As an undeclared student, Daniel von Staats enrolled in a SCUBA class at Northeastern University. He says the thrill of SCUBA diving along with his desire to learn more about ocean life lead him to his decision to major in marine biology.
von Staats was a student of Dr. Randall Hughes in the fall of 2014. After that he started volunteering in her lab by helping with research of salt marshes and sea grasses. “I did an internship in her lab conducting my own research looking at habitat selection and color change in the marine isopod Idotea balthica,” he said. “While I had plenty of help, this was the first independent research project I ever did.”
By summer of 2016, von Staats was ready to embark on the Ecosystem Field Study course in the Caribbean. The group stayed in Akumal on the Yucatan Peninsula, which is along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef in the world. Over the course of three weeks, von Staats learned how to dive in reefs, what the corals are, and how the coral reef ecosystem functioned as a whole.
“Our ‘homework’ often involved drawing corals and other animals that we saw on our dives,” he said.
They also had opportunities to check out a mangrove forest and some cenotes and learn how they affect the coastal marine ecology.
Eventually, they transitioned into their independent research during which they would go out on up to three dives a day. von Staats focused on an important reef-building coral, Acropora palmata, commonly known as elkhorn coral.
Once he graduates in May, von Staats says he plans to return to Northeastern and its Three Seas Program to obtain his master’s degree in marine biology. He would then like to work as a lab technician for a year before going to graduate school for his PhD.
He said the experience in the Caribbean EcoFS was great, and that “there is no better way to learn about something than to experience it first-hand, and that is exactly what you do on this course with coral reefs.”