Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant Supports SUNY Geneseo Undergraduate Research Utilizing NOAA Ocean Exploration Video Footage

The Research Foundation for the State University of New York  (SUNY) on behalf of SUNY Geneseo was one of seven recipients of an Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant from NOAA Ocean Exploration and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (The Foundation).

The SUNY Geneseo project was spearheaded by SUNY Geneseo assistant professor of deep-sea biology, Mackenzie Gerringer, Ph.D., who used the grant funding to provide a semester-long independent research opportunity for three undergraduate students from communities that have been historically excluded and/or underrepresented in ocean exploration science. Students gained experience investigating and analyzing NOAA Ocean Exploration video footage from remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer.

Undergraduate researchers from SUNY Geneseo supported through the Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant, left to right: Gabriel Rosado, Abisage Sekarore, and Nikki Fuller.

Undergraduate researchers from SUNY Geneseo supported through the Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant, left to right: Gabriel Rosado, Abisage Sekarore, and Nikki Fuller. Images courtesy of Mackenzie Gerringer, Ph.D. Download largest version (jpg, 633 KB).

The student research team investigated fish communities in deep waters off Puerto Rico using open-access video footage from ROV dives conducted on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to analyze factors which influence abundance and diversity of deep-sea fish communities with increasing habitat depth. They also quantified the abundance and distribution of human debris seen in video collected during the Océano Profundo 2015: Exploring Puerto Rico’s Seamounts, Trenches and Troughs and Océano Profundo 2018: Exploring Deep-sea Habitats off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands expeditions. In total, students identified 485 individual fishes and 87 pieces of debris on the seafloor.

The research team presented their work at GREAT Day, SUNY Geneseo’s research symposium, and are learning about the publication process by preparing a larger manuscript on the distribution of deep-sea fishes, incorporating data from other expeditions in the region.

The research team presented their work at GREAT Day , SUNY Geneseo’s research symposium, and are learning about the publication process by preparing a larger manuscript on the distribution of deep-sea fishes, incorporating data from other expeditions in the region. Image courtesy of Mackenzie Gerringer, Ph.D. Download largest version (jpg, 5.1 MB).

Nikki Fuller, one of the undergraduate researchers, had this to say about her experience:

Without the Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant through NOAA and [the Foundation], none of this would have been possible. I would never have seen giant rocky outcrops or fault lines that run for kilometers. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness the ways scientists with different specialties and backgrounds work together and to be a part of that science. And I never would have been exposed to all the paths my degree could take me, one of which is the route of environmental sciences. In Fall 2022, I will be putting into practice all the research experience I’ve gained from Dr. Gerringer, NOAA [Ocean Exploration], and [the Foundation] when I start graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology. Through the Environmental Sciences program, I aim to explore the way anthropogenic garbage affects our oceans and lakes and how that debris in turn affects the species that interact with it. My experiences with this [Foundation]-NOAA supported project make me feel more prepared to continue researching human impacts on important ecosystems.
Undergraduate researcher Nikki Fuller analyzes NOAA video footage recorded with remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer to determine abundance and diversity of deep-sea fishes.

Undergraduate researcher Nikki Fuller analyzes NOAA video footage recorded with remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer to determine abundance and diversity of deep-sea fishes. Image courtesy of Mackenzie Gerringer, Ph.D. Download largest version (jpg, 12 MB).

To further support the workforce development of undergraduates at SUNY Geneseo, Professor Gerringer also organized a series of professional development workshops and discussion sessions throughout the semester. Speakers from diverse backgrounds offered resources and strategies for entering marine science and other scientific fields. To share the results of this program with the broader ocean exploration education community, Professor Gerringer and her students wrote the pedagogy manuscript titled, Deep-sea Biology in Undergraduate Classrooms: open access data from remotely operated vehicles provide impactful research experiences (in preparation). The aims of the manuscript were threefold:

  • present a model for how open access deep-sea video data may be used to create course-based research experiences in the classroom;
  • report student findings regarding the relationship between deep-sea coral community biodiversity and substrate rugosity; and
  • assess the impacts of undergraduate research experiences based on NOAA Ocean Exploration video data in the classroom and as directed study research opportunities through student reflections and surveys.

Together, these findings not only improve the understanding of factors that influence deep-sea communities, but they also demonstrate how undergraduate research experiences using deep-sea ROV footage can improve student engagement through accessibility and inclusion in deep-sea biology. Professor Gerringer hopes this publication will continue to increase the use and reach of NOAA Ocean Exploration resources in classrooms, expanding access to deep-sea science.

The Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grants launched in 2021 to engage and inspire the next generation of ocean explorers by advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts related to ocean literacy, stewardship, and workforce development. Grantees received up to $25,000 to support underserved and/or underrepresented communities in engaging in ocean exploration career pathways and to build capacity for science, technology, engineering, art, and math educators to bring ocean science and exploration alive in the classroom and beyond.

Published September 28, 2022