Biology Major Dives Into Research

Senior biology major Candice Cross is spending her summer on Catalina Island at the USC Wrigley Institute participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation. Here she shares some of her experiences diving and researching invasive algae.

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Candice Cross explores the underwater world of Catalina Island.

Greetings to all from the USC Wrigley Institute!

I would like to start by giving a warm thanks to the National Science Foundation, who provided the opportunity and funding for my time here on Catalina Island.

My name is Candice Cross, a senior biology major and McNair Scholar from Loyola Marymount University. I write to you during week six of eight on the island and I couldn’t imagine spending my summer any other way! I currently work under Dr. Mark Steele and graduate mentor, Kathryn Scafidi, from California State University Northridge on a project observing fish foraging behavior and epifauna communities within invasive algae beds. As a scientific diver, most of my work involves recording the abundance of different algal species on the rocky reefs and following fish to take note of which algae they are eating. I’ve clocked in some of my longest dives at an hour and a half! This research has really allowed me to explore a whole new world below sea level here on Catalina and I’ve been fortunate enough to see many exciting animals—including soup fin sharks, octopus, and giant sea bass! The biodiversity on the island’s reefs and within the marine protected areas is truly incredible. This week, we launched the first round of my personal project looking at whether epifauna prefer to settle on invasive Sargassum horneri vs. native Sargassum palmeri. Kathryn and I spent some time sewing together small mesh cages to house the Sargassum spp. in and we will leave them on the reef for a few days before collecting them and identifying which small organisms have settled onto each species. It’s a new and exciting challenge to call the shots on my own portion of the project, but I really value the experience as it prepares me for graduate school.

Outside of my research, I spend my free time with my fellow REUs—all of whom are some of the most enthusiastic and passionate young scientists I’ve ever met! They have all truly rounded out my summer experience with impromptu movie nights, dock swims, and post dinner volleyball sessions—not to mention the fact that we religiously blast The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” every single day. It’s nice to know that my new, close friends will become the professional connections of my future career. The are immensely supportive of my summer project and my simultaneous effort working on applications for Ph.D. programs—I don’t know what I’d do without them!

I can confidently say that I could definitely get used to island life, especially here at the Wrigley station. Everyone has been so incredibly friendly. The marine station community really does feel like a family. Seeing everyone work together to promote sustainable energy and conservation has been so refreshing and I know the people here will move mountains in the field. Change here at Wrigley will definitely spark a change in the rest of the world.

I recommend that anyone on the mainland visit Wrigley. It’s a beautiful place filled with beautiful people! Hope you all enjoyed the read.

Signing off,