Marie Donnici, a rising senior on the women’s golf team, has been to every corner of this country playing the game she loves. A Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada native – she began her collegiate career at Hawaii before joining the Spiders before her junior season. She helped guide the Spiders to their second-straight Patriot League title and a berth in the NCAA Regionals. Donnici has high aspirations with the business degree she will be earning next May but first she felt the need to get her hands dirty with a biology class that allowed her to hit the road and see the impact her work can make in the real world. This is her story, in her own words…
This June, I participated in a biology class located in Oyster, Virginia on the Eastern Shore. The learning outcomes of this course focus on the marine biology of the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Virginia. I completed the first week of the course online while I competed with my team in NCAA Women’s Golf Regionals in Lubbock, Texas, after winning our second-consecutive Patriot League title, but for the final two weeks of the course, I travelled to Oyster to study in the field at the Anheuser-Busch Laboratory.
During our time in the field, we examined organisms in the coastal bays and the Chesapeake Bay at the individual, community, population and ecosystem levels. During our first few days, we examined the vanishing islands off the Eastern Shore, and even had the opportunity to visit Paramore Island, which is now abandoned and only used for field research. We learned that sea level rise is impacting these islands, forcing entire communities to relocate over the last century.
During our second week of fieldwork, our class volunteered with the Nature Conservancy of Virginia, and worked with them on conservation projects. We learned about the diseases impacting the Eelgrass located on the Eastern Shore and how a decrease in this type of sea grass would impact the local climate. Eelgrass plays an instrumental role in providing a habitat for several organisms living on the Eastern Shore. We helped restore depleting sea grass populations by snorkeling to collect Eelgrass pods, so that the pods could be harvested and redistributed on the Eastern Shore later in the summer to encourage new growth. We continued our studies of the Eastern Shore with the Nature Conservancy on a kayak trip.
In addition to working with the Nature Conservancy, our class worked on an oyster conservation project at the Anheuser-Busch Laboratory. The oysters in this region are called Crassotrea Virginica. They are essential to the Bay and coastal area because they are ecosystem builders. They provide refuge for other organisms to take shelter from predators, and provide substrate on which other organisms can attach themselves. Oysters are also filter feeders, which improves water quality. However, when humans harvest oysters, they remove both the oysters and their entire shells, harming this habitat. Our class built an Oyster Castle, which will encourage the growth of new oyster reefs by providing a place for oysters to take refuge and build substrate. We moved cement blocks from the opposite side of the bay and constructed a reef just off the Lab’s shoreline.
As a business student, this was an eye opening experience for me because I haven’t had much of an opportunity to learn about our local environment in Virginia. Since the women’s golf team competes in both the spring and fall, taking this class in the summer allowed me to study in the field, which provided me with hands-on experience, and the opportunity to give back to our community. This class has taught me so much about my surroundings, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store!