Nine Goshen College students are feeling the gray Goshen weather a little more than usual this week.

“It’s so cold here!” said Nick Davis, a senior environmental and marine science major, one of the students who recently returned from a semester-long marine biology program in Layton, Florida, where it’s currently a sunny 75 degrees. 

The Goshen College marine biology semester, offered annually in the fall, allows students studying environmental and marine science to take courses and complete an internship with a local marine organization in the Florida Keys. The students who participated in this year’s program were Davis, Carolina Olivo, Theary Eash, Kaylie Gaby, Madison Miller, Emily Brandeberry, Jarrod Price, Leah Otto and Trey Santiago. 

“It was a lot of hard work,” said Davis. “Some people thought, ‘Oh, you’re going down to Florida, it’s going to be like a vacation.’ But no — not at all.” 

“It was the pace of two May term classes back to back,” said Olivo, a junior environmental and marine science major. “The classes mainly ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and sometimes there were night classes for an hour or two, plus some exams on Saturdays.” 

The students’ course load consisted of two three-week classes, followed by a three-week internship at the end of the semester. The first class, a marine ecology course taught by GC alumni Morgan Short, covered ocean systems and interactions between marine animals.

Students had the opportunity to learn about marine invertebrates such as crabs and lobsters in their second class, an invertebrate zoology course taught by Ivy Tech Community College professor Christine Barlow. Eash, a junior with majors in environmental and marine science and sustainable food systems, says that the course was his favorite from the semester. 

“We got to be out in the field all day snorkeling [and] collecting specimens, and then looked at them under the microscope in the lab later,” he said. “It was a tough schedule, but what we were doing was fun, so I didn’t mind.”

Ongoing remodeling due to damage caused by Hurricane Michael in 2018 meant that the students could not stay at the J. N. Roth Marine Biology Station, a Goshen College facility that has been hosting marine biology students for more than 50 years. Instead, Olivo says the students “dorm-hopped” between Mote Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key and Keys Marine Laboratory in Layton. 

“It did test our patience and privacy with one another, as we were in really close quarters,” Olivo said. 

Students completed several different internships in the last three weeks of the semester. Davis, who is interested in working in an aquarium or zoo setting following graduation, interned with Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. 

“I’d have to come in and scoop leaves out of some of the basins,” he said. “We’d have to feed the animals — I really liked feeding the stingrays — and just educate guests, which is something I really like doing.” 

Eash completed his internship through Mote Marine Laboratory, working primarily in the coral health and restoration department. 

“I was helping my supervisor and her other intern on a project … that was looking at identifying the differences in responses in the array of corals grown in Mote’s own coral nurseries,” he said. “I also got to feed the corals that were growing almost everyday, and that was really fun.”

Throughout their classes and internships, the students had many memorable encounters with marine animals — including a herd of manatees.

“We were snorkeling and collecting data for a project one day at one of our hard bottom sites when a herd of 10 to 15 manatees swam right up to us!” Eash said. “It was really just so magical to be swimming with such majestic and gentle creatures out in their habitat like that. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that sight and feeling!”

Davis advises students who may be considering the marine biology tract and Florida Keys semester to “definitely do it.”

“It was just the coolest experience ever,” he said. “We got so many opportunities to go out and experience these fantasy worlds that we read about here in Indiana.”