Meet 4 researchers from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences whose passion was sparked in their youth
A world-class ocean science research facility, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences inspires the next generation of marine biologists, oceanographers, marine ecologists and more by providing K–12 and college students a captivating introduction to the science of the seas.
The institute is now expanding that impact, having joined Arizona State University as part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. The institute brings more than 120 years of research and education on Earth’s largest biome to the world’s first laboratory dedicated to reshaping our relationship with our planet.
Behind the scenes at this unique location in St. George’s on the islands of Bermuda — known for pink sand beaches, deep turquoise waters and sheer limestone cliffs — meet four dedicated individuals whose passion for ocean science was sparked by the institute in their youth. Today, that passion inspires their work to keep BIOS on the forefront of ocean science.
Mark Guishard: Science’s eye of the storm
There was nowhere for Mark Guishard to go if a ferocious hurricane made landfall on the islands of Bermuda where he grew up. The islands are in the region of the North Atlantic Ocean known as “hurricane alley,” the most frequent path taken by the powerful swirling storms that produce strong winds, storm surge flooding and heavy rainfall.
It’s no wonder Guishard carved a career path in predicting weather as a chartered meteorologist with 20 years of experience in atmospheric sciences, including research into Atlantic hurricanes and subtropical storms.
As the former director of the Bermuda Weather Service, he was the local media’s go-to guy when a destructive hurricane was on a collision course with the islands. He has served on intergovernmental committees focusing on the warning and mitigation of natural hazards and is a regional focal point for disaster risk reduction for the U.N. Meteorological Organization.
Today, he is the chief administrative officer at the Bermuda Airport Authority, serves as a member of the BIOS Board of Trustees and still retains his influential voice on the weather as the principal investigator of a BIOS report on the impact of climate change in Bermuda. Released in stages over the last year, the two-part report, “Climate Change and Bermuda,” covers Science and Physical Hazards and Impacts and Societal Risk.
“The purpose of the report is to put as much accessible information in front of individuals, organizations, decision-makers, policymakers and government officials as possible,” he says. “There’s been a lot of research around Bermuda and the climate that is very academic or technical. The intent of this project is to synthesize that research and make it accessible to the layperson who may be wondering, ‘What are the conditions going to be like in 20 or 40 years?’ Here’s a report where they can go to find that information.”
Among the biggest takeaways in the report, there has been a 1.2 degrees Celsius increase in the Atlantic’s surface water temperature since 1980, which is triggering an increase in storm activity.
“While our natural hazard profile has increased, we actually have a pretty resilient location because of our built environment," Guishard says. "We have a very strong building code that is well adhered to by our local construction industry. The coral reefs and sea floor topography give us some natural protection against the worst effects of storm surge and wave action. While those are among the key conclusions, that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse for complacency.
“Sea levels are projected to rise to the point where in the next 20 to 40 years we will expect to see coastal flooding becoming more of the norm. When you think about that short timeline — 20 to 40 years — it’s not a lot of time to prepare for that eventuality.”
Guishard has a long history with BIOS, having been a Bermuda Program intern in the mid-1990s.
“Doing field trips through high school, starting a degree in environmental science and doing an internship at BIOS all cemented the idea that an analytical and scientific career is one for me. I’m very enthusiastic about the Bermuda Program and all the benefits that it can bring to young scientists, including exposure to scientific and analytical careers,” says Guishard, who now mentors students in the program.
Jessica Godfrey: Master of the microscope
Born and raised on the islands of Bermuda, Jessica Godfrey spent much of her youth swimming in the western North Atlantic Ocean. As she snorkeled in the crystal-clear waters, she felt captivated by Bermuda’s wide variety of corals, from large, boulder-shaped ones such as brain and star corals to corals that flow with the water, such as sea fans and sea feathers.
Over the years, she saw firsthand how the vibrant colors of the coral reefs were fading and turning white, a process known as coral bleaching.
“I could see how life was vanishing off the reef, and it really spurred my love for the ocean,” says Godfrey, a BIOS research technician.
She was first introduced to BIOS in 2016 when she participated in the Waterstart program for students ages 12 and up, which combines experiential education with scuba training during weeklong summer camps. For students who want to study science, Waterstart serves as an introduction to faculty, marine technicians, graduate students and postdoctoral students at BIOS doing exciting, cutting-edge research.
“While we were doing diving certification, we also learned about marine biology, which was great because I didn’t know that much about it even though I grew up on an island,” she says.
In 2018, Godfrey returned to participate in the BIOS Bermuda Program, which offers Bermudian students, ages 18 and older, opportunities to broaden their knowledge of marine and atmospheric sciences and learn about the daily operations of an active research station. Pursuing her passion for protecting Bermuda’s coral reefs, she spent the summer working in the coral lab.
Coral reefs are natural breakwaters, acting as buffers against waves from storms and hurricanes and helping to protect the shoreline from erosion and property damage.
“The coral reef around Bermuda is the reason why we are here,” she says.
In 2019, she took a marine plankton ecology course at BIOS in which she learned about the role that plankton play in marine food webs. She attended lectures and ventured out to sea to sample a broad range of plankton types to conduct growth and feeding experiments.
“Learning from researchers who are so passionate about plankton really opened my eyes to a whole new world. Just listening to them and absorbing all the knowledge they had to offer was very encouraging and made me realize this is the field I want to be in,” she says.
She completed her college education at Newcastle University in England, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology in 2020 and a master’s degree in industrial and commercial biotechnology in 2021. For her thesis, she collaborated with BIOS zooplankton ecologist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial.
Today, Godfrey works as a research technician in the Zooplankton Ecology Lab, assisting faculty members Amy Maas and Blanco-Bercial in researching zooplankton ecology, physiology and diversity. She is also helping to generate tools to translate basic findings into an understanding of biogeochemical cycling and the projected impacts of climate change.
She also works in the Microbial Ecology Lab for research specialist Rachel Parsons, assisting in bacterial and viral research during Bermuda Atlantic Times-series Study (BATS) and Devil's Hole cruises for the BIOS-SCOPE Project.
Only by studying what’s happening in the ocean at the microscopic level can we “fully understand what’s going on in the grander scheme of things,” she says.
Kwe’Shon Woods-Hollis: Undersea lion tamer
Like many Bermudian students, Kwe’Shon Woods-Hollis first discovered BIOS during an elementary school field trip. His teacher asked if he was interested in the BIOS Waterstart program. His answer was: “Absolutely!”
“When I came to Waterstart, it was essentially the gateway that shaped my future,” he says.
Today, his passion for the ocean inspires his work as the BIOS small boats and docks supervisor and a PADI Master SCUBA diver trainer. He’s putting his SCUBA diving expertise to work to fight an invasion of lionfish in Bermuda that is threatening the ocean’s ecosystem, including the survival of coral reefs.
Lionfish are not native to the Atlantic Ocean. The venomous, fast-reproducing fish are voracious eaters that will consume anything, gorging themselves on unsuspecting fish. One two-month study documented lionfish reducing the number of small and juvenile reef fish by 90%. These fish help reefs thrive by cleaning algae off the corals, providing nutrients for coral growth and keeping pests in check.
With no known predators — except human beings — lionfish threaten the survival of Bermuda’s coral reefs.
Across Bermuda, residents like Woods-Hollis are banding together to tackle this invasive species. A team known as the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force holds regular dives and fishing tournaments to rid the waters of these invaders. Its members consist of recreational swimmers, local scientists and professional divers like Woods-Hollis, who participates in regular dives to hunt lionfish and teaches a course that trains residents on techniques prior to obtaining the required lionfish culling license.
“Bermuda is lucky because we have a lot of divers that are quite active,” he says. “We’re never going to get rid of lionfish, but we can keep their numbers down.”
Claire Fox: Teaching in the school of fish
“I’m very lucky to have grown up in Bermuda, where the ocean is our blue backyard,” says Claire Fox, the science education officer for BIOS.
She traces her passion for teaching marine science to idyllic summers spent as a child, playing in tide pools, launching hefty wooden kayaks her grandfather built into the ocean and venturing into otherworldly caves.
“My love for the ocean and pursuing a career in outdoor education comes from time with my family,” she says.
Her career aspirations were shaped at BIOS, where she held two summer internships as a college student in the Bermuda Program. She worked in the Phytoplankton Ecology Lab to help collect samples aboard the flagship 170-foot R/V Atlantic Explorer, spending weeks in the middle of the Sargasso Sea — one of the planet’s most biodiverse open-ocean ecosystems — with no land in sight.
“There can be some difficult days at sea,” says Fox, who recalls battling seasickness for the first two days of excursions and conducting research both day and night and during rocky seas.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and master’s degree in marine environmental protection, she planned on becoming a researcher, until a BIOS colleague invited her to give an evening lecture to a visiting group. She hesitantly agreed, warning her colleague that she’d always been terrible at presentations.
“My first presentation was on fish identification, a topic I love,” she says. “It turned out to be a fantastic experience. Here I was, standing in front of these high school students, talking about something that I was passionate about, something they were really excited about, and I realized I could do it and actually enjoy it. It was then I realized that I am very passionate about getting students excited about marine science.”
For the past two years, she has worked as the science education officer for BIOS, where she delivers programs for local students and visiting groups and oversees Ocean Academy, a snorkel-based program for teenagers interested in getting their first taste of marine science.
“My most rewarding moments are when I get through to students and show them that science is actually really fun and exciting,” she says.
Top photo courtesy of BIOS