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Students thrive on hands-on internships at BIOS

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For many students, a summer internship translates into time spent battling the fax machine, reading a 600-page company manual and counting down the hours until lunch and then 5pm.

Not so for Kascia White, 19, and Stephen Lightbourne, 20. They are two of ten interns at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) this summer.

“As an intern I didn’t know what to expect at BIOS,” said Mr Lightbourne. “Interns usually help file or clean up the lab. I actually have my own project. In the field, I have learned so much and done so much.”

The Bermuda Programme at BIOS for young adults aged 16 and older offers an opportunity to study the local environment while working side-by-side with BIOS scientists on real research projects. The programme is designed to broaden students’ knowledge of marine and atmospheric sciences, and to familiarise budding scientists with the daily operations of a research institute.

Mr Lightbourne is pursuing an associate degree in science at the Bermuda College. Before the internship he’d been to BIOS once on a class trip.

Miss White joined BIOS’ Waterstart programme at 15. She has spent her summers with them ever since, but this is her first year as an intern, helping to carry out real research.

“I thought BIOS was all about diving,” said Mr Lightbourne. “I haven’t done any diving yet, although I would like to learn by the end of the summer.”

Mr Lightbourne is working in the microbial observation laboratory under Bermudian scientist Rachel Parsons. His project is to measure fecal contamination in the waters around Bermuda. Some of his personal observations so far, might make you hesitate to get in that “crystal clear” seawater.

“We are looking for a specific bacteria that is only found in the human gut,” he said. “We are using that as an indicator of the amount of pollution that is around the Island. I just love science. I didn’t choose to work with fecal contamination. I was asked what I like, and I said I didn’t mind studying sewage. That is something that everybody should know about.

“One thing we would like to look at is how much pollution sinks down into the sediment. Some places are really dirty. There are places you would expect to be dirty, like Mill Creek, but I was surprised at the amount of pollution in Mangrove Bay after the Non Mariners Race. I knew it was going to be high because of all the raft-ups, but it was really disgusting. We took a sample on the Monday after the Non Mariners Race [last Sunday]. This afternoon I have to do a before and after Cup Match comparison of the pollution in Paradise Lake in the Great Sound to see how much pollution is there from the boats. A lot of it comes from the boats flushing.”

Miss White is going into her third year at St Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she is pursuing a bachelor’s of science honours degree, specialising in biology. At BIOS she is working in the coral reproduction and recruitment lab with scientist Samantha de Putron.

“My motivation to get into science was simply because it always seemed to appeal to me,” she said. “I have always been interested in learning new things and exploring. My interest in marine science was a combination of my keenness for science and my love for the ocean and wildlife. It just seemed to be the perfect idea and I love it.”

She said she always wanted to make a positive difference to the environment.

“Waterstart was great in initiating me to marine biology and my mentor [Dr] de Putron has been awesome for the past four years. I have learned so much from her and she has been great with assisting me in accomplishing my goals.

“My project is working with intersite variation of corals and looking at their fitness and response to CO2 [carbon dioxide]. I am working with favia fragum commonly known as ‘golf ball’ coral. We go out and collect the adult favia. We settle them in little tubs. We collect their larvae every morning and put them on tiles. We have 12 tanks that are set up with different conditions. Once we settle them in the tiles we leave them for two days and after two days we look at the metamorphosis rate.”

Her work involves doing various experiments on the corals to find out how they respond to carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is thought to be the cause of rising acidification in the ocean.

“We look at how much the corals can tolerate different levels of CO2,” Miss White said.

Next summer Miss White plans to come back to Bermuda to work on her honours thesis, probably along the lines of her current research. In the future, she plans to get a master’s degree in marine biology.

“I have been doing it for a while now and I am interested,” she said.

She recently received a scholarship from the Bermuda Government and is slated to work for the Department of Conservation Services when she finishes her education. She would like to one day work for BIOS.

“I have to work for government in exchange for the scholarship, for however many years they gave me the scholarship for. I think working for Conservation Services will be a good leg up. When you graduate a lot of people are scrambling around looking for a job, but I will already have one in place. So that is great.”

For internship application forms or more information visit

BIOS intern Kascia White, 19.
BIOS intern Kascia White, 19.
BIOS intern Kascia White, 19, with corals.
BIOS intern Stephen Lightbourne, 20.
Intern Stephen Lightbourne doing testing water samples for bacteria.

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Published August 08, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 08, 2011 at 10:13 am)

Students thrive on hands-on internships at BIOS

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