MILLEDGEVILLE — Key Largo, Fla. is a popular destination in the Florida Keys for vacationers to relax and unwind, but for five Georgia Military College Prep students, Key Largo recently became so much more than a vacation spot.
In April Julia Rice, Ben Scheff, Macie Lee, Alyssa Layman and Delarrion Milner, students in the GMC Prep AP Biology Club, took off to Key Largo to be a part of the Marine Lab experience. Through introductory discussions, hands-on lab activities and field observations, the eager group of young scientists learned about the interdependent, holistic nature of the marine ecosystem of the subtropical Florida Keys.
“The students got a chance to do several activities that they would have never been able to do anywhere locally,” said Maj. Emily Fairbrass, Biology and AP Biology instructor for GMC Prep school.
According to a Janeen Garpow, director of communications at GMC, the students conducted biodiversity surveys, collected water samples to test for chemicals such as nitrates and phosphates, and collected and observed corals, fish and plankton at the different sites.
The group also learned how to identify coral bleaching and what human actions are causing massive changes in coral reef structures.
The students received a hands-on education in marine biology that doesn’t compare to any classroom-designed lab. During the night, students were lectured on the ecology of different locations.
“They really enjoyed being part of a plankton tow,” Fairbrass said.
MarineLab marine biologists took the group underwater to see seagrass beds and the third largest coral reef in the world, leading students on an amazing adventure while giving them an opportunity to create lasting memories.
“My favorite part was swimming with the dolphins in their natural habitat,” said Delarrion Milner.
Milner will carry the experience with him throughout his life as he plans to study biochemical engineering in the future. Similar to Milner, Julia Rice and Ben Scheff also want to pursue careers in the science field. Rice would like to study biochemistry and Scheff is interested in material science engineering.
“This was a great experience for the students,” Fairbrass said. “It’s one thing to learn about marine life in school, but to actually experience it is an experience like no other.”
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