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7th grade SBA student makes quit a science discovery

Morgan Ulu, a seventh grader with Samoa Baptist Academy made quite a discovery right on the beaches of Tutuila Island this year, as she went searching for a science project for the science fair in February. In her search, Morgan came upon a species of hermit crab that can monitor pollution in the ocean, and for her work she was given the first place award in the Juniors Marine Science category.


Morgan was assisted by her science teacher, Stan Carter whose been teaching Chemistry, Physics and College Biology for over 31 years.


Carter noted that mountains of waste are produced each year by an exploding world population that struggles for even more natural resources, and as emptied containers of chemicals continually trickle into our rivers and streams, conservationists overwhelmed with the task of monitoring the earth’s waters have turned to a renewable resource, the next generation.


“And young people everywhere are eagerly volunteering their time and energy to help,” he noted.


With Morgan’s discovery of a species that can be used to monitor the water quality of the oceans anywhere in the world, she has greatly increased their abilities, according to Carter.


In Morgan’s effort to help monitor the beaches on Tutuila island, she looked for, and discovered, a pollution sensitive species that she could easily locate along its shores.


“Her studies revealed that very small organisms with thin epidermal tissue could easily absorb pollutants like those near the local ship harbor. She had read of macroinvertebrate counts being done by students along freshwater streams on the mainland, and thought of wading the shallow surf of Samoan beaches in search of similar species.


“However, the constant motion of incoming waves and sand made the prospect of discovering such a species seem almost impossible,” Carter said. Day after day, she searched; and then, a humorous observation while standing near the surf on sandy shores changed everything.


“There at her feet, two aquatic hermit crabs, no bigger than a grain of rice, fought over a tiny sea shell. She knew this to be a fight for survival, for although each already owned his own shell, their growth demanded the discovery of a new and larger shell for their next stage of life.”


As she watched them battle with their outstretched pinchers, she made her own discovery. At different times in the battle, the miniature crabs each pulled their moist, almost transparent abdomens from their shells and tried to insert them into the new shell. “This is what I’ve been looking for the whole time!” She exclaimed. 


The answer wasn’t in the water at all, but right at her feet. “These tiny crabs couldn’t live without water, they have gills! They only leave the water for a short period of time during low tide,” she explained. And, as she would discover, their thin abdominal membrane, like their gills, also absorbed oxygen.


“If it could absorb oxygen, couldn’t it just as easily absorb pollutants?” was her question.


Carter explained that Morgan immediately began to enlist her classmate, Christine Aguila in an exhaustive effort of counting hermit crabs along the beaches of the territory during low tides and they soon had data that showed the numbers of hermit crabs along beaches closest to the harbor were greatly reduced and sometimes nonexistent.


When she believed she had enough data, she approached ASEPA, the environmental protection agency of the island, and revealed her discovery. “At first they were skeptical, to say the least, especially when she began asking for their own chemical test data of waters along Samoan beaches. After multiple attempts and with parent and community help, she eventually made contact with Ms. Josephine Regis, an EPA Laboratory Chief, who saw her hard work and efforts as a gift from God.”


With this new found advocate, Morgan was able to put all the missing pieces of the puzzle into a concise and meaningful explanation of the importance of her discovery, said her teacher.


Morgan then entered her data and conclusions in the island science fair last month where she was named first place award in ‘Marine Science’, a fitting tribute to a young lady who may have just changed the way scientists all over the world approach their studies of the earth’s oceans.


Morgan told Samoa News “our struggle isn’t so different from those tiny little crabs on the shore. We are all battling for resources. Let’s just hope, that like them, we learn to use renewable resources like their shells. And when we’re done with them, that we will be smart enough to return them to the oceans of people that can use them next.”