Dr. Mark Patterson | Chris Petrone | Noelle Relles | Sarina Patterson


Dr. Mark Patterson Dr. Mark Patterson

I knew I wanted to be a biologist by the time I was 6. That was the same year my dad taught me to snorkel. When I was an elementary student, I basically lived in the fields with my neighborhood pals, catching and keeping huge collections of critters. Obviously, I had a very tolerant and encouraging Mom and Dad.

In middle school, my metal shop teacher, Mr. Paul Rood, took a bunch of us under his wing. He had an enormous influence on me because he got me excited about electronics and ham radio, but more importantly taught me that knowledge and skill in any area should be shared freely with others, rather than used simply for personal gain. At 16, my Dad and I took SCUBA classes together at the YMCA, and got our diving certification. I paid for my first set of gear, including a tank I still have, with money saved from my paper route.

When I was a junior in high school, my biology teacher, Mrs. Tondat, encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to go on a scientific expedition run by Earthwatch. I was lucky to be selected, and got to spend three weeks in the Bahamas with a coral reef biologist, Dr. Richard Chesher, conducting a survey of remote coral reefs. This was a dream come true for a newly certified diver. I knew then that coral reefs would have to be a part of my life in the future.

At college, I worked for two marine scientists that would play a huge role in my future career. One was Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who was studying animals that lived in the inter-tidal zone. She showed me that science was predictive, and that it was fun to see how the numbers came out, and whether our guesses about nature were right or wrong. The other professor was Dr. Ken Sebens. He did A LOT of diving for his research, so I was in heaven when he hired me. I learned to dive in a dry suit in the middle of the winter in New England. Coming up from these dives, our mouths were so frozen we couldn't talk properly. After graduation, I liked working for Dr. Sebens so much I stayed on with him when I was accepted to graduate school at Harvard. Dr. Sebens and I have been to Venezeula, Jamaica, and St. Croix together, and I ended up working on how corals, sea anemones, and soft corals, feed and metabolize for my Ph.D. In 1984, we were the first people to take a computer into an underwater habitat, Hydrolab, and used it to control an experiment nearby on the coral reef.

Now I get to expose eager undergraduate and graduate students to coral reef science, and using underwater habitats as research tool, in my capacity as a professor at the College of William & Mary. As a scientist, I explore how engineering principles (such as fluid mechanics and chemical engineering) can help us understand how plants and animals work. This field is called biomechanics. I am currently working on understanding how motion in the ocean affects how animals like corals and sponges grow, photosynthesize, and respire. My previous work in Aquarius has examined how water motion affects the process of coral bleaching.

My biggest obsession though has been with underwater swimming robots, called Autonomous Underwater Vehicles or AUVs for short. In 1994, I started building an AUV with a friend, Jim Sias, on my dining room table, and later in my garage. In 1996, the robot swam for the first time, and it came to Conch Reef in 2000 for the JASON XI expedition, which I co-hosted. In 2002-2004, the AUV came back to the reef and we used it to measure oxygen and pH over the coral reef. We continued these AUV measurements in 2007 during Project SeaCAMEL.

During this 2009 mission, we will use two Fetches to map the seafloor around the habitat using side scan sonar and underwater video. These data will be used to make maps useful to future science visitors to Aquarius.

Chris Petrone
Chris Petrone

As a kid, I really enjoyed fishing and crabbing; always trying to "outsmart" the fish onto my line or crabs onto the bait. Many times, I was quite unsuccessful. I never really thought about working on and in the water until an ecology course in college had me knee-deep in a local stream collecting scientific data and catching critters. Up until then, I was going to be a physical therapist, no ifs, ands, or buts. After about 10 years, those plans went out the door in a single afternoon; I was hooked. That summer I did an internship with who would eventually become my graduate school advisor and from then on, I knew this field was for me. As part of the internship we worked extensively out on Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean catching and analyzing blue crab larvae. The amount of life, of all sizes, below the water's surface shocked me. Literally trillions of tiny creatures, crab, barnacle, fish larvae, and the like swimming around unbeknownst to us while we play in the surf. For my senior project, and subsequently my graduate research, I became up-close and personal with the zooplankton of Delaware Bay, studying copepod diversity and dynamics of fiddler crab larvae patches, respectively. Accumulating so much time on the water, I was able to obtain my U.S. Coast Guard captain's license.

After graduate school, I accepted a position teaching high school marine science and Advanced Placement environmental science, where I designed and taught the curricula for both classes. From there, I left academia briefly and commercially farmed oysters on the Rappahannock River, VA for just over a year. Keeping tabs on 5 million oysters ranging in size from 5 millimeters to 3+ inches, is no small feat!

Once an opportunity to become a Marine Education Specialist with Virginia Sea Grant at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science presented itself, I decided to move back into the education world and instead of teaching students, this time, I would be working with teachers. Conducting several multi-day workshops and many shorter sessions at various conferences throughout the year, I work with teachers to help them integrate many aspects of the ocean sciences into their curricula. Because ocean science is so interdisciplinary, it can be used to teach biology, physics, chemistry, math, and so much more. Much of my focus is on ocean observing systems, in which autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), such as Fetch, the AUV we are using in this expedition, are an integral component. Utilizing my educator and science background, I also write activities for the Bridge website that use real scientific data to illustrate all sorts of scientific concepts.

I never thought the water would play such an important role in my life. I have learned so much about the water both in the classroom and while playing and working in it, and I look forward to all the things I still have to learn about the substance that covers 70% of our planet!

Noelle Relles
Noelle Relles

At a young age my parents took us on family vacations to SeaWorld in Florida and Marine Land in Canada. By the time I was six years old I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist because I thought that's what dolphin trainers were.  By the time I went to college that dream was forgotten and I started my undergraduate career at Cornell University as a human development major.  Over Spring Break of my freshman year I went to Florida with a friend and saw a pod of dolphins offshore, I remembered my love of the ocean and marine mammals and started wondering why I hadn't pursued that dream.  I returned to campus and immediately began researching ways to learn marine science at my landlocked university.  The summer between my freshman and sophomore years I attended a course in the ecology of animal behavior at Cornell and the University of New Hampshire's Shoals Marine Lab and knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The following Fall semester I took a course in marine ecology and my interest in coral reef ecology and marine invertebrates was immediately piqued. I spent that spring of my sophomore year taking part in Cornell's field course in the science of environmental study on the Big Island of Hawai'i where I learned about geology, marine biology, volcanology, oceanography and local culture. This was a life-changing experience for me and solidified my desire to pursue a career in marine science.

I graduated from Cornell in December of 2006 with a Bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Study that included studying biology, ecology and oceanography. My interest in coral reefs and marine protection policy has continued to expand as graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. I am currently working on my doctorate in marine science with a concentration in public policy and I study marine protected areas with the specific goal of coral reef conservation. 

Sarina Patterson
Sarina Patterson 

I am a rising senior at Hampton Roads Academy high school. Since getting SCUBA certified in Christmas 2007, I have expored the reefs of Bonaire and Hawai'i, and I look forward to taking Marine Biology in school this year. A water baby since the age of 4, I have always loved swimming in the pool and snorkeling in the ocean, the better to view all the great creatures that live there (except for the jellyfish, who love me, and for whom I hold a strong dislike). 

Last year I traveled with my dad, Dr. Mark Patterson, and my family to Iceland. For the 1st semester of junior year, I lived and went to school in Reykjavik, the capital city. My dad, on sabbatical, did research on a recently discovered shallow-water hydrothermal vent in a fjord in the north of the country. The school I attended was an International Baccalaureate school, so my classes at least were in English; in everything else, however, it was beneficial that we all took an Icelandic for foreigners class. Iceland was an amazing experience, and we all hope to return soon. 

I have been a Girl Scout since 1st grade, and I am now an Ambassador, the oldest level of Girl Scouting. I am currently working to earn the Gold Award, a series of requirements culminating in a large community service project, which is the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn. For my project, I plan to interview women in science and other scientists about emerging threats to our oceans and our environment (hypoxia, global warming, ocean acidification, water shortages being just a few), and how scientific research and new technologies gained therein can help combat these threats. Emphasizing the importance of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, I want to put the live interviews, text interviews, a journal of my experience, and pictures on a website like the GSUSA homepage. 

After having traveled to Spain, London, and Iceland, I know that I would love a job that would let me journey abroad, learn languages, and meet new people. I am just beginning the college application process, and I don't know exactly what I want to do just yet (I am interested in everything!), but I definitely look forward to being the teen voice for the Conch Reef expedition.