Matthew Reidenbach / Environmental Sciences

My primary area of research and teaching is coastal oceanography. For a number of years my research has centered upon studying coral reefs and how urbanization, land-use and climate change has been impacting the health of coral reef systems. Currently I have a research project in Bocas del Toro, Panama in the Caribbean Sea. Bocas del Toro is a truly enchanting place, with lush tropical forests, mangroves, coral reefs and clear blue waters. Like many regions with such beauty, it is being threatened by development, including the rapid clear-cutting of forests and filling of mangrove swamps to build condos and hotels. Over the past decade, there has been a marked decrease in coral cover and diversity of marine species within these coastal waters. I am currently conducting studies related to these impacts on coral reef degradation at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, located in Bocas del Toro.

My ‘dream idea’ is to build upon this ongoing research, and take two to three undergraduates with me to Bocas del Toro, Panama during the summer 2012. These students will assist me in my ongoing coral reef research and/or conduct their own research related to the health and functioning of marine organisms in the region. The trip will last approximately 2 weeks and we will stay within the dorms provided by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. During the Spring 2012 semester, I am teaching a course entitled ‘Biomechanics of Organisms’ where we discuss organism function, such as the physics behind fish swimming and bird flight, and species interactions within tropical rain forests and coral reefs. I will choose 2-3 students from this course or from the larger Environmental Sciences undergraduate community to come with me to Panama. Selection will be based upon student interest in conducting independent research within tropical reef systems.

Priority will first be given to 3rd year students wishing to complete an undergraduate thesis through our department’s Distinguished Majors Program. Preference will also be given to Spanish speakers, although speaking Spanish in Bocas del Toro is not essential. I envision choosing the students by mid-semester and then working with each of them independently to devise and refine their own research projects or for them to get training on the instruments and techniques I employ in my own research. Anticipated outcomes would be a research thesis submitted to the Department of Environmental Sciences near the end of their 4th year.

I currently have research funding for myself to conduct research in Bocas del Toro, but bringing 2-3 undergrads with me will greatly enhance my ability to complete my studies, and offer a fantastic opportunity for these students to interact closely with me and see firsthand the beauty, but delicate ecosystem, that Bocas del Toro offers. Funding from the Mead Endowment will offset travel costs to and from Bocas del Toro as well as housing at the Smithsonian Institute. From my experience, staying in Bocas del Toro is relatively inexpensive, with dorms costing $20/night and food being relatively cheap. The main cost of the trip will be plane fare, which runs approximately $700/person.

Total Expected costs:

Travel: to and from Bocas del Toro (2 students x $700/person): $1400

Housing: 2 weeks at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (2 students x 14 days x $20/person): $560

Total cost: $1960

There is likelihood that I will be able to offset some of these costs with a research grant and therefore offer the opportunity for a 3rd undergraduate to come with us to Bocas del Toro.