Laurie Raymundo signs on as director of the University of Guam Marine Laboratory  

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History has been made with the creation of a permanent director’s position at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory. During its 52 years of existence, the facility has followed the tradition of having a three-year rotating directorship that the faculty took turns occupying. 

On August 2, 2022, UOG Professor of Marine Biology Laurie Raymundo signed her contract to fill the marine laboratory’s first permanent directorship position.  

“This is a huge change for the better. As we have grown, it has gotten harder and harder for everyone to deal with a position of leadership that is only for three years,” said Raymundo. “The continuity that the permanent position provides will enable long-term planning and implementation.” 

Raymundo’s qualifications for the job are stellar. As a coral scientist, she, her students, and colleagues have been in the forefront of coral restoration in Guam and the region. She has also held the director’s position from 2010 to 2013 and again in 2019 through August 2, 2022. 

She is happy to be able to continue her research and work with students on the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant as well as other grants she has for the next few years. Mentoring students is something she relishes, so she is not ready to relinquish that responsibility. 

When asked about her vision going forward, she gave a soft chuckle at the novelty of the question. In the past, the directorship involved putting out fires. With the new sense of stability of a permanent directorship, she wants to continue the partnerships that have been formed and wants to get faculty input as to needs going forward. Organizing a yearly faculty retreat to discuss what has been accomplished and how to propel future endeavors is on her list of priorities. 

“We work in 50-year-old buildings that have some issues, so I will be writing some grants to shore up infrastructure to meet the needs of all the new faculty we now have. There is a lot of talk about a Ph.D. program, and we have the talent, but that will need the support of the University.” 

Director Raymundo will bring some new and exciting changes to the middle-aged UOG Marine Laboratory while continuing its reputation for excellent scientific exploration and innovation. 

Six new graduate research assistants join Guam NSF EPSCoR

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Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six new members to its Graduate Research Assistantship program during an orientation held on Friday, August 26, 2022.  
 
Over the course of the three-year program, these six graduate research assistants will receive tuition coverage, a salary, as well as mentorship and support over the course of their graduate program as they conduct research regarding coral reefs, coastal systems, genetics and genomics, or identifying patterns of regional biodiversity.  
 
These new GRAs include Grace Jackson, Lauren Kallen, Andrew O’Neill, Xavier De Ramos, Zoe Trumphour, and Garret O’Donnell.  
 
“I would like to welcome our new students to the program,” said Terry Donaldson, the principal investigator and director of the Guam NSF EPSCoR program. “You will get to utilize equipment, instruments, and various assets to conduct your research that people used to dream about. When I was a student, a lot of this stuff had not been invented yet. You’ve earned your place here. We’re behind you and we want you to succeed.”  

The GRA program is part of Guam NSF EPSCoR’s goal to develop a research program to help ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. In total, Guam NSF EPSCoR now has 20 graduate research assistants.  
 
Each of the graduate research assistants were given free memberships to the Guam Green Growth Makerspace and Innovation Hub. Guam NSF EPSCoR helps support Guam Green Growth.  

“This is like a whole other fancy lab,” said Austin Shelton, Guam NSF EPSCoR’s co-principal investigator and the director of the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant. “Outside of campus, you can go down to the CHamoru Village in Hagatña and use 3D printers, CNC routers, and laser cutters as well as brand new terracotta printers. If anybody wants to use that to build tiles to start growing stuff on, you can plug in the 3D designs and start building there.”  

For three years, these students will be a part of a project that covers a diverse range of research areas.  

“For this grant, the research crux here involves understanding why some corals are more resilient than others, climate change and temperature increases, and watershed degradation and sedimentation,” said Bastian Bentlage, co-principal investigator of the Guam NSF EPSCoR. “We have a lot of associated research projects, as well. Some of you will focus on coralline algae, crustaceans, diatoms, as well as fish that spend part of their life in freshwater systems and then another in the ocean. There’s a broad variety of research areas, but the overarching theme is how our reefs will fare in a changing climate.”  

The new graduate research assistants will also be able to access near-peer mentorship opportunities in which they can learn from their peers and postdoctoral students as well as teach undergraduate and high school teachers over the course of their term. 

“This program is such a great opportunity, especially for master’s students,” said Garret O’Donnell, a new graduate research assistant. “It’s very well-funded compared to a lot of master’s programs. When it comes to other universities, sometimes students would have to pay for their positions, so it’s helpful to have a salary on top of my tuition coverage that allows me to do this.”  

Five students gain valuable experience through summer research program  

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Over the course of eight weeks, five undergraduate students gained valuable scientific experience, discovered more about themselves, and explored different research areas through the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Bridge to Ph.D. Program held at Pennsylvania State University.  

These student researchers include Louise Pascua, Gabriella Prelosky, Anela Duenas, Anna Aguirre, and Merry Remetira.  

For these student researchers, it was their first time participating in an off-island research program. The program was held from June to August 2022.  

“My experience during the summer was so much fun! I was able to do research on something I had zero experience in which was terrifying but also very enjoyable,” said Louise Pascua, a biology major and a 2022 Guam NSF EPSCoR student researcher. “It’s a little cliche to say, however I do believe that my love for science has been re-ignited. I made many life-long friends and built many professional relationships, while also finding myself.”  

During the program, Pascua was placed under the mentorship of Jason Rasgon, an entomology professor at PSU. For her independent research project, she focused on genetically modifying eye color in Culex tarsalis mosquitoes using ReMOT Control. ReMOT Control is similar to CRISPR technology however ReMOT Control injects the adults to send the gene cutting complex to the embryos rather than injecting the embryos directly, according to Pascua.  

Anela Duenas, a biology major and 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow, experienced some culture shock when it came to conducting research in a new environment.  

“This program made me realize that I am more interested in the ecological aspects of research after working with more hands-on activities in the greenhouse for my project,” said Duenas. “I also experienced a culture shock when first arriving to the United States as it was my first time. A culture shock not only because of a new location but also in science. It was incredible to witness the laboratories and equipment available to students at Pennsylvania State University. Overall, it was very eye opening and made me excited to be in this field.”  
 
Under the mentorship of Francesco Di Gioia, an assistant professor at PSU, Duenas studied alternative growing media for the production of microgreens.  

Over the course of the program, the student researchers faced challenges and research areas they were not familiar with all while gaining the skills and knowledge to become confident in their ability to adapt and persevere.  

“There was definitely a learning curve with certain aspects of my research just because there were procedures or techniques that I haven’t done beforehand,” said Anna Aguirre, a biology student and a 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow. “However, I did my part with taking notes and trying to be as proactive in learning as I can be and suddenly the learning curve was not so intimidating.”  

Aguirre studied plant pathology and environmental microbiology under Sharifa Crandall, an assistant professor at PSU. For her project, she looked at how soil steaming and later final beneficial and pathogenic amendments might affect plant growth.  

For one student, this experience helped them learn how to speak up when they need help. 

“My main challenge is that I have insecurities when it comes to what I know and what I can offer,” said Merry Remetira, a civil engineering student and a 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow. “This in turn can make me fear reaching out to a mentor and explaining what I really feel. I tend to just accept what is instructed of me and try not to question anything. I was also advised to stop apologizing so much, that to only apologize when responsibility is due. That was a truly enlightening experience and I will work on that challenge.”   

Remetira was mentored by Margaret Byron, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at PSU. For her project, she studied how oil-particle aggregates formed using a roller tank to simulate how particles would interact in the environment.  

For Gabriella Prelosky, a biology student and a 2021 NSF SEAS research fellow, being in the program helped renew her excitement for science and her future. 
  
Prelosky studied under Natalie Boyle, an assistant research professor at PSU. Her research project involved calculating the lethal dose curve of 50% of alfalfa leaf cutting bees using an insecticide compound known as acetamiprid in varying doses.  

“This experience most definitely has affected my goals. Before participating in the bridge program, I was almost certain I did not want to pursue a master’s degree after graduating next spring due to extreme burnout, but this program showed me both the highs and lows in a positive light. I now know that after a break, I am definitely going for a master’s,” said Prelosky. “My advice for this program, but also others, be confident in yourself. Things may not go how you want it the first time, but the more you fall, the more you learn!” 
 

UOG Marine Lab conducts first coral genetics research on the Mariana Islands of Maug, Pagan, and Sarigan 

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A first-time study on the genetics of corals from the Northern Mariana Islands of Sarigan, Pagan, and Maug is underway at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory with funding from the UOG Sea Grant program and support from the National Science Foundation-funded Guam ESPCoR grant. 

A four-person research team spent 10 days on these islands in May collecting eight different coral species known for their reef-building ability and ecological importance to other species. The team is now sequencing and analyzing the DNA of the corals to identify if and how coral populations throughout the Marianas archipelago are connected and, therefore, how resilient they may be to warming waters.  

“We are looking to understand the roles of these northernmost Mariana islands and their coral reefs. Can they act as reserves for the declining reefs around the southern Marianas, or do they, in contrast, depend on our reefs?” said David Combosch, associate professor of population genomics at UOG. “We will be spending months analyzing the data to understand the patterns of genetic diversity, connectivity, and adaptations across the islands.” 

Combosch is spearheading the study as lead researcher of the Island Evolution Lab at the UOG Marine Lab. Working with him are UOG alumnus James Fifer and his doctoral program adviser from Boston University, Assistant Professor Sarah W. Davies, as well as Assistant Professor Sarah Lemer, postdoctoral researcher Héctor Torrado, and graduate biology student Joe Proietti, all with the UOG Marine Lab. 

What we don’t know 

By analyzing the DNA sequences of these corals, the team can not only document the genetic diversity of corals on these islands for the first time, but can learn about gene flow — or the transfer of genetic material from one population or island to another. 

“What we don’t really know is how much and in what direction corals across islands are connected via larvae exchange and interbreeding — or if each island has their own, distinct coral stock,” Combosch said.  

If coral populations share DNA across the Marianas, there is greater likelihood that reefs will get what they need to adapt to future ocean conditions.  

“Since Guam corals live in generally warmer water than corals on the northernmost Mariana Islands, they might be better adapted to deal with the warmer waters expected as a consequence of global climate change,” Combosch said. “But it may well be the other way around. Occasional pockets of hot water in the northern CNMI could have pre-conditioned those corals for hotter days. This is one of the things we’re looking into.” 

Additionally, the northern corals may be better equipped for more acidic waters, Combosch said, since they have lived for centuries near a volcanic vent inside the Maug caldera, which releases carbon dioxide and has created a more acidic environment. 

The team is also conducting heat-stress experiments on two types of corals from Maug, Sarigan, and Pagan — Acropora surculose and Pocillopora meandrina — to see how the same corals from different islands respond.  

Getting local students involved 

During an internship last week at the UOG Island Evolution Lab, Northern Marianas College students Subin Cho and Richelle Ramon worked with UOG graduate student Mikay Reuter to reproduce the heat-stress experiments for this study and witness the effect of warming waters on Marianas corals.  

They also learned about the relationships that corals have with other species in the ecosystem and the other stressors corals face, including pollution and overfishing, that can limit their ability to recover from bleaching events and adapt. 

“It was an eye-opener to see how different species and organisms create relationships with each other in order to thrive and survive,” said Cho, a sophomore working toward an associate degree in natural resource management. “We pollute, neglect, and overlook our coral reefs and believe that many years after, it will still be there. However, after this internship, I learned that these things we are so used to will soon disappear if changes are not made.”  

Multi-agency ocean cleanup removes blue green algae 

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The University of Guam Marine Laboratory led a multi-agency volunteer effort on July 7 to successfully remove blue green algae at the USO Beach in Piti.  

That day, volunteer divers and snorkelers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Park Services (NPS) joined the team from the Marine Lab in manually removing the algal blooms from the coral colonies in the area. 

Meanwhile, Guam Green Growth Conservation Corps and UOG Sea Grant and Center for Island Sustainability interns provided onshore assistance by sorting and sifting through the material collected from the ocean. 

Laurie Raymundo, director of the UOG Marine Laboratory and biology professor, said environmental conditions encourage the excessive growth of these long, hair-like algal blooms, “We’ve noticed years ago that seasonally, we got these blooms of blue-green algae of the genus Lyngbya and it tends to come into the water as soon as it gets warmer. Most blue green algae respond to high nutrient waters, which is most of Guam.” She added that the algae blooms smother the corals and cause tissue loss. 

The G3 Conservation Corps and CIS/SG interns separated fish and other marine creatures from the piles and squeezed seawater from the algae. The team collected the piles in buckets and then taken back to UOG to be used as plant and tree mulch. In total, the cleanup team collected and processed three 27-gallon buckets of algae. 

While hard at work, G3 Conservation Corps member Dulce Imbo described the task assigned to the onshore volunteers, “We are trying to remove the algae from channel under the water so that we can have the corals breathe a little easier because these algae are the ones that suffocate the corals. For the Guam Green Growth Conservation Corps, there’s about nine of us here today, accompanied by our interns in our work.” 

G3, is a public-private partnership created to achieve a sustainable future. Aligned with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, G3’s efforts are designed to cultivate an ecosystem for transformative action to achieve a sustainable, prosperous, and equitable future for Guam. 

Musicians connect with community at G3 Makerspace  

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Two Guam-grown musicians talked story about their roots and culture as part of the second installment of the Guam Green Growth Makerspace’s “Seed Talk Sessions,” a series of developmental opportunities offered by the facility in which industry professionals engage island community members to stimulate creativity and encourage local entrepreneurship. The event took place at the facility’s innovation hub in the CHamoru Village on July 1, 2022.  

Born and raised in Guam, Peter “Håle’” Cruz grew up listening to classic rock and eventually transitioned into creating reggae music. For five years, he played with local island band Table for Five. Upon moving stateside, Cruz joined Tribal Theory, a reggae group, and toured the United States, Guam, and Hawai’i. After departing Tribal Theory in 2019, he formed Håle, which focuses on Marianas reggae music and draws inspiration from the CHamoru culture and Guam.  

Shiabe “Bok” Pangelinan grew up in Yigo in a musically talented family. The son of the late Frank “Bokonggo” Pangelinan, a traditional CHamoru musician, Pangelinan played the local music scene with D.U.B. and Soul Vibes. Much of his music is inspired by his CHamoru heritage and culture.  

During their presentation at the G3 innovation hub, Cruz and Pangelinan shared guidance on how to be a successful musician on Guam. They discussed earning royalties, distribution, and general tips about the music industry.  

“I wanted to talk about the life and the struggle of being someone who left Guam and trying to make it happen for themselves,” said Cruz. “I think that’s really important. If it wasn’t for that part of my life and being with the CHamoru community here, I don’t think I would be here.”  

When asked about what advice they would give to aspiring musicians, Cruz and Pangelinan said to be driven and take risks when you can.  

“Whenever you play, keep in mind that you don’t know who’s going to be in that crowd,” said Pangelinan. “It can be the worst gig, but you shouldn’t dismiss them. I’d play in random bars and people would ask me for my number and I’d have a better gig set up. A lot of the times people are scared, but when you push yourself to a point where you know what’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. You can’t second guess yourself.”  

Math students present research on coral reef dynamics

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Six students presented their research about the effects of coral bleaching, coral diseases, rising temperatures, and controlling crown-of-thorns (COTS) starfish populations using mathematical modeling this summer as part of the 2022 Summer Joint Math Research Program showcase held on July 15. The students – five undergraduate students and one high school student – were part of the 2022 Summer Math Research Experience held from May 23 to July 16 at the University of Guam.  

The program was part of the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals & Oceans (GECCO) project, funded by the university’s Guam NSF EPSCoR grant. 

“You’ve inspired research by what I have seen from the titles of your projects,” said Austin Shelton, the director of the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant, during the showcase’s opening remarks. “These are the kinds of things the community needs to understand our coastal and terrestrial resources.”  

The Summer Math Research Experience was held in conjunction with two other research programs: the Young Research Experience in Mathematics and the National Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.  

Using data collected from researchers at the UOG Marine Laboratory, the models were developed to use as a tool to forecast changes in the island’s coral reefs.  

“Creating these mathematical models is important so that we can see and predict the changes from these environmental situations,” said UOG Assistant Professor Mathematics Jaeyong Choi, one of the program’s mentors. ”Using the mathematical models, we can use them to simulate situations based on the data collected from the researchers at the marine laboratory.”  

During the program, the students were split into two teams to focus on two projects.  

The first group looked at whether rising sea surface temperatures were a bigger threat to Acropora pulchra and Porites populations than crown-of-thorns starfish, which prey on stony coral. Outbreaks of these starfish can cause severe damage to coral reefs over just a few weeks.  

 “Applying math to science feels like you’re exploring,” said Siwen “Lulu” Shao, a high school student at St. John’s Catholic School. “You never encounter the same problem. When we built this complex mathematical model, all you have to do is change numbers and parameters and this model would be able to apply to any COTS and any coral relationship in the world.” 

The second group focused on how two different coral species – Acropora pulchra and Porites massive – react in situations of bleaching and disease along with how the presence of seaweed inhibits their ability to recover. 

“Being in this program has been pretty amazing and eye-opening,” said Ernie Samelo, an undergraduate mathematics major at the University of Guam. “I’ve learned a lot of stuff about math and applying it in real life and coral. Corals are something I never thought would have so many layers to it. I’ve loved every moment of this program.” 

Student researchers from Palau and CNMI explore mangrove sites

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In June, participants of the Micronesia Summer Bridge to Bachelor’s Program from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau started their internship experience on island by gathering diatom and algae samples in several mangrove and coastal sites on Guam. The program contributes to an ongoing diatom research supported by the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). 

 

The Micronesia Summer Bridge to Bachelor’s program offers opportunities to students from the Micronesian region who are interested in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research. Participants are enrolled at the Northern Marianas College, Palau Community College, the College of Micronesia-FSM, or the College of the Marshall Islands.  

 

The students who were selected to participate in the summer program come from diverse academic backgrounds. Prior to their trip to Guam, the student interns collected marine and coastal data in their respective areas.  

 

On Guam, Professor Emeritus of Biology Dr. Christopher Lobban and his team of EPSCoR and NSF INCLUDES SEAS Islands Alliance supported student researchers/mentors are working closely with the students in analyzing the samples at the UOG Microscopy Teaching & Research Laboratory 

 

“The idea of this research experience is to give the students a chance to see what it’s like to do scientific research,” said Dr. Lobban. At the EPSCoR funded lab, the students have access to a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and other innovative equipment to study detailed images of the samples. 

 

According to Dr. Lobban, the overall research project seeks to determine and document the native diatom species in the region, especially on Guam, CNMI, Palau, FSM, and the Marshall Islands. Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers. These microorganisms produce 20 percent of the breathable oxygen on earth each year.  

 

Basically, what we are trying to look for is to look for a signal for regional endemicity. So, we are looking at species that occur here but not in other places,” Dr. Lobban said. Samples collected in the previous year’s program resulted in student researchers discovering and naming several previously undocumented types of algae and diatoms. 

 

Yuji Chibana, one of the student interns from Palau said the program spurred his interest in Scientific research. “I’m a liberal arts major and I am trying to transition more into a Science-based major like Environmental Marine Science.

 

The experience catapulted me into that area of learning. This program is really helping me. I’ve never really been exposed into these kinds of things before. So, it is a good start.  

 

Participants of the program receive a $3,000 stipend; comprehensive research training; faculty and near-peer mentorship; and travel, lodging, and food accommodations for those traveling to Guam. 

G3CC conducts underwater cleanup in Hagatña

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Members of the Guam Green Growth Conservation Corps (G3CC) got an up close and personal look at the ongoing problem of marine debris and trash during a week-long module with Master Navigator Larry Raigetal in Hagatna.  

The group assisted in repairing the thatch roofing at the boat house in Paseo, learned about traditional navigation and then proceeded to conduct an underwater cleanup alongside volunteers.  

Conservation Corps member Jacob Concepcion believed that the cleanup and beautification of our island and ocean are not only a matter of keeping things looking good, but also a cultural responsibility.  

“This is our way of giving back. In our culture, we have beliefs about everything,” said Concepcion. “I guess just paying respect to our water and the surroundings, and our culture, it really pays tribute to that.” 

The group worked together to tackle the underwater litter, hoisting bulky items such as tires and furniture from the ocean floor where it can harm the coastal ecosystem. 

According to the group, the goal is to remove the litter, donating what they can for local school programs, and to explore options to incorporate some into the circular economy.  

In total, the group removed over fourteen discarded tires, several trash bags full of garbage and dozens of aluminum cans, diverting them from the landfill.  

Guam NSF EPSCoR is the catalyst for Guam Green Growth and the Conservation Corps. Aligned with the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, the Guam Green Growth Initiative, or G3, cultivates an ecosystem for transformative action to achieve a sustainable, prosperous, and equitable future for Guam. 

Five students join summer math program

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Five students have been welcomed to the 2022 Summer Research Experience, a six-week research program from May 13 to July 26, 2022 that will have students study mathematical models of coral reef responses to climate change.

Five students have been welcomed to the 2022 Summer Math Research Experience, a six-week research program from May 13 to July 26, 2022 that will have students study mathematical models of coral reef responses to climate change.

During the program, students will gain experience with industry-standard software, network with participants in other summer research programs, and develop skills in oral presentations and technical reports.

“I’m looking forward to this experience because this will be my first time being in a research program,” said Ernie Samelo, an undergraduate in mathematics. “I want to experience everything and apply what I’ve learned in math to this research.”

In addition, the program welcomed two research assistants who will assist the GECCO students along with those who are participating in other concurrent summer math programs such as the National Research Experience for Undergraduates Program.

“I look forward to learning from everyone and I hope everyone can learn from me,” said Cabrini Aguon, an undergraduate in mathematics. “It’ll be a mutual exchange of growth throughout this process.” Over the course of the program, the students will use data collected from the Common Garden Project, a four-year EPSCoR-funded study launched last year that will examine three habitat-forming coral species over a multi-year span and their responses to environmental change.

“Math is the language of nature. You can describe the processes of nature using mathematical models,” said UOG Associate Professor Bastian Bentlage. “If you have a good model, you can identify certain key parameters that are important for corals’ response to stress, and you can make informed decisions about reef management planning and intervention strategies.”

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