“Can I swab a shrimp?”
A young woman in chest-high waders is ready to join the activities of her companions, who are gently swiping cotton along specimens: anchovies, tiny crabs, shrimp. On a strip of shore by the dam at Guana-Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Flagler College assistant professor Terri Seron’s biology students have gathered little squirming things from a net with latex-clad hands.
Someone asks Dr. Seron if she’s collected enough of whatever she was supposed to get; the samples don’t appear much different than they did before sliding across a crustacean’s back. “Don’t worry,” Seron says. “Those bacteria will be all over that swab.”
The students are getting their first taste of the local, hands-on research opportunities that inspired Seron and Barbara Blonder, assistant professor and coordinator of natural sciences at Flagler, to launch an environmental science minor. It’s the first natural sciences minor Flagler College has ever offered, and it’s drawing the interest of students with majors in communication, education, business and more.
With news about global warming and “green” living making headlines around the country, the environmental science minor also has good timing. Back in her office, Seron pulls out the September 2008 issue of “Nature” magazine. The cover doesn’t feature plants or animals or a DNA double helix; it shows close-ups of Barack Obama and John McCain. Science has become one of the hottest topics of public debate in the United States.
“Awareness,” Seron said. “People are really starting to be aware that our planet is in some trouble … You pick up any newspaper or magazine, and they’re talking about these issues: stem cell research, flu shots, antibiotic resistance.”
Seron’s background is in biology. She focuses on very specific issues in her research, spending her summers at coral reefs in Bermuda. In her postdoctoral work, she used molecular biology to determine the coral genes that respond to heat, chemicals and tissue injury — the stressors that are bleaching and decimating reefs.
Back at the Guana Reserve, Seron’s students are releasing their shrimp and other living samples back into the water. They’re packing up equipment and heading to the other side of the dam to do more tests: salinity, wind velocity, temperature, acidity, water clarity.
The last student to leave is walking away when something catches her eye. She freezes, turns around and heads back to the site. She stoops to pick up a small slip of paper from the sand, and places it carefully in the trash. Seron looks back and sees this.
“Thank you,” she says, and then more firmly: “Thank you.”