I arrived into Pago Pago late Monday night. The humid, sweet air made my clothes stick to my skin and I was drenched in sweat by the time I retrieved my bag from baggage claim. I was happily greeted by Jeff Kuwabara, my colleague from the Marine Option Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and by the time we drove up to our campsite it was close to midnight. I dumped my luggage in the tent, laid out my sleeping bag, and conked out for the night.
Waking up to the sounds of birds, I leaned my head out of the tent to take a look at my surroundings. A few feet away laid a beautiful lagoon reflecting the morning light. Overhead, palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze. I could hear the students beginning to rustle in their tents and figured it was time to get up and meet the crew.
Upon crawling out of my tent, I was greeted by sleepy-eyed students, slowly getting ready for the day. They were there to participate in an intensive, one-week course on Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques—lovingly known as QUEST. A second-year student, Raijeli (“Jeli”) Toanivere, gave me a big hug, welcoming me to American Samoa. Jeli is originally from Fiji but moved to American Samoa in 2015. As a second-year student, she was well versed in the concepts and expectations of QUEST and was working as an intern to help the first-year students with their understanding of the concepts, as well as data analysis and final projects.
QUEST was founded in the 1980s in Hawaii to train students in underwater methods for surveying coral reefs. In 2011, Hawaiʻi Sea Grant initiated a QUEST program in American Samoa through the American Samoa Community College (ASCC). The course is led by Kelley Anderson Tagarino, a University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant extension agent and ASCC faculty, and Meagan Curtis, the marine science coordinator at the college. These two have been running the QUEST program together since 2017 and are completely dedicated to the success of their students. At QUEST, students learn to identify over 150 local marine species; learn survey techniques for fish, coral, and limu (algae); and conduct their own research projects using this knowledge. Students spend the mornings in the water conducting surveys, and afternoons and evenings working on data offload and analysis.
QUEST is supported by the NOAA Marine Education and Training grant, ASCC funds, Nation Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education funds, and donations of equipment and time from local agencies. To learn more about QUEST, please check out our video at https://youtu.be/4dwvgojJZAc or visit www.hawaii.edu/mop/quest.
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