Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Undergrad Marine Biology Research

May 29, 2013

Dana Hergert is a Senior in Environmental Sciences, with a focus in Marine Biology.

As an undergraduate, Dana spent a summer in Bonaire in the South Caribbean at the Council on International Educational Exchange Research Center, taking classes with seven other students and doing field research.

Bonaire is a center for research on lionfish, which have recently arrived in the Bonaire National Marine Park, the protected marine area that surrounds the island. Lionfish, an aggressive exotic aquarium fish, was dumped into south Atlantic waters and is now a voracious invasive species without natural predators that is devastating coral reefs.

Lionfish are collected by local fishermen and divers, and brought to the research station. There, Dana and other researchers measure the fish and examine their stomach contents. Researchers also go on dive surveys, to count the fish and document their effects. The protected area is also opened for spear-fishing hunts.

In areas where lionfish are threatening the ecosystem, the fish finds its way into local cuisine. Dana recounted, "We ate a lot of ceviche and beer-battered lionfish. It's not easy to clean, however, with its venomous spines. There's not much meat either."

In Bonaire, Dana also had a 13-week individual project. She designed an experiment to test whether yellow band diseases affecting stony corals could be transferred to unaffected coral by research activities such as moving transect tapes from one area to another, without cleaning or sterilizing the tape.

Back in Oregon, Dana also had a research project at Hatfield Marine Science Center, on the feeding preferences of sea urchins. She examined the question of whether warming of ocean waters affects seaweed preferences or whether urchins would be forced to move in order to survive and keep their same diet.

Dana is interested in both photography and communicating her science. Her blog for family and friends features "lots of photos and not too many words." Photos from her blog have been featured on OSU International Education and Environmental Sciences websites. In her sophomore year, Dana and another student started the OSU Photo Club for students interested in learning more about photography.

Dana plans to go to graduate school, although she is still trying to hone in on her area of research. She plans to work on a number of research topics during the next year, to be able to narrow her interests and to get more experience before grad school.

Upon graduation, she first plans to intern with the National Park Service in a conservation program for Hawksbill sea turtles on Hawaii. She would be working on nesting and hatching projects, backpacking long distances (with lots of gear) to remote beaches without public access. Interns will be keeping away predators, observing, and tagging turtles; there may be aspects of community outreach. The internship is open-ended, for at least ten weeks.

She knows that she wants to go into research, because of her experience as an undergraduate. She notes, "I like posing a question and being able to work out an answer in the field."

Dana's advice to undergraduates, "Get out there. Take advantage of everything you can. Don't miss out! Explore your options."


Beautiful to look at, the lionfish is an aggressive, voracious invasive species destroying coral reef communities in the South Atlantic, where it has no natural predators. (photo, Dan Wisdom)

Dana in Bonaire

Dana doing underwater REEF count surveys of fish and coral cover in Bonaire

Dana disssecting rockfish

Dana dissecting a Rockfish caught by local fishermen at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

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