the Janet MacDonald Fund for making it possible for me to go on this amazing trip, and Renee Godard and Dr. Wilson for organizing this class!

Maddy’s Project on Termites

hey there

I was interested to see the impact of tunnel damage at locations near and more distant from termite mounds.  I had anticipated that termites would repair tunnels nearer the nest than further away.  Because we were often in the water, I wasn’t able to monitor repair rates as closely as I would have liked to so my data was somewhat inconclusive . Coming back to Virginia was a shock both physically and mentally, it is amazing how much I adjusted to Saint John and Viers in only 11 days! But as usual we wasted no time in getting to work. We spent three days working on our posters which was where I got a bit of creative leeway with the way the poster looked. It felt good to finish it but it made me realize that the trip was officially over. We sat and watched a slide show of the best of photos and relived our time on the Island. I loved this trip so much that I am already putting together a plan to fund my return next January. I have been dreaming about snorkeling ever since I left!

Hannah and Kristi – 2 projects together (Blue-headed wrasse and squirrelfish)

big sis, little sis

From Hannah (lil sis) –My project was comparing behavior patterns between Longspine Squirrelfish, Blackbar  Soldierfish, and other species of squirrelfish. 67% of the squirrelfish identified were Longspine Squirrelfish, 15% were Blackbar Soldierfish, and the last eleven percent were other species of squirrelfish. Longspine Squirrelfish were usually found to be out in the open and alone and the other more common species, Blackbar Soldierfish, tended to be in a group and in hiding. For my fist year this was a huge learning experience for me!

I would like to thank Renee and Wilson for letting me join the group down to St. John this year.  Also, I would like to thank my parents, Clint and Kathy, for allowing me to have this amazing learning experience! I would not have been able to have this experience without you two! Love you guys so much!

From Kristie (big sis):  My project was on the abundance patterns of Bluehead Wrasses (BHW) in marine habitats of colonized pavement, coral reefs, and mangrove habitats and compare reproductive ratio of total Bluehead Wrasse biomass. I found Bluehead Wrasse initial and juvenile phases made up larger proportions of BHW biomass in all three habitats. As proportions of BHW initial and juvenile phases increases, BHW terminal phase increased and the percent of reproductive terminal, transitional, and initial phases (57%) were higher than non-reproductive (juveniles), (43%) out of total BHW biomass. This project was just as much fun as last years project!

I would like to give Renee and Wilson a big thank you for allowing me to return for a second time and for allowing Hannah to also have the same amazing experience.  Also a huge thank you to my parents, Clint and Kathy, for allowing me to have this amazing experience a second time but also allowing Hannah and I to have the experience together! I would not have been able to have this experience a second time without you two! Love you guys so much!


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