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Diving into Life in the Ocean

By Todd Salisbury
On October 18, 2018

Students at MCCC now have a chance to dive into the study of the oceans with a new course coming Winter 2019 Semester.
Life in the Ocean is an experimental Biology course taught by Tracy Rayl, assistant professor of Biology.
The course will be structured as a level-100 course and has no college-level prerequisites. It is open to majors and non-majors.
 “It’s been something that’s always been in the back of my mind and now just seemed like the right time to move forward with it,” she said.
Rayl arrived at MCCC in Fall 1999, after working for the Department of Environmental Quality as a marine biologist at the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary in Louisiana.
While there, she assisted in writing a management plan to combat pollution and wetland loss that the estuary was facing.
“Estuaries are one of the marine environments that we will cover in Life in the Ocean,” Rayl said. “I will be bringing that practical experience to the classroom.”
Aside from estuaries, the course will cover topics such as marine animals, marine seaweeds and plants, and specific ecosystems like coral reefs.
One such creature that will be talked about is the American eel, Rayl’s favorite. 
The American eel is born in salt water, but swims back to fresh water during adolescence. After it has grown, it will then swim back to salt water to spawn. To switch between fresh and salt water requires a metamorphosis.
Rayl said she also will talk about careers that deal heavily with the ocean environment.
While there is no lab for the course, Rayl said that she plans on bringing in preserved sharks for the class to see, among other activities. 
Rayl said it is also possible that the class may go to The Toledo Zoo and Aquarium to observe other animals that will be discussed.
The course also will discuss the impact of humans on the marine environment through issues of pollution and over-fishing.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most pollution in the ocean comes from activities on land, both coastal and far inland.
One of the biggest sources are runoff from a collection of small sources like farms, trucks, and septic tanks. 
Other forms of pollution come from point sources like oil spills or leaks from damaged factories and water treatment centers.
“Even though we live in Michigan and it seems like we’re so far away from the Atlantic Ocean, which is closest to us, we’re actually tied to the ocean every single day of our life,” Rayl said.
Our oceans do much for us, from providing the food we eat, to medicines, and of course recreational tourism.
“The economic health of the United States is tied to the oceans that surround this country,” Rayl said.
According to the UN’s maritime regulatory sector, the International Maritime Organization, maritime transport accounts for over 90 percent of the world’s trade and is the most cost-effective way to move goods around the world.
Much of the ocean is undiscovered, according to the NOAA. The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the world, but roughly 80 percent of the ocean is unmapped and unexplored.
Discussion of the course started during the Winter 2017 Semester and was approved by spring, Rayl said.
Kevin Cooper, dean of the Science and Mathematics Division, was excited about the new course.
“I knew there was student interest,” Cooper said. “I thought it would be something different to enhance our Biology offerings.”
Rayl said she already has received emails from eager students with questions about the course.
“I think students need to register right away for it,” she said.
If the course has good results, it can be taught up to two more times as a special topic before the college would have to decide on making it a permanent course, Rayl said.

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