UH Hilo Marine Option Program students earn awards at statewide MOP Symposium

This year, UH Hilo MOP students won four of the awards given annually at the statewide MOP Symposium.

Group of eight gathers for photo in a classroom setting with PowerPoint in background..
Above is the UH Hilo group who attended this year’s statewide MOP Student Symposium, April 13, 2024, at UH Maui College. Front row, left to right, Morgan Youngblood, Paula Petri, and Alexis Provencal. Back row, from left, MOP Coordinator Lisa Parr, Sierra Hall, Manuela Cortes, Marine Science Education Specialist Matt Connelly, and Parker Lowney. (Courtesy photo)

By Susan Enright.

Students from the Marine Option Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo won four awards at the statewide MOP Student Symposium held on April 13, 2024, at UH Maui College.

Lisa Parr pictured.
Lisa Parr

The annual event features oral and poster presentations by undergraduate students from UH campuses around the state.

“The UHH Marine Option Program (MOP) students once again did extremely well at the annual MOP Symposium,” writes Lisa Parr, instructor of marine science and a MOP faculty co-coordinator who runs and oversees the program at UH Hilo, in an April 17 email announcement. “Please congratulate these students when you see them on campus.”

UH Hilo students won the following:

Best Research Paper

Coral in a blue tank.
Coral fragments from Manuela Cortes’s project shown here in quarantine.

Manuela Cortes, “Exploring the impact of micro-fragmentation size on coral growth rates.”

Cortes’s summary of the project:

“Coral microfragmentation is commonly used to propagate corals in nurseries. The process involves breaking small pieces off of a parent colony and encouraging them to grow into independent colonies. This method has been shown to increase the rate of coral growth, potentially due to the difference in fragment size which affects the surface area available for the generation of new daughter polyps. I will be analyzing the relationship between coral fragment size and growth rate at the MOP Coral Nursery at the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center. My goal is to determine if there is an optimal size of coral fragment associated with higher growth and survivorship rates.”

Best Poster

Paula Petri, “Ocean to Stream: Tracing Microplastic Pollution in Kauaʻi’s Hulēʻia River and Alakoko Fishpond.”

Paula stands next to her poster "Tracing microplastic pollution in Kauai's Hulēʻia River and Alekoko fishpond." The poster includes illustrations, graphics, info and photos.
Paula Petri with her poster presentation, “Tracing microplastic pollution in Kauai’s Hulēʻia River and Alakoko fishpond,” at the Marine Options Program Student Symposium, April 13, 2024, at UH Maui College. Petri won Best Poster Award at the statewide symposium. (Courtesy photo, click to enlarge)

Petri’s summary of the project:

“The vast abundance and environmental impact of microplastics, now a pervasive element across global ecosystems and exceeding 1.5 million tons per year, pose a threat to marine biodiversity and human health even more acutely than larger plastic debris. This research project investigated the abundance and possible origins of microplastics in the Hulēʻa River and Alakoko Fishpond on Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi addressing a significant gap by focusing on these pollutants within freshwater and brackish environments. Water samples were obtained by 3 five-minute plankton tows at each of four randomly selected stations along the Hulēʻia River: the river mouth, the mouth of the fishpond, inside the fishpond, and upstream. Employing methods aligned with NOAA’s Laboratory Methods for the Analysis of Microplastics in the Marine Environment, the samples were analyzed, revealing a mean of 166.67 microplastics per five-minute plankton tow. Specifically, average counts were 176.6 at the river mouth, 150 in front of the fishpond, 123 inside the fishpond, and 16.6 upstream. A correlation was found between higher salinity levels and increased microplastic concentration, suggesting that microplastics enter the river system from the ocean. Further analysis of water samples from different rivers throughout Hawaiʻi could provide additional insights into the extent of microplastic pollution in Hawaiian riverine systems and help identify effective strategies to mitigate this pollution.”

John P. Craven “Child of the Sea” Award

This award is named after a co-founder of MOP and awarded for the most inspired and inspirational presentation by a MOP “Child of the Sea.”

Parker hold two huge red salmon up by the gills. In the background is a boat.
Parker Lowney holds two adult male king salmon.

Parker Lowney, “Comparing scales and otoliths from king salmon (onorhynchus tshawytscha) to determine if freshwater reabsorption affects the aging process of scales.”

Lowney’s summary of the project:

“King salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) populations have been declining across Alaska since 2010. As salmon run up the rivers from the ocean to spawn, they don’t eat, surviving on stored energy until they spawn and die. Size and age in salmon are directly related, and age can be determined by counting annuli on scales or otoliths. This tells how old a fish is and how long it spent in the ocean. Decreasing size with age could indicate changes in food availability. Reabsorption of scales as the fish travel upriver may decrease the reliability of using scales for determining age. My project will compare the reliability of using scales versus otoliths when aging salmon on the spawning grounds.”

PACON International, Hawaiʻi Chapter, MOP Symposium Award

The Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology (PACON) award is given for best paper integrating marine science and technology with a Pacific focus.

Two women at sea in an open boat with outboard motor.
Alexis Provencal tests the sub-surface mapping system in Okoe Bay, Captain Cook, Hawaiʻi Island. (Photo Credit: Greg Asner)

Alexis Provencal, “Internship with Arizona State University: Developing the sub-surface mapping system.”

Provencal’s summary of the project:

“Reef damage is an issue in areas with heavy boat traffic, but the damage is difficult to map efficiently. There are established methods to produce structure from motion (SFM) images of coral reefs by SCUBA. These methods are inefficient for mapping large areas. For my project, I will be working with Dr. Greg Asner of Arizona State University, John Arvesen, and Kelly van Woesik evaluating the performance of the Sub-surface Mapping System (SMS). The SMS aims to map reef damage from the ocean’s surface by combining methods used in aerial photography and SFMs. I will be conducting the initial tests of the SMS and writing a protocol for mapping reef damage in Kailua Bay, Hawaiʻi.”

Two more presentations

Two additional students also presented their work at the symposium. Parr says both students “gave very well received presentations in an extremely competitive field.”

Two people collect samples of ocean water, one is logging into ledger.
Morgan Youngblood (top right) and colleague collect water samples in Kailua Bay. (Courtesy photo)

Morgan Youngblood, “Investigating environmental health and sustainable wastewater infrastructure in Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi.”

Youngblood’s summary of the project:

“Rapid development in Hawaiʻi has led to inadequate wastewater systems, jeopardizing human and ecological health. As a result, residents of the state suffer disproportionately from waterborne illnesses. I’m involved in a collaborative project through UH Hilo, with the County of Hawaiʻi, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and nonprofits Waiwai Ola Waterkeepers Hawaiian [Islands] and the Kahaluʻu Bay Education Center to pinpoint critical areas in Kona that require immediate wastewater infrastructure upgrades. My role is to conduct independent research by culturing Enterococcus faecalis, a sewage indicator bacterium, and assessing water quality parameters like pH and turbidity.”

Nine dishes of seaweed samples.
Sierra Hall collected different types of seaweed for nitrogen isotope testing. (Courtesy photo)

Sierra Hall, “Analyzing the nitrogen-15 isotope present in seaweed to detect leaking cesspools in west Hawaiʻi.”

Hall’s summary of the project:

“Cesspools leak raw sewage which can contaminate groundwater and coastal waters with pathogens and bacteria like Enterococcus and Clostridium and also cause harmful algae blooms. For this project I will be working with Dr. Tracy Wiegner and a Master’s student, Ihilani Kamau, to detect cesspool leakage by analyzing the amount of the nitrogen-15 isotope present in seaweeds collected from several different stations along the coast of West Hawaiʻi. Since the nitrogen-15 isotope bioaccumulates in each trophic level, raw human sewage carries a relatively high amount of the nitrogen-15 isotope which the seaweeds take up as a nutrient. It can then be measured to detect cesspool leakage.”

MOP Student Symposium

The MOP Student Symposium is held each spring semester at one of the UH MOP campuses. The symposium provides a professional, scientific venue for UH systemwide MOP students to give oral or poster presentations of their skill projects, and gives students the opportunity to meet other MOP students, learn about research projects from other MOP campuses, and practice their presentation skills.

The UH Hilo Marine Option Program is open to students in all majors.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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