Every year the College of Science, Engineering and Food Science (SEFS) at UCC awards 10 bursaries to undergraduate students so that they can complete an 8 week summer research project. The SEFS Teaching Learning and Student Experience Committee chooses the successful students by reviewing their applications (including CV’s, statement of why you want to do the project, amongst other things). Oh and the all-important signature of the supervisor of the project to show that they’re actually willing to work with you for the majority of the summer!
As per usual, I left it to the very last minute to apply to work with Prof Gavin Burnell on sea urchins – a day before the deadline! The acceptance phonecall came while I was playing a game of pool in the Algarve (working hard on our 3rd year fieldtrip!) – a phonecall that was well worth the international charges! Of course I got way too excited and ran around the hotel like an excited puppy telling everyone!
I started off working with Ashlie Cipriano, helping her with her experiments on urchins for her PhD. We tagged (a lot of!) urchins using three different methods – PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags, beads, and nail varnish. The PIT tags were specially made for the purple sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), which is smaller than the green sea urchin that most of the studies on tagging have been done on.
I used an implant gun (that my brother thought was the coolest thing he’d ever seen) to inject the PIT tags through the peristomal membrane, making sure to face it away from the Aristotle’s Lantern. The beads were arranged in a circular pattern on the upper surface of the test of the urchin and the nail varnish was also painted on the upper surface. Then we studied the level of stress caused by each tagging method by taking 2ml of hemolymph from each urchin and conducting an assay.
Once that experiment was done we brought the PIT tagged urchins to Dunmannus Bay to John Chamberlain’s hatchery and recorded various details like their ID number, test diameter, and weight. Then we headed to a nearby rockpool, mapped it, cleared it of alien species (well, as much as we could!), and deployed the urchins! I have to say myself, Sarah Culloty, and Gavin Burnell worked well as a tag team to get this done as quickly as possible! Lunch at Arundel’s was calling to us!
We gave them a moving-in period of 2 weeks so that they could settle down before we came back. We managed to find a grand total of… (drumroll please)… 1! 1 out of 40 may sound very small but unfortunately the purple urchin is a shy creature who loves to hide in crevices! We found lots in crevices but we couldn’t take them out without damaging them and our electronic PIT tag reader couldn’t be brought close enough to read their ID numbers so we couldn’t tell if they were tagged or wild. When we went back again we managed to find 6 tagged urchins – things were looking up!
I really enjoyed this experience and would do it again in a heartbeat. Although I think I’m just a little more addicted to coffee than I was before I started… Thanks Gavin!