Brittany Hardin ’10 Conducts Unusual Research in the Bahamas

Brittany Hardin '10
Brittany Hardin ’10

This past summer Hyde-Bath alumna Brittany Hardin was asked to accompany her professors on a research trip to Andros Island, Bahamas where they were studying lionfish. We caught up with her and asked her about her trip.

Class Year: 2010

Campus graduated from: Bath

Hometown: West Bath, ME

Currently Living In: Raleigh, NC

College: North Carolina State University

Sports Played while at Hyde: Soccer, Swimming, Crew, Track & Field

Favorite Hyde Memory: There are quite a few, but those nice days after spring had arrived with everyone hanging out in the Sunken Garden with music playing were definitely days to look forward to. Those, and early mornings out on the crew boat.

Favorite Hyde Teacher: Far too many to name. A lot of the Hyde faculty provided a great support system for me throughout my four years there, and I’m grateful for them even to this day.

What have you been up to since leaving Hyde?

I just returned from a research trip to Andros Island, Bahamas, where I was conducting research with lionfish and their effects on community structures and organism abundance in shallow, near-shore environments. People have researched the effects lionfish have on coral reef ecosystems, but prior to my trip, no research on their effects on community structures and organism abundance had been done before, and my team and I didn’t really know whether our results would be significant or not. I went into the trip just taking the risk, and I enjoyed every minute of it. (Well, maybe not EVERY minute. The mosquitoes were horrible.)

Map of Andros Island, Bahamas
Map of Andros Island, Bahamas

I conducted this research under one of my professors from North Carolina State, and we were based at Forfar Research Station on the eastern coast of North Andros. Our trip started out by getting accustomed to the island and working out the kinks for the methods of my experiment, mostly including the procurement of lionfish from nearby sand flats. I also had to snorkel quite a bit to get familiar with all of the different fish species found in this particular part of the island, as most of the common species were later found on my experimental trays, and it was beneficial to my research to be able to identify them. About a week was spent setting up my experiment (excluding the actual installation of my experimental trays, which had been installed three months prior to the trip).

Henry Wallace and one of his mahogany carvings of a dolphinfish
Henry Wallace and one of his mahogany carvings of a dolphinfish

Also during that week, my research team and I journeyed all over the northern part of the island to learn about some of the unique ecosystems found there. One such ecosystem was found within blue holes, or water-filled cave systems that have filled with water. We had the privilege of meeting with a man who dives these cave systems for a living, Brian Kakuk. He is one of the leading experts on these systems, and he has even had an article written about his ventures in an issue of National Geographic. We also went to Red Bays, a community home to the descendants of Seminole Indians, and a community dependent on natural resources. In this community, I met Henry Wallace, a well-known woodcarver whose work is currently on display at the Smithsonian and representing Bahamian culture. Nearby to this community was Androsia, a fabric factory home to the batik fabric that is found all over the island.

Androsia Fabric Factory
Androsia Fabric Factory

For my experiment, I installed lionfish on a series of experimental trays, and tested their effect against a series of control trays (which had no lionfish). I took video surveys of my trays twice a day to see what types of fish and other organisms were living on them. At the conclusion of the experiment, we pulled up the trays from the ocean, and counted and identified the small invertebrates that had been living on the trays. We did this to see if having the lionfish as an invasive predator affected what was found on the trays, and whether their presence altered the community structures. Overall, my research concluded that lionfish are indeed having an effect on community structure and abundance of organisms, so my hypothesis was correct. Pretty cool stuff!

Experimental tray design and lionfish (in isolation before being released onto the tray)
Experimental tray design and lionfish (in isolation before being released onto the tray)

I’m currently pursuing my Bachelor’s degree with my major in Zoology, and double minors in Environmental Sciences and Environmental Toxicology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m entering into my senior year in a few weeks. My next goal is to get my research findings published in a scientific journal, so cross your fingers for me! During the little free time that I have, I like going to museums, volunteering at local animal-related organizations, spending time with my family, and going adventuring with friends.

After graduation, I’m hoping to get a job continuing with research for a few years before pursuing my Master’s degree. Hopefully I’ll get lucky and continue studying community structures and/or behavioral adaptations of organisms to their environments. But there are so many cool studies happening in my field, who knows where I’ll end up.

How has Hyde impacted what you are doing today?

While I was at Hyde, I learned to trust myself and my beliefs, and to really go after what I wanted. I improved on putting a lot of time towards preparing for my ultimate goals, rather than just expecting instant gratification. I worked hard to build meaningful relationships, and to support the best in others. I use these skills when I work on campus in my University’s Career Development Center, and help my fellow peers develop résumés and practice interview skills for their future internship and job opportunities. I really honed my leadership skills at Hyde and learned that I can never stop improving. I use these skills every day to lead my team of associates at my job at PetSmart, and to conduct on-campus presentations for the various organizations in which I am involved.

Any advice for the undergraduates?

Try new things and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and what you want in life. Taking risks helped me to grow as a person, and without that confidence in myself and my abilities, I probably wouldn’t have pursued some of the great opportunities I’ve been able to experience.

Brittany Hardin '10 in the Bahamas
Brittany Hardin ’10 in the Bahamas