I am a graduate student at Rutgers University Camden Campus.  I currently work in Law Enforcement and have decided to pursue a second career field in Biological Sciences to eventually become a high school teacher or a college professor. Before I started my career in law enforcement, I have always had a profound interest in Biology with a desire to increase my knowledge and understanding in this subject.  After taking Dr. Vagelli’s Fall 2015 Ichthyology Course, his helpful guidance and expertise in the field along with having a strong interest in learning more in this area influenced me to pursue this opportunity to gain experience and expand my knowledge base in marine habitats. Therefore, I was interested in taking this marine ecological field study course with Dr. Vagelli.
     What was once just a passion is now a goal to embark upon this remarkable opportunity for scientific exploration in the research of marine life. This course proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all students involved and I feel certain that they share my deepest sentiments in being proud to be a part of such a successful, yet rewarding learning experience.  I feel it is very important for students who opt to take this course in the future to understand that it is essential to possess particular characteristics to get the full rewarding experience that the course has to offer.  For example, one must possess the willingness and desire to continuously learn for hours throughout the trip and be dedicated to being involved in a week long in depth study in the the field that necessitates around the clock work with little rest. It can be compared to enduring long working hours of a full time job. It is imperative to understand the hard work and dedication will pay off the end. It takes endless hours in the hot sun, and being intolerable to massive amounts of sun burn along with jelly fish stings and being submerged in underwater exploration to participate in this field study program. After long hours, we have achieved all of the expectations of what this course has to offer. Furthermore, at the end, we truly appreciated the need for long hours of learning and working to have a successful learning experience.  If one possesses this true strong desire to participate in this academic experience, only then, will they will walk away benefitting greatly with a vast amount of knowledge and experience.   Each student should be mature and responsible due to the safety parameters required in open water environments, and also should be able to work well in group tasks as a team player to collect vast amounts of scientific data to be compiled and for study for daily lab work exercises at the end of each day.   Each student should expect very little down time to successfully tackle the rewarding experience that this course will offer because you are constantly learning with Dr. Vagelli.   It is truly a non-stop learning experience.  As a result, I would have to admit that I walked away from this course with an overwhelming amount of knowledge because of all the hands-on experience in various marine ecological habitats, and now I have more of an understanding in this area.
       Some of the experience included a vast study of areas including the Cudjoe Key.   We learned that Cudjoe Key was a lower energy environment which enabled a more careful study of organisms returning to their same environment as we conducted experiments with lobsters.  We conducted a lobster catch and release field study to determine the probability of whether the lobster would return to the the same habitat sponge in a few days in that area.  We studied the habitats that live within the Mangrove trees that inhabit the surrounding water areas.  At one point, we were able to catch and release a Nurse Shark.  We collected and studied Polychaetes with Denise’s assistance which was a fun exciting learning experience.     We conducted studies with Transect Lines set up in Cudjoe Key.  This week long experiment with data collected each day proved to be successful in determining results that were collected and reviewed by the class during late evening lab sessions.
       A visit to Bahai Honda Bay, which was found to be more diverse organisms due to a higher energy environment with stronger currents as we practiced anchor down exercises in order to study the Biodiversity in the grassy areas versus the corral areas.   We were able to study various sea life species such as sponges and sea urchins and conch shells in the blueish – greenish water.  This was one of my favorite spots!
       We rented a boat from the Summerland Keys and navigated through various waterways to different areas in search of other organism rich environments, inaccessible to land, only via boat, and to conduct various studies at Rider Keys Island to study the uniqueness of the various species associated to its individual environments.  The environment at Rider Keys Island was a species rich found within the Mangroves Trees as the tide was low to anchor up and conduct a careful study and analysis.  This species rich environment proved to be very educational under Dr. Vagelli’s careful informative direction.
      There was a also day trip that we chartered a boat to travel miles out in open water to conduct snorkeling and scuba dives to study the species that inhabit the corral reefs.   This was a great experience!  Textbooks cannot emulate the actual cool opportunity it was to experience the hands on work we participated in as a group!
       During this trip, we conducted various night dive exercises in Cudjoe Key, in which we studied Bioilluminescence and the species that exist within the Mangroves.  It was a cool experience to be diving at night with flashlights to see the underwater environment in the Cudjoe Key.  We were able to study how fish and various organisms live within the sea grass and Mangroves.  This is where it was imperative to work well as a group due to the safety parameters involved with night dives.
       A visit to Big Pine yielded a more diverse higher energy environment to conduct studies and collect specimens for study.   The more diversity of life found in particular substrates / organisms that build a community as a result of more oxygen rich water and stronger currents.  This place proved to have so much life that it was truly an amazing, rewarding experience to see up close.
      If you have a passion or desire for learning, one would really reap the benefits of this true educational experience.  This was certainly one of my most amazing weeks of my academic experience.  I developed such an appreciation for marine ecology.  I would like to thank Dr.
Alejandro Vagelli for his expertise, guidance, mentoring, and creating an outstanding educational experience for the class.  He is certainly a great role model Professor as this experience would not be the same without him!  I would also like to thank Denise and Shawn for the effort in helping Dr. Vagelli assist with the course.  Lastly, it was a nice experience to work with new future biologists (Matt, Sierra, Jessica, Apreet, Heidi) to explore these science rich environments that we all benefitted so greatly with the knowledge and experiences we attained.   Hands down……..an experience that will never be forgotten and was thoroughly enjoyed by us all!