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different sponges
Sponges from Kāneʻohe Bay. (Photo credit: Kian Sanchez)

A high school student conducted award-winning research on marine sponges at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB). That research is now taking University Laboratory School junior Kian Sanchez to two high-caliber competitions on the U.S. continent.

Mentored by Jan Vicente, coral reef biodiversity researcher at HIMB in UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Sanchez assessed the importance of marine sponges in the reef ecosystem. Specifically, he was interested in how sponges, which are filter-feeders and critical to the nutrient cycling on a coral reef, may be impacted by pollution and climate change.

student holding trophy
Kian Sanchez placed third in 2024 Hawaiʻi State Science Fair.

Placing third in the Hawaiʻi State Science and Engineering Fair and third at the Pacific Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, Sanchez qualified to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college STEM competition, in California and the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in New Mexico.

“Since the first day I met Kian, I was inspired to teach him what I know about marine sponges because his curiosity and relentless motivation to do science at such a young age was absolutely stunning and foreign to me,” said Vicente.

Preparing young scientists

close up of sponge
Close up of sponge tissue. (Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust)

Sanchez has always had an intrinsic curiosity about the world around him and with the ocean in particular. His love for science and the ocean culminated into a passion for the aquarium hobby, which was his gateway into marine biology.

During the summer of 2023, Sanchez met Vicente during his participation in the Research Experiences in Marine Science (REMS) program at HIMB. The six-week summer course offers a rigorous, place-based, early-college marine science experience for Hawaiʻi high school students.

“As the purpose of REMS is to prepare young scientists to tackle marine science issues in Hawaiʻi, it is incredibly rewarding to watch alumni, like Kian, expand the limits of our understanding of the ocean and the complex life within it,” said Christine Ambrosino Carrier, a discipline-based education researcher in the KeaoaLoʻe REMS Lab who helps coordinate the experience.

For more information, see SOEST’s website.

–By Marcie Grabowski

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