Island University Partners with Texas State Aquarium to Offer Hands-on Opportunities for Underwater Researchers

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is diving into a new partnership with the Texas State Aquarium (TSA) to provide exciting opportunities for students to engage in field-based learning as part of the university’s Scientific Dive Training course.

Visual underwater fish surveys are a common sampling technique employed by Scientific Divers, though to be successful, divers require enough water visibility to accurately identify and count the fish. However, the predominately low visibility of South Texas waters hinders accurate survey training – hence the benefit of a controlled, clear-water environment like the TSA.

“TAMU-CC and the Texas State Aquarium strive to promote an effective and engaging learning environment,” said Larry Lloyd, TAMU-CC Diving Safety Coordinator. “This partnership allows us to certify Scientific Divers to federal standards and evaluate their performance as they dive in a controlled environment.

The Scientific Dive Training course allows Islander students, many of whom are majoring in marine biology, environmental science, and geology, along with others seeking dive certifications to engage in hands-on learning about marine life and environments while applying the latest training techniques in scientific observation.

“Enhancing divers’ comfortability and skillsets is key in being able to achieve some of the more nuanced research needed along the Texas coast,” said Shannon Hunt, TSA Dive Officer. “We at the Texas State Aquarium work to support conservation and research throughout the area in as many avenues as we can, and this particular partnership helps to advance many different research projects throughout the area.”

Prior to conducting fish surveys in TSA tanks, student divers complete an orientation session where they learn emergency procedures, become familiar with TSA exhibits, and practice fish identification. 

Islander marine biology major Aaron Catozzi ‘22 says the chance to survey marine life in a controlled setting is an invaluable experience.

“It’s exciting to be close to such a wide variety of species including the sharks, eels, stingray, and goliath grouper,” Catozzi said. “This partnership with the aquarium gives students the opportunity to observe these species in a situation close to their natural habitat which helps to better understand different behaviors and identify species while in the field.”

The university’s Dive Operations plans to participate in at least two to three dives in TSA tanks per semester.

“At the very core of our partnership with TAMU-CC is a shared passion for both diving and marine conservation,” Hunt said. “As more students come into the program, our two facilities will be able to support more research and conservation efforts and hopefully improve the incredible marine ecosystems found within Texas’ waters.”

The Scientific Dive Training course is just one of many offered through Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Dive Operations, housed within the Division of Research and Innovation. The university’s Dive Operations is a member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences and supports over 30 active scientific and commercial divers. Through promoting “do-it-right” diving habits, advances in innovative research, and conscientious environmental stewardship, the Island University remains steadfast in its mission to advance the South Texas diving community.

“As an R2 research university, our researchers rely on staff and students to be able to accurately collect underwater data to produce high-quality research,” said Lloyd. “As stewards of research and the environment of South Texas, working together gives TAMU-CC and the Texas State Aquarium shared resources to better train the next generation of marine scientists.”

To learn more about the Island University’s Dive Operations, click here.