Diving right in, student researcher explores ocean habitats

Nadia Aamoum at her international co-op in Seychelles, an island nation north of Madagascar. Aamoum, a marine biology major, did research dives and worked at a dive shop during her co-op. Contributed photo - See more at: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2013/10/diving-right-in/#sthash.4zzFU8w1.dpuf



During Nadia Aamoum’s six-month inter­na­tional co-op in the island nation of Sey­chelles, north of Mada­gascar, the ocean was her work­place. She reg­u­larly con­ducted research dives off the coast of Mahe Island to survey fish, coral, and inver­te­brate populations.

“We don’t know that much about the marine envi­ron­ment,” Aamoum explained. “We know more about the sur­face of the moon. There is just such great intrigue, and diving is the best way to get down there.”

A marine biology major, Aamoum has been diving for five years and has her open water diving cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. She first learned to dive at a resort in Kenya her family visited.

“I find it really relaxing,” Aamoum said of diving. “I know that’s a little strange for a person to find breathing under­water relaxing.”

While in Sey­chelles, Aamoum con­ducted line inter­cept tran­sect dives, which are used to esti­mate the cover of a species on a coral reef, and sta­tionary point counts. Aamoum said she studied fish pop­u­la­tion because it inter­ested her the most.

Aamoum said her expe­ri­ence in Sey­chelles helped pre­pare her for the next phase of her col­le­giate career: Northeastern’s Three Seas Pro­gram.

The pro­gram, which cel­e­brates its 30th anniver­sary this year, is based out of Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant. It gives stu­dents an unprece­dented experiential-learning oppor­tu­nity by bringing them to three dif­ferent marine ecosys­tems in the Western Hemi­sphere over the course of a year.

“The pro­gram allows stu­dents who have a pas­sion for marine biology to really focus and get excep­tional field, lab­o­ra­tory, and class­room expe­ri­ence,” said Liz Bentley, the pro­gram coor­di­nator and dive safety officer. “So it will hope­fully allow them, in the end, to find their real pas­sion within the field.”

Stu­dents spend the fall semester diving and taking classes in Nahant. They then spend 10 weeks during the winter at the Smith­sonian Trop­ical Research Insti­tute in Panama, studying the trop­ical ecosystem there. The pro­gram then moves to Friday Harbor in Wash­ington state for eight weeks where stu­dents research rocky inter­tidal habi­tats and a sub-tidal kelp forest.

“It’s the pre­miere marine biology research expe­ri­ence,” said Steve Vollmer, the fac­ulty head of the pro­gram. “There is nothing else like it.”

The Three Seas Program at Northeastern's Marine Science Center in Nahant, Mass., is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

The Three Seas Pro­gram at Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant, Mass., is cel­e­brating its 30th anniver­sary this year. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Aamoum started the pro­gram this fall and said this oppor­tu­nity was a key factor in her deci­sion to attend North­eastern. So far, she’s enjoying the program’s chal­lenging cur­riculum and activ­i­ties. She said Nahant’s colder water tem­per­a­ture and vastly dif­ferent aquatic envi­ron­ment has been an adjust­ment to that of Sey­chelles. “It has taken a little get­ting use to. As a group we are all get­ting better.”

Both Bentley and Vollmer are alumni of the Three Seas Pro­gram and said it has started the careers of many pres­ti­gious marine biologists.

This aca­d­emic year there are 23 stu­dents in the program—15 under­grad­u­ates and eight grad­uate stu­dents. Under­grad­uate stu­dents typ­i­cally do the pro­gram during their fourth or fifth year at North­eastern. Grad­uate stu­dents are also required to do a six-month internship.

Bentley said this year’s class is one of the largest in the program’s his­tory. “I think the master’s degree com­po­nent is drawing a lot of people and is becoming more known,” she said, “and the marine biology major at North­eastern helps a lot for sure.”

Angela Her­ring con­tributed to this story.

- See more at: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2013/10/diving-right-in/#sthash.4zzFU8w1.dpuf

This article was originally posted on Northeastern News. Read it here.