The Marine & Coastal Biodiversity Project is the focal point of the Marine and Coastal Ecology Research Center’s (MCERC) activities. Field programs, outreach events, citizen science, and enrichment curriculum are developed around the understanding that ecosystems must be examined in order to provide context for detailed investigations.
Research projects, such as the Puerto Rico Humpback Whale Project, the Turks and Caicos Islands Humpback Whale Project and the MCERC Manatee Project, are designed to provide opportunities for interested adults to participate. University students make up a majority of the participants for these professional experiences as the days are long and the work requires all team members be dedicated to collecting and analyzing data. Non-traditional participants, including interested citizens without a science background, often join MCERC projects as critical members of the research team. Aerial, land, and vessel platforms are utilized to collect data. Land based locations offer opportunities to interact with the public, answering questions and acting as ambassadors for healthy marine and coastal ecosystems. The research team consists of the principal investigator, support team (boat captain and experienced naturalists), interns, and students. Colleagues join our research team each winter sharing experience and collaborating with a goal of continuous improvement in data collection, management, and analysis. Volunteers are an important part of support team.
MCERC has three citizen science projects actively providing a means for local organizations, residents, and tourists who are willing to share their images of target species in study areas. The Puerto Rico Citizen Science Humpback Whale Project and the Turks and Caicos Islands Citizen Science Humpback Whale Project were initiated in 2019 as a response to overwhelming interest in this research. The MCERC Manatee Project will soon have a citizen science element which will provide an opportunity for people to share images of manatee in MCERC study locations. Jensen Creek, in Hernando County, Florida, USA, is one of many fresh water inlets used by manatee when the coastal waters cool in winter. Kayaking and fishing are popular activities in this area and curious manatee provide an opportunity to study feeding ecology, evidence of boat strikes, and other behaviors which will help answer important research questions.
The MCERC Education Hub is a resource for experiential field programs, local field trips, distance learning options for continuing education and certification courses, and applying for internships. The programs and courses are designed to offer professionals and conservation minded citizens a path to exploring science and technology. The Education Hub is constantly being updated as the MCERC faculty and staff identify areas of interest in our professional and personal communities. All programs are components of the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Project.