Summer at the sea

Students explore the world of biology on the Salish Sea at Rosario

The Walla Walla University Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory hosted 40 faculty, researchers, and students this summer engaged in exciting courses such as General Biology, Environmental Physiology, Sea to Summit, Marine Phycology, and Marine Biology. Undergraduate and graduate students also had the opportunity to partner with faculty and researchers on a variety of research projects.

Students of Jim Nestler, professor of biology, are studying the Giant California Sea Cucumber and its ability to regenerate their internal organs each year. Researchers are looking specifically at telomerase activity, which may be the key to unlimited tissue regeneration in other organisms, including humans.

In an ocean acidification lab setup comparable to premier labs on the West coast, students of Kirt Onthank, associate professor of biology, are studying ocean acidification and how emerging environmental problems will impact marine organisms.

David Cowles, professor of biology, is exploring eelgrass communities, especially a large, green isopod that lives in them. Cowles and his team have recently discovered that the isopods are photosynthetic yet have little physiological protection from free radicals that can be created by photosynthetic processes.

As part of the scientific diving program, WWU provides training in underwater research and safety techniques for students who are certified scuba divers, as well as opportunities to enhance coursework and research activities by diving at multiple locations and collaborating with faculty and students from other universities. WWU is an organizational member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences.

“Currently we have 13 WWU scientific divers involved in the program,” says Nestler. “Seven are students, three are WWU faculty, and three are faculty from other institutions who have met or exceeded our safety and training requirements.” As part of the program, these divers have conducted more than 250 scientific dives this year.

For 63 years, Rosario has served as an extraordinary learning center for scholars and scientists. Whether they’re in the classroom, in the forest, or on the water there’s always something to study at Rosario.

Learn more about the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory and view photos of the Rosario campus and cabins available for rent at

Selfie of WWU scientific divers inside of boat out on the water at Rosario in scuba gear.
WWU scientific divers take a break from exploring to take a selfie at Rosario.
Picture of underwater sea creature on the sea floor.
Photo of a fish swimming in the Salish Sea.
Picture of red-orange octopus on the sea floor.
Spooky picture of a sea creature peaking out from hiding in the darkness of the sea floor.
Photos courtesy of Jim Nestler, WWU professor of biology.