PRESS RELEASE - MARCH 26, 2015

Coral Reef Surveying
ASCC students get firsthand experience researching the local marine environment during the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) training held during spring break. (Courtesy Photo)

ASCC Marine Science Program, ASCC CNR, and UH Sea Grant Build Local Capacity in Coral Reef Surveying

March 26, 2015

By Kelley Anderson Tagarino, ASCC CNR & UH Sea Grant

If you could make the ocean your classroom, would you? Students in the ASCC Marine Science Program have. As part of the MSC 280, Marine Science Special Projects course, five ASCC students gave up their spring break to participate in the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) field course, held from March 9-14, in Nu’uuli. The ASCC students were joined by two ASCC faculty Jameson Newtson, Kelley Anderson Tagarino, and members of the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program leadership. Local agency staff donated their time to help students in QUEST gain new skills in monitoring the health of our coral reefs and reef fish. By the end of the week, each participant reported improvements in their skills and knowledge of the marine environment.

“Each QUEST participant has made incredible strides in their in-water skills as well as data management and analysis skills – including their understanding of the theory behind these surveys,” stated instructor Newtson. “QUEST is a critical step towards building capacity in coastal management in American Samoa.”

This year, two past QUEST students participated as team leaders, acting as mentors and guiding the first-year QUEST students through the week of intensive studies. When Agnes Gatai, a team leader, was asked if QUEST was more challenging as a student or a team leader, she responded, “Definitely as a team leader. Having to teach and explain these methods and data analysis was challenging, but it really helped me understand it all better and gave me leadership experience.” Alaese Tauofe, a new QUEST student, said, “I really enjoyed QUEST – it was hard but also fun. Thanks to the ASCC QUEST, I am looking forward to continuing my education in marine science and when I am done, working for a local resource management agency where I can help improve my island’s reefs and fisheries.”

The American Samoa QUEST is modeled after the highly successful course of the same name offered by the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The American Samoa QUEST has students using snorkels and masks rather than SCUBA gear as is done at the University of Hawai‘i. Though the gear is different, the methods and science learned are the same. Students spend the week studying methods for counting fish, algae, corals, and other invertebrates. After studying each method, they take to the water, working in groups to collecting data to answer a research question each group comes up with. These data are then analyzed and presented by each group at the end of the week. The intense workload of this field course led the American Samoa students to push themselves to learn many new techniques in a short period of time. Instead of staying up late partying over spring break, students stayed up late analyzing data – and enjoyed it!

Partners from the ASCC CNR, NOAA National Marine Fisheries, National Park of American Samoa, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Department of Commerce, Coral Reef Advisory Group, National Marine Sanctuary of AS, NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, and the University of Hawai‘i Marine Option Program assisted in teaching the methods and in conducting in-water surveys.

Several local agencies donated time, materials, and services to make QUEST possible. These include the Office of the Governor, ASCC CNR, UH Manoa Marine Option Program, NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, and Nu’uuli Village. On behalf of the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program and the American Samoa Community College and CNR, the instructors sincerely thank these sponsors for making QUEST possible.

The QUEST course will continue to be offered every year over Spring Break. Those interested in participating as students or sponsors can contact Kelley Anderson Tagarino at 699-3353 (office) or 258-2967 (cell) or at KelleyAT@Hawaii.edu on email, or via post mail at P.O. Box 2609 for more information.