In a few days, two students of Patrick Henry Community College will be heading to the Bahamas.
They will be swimming with sharks, cleaning beaches, and conducting field research with experienced marine scientists and professors from across the country.
Last year, while watching Discovery Channel’s iconic annual “Shark Week” – a week of TV programming dedicated to sharks – PHCC’s Professor of Biology Jason Worley discovered an opportunity for his students that would be unlike any he has ever offered.
From Shark Week, Worley heard about an organization called Saving the Blue – which, according to the organization’s website aims “to inspire, influence, and coach a generation of ocean advocates through hands on, in-field research activities.”
Worley found that this organization allows scientists and students from around the country to join notable marine biologists on research expeditions.
These expeditions involve catching and tagging sharks and observing the sharks in their natural habitat.
When Worley told his students about the opportunity, Wylie Martin and Marco Diaz jumped at the chance.
Both students are passionate for science and nature with aspirations to become scientists.
Over their time at PHCC, Martin and Diaz have joined Worley on expeditions to catalog local reptiles and amphibians.
Through these expeditions, both students have had the opportunity to publish their findings in field journals– something most college students may not get the opportunity to do until their senior level or masters level courses.
They do not know yet exactly what research they’ll be conducting when they get down there, but they do know two things.
First, the first day will involve extensive training on how to properly handle sharks in their natural environments.
Second, they will be working with Shark Week’s notorious shark expert Dr. Tristan Guttridge.
Diaz says that he has been following Guttridge’s work – watching along as Guttridge posts updates on his social media of a hammer head shark that he has tagged.
“I am really excited [to work with Guttridge] considering he is an explorer for National Geographic,” said Diaz. “I’ve seen what he’s done, and I am really excited to work alongside of someone like that.”
PHCC says the hodgepodge team of students, professors, and scientists that Diaz and Martin are joining will likely be placing GPS trackers on a few smaller sharks.
Their focus on this trip will not be entirely on sharks though; they’re also planning to observe stingrays, sea turtles, and more.
The aim of their research will be to better understand how these marine ecosystems work and how humans can help conserve and preserve the animals’ habitats, according to PHCC.
“It will be overwhelming and exciting to do something that most people don’t get to do. You get to help a species thrive. You’re a helping hand to the animal world. The marine life wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of researchers – the people that are willing to take risks for a better world,” said Martin.