Hermissenda - sea slug.jpg

A Hermissenda, or a sea slug, photographed at the Charleston Marine Life Center (courtesy: Trish Mace)

Correction on June 24: this story was updated to clarify that the Charleston Marine Life Center is conducting an ongoing examination of coronavirus conditions to determine an appropriate reopening date. It also was updated to state that faculty are able to access the CMLC for the purposes of filming the organisms for their students.

Marine Biology at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology is a grand adventure of discovery, according to OIMB Director Craig Young. “It’s the opportunity to go places where nobody has ever been and to look at things that are so bizarre that you couldn’t even imagine them until you saw them,” Young said in a YouTube video promoting the institute. COVID-19 has postponed this grand adventure, but faculty say it will likely resume in the fall.

Located in Charleston on the Oregon Coast, the OIMB offers interactive courses that allow marine biology majors and other UO students to gain hands-on learning experience at a marine lab.

The OIMB normally offers classes during the fall, spring and summer. Although many spring-term OIMB courses were canceled altogether, OIMB is offering courses like Invertebrate Zoology, Deep-Sea Biology and Marine Birds and Mammals as online classes during summer term, according to OIMB Education Program Coordinator Maya Watts.

Professors teaching the upcoming OIMB courses are working hard to make their classes engaging under the circumstances.

Nancy Treneman is an OIMB research assistant by courtesy appointment. She will be teaching the summer’s Seaweed Biology course, in which she will conduct and film an experiment that students will critique. “I—on purpose—didn’t really work at making it a perfect experiment so that the student will have to pick the flaws out,” Treneman said. “I’m hoping that that will give them a sense of what they can do when we can come back together.”

Although professors will be implementing various strategies to make their classes as engaging as possible—including live video, microscope cameras and guest speakers—Watts admitted that remote learning is not a substitute for in-person classes. “You simply cannot mimic, unfortunately—even with a great annotated video, even with a great voice over—going out in the field and turning over rocks and seeing the diversity that’s out there,” Watts said. “You can’t mimic that in-person experiential learning remotely. It’s just not possible. But I think you can do remote learning really well, so you can still feel what it’s like to be at a marine lab and in these habitats. But it’s not a substitute. It’s the next best thing.”

UO’s Charleston Marine Life Center, an interactive marine science museum and aquarium, usually allows UO and OIMB students—as part of their courses—to observe the numerous species of fish and invertebrates that call the CMLC home.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the CMLC is temporarily closed to the public and is not currently available to students. However, the CMLC will remain open to faculty who wish to film the organisms for their students. Director Trish Mace said the center is finding ways to take advantage of the lack of visitors by installing new exhibits, including a jelly tank and a kiosk that highlights UO research.

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Mace explained that installing a jelly tank would be difficult under normal circumstances since it involves plumbing work and building a new wall. The tank will house moon jellies upon completion, she said.

The CMLC is conducting an ongoing examination of coronavirus conditions to determine an appropriate reopening date, according to Mace. Meanwhile, the OIMB plans to reopen for in-person classes in fall 2020, according to Watts.

Watts does not anticipate that COVID-19 will significantly impact students’ ability to graduate on time, although UO requires marine biology majors to spend three terms at the OIMB. 

When asked if the OIMB expects an influx of students registering for fall courses, Watts said that classes could fill up, but that the OIMB will accommodate students as needed. “Usually, our classes aren’t completely full,” she said. “So I think having a few extra students isn’t going to be a big deal.”

An increase in class enrollment will not prevent the OIMB from satisfying UO and Oregon Health Association Guidelines, according to Watts. “Class sizes are usually 20 students or less, so spreading out into one or two classrooms is very feasible for OIMB,” she said.

Several new protocols relating to mask use and sterilization of equipment will govern OIMB classroom and lab procedures, according to Watts.

These restrictions have halted the majority of OIMB research. “It was tough as a Ph.D. student to not be able to be in the lab 40 hours a week,” Graduate Student Nicole Nakata said. Nakata and her research advisor, Professor Richard Emlet, filed an application to resume their research during the summer.

“OIMB, just like the UO, has our students’ best interests at heart,” Watts said. “Not only their safety but their education. Finding the balance between those two is hopefully what we’re going for this summer and this fall.”

Claire is a news reporter for the Daily Emerald. Send her news tips at cwarner@dailyemerald.com