(February 03, 2020) --

The new year brings new opportunities for all ages to learn at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. University Programs and Discovery Hall Programs both expanded the course opportunities for students and teachers to learn about our oceans throughout the year. 

DHP marine educators can now give students a 360 view of the salt marsh with the help of kayaks. The salt marsh is an important wetland habitat associated with an estuary. Educators already take students to the water’s edge to learn about the plants and animals associated with a salt marsh. Now, with the kayaks, students will be able to broaden their picture of the salt marsh ecology. All of the marine educators are certified through the American Canoe Association.

DHP continues to expand the STEM offerings adding a new summer day camp and an ROV competition to the calendar. The SeaPerch ROV Competition is the first in Alabama and will be held on Saturday, February 8. UMS-Wright Preparatory School in Mobile is cohosting the competition with DHP. Teams will fly their ROV based on the SeaPerch design through the underwater course. They will also present a technical design report during the single-day competition. The winner will qualify for the National SeaPerch Challenge.

DHP will also hold the 8th annual MATE ROV Competition at the end of April. In this multi-day competition, teams design and build their own ROV to compete in a series of pool missions. They also share how they designed their ROV and what challenges they met during testing in a presentation and poster session.

Ocean Bytes, the new DHP day camp will explore the world of ocean technology through hands-on e(nvironmental)-STEM activities. The campers will have the opportunity to learn about and use the tools scientists use to study the oceans, including underwater robots, drones, and GPS along our beaches.

Undergraduate and graduate students also have new opportunities to learn how to use the tools scientists use to collect and measure data during University Programs 2020 Summer Session. Two new courses focus on technology. Dr. Kelly Dorgan, University of South Alabama and DISL faculty will teach Marine Technical Methods. Dr. Jonathan Fleming of Mississippi State University joins the summer visiting faculty team to teach the Environmental Application of GIS. 

“Ultimately, we want kids to get jobs,” University Programs Chair Dr. Lee Smee said. “I think having a skill like GIS or computer programming is really good. We’re trying to move in that direction to offer more opportunities to learn skills.”

University Programs is also giving students the chance to study coral reefs up close with Dr. Ken Hoadley, University of Alabama and DISL faculty. The students will spend their class time in the Florida Keys during the month of May. The class will focus on the ecology and evolution of coral reef communities with a view to understanding what is happening on reefs today. 

The new year also brings new plans for the public aquarium. There are efforts underway to modernize the exhibits within the Estuarium which was designated the Alabama Aquarium by the state legislature in a joint resolution last summer. 

“We have every reason to believe that we will do as well this year as we did last year,” Executive Director Dr. John Valentine said. “We had record enrollment in our classes. Our scientists had an outstanding year in terms of getting grants and publishing papers and guiding graduate students in their thesis and dissertation research. We are also looking towards the future as we begin to embrace our new strategic plan, complete a facilities master plan, and begin to modernize our aquarium. It is hard not to feel good about what comes next.”