A new Aquarium Science certificate program has launched at Orange Coast College this fall. Students can earn the credential by taking eight required courses totaling nine units.
“This is definitely something to put on my resume,” said Katie Iavelli, a 36-year-old biology major and aquarium staff member. “The certificate can be used for vet schools, and doors can be opened. Vet school is my end goal,” Iavelli said.
OCC’s Dennis Kelley Aquarium is overseen by faculty but is entirely student run. Five paid student-staff members oversee dozens of student aquarium managers who are enrolled in classes for its Aquarium Science & Management program.
Iavelli said being a part of a student-run aquarium has been a great opportunity for networking. Not only has Iavelli been able to meet current aquarists, but she also has gained workplace experience by managing other students.
“The coolest thing I’ve been a part of was last semester we received a shark from the LA Union Train Station Aquarium. It had a lack of iodine in its thyroid gland and it enlarged to the size of a golf ball,” Iavelli said.
Iavelli said she worked alongside fellow student aquarium managers to feed tube the shark and give it iodine supplements.
The shark is now able to eat on its own and can be seen in the community shark tank located in the lobby of The Lewis Center for Applied Sciences.
The five student staff members always have their hands busy with all aspects of decision making for the aquarium.
“We meet as a staff group. They give their input and we collectively decide to implement things together,” said Rob Ellis, aquarium director.
Ellis added that there are lots of places where the new certificate can open doors for students, such as positions with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.
The student staff and managers were hard at work at OCC’s aquarium over the summer as they drained out the tanks, cleaned them inside and out and transferred organisms to new tanks in preparation for the fall semester.
“A new project we started is our four sunscreen research tanks. A sunscreen brand called Raw Elements asked our aquarium to test the safety of their products,” Nyssa Guidangen, 20, an aquarium manager and marine biology major said.
Guidangen said one tank will test the Raw Elements product and the other three tanks will be used to compare the safety of other standard sunscreen brands such as Coppertone and Banana Boat. The team is testing the rate of bleaching on corals using standard non reef-safe sunscreen and a reef-safe sunscreen. The study is specifically testing the effect on corals but it also has to do with water quality, Guidangen said.
“We also recently redid our entire coral tank and moved out all the organisms to other tanks. It will now be a frag tank for corals,” Guidangen said.
Guidangen said fragging is the safest way to cut off branches on corals. She added that this new tank will allow students to gain experience with fragging.
Students such as Guidangen said they are looking forward to earning the Aquarium Science Certificate in hopes of finding a career.
Guidangen said that originally she wanted to transfer somewhere out of the state but because of cost, plans have changed. Guidangen said that she is now solely pursuing the certificate.
The best part about her experience with the aquarium is the adventurous atmosphere it offers, Guidangen said.
“Every day coming into the aquarium nothing is certain. There’s always something new to learn and that’s what I love about it,” Guidangen said.