Brokken explores marine life in the Key West

Ever wanted to snorkel with sea turtles? In early April, senior Freya Brokken got the opportunity to do that and more as she traveled to Key West, Florida to study marine life.

Brokken learned about the trip run through Sea Turtle Camp, a competitive program for students interested in Marine Biology, from a friend on her volleyball team. When she heard about the opportunity, she knew she couldn’t pass on the chance to learn more about the ocean and its species.

Though Brokken attended the camp with another Minnesota resident, students from all over the country joined her in this experience. The camp utilizes citizen science, a type of scientific research conducted and submitted by the public. Brokken specifically collected data on the amount of debris discovered in the ocean and submitted the results to Mote Marine Lab, an international database. She also collected and filtered microplastics from local bodies of water and submitted the data to SeaGrant’s Florida Microplastics Awareness Project.

Through the Sea Turtle Camp, participants gain hands-on experience working with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation to learn about invasive species and environmental factors influencing the ecosystem. They then put their knowledge to the test by identifying bleached coral in the lab and then in the ocean. Once the coral is bleached, it rarely grows back, which affects the reproduction cycle, thus damaging reef ecosystems that wildlife depend on and impacting biodiversity. Brokken and her fellow campers then submitted their data to Bleachwatch.

In addition to their work in the lab, Brokken was able to snorkel, study various ecosystems, learn about invertebrates, understand how to identify different types of fish, and much more. Many of their activities focused on sea turtles.

“We went to a sea turtle hospital, and we got to see the sea turtles and learned about how boats and other things humans do affect the sea turtle population,” Brokken said.

Most people’s only experience with the sciences in is one place, so it’s hard for them to tell if they are interested in the topic; this camp allowed me a space to discover on my own.

— Freya Brokken

The trip took place half on land and half on the water, exploring the ocean and wildlife. At the start of the trip, all cell phones are collected and returned at the end of the six days. The purpose of this is to encourage students to become independent, engage with the experience, and gain confidence away from technology. Brokken instead brought a camera to capture her trip and to share the moments with her friends when she returned home. While she is not interested in studying marine biology in college, she is grateful for the experience and how it brought to light the importance of environmental awareness.

“I think you can apply the knowledge gained from the trip to other parts of the environment and our life and the understanding of how humans impact the environment,” Brokken said.

Marine biology plays a key role in understanding the ocean’s ecosystem and protecting it as environmental issues continue to worsen. The Earth’s oxygen levels are decreasing due to human contamination, primarily in the form of fossil fuels, which negatively impacts the climate. According to the National Ocean Service, about 50% of the earth’s oxygen is produced from phytoplankton in the ocean. Human activities, like burning fossil fuels and the flow of sewage and industrial wastewater, contribute to oxygen decline in the ocean and coastal waters as nitrogen and phosphorus increase.

Maintaining a healthy environment and protecting the environment is crucial. Educating the youth on marine biology and similar topics that affect their near future is important, and the camp provides a space for students with similar passions to explore their interests in a controlled environment built for them. Brokken appreciated the opportunity to have a hands-on experience away from school.

“Most people’s only experience with the sciences in is one place, so it’s hard for them to tell if they are interested in the topic; this camp allowed me a space to discover on my own,” Brokken said.

Brokken recommends that any student interested in marine biology should check out the online applications for the Sea Turtle Camp.