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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

NASA program teaches Puerto Rican students about ocean science & tropical marine ecosystems

The main purpose of Project OCEANOS, which is subsidized by the NASA Science Activation Program, is to teach high school and first-year college students about the study of oceans, marine ecosystems, the coasts, the atmosphere, and planet earth and its surface, among other subjects.

By Richard Gutiérrez

Some 20 students from Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, along with students from island public schools who are interested in marine and ocean science, were the first in Puerto Rico to take part in a summer internship entitled “Project OCEANOS” (Ocean Community Engagement and Awareness with NASA Observations and Science) for Hispanic/Latino students.

“Project OCEANOS presents itself as a unique opportunity, created specifically to attract Puerto Rican students from high school and the first few years of college to the marine and ocean sciences,” said Juan Torres Pérez, leader of the initiative and an investigator/scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley in California. “The goal is to have the students do a summer internship on the island. The students are trained in the use of tools NASA uses for the remote preparation, water quality analysis and analysis of tropical marine ecology. Once the internship is over, it is expected for the students to serve as agents of change, spreading the message of oceanic resource conservation to their family, friends and their respective communities.”

Project OCEANOS is subsidized by the NASA Science Activation Program. Its main purpose is to educate and teach high school and college students in their first year of studies about the study of oceans, marine ecosystems, the coasts, the atmosphere, and planet earth and its surface, among other subjects. The project has numerous leaders and experts from the scientific community in Puerto Rico who are specialized in ocean and marine science.

Directed by the NASA Ames Research Center, at Moffett Field in California, OCEANOS was executed for the first time in Puerto Rico by scientific and educational collaborators including NASA Ames Research Center, EcoExploratorio: Puerto Rican Science Museum, CariCOOS, Bio-Optical Oceanography Laboratory of the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus (RUM by its Spanish acronym), University of Miami, Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, the Marine Environment Society (“Sociedad Ambiente Marino”) and the Puerto Rico Ecological Workshop (“Taller Ecológico de Puerto Rico), among other collaborators that put in the work in order for the initiative to come to fruition.

As a part of the internship project, students developed investigations into five main topics with the mentorship and scientific resources of experts in the field of ocean and marine sciences. Some of the subjects included:

* Marine plankton, where students studied the ecosystems of different organisms that are suspended on the ocean surface and don’t have the capacity to swim or go against water currents, in Cayo Enrique on Magueyes island and in the bioluminescent bay in Lajas better known as La Parguera.

* Coral reefs, where the students investigated the conjunction of coral colonies and how they were formed; many different species of coral were studied as part of the subject, which also took place in Lajas and whose purpose was to educate students about the protection of marine life.

* Water quality, which focused on quality of water at Playa Punta Soldado in Culebra, where the physical and chemical attributes of the beach were examined, apart from the state of the organisms that reside at the beach.

The students also participated in educational activities from Inter-American University and visited key sectors of the Marine Environment Society in Culebra and the RUM research site on Magueyes island.

“We feel honored to be a part of project OCEANOS with the means of providing young Puerto Ricans the option, the tools and educational experiences to understand ocean and marine science to the fullest,” said Jenny M. Guavera, the executive director of the EcoExploratorio Inc.

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