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UT Marine Science Interns Gain Hands-on Experience

Published: June 19, 2008
University of Tampa senior Mollie Taylor peers through a microscope as she carefully examines an assortment of tiny shrimp and other small organisms. The mishmash of items was taken from the stomach of a silver perch, a small fish similar to a sea trout.

Taylor is one of three University of Tampa seniors interning this summer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), based in St. Petersburg. She and her fellow interns Tanya Brunner and Amanda Longo, all double majors in marine science and biology, work separately on individual research projects that help further the institute’s work in the areas of ecosystem assessment and restoration and studies of marine wildlife.

Assigned to the Institute’s “gut lab,” Taylor meticulously examines five or six silver perch each day with the goal of determining the availability and scarcity of various food sources in the fish’s natural habitat.

“It’s all about looking at the role the fish play in ecology and the environment and determining how they impact their environment,” Taylor said.
While the lab itself monitors numerous species of fish, Taylor focuses on the silver perch, keeping daily records of what it eats.

What is discovered in the lab could determine how certain fish and microorganisms will be farmed at the facility’s Stock Enhancement Research Facility (SERF) in Port Manatee. SERF is where Brunner spends the day maintaining the facility’s outdoor ponds where a variety of fish are raised prior to an eventual release in the wild.

Working at the shoreline as well as on small boats, Brunner helps with such tasks as maintaining the salinity and levels of oxygen in the ponds, fertilizing the algae and capturing and releasing specific fish populations into the wild.

“It’s all stuff that definitely has to be done,” Brunner said. “A lot of these are fish that anglers pursue, so we have to replenish the fish to protect from the effects of overfishing.”

Brunner’s individual research is concerned with determining the amount of fertilized eggs produced by reproductively active adult red drum fish.
Other on-the-job tasks have her helping to tag specific fish species. This involves planting a small device in the animal to track its movements once it is released.

For Longo, the well being of individual fish populations in the wild has become the focus of her research.

Working among the FWRI’s Health Group, Longo’s first weeks on the job included dispatches from the “Fish Kill Hotline” – a phone number for boaters to report observances of dead fish in the water. It is then the group’s duty to figure out what caused the fish to die – with red tide, pollution, and dissolved oxygen in the water frequently identified as the cause, according to Longo.

In recent weeks, Longo has spent more time in the lab researching the effect of different parasites on the reproductive abilities of grouper and other commercially valuable fish.

“Right now we don’t know how bad it is for the fish,” Longo said. “Anything that affects fish can potentially make people sick too. And a lot of what we find is exacerbated by human activity.”

Longo and her fellow interns will present their individual research to the Institute at the conclusion of their internships in August. For all three students, the internship is an important step toward graduate school and an established career in the marine science field.