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During their recent spring break, students at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) interested in underwater biological surveying had a rare opportunity to develop these skills through the field course Quantitative Underwater Ecological Survey Techniques (QUEST), offered by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program in collaboration with the College’s Marine Science Program and Community and Natural Resources Division.


While ASCC students received two credits for the course, QUEST was also made available to anyone in the community at least 18 years of age.


During this year’s QUEST course, which took place from March 11th to the 16th, participating students and staff camped at Faga’alu Park in the old Boy Scouts facility and immersed themselves in learning various methods for counting and measuring fish, algae, and invertebrate species such as corals. Data collected using these methods allow different questions to be answered, ranging from general queries such as “How healthy are our reefs?” to the more specific, “How big is the average parrot fish?”


Students conducted small research projects in teams to learn and apply the scientific method and present their findings at a symposium on the last day of QUEST. In the course of the projects they gained familiarity with experimental design, sampling methods, statistical analysis, and forming conclusions.


The class of six was comprised of three ASCC students and one student each from the National Park of American Samoa, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Islands Regional Office. For some of them, this was their first experience with identifying underwater organisms, while others struggled at first with the required swimming skills. However, by the end of the week, the students were all able to dive down to 15 feet to take pictures, identify corals, and measure the shape of the coral reef. Student John Leau, said, “After six days at QUEST, I’ve learned all 200 species of coral and I can identify any of them when I see them underwater.  Not only that, but I also know how to conduct monitoring surveys for fish, corals, and algae, and how to collect and analyze data to interpret what it means.”


Assistants Valentine Vaeoso and Rocco Tinitali both previously completed QUEST in 2012 and later completed undergraduate research projects in Hawaii through the Undergraduate Research and Mentoring Program. Valentine assisted this year as a guest lecturer on coral diseases and anomalies, while Rocco was on site to assist participants with following safety procedures while in the water. Other QUEST graduates from previous years have used their QUEST experience as a launch pad to other opportunities such as SCUBA diving training, paid internships, and research and monitoring in Faga’alu Bay with the NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Division.


The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa has shown great interest in QUEST graduates through paid internships and scholarships for further undergraduate studies in Marine Science. The QUEST program has enabled students to expand their professional networks and improve their chances of securing employment on island in areas involving Marine Science.


Ephraim Temple and Kelley Anderson Tagarino, organizers of the QUEST course, acknowledged their partners who made this year’s QUEST possible. They expressed their gratitude to Jeff Kuwabara of the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program, Tim Clark of the National Park of American Samoa, Wendy Cover of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Afa Uikirifi and Alice Lawrence of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, and Trevor Kaitu’u and Whitney Peterson of the Coral Reef Advisory Group housed in the Department of Commerce.


Additional sponsors of QUEST contributed valuable services, and Temple and Tagarino thank Friendly Car Rental, the Pago Pago International Airport Manager and Airport Security, and the Department of Parks and Recreation for their generous support. The next QUEST course is expected to be held during spring break of 2014. Anyone interested in participating in this course should contact Ephraim Temple at 731-8169, They may also contact Kelley Anderson Tagarino at