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Ryan Johnson

To Australia and back with Augie Choice

This summer, Ryan Johnson ’20 (biology and environmental studies) used Augie Choice to power his research internship in Sydney, Australia. There, he worked on two projects in the marine biology division of Macquarie University, studying ocean life and behavior.

First, he helped research the unusual color-changing ability of the blue-lined goatfish.

“They’re benthic feeders, so they feed on the bottom of the ocean, and they have two barbells that they move and use to stir up sediment and feed. But what makes them very special and of research interest is that they’re able to change colors like a chameleon on command, which not a lot of fish are capable of doing,” he said. 

“So the question was, why does it even have that trait in the first place?” 

Working under PhD students, Johnson researched the fish’s ability to see the color red, which it frequently morphs into from its natural blue and white. “It could be a technique to signal ‘hey there’s food here,’’ he said, “or a way to bring in other members of the community as a protection against predators.” 

Second, he took part in an ocean life survey off the coast of Tasmania.

“I was helping with biometric measuring, so there are various benthic species we were working with, like skates and stingrays, flatheads,” to name a few. Some specimens they would catch, freeze and dissect—all in the name of protecting the species’ way of life. Johnson and the others inspected stomach contents to learn about diet and look for microplastics, which are plastics discarded in the ocean that have eroded into tiny particles, often polluting diets of wild animals.

Ryan Johnson didn’t spend all of his time with marine animals. Here he holds an Australian dingo.
Ryan Johnson didn’t spend all of his time with marine animals. Here he holds an Australian dingo.

Johnson used his Augie Choice $2,000 to fund his research trip, during which he developed skills he could see using as a fisheries manager in the future. Living in a different country for the first time also expanded different skills, he said, such as taking care of “basic needs, how to pay for things, and how to interact with people of a different culture… that intercultural skill which might be helpful at my future job,” he explained.

Australia offered Johnson more to discover than research findings. An avid outdoorsman, he visited the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns and went whale-watching in Sydney. He held a tame dingo, hiked in the Blue Mountains, went to beaches and did some snorkeling—“basically a lot of nature-focused stuff.”  

For Johnson, Australia was more than an internship plus tourist destination; it was an experience he won’t forget any time soon. And that’s what Augie Choice does: fund a learning experience with potential for the greatest impact—professionally, personally and memorably. 

By Jack Harris ’20, Augustana Writers Bureau

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