QUEST field course takes classroom underwater

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Students get firsthand experience with their Marine Science skills during the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) field course held over the ASCC spring break.

(MAPUSAGA--GOOD FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2016)--Have you ever wondered how scientists measure our reef and fishery health?

Students in the American Samoa Community College Marine Science Program and local agency staff learned many of the standard methods over the recent spring break.

As part of the Marine Science Special Projects (MSC 280) course, six ASCC students gave up their vacation time to participate in the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) field course, held Mar. 7-12 at the village of Nu’uuli Uta. Surveys were conducted at the village of Avao.

ASCC students were joined by two ASCC faculty, Jameson Newtson and Kelley Anderson Tagarino, and University of Hawai‘i Manoa Marine Option Program coordinator, Jeffrey Kuwabara.

Many 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, participants reported an improvement in their surveying skills and knowledge of the marine environment.

“I am happy to say I saw significant improvement in each of the participants’ in-water skills and data collection and management,” stated instructor Newtson.

“This is our sixth year holding QUEST and we continue to receive excellent reviews from local agency staff and student participants. By providing this training to the community we hope to empower the participants with the skills they need to manage their reefs.”

This year, two previous QUEST participants returned as team leaders, acting as mentors and guiding the first-time QUEST students through the week of intensive studies.

When Anastasia Carruthers, a team leader, was asked how she thought QUEST went, she responded, “I finally feel confident using the statistical tests we have been taught. Helping other students learn these skills allowed me to understand them better.”

Andry Senefili, a new QUEST student, said, “QUEST was awesome – it was challenging, but I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want it to end. Thanks to QUEST, now I have many more skills I can put to use trying to protect our 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.

American Samoa QUEST has students using snorkels and masks rather than SCUBA gear as is done at the University of Hawai‘i QUEST.

Though the gear is different, the science learned is the same. Students spend the week studying methods for counting fish, algae, corals, and other invertebrates.

After studying these practices, they take to the water, working in groups collecting data to answer a research question each group comes up with. The data is 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 Community and Natural Resources (CNR), ASCC Marine Science Program, National Park of American Samoa, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Coral Reef Advisory Group, National Weather Service, and the University of Hawai‘i Marine Option Program assisted with instruction and in conducting in-water surveys.