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Student goes to Africa, researches sharks

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Alec Piper stands in the intertidal zone where he did biodiversity research.

Doane senior Alec Piper went face to face with sharks in Mossel Bay, South Africa. 

He is back at Doane and shares his experience of a once in a lifetime internship. 

“This was such a change from being in school where I was subjected to a few experiments and mostly coursework rather than actually being out in the field, collecting data and doing amazing research. It was a fantastic experience,” Piper said. 

Piper’s research included sharks, biodiversity and other organisms in Mossel Bay. 

He studied white shark populations while he was there. He recorded characteristics in size, gender and reported any deformities including damaged dorsal fins. 

He also identified pigmentation on the sharks which helps identify a shark. 

While he was there, he also participated in a study with benthic sharks to determine parasitic loads of each species. 

Sharks were not the only animals Piper worked with during this internship. 

He also helped track dolphins and whales.

Using a theodolite, he assisted in tracking and recording the coordinates of the marine mammals that were in the area. With data from the coordinates they were able to see where the marine species tended to stay and how they used the bay. 

Piper participated in biodiversity tests using a remote operated vehicle that is essentially an underwater drone. 

“I piloted the drone over refs and recorded footage of the reef,” Piper said. 

They would then upload the video on a computer and identify the species in the reef. 

“This is beneficial because we were able to monitor the reef’s health and identify invasive species,” Piper said. 

Not only did he work with organisms and life, he also collected micro plastics along the coast to analyze how much plastic is in Mossel Bay. 

“We collected the micro plastic from the coast, then transported it from the troll, let it dry and sifted the organic material out of the sample and counted the micro plastics,” Piper said.

Piper used many Doane resources to attain and fulfil this internship. 

He was introduced to this internship from his advisor Russ Souchek and used the College to Career Center as well. He worked with the Business Office to use his travel grant, also. 

“My favorite part of the internship was being in the field doing research. To me, it was not work,” Piper said.