MOP for the Win!

UH Hilo Marine Options Program placed first at 31st annual symposium held on April 6

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge
Photographs Provided By Marine Options Program

Bryant Grady

‘When I was called for the PACON award, I was so delighted to have the internship that I was so passionate about be recognized for the innovative step it will be for coral reef studies around the world! I was so grateful to have the reassurance that what I have been working on for the past year will play a huge part in the effort to better understand and protect our coral reef ecosystems worldwide’

UH Hilo’s MOP students Alexa Runyan and Bryant Grady placed first on in different respective categories at the 31st annual symposium put on by the UH system-wide Marine Options Program.

“Myself, Bryant Grady, Mia Lamirand, Michaela Setzer, Jon Ehrenberg, and Aliona Megedyuk went to Maui to present our MOP projects at the symposium on April 6, 2019,” stated Alexa Runyan, a MOP student at UH Hilo The symposium takes place on one of the various campuses on one of the islands, rotating each year.This year, Maui was the host island, with the symposium taking place at UH Maui College.

“We had seven students who went and presented this year, and two of them came home with awards, said Lisa Parr, the UH Hilo MOP Site Coordinator. “One of them was Bryant Grady, who did a project using 3D photogrammetry.”

According to Parr, 3D photogrammetry involves diving down to capture a series of photographs of the reef, which are then stitched together digitally to create a 3D model of the reef and assessed for characteristics using algorithms.

Using this technology, Parr said, “You can find out how rugged it is, how many holes are in it, and what the slope is. Grady did a project where he took tons of data by diving all over the west coast of the Big Island doing fish counts on different reefs. He was also able to say something about how the structure of the reef and the habitat complexity translates into fish size and fish abundance, so he won best research,” said Lisa Parr.

“While winning is an exciting part of these events, the main part of it is making sure that your project and presentation is as best as it possibly can be,” stated Bryant Grady about his win. “For me, it was about making sure that the research I have been doing for the past year was as accurate and I had new results that had not been seen yet.”

This year is not the first that a UH Hilo MOP student mopped up the award for best research project at the symposium.“Notable is that MOP has been on our campus since 1972, but the symposia didn’t start that early,” explained Parr. “We’ve been doing the symposia for 31 years, and UH Hilo has gotten best research project 26 of the 31 years, so Bryant Grady continued that tradition.”

Additionally, MOP student Alexa Runyan received an award called the PACON award, which is given to the project that has the best use of technology in a project based in the Pacific. Runyan’s project also utilized 3D photogrammetry, using data collected up in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to model coral reefs.

According to Runyan, the main idea of the symposium is to “give students many opportunities to network with scientists all around the islands, create their own projects, and have unique research opportunities that students around the world do not get the chance to participate in. Earning awards are an excellent way to show our funders that their money is being put towards intelligent and innovative young adults pursuing a career in marine science, or a career paralleled to marine science.”

In anticipation for the awards, Runyan said, “When I was called for the PACON award, I was so delighted to have the internship that I was so passionate about be recognized for the innovative step it will be for coral reef studies around the world! I was so grateful to have the reassurance that what I have been working on for the past year will play a huge part in the effort to better understand and protect our coral reef ecosystems worldwide.”

The annual MOP budget is utilized to send the participants to the island where the symposium be, and all the campuses camp together. They also do one field trip with everyone from the different chapters.

“We basically just get as cheap of tickets as possible, and we camp. And everybody there camps too. We went to the closest local beach and snorkeled for a while because we’re all marine science people, and then we went to the Maui Ocean Center. All the different people from all the different sites,” Parr said about the activities.

Runyan and Grady both agreed that their most memorable part of the symposium were the other students. “The best part of these symposiums is being able to interact with other students from UH campuses who you usually don’t get to see. You get to see new technologies and different studies that are being done that may benefit you in your future. It is a great way to network and connect with other students and scientists,” Grady shared about the experience.

Both Grady and Runyan agree that the MOP program provides students with so much opportunity. Runyan stated, “Students in the MOP program are all so grateful for the opportunities presented to them because often they can lead to graduate school or job opportunities as well. They also get a chance to build strong friendships with like-minded people, and educate others outside of the MOP program as well and get excited about participating in unique research opportunities and fun field trips to learn more about the environment around our island.” “The MOP symposium is for students to connect and present their work. It gives the opportunity to speak with others and to get your research work judged,” Grady said.

The MOP program is open to anyone and everyone who wishes to partake in its numerous offers. As Parr said, “The Marine Option Program is on almost all of the 10 UH campuses, and it is a certificate program. One of the components of the certificate is to do a marine skills project. That marine skills project can be researched, can be an internship, or anything that progresses that student’s career in marine science in any way, shape, or form.”