Jackie: Following stepping stones to environmental conservation

I am thrilled to be the fourth Eckerd College student to be affiliated with the Hill Lab at the Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML).  I am a rising senior majoring in environmental studies with a focus in marine conservation. I have the wonderful opportunity to be here for the month of July due in part to Eckerd alumnus Brady O’Donnell, a graduate student of Professor Tessa Hill. I must also give thanks to the Women Divers Hall of Fame for funding me for undergraduate research in marine biology. I have come here to gain research experience in a marine laboratory setting that will act as a stepping-stone towards my goal of becoming an environmental conservationist.

Jacky and Priya deploying pH sensors in Bodega Harbor, CA. Photo: Melissa Ward.

Jacky and Priya deploying pH sensors in Bodega Harbor, CA. Photo: Melissa Ward.

During my childhood, I was immersed in nature through summer camps and personal explorations, which initially sparked my interest in the environment and all of the wonderful life it supports. I was fascinated with animals, bugs, plants - you name it! I loved getting my hands dirty and observing natural processes. When I was fifteen I became SCUBA-certified, which ignited my love for the ocean. It was a whole new world underwater that I never fathomed I would see with my own eyes. From then on, my passion for terrestrial and marine sciences flourished and now, here I am at BML gaining an understanding of what it is to be a marine ecologist. My journey as an undergraduate student at Eckerd has led me to exploring many fields, varying from coral restoration work at Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation to studying tropical marine environments at Honduras Roatán Institute for Marine Science. However, my undergraduate journey has not presented me with any laboratory research experience until now. So, I am very grateful for having the opportunity to be here at BML assisting on several research projects.

In the Hill lab, I have primarily assisted Dr. Hill with her research on carbon sequestration in seagrass beds within Bodega and Tomales Bays. Within this project, I have aided with deploying seawater chemistry sensors in Bodega Harbor. I have also collected seagrass samples and sediment core samples for biomass analysis. This research will determine if seagrass beds play a role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the water column.

I have also been helping graduate student Cait Livsey with research about how trace elements and oxygen isotopes within the calcite of a species of foraminifera – single-celled microorganisms which build calcareous shells– can help indicate changes in the Arctic Ocean’s water chemistry. I assisted Cait in collecting foraminifera twenty miles offshore of the California coast to observe their growth under controlled water conditions. In this project, she plans to compare the lab-grown foraminifera to the shell chemistry of fossilized individuals from the Arctic to examine how Arctic water quality from the past has changed to the present day. I have also been aiding other graduate students with intermittent lab work such as microscopy, larval sketches, and crab capture.

My time here at BML has exposed me to many fundamental skills utilized in data collection and analysis for laboratory research. Although I have previously viewed data collection within the field as the exciting and glamorous part of being a scientist, I have learned it can also be laborious work. However, I’ve enjoyed all aspects of my participation in research and find myself learning new things every day.  I am thankful for all of the graduate students and lab associates I’ve assisted for sharing their post-graduate experiences with me. They have so insistently provided me with insight and advice they wish they had had as an undergraduate. I can say that my one-month stay was not enough time here and that I would love to return and provide further assistance and maybe even conduct my own research! I am proud to have contributed to the several research projects I was involved with and am excited to watch from afar how they continue to develop and the findings they will generate in the future.  My experiences here have been truly enlightening and have given me the knowledge necessary to continue forward on my career path in the sciences.

Jackie Bonfiglio is a Senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL

Learn more about student research in the Hill lab here: