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URI marine biology student reflects on fellowship chance

By Julia Geromini
On November 28, 2012

Junior and marine biology major Sarah Merolla was given an opportunity like no other this past summer. Merolla received the University of Rhode Island Summer Undergraduates Research Fellowship, allowing her to go scuba diving in the restored Elkhorn Coral Reef, off of Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Merolla had just been certified to scuba dive the summer prior to this. As part of the process, she also had to get first aid certified. Merolla said the overall experience of scuba diving was "very new to [her]" but that "the diving experience was overall amazing."

As part of the research fellowship Merolla got the opportunity to view and study the fish that lived and visited the restored coral reef.

"[It's] based on an ongoing project [where] they've been surveying coral for 20 years and restoring it for five years, looking at the fish populations," Merolla said.

Merolla said one of the more interesting things she saw while on the research fellowship was, "the many different kinds of fish I had never seen before," as well as, "eels, an octopus and a sea turtle."

Merolla described the Elkhorn Coral Reef as "amazing...something ill never forget...very isolated."

The Summer Undergraduates Research fellowship lasted about one month this past summer. Merolla described the duration as her least favorite part, saying she wished she "had a longer experience."

After college, Merolla plans to go on to graduate school and possibly work for a government agency dealing with marine life. Her advice for anyone who would like to pursue a research fellowship is "to apply to as many places as you can because I never thought I would get selected...go for all the experiences you can while in college."

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