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Students Discover Underwater Creatures with Bioracks

Dec 1, 2021 | News

Translucent skeleton shrimp, barnacles, and tunicates (commonly known as “sea squirts”) are some of the nearly microscopic organisms inhabiting the sides of piers, pylons, docks, and jetties. These organisms, called fouling communities because they attach to artificial surfaces, are at the heart of the BioDiscovery Project . The project is a collaborative STEM (science-technology-engineering-math)-based initiative designed for teachers and students to examine the organisms that colonize these types of structures.

Participating schools use a biorack—a nylon rope with acrylic discs vertically spaced out over three meters and hung off of a floating dock—to study the organisms that settle onto the discs. Once the biorack has been submerged in water for several weeks, it is pulled out of the water and individual discs are placed under microscopes for students to study. Schools identify and catalogue as many organisms as they can and enter these data on the BioDiscovery Data Portal. Tracking species diversity and abundance over the course of a year can show variations based on location, seasonal changes, and water quality parameters. Schools monitor the changes on their own biorack, and they can collaborate with other participating schools to share and analyze different data sets.

The BioDiscovery Project, supported through a Bosch Community Grant, is coordinated by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission in partnership with the Consortium, College of Charleston Grice Marine Lab, and Clemson University. Interested teachers may contact E.V. Bell, Marine Education specialist, to learn about upcoming BioDiscovery Project workshops.