Located off the coast of Honduras is a tropical paradise known as Roatán, famous for its diverse marine life and serene white sand beaches. Tourists and scientists alike flock to the island from across the world to observe the local wildlife and nature habitats and to discover what hidden gems lie beneath the cerulean waves.
For biology student Aaron Rose ’19, the island of Roatán, Honduras, is more than a passing summer vacation or a bullet point on his travel bucket list. For Rose, Roatán is a place of survival and strength, rebirth and resilience, and above all, a place where his Aggie dreams cast their anchor and set sail.
A Turn of the Tide
The summer before his freshman year at Texas A&M University, Rose departed on a family trip to Roatán with his parents, younger twin sisters and younger brother. One night, he decided to watch the sunset from a kayak close to shore but was quickly caught in the current and drifted out to sea. Rose spent the next 15 hours alone in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean before he was rescued by a joint team of United States and Honduran military officials.
Rose’s story went viral as search efforts were spread across Facebook and Twitter, including the creation of individual accounts dedicated to finding him. His rescue garnered national attention on news outlets such as Good Morning America and ABC News and even ran locally in Bryan-College Station on KBTX. Out of the seven people who have ever gone missing off the coast of Roatán in a kayak, Rose is the only one who has been found.
Despite his harrowing experience, three years later Rose found himself returning to the island, this time as a certified scuba diver and student researcher with a passion for promoting environmental change.
Under the Sea
When he entered Texas A&M, Rose initially planned to attend medical school. However, his innate sense of curiosity and his passion for biology led him to pursue a research path. “I currently work in two research labs where I investigate the effects of human-generated pollution on mating behavior in fish and the genetic differences between wild and domestic varieties of cotton,” he explained.
Rose, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in marine biology, is particularly passionate about coral reef conservation and climate change. But he knew that if he wanted to go to graduate school, he’d have to gain some hands-on experience. “I realized that I needed more real-world experience as a marine biologist,” he said, “so I started researching potential summer internships.”
The renowned Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences is surrounded by the world’s second largest coral reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, making it the perfect match. For one month last summer, Rose spent most of his days uncovering the underwater mysteries of Roatán. With up to three dives each day, he gained a familiarity with coral reefs that couldn’t have been obtained anywhere else.
“Most people know that reefs are threatened by climate change and other factors,” Rose said, “but I don’t think many understand how vital they are to the health of the entire ocean and to the lives of people who depend on them. I want to play a part in making sure the reefs are here to stay so that future generations can experience these incredible ecosystems the way I have.”
A Special Place
As the oldest of four siblings, Rose knew that he needed to fund his college education without relying heavily on his parents. Through the Texas A&M Foundation, he received the Mr. and Mrs. August C. Bering III ’35 President’s Endowed Scholarship, which has supported him all four years of his college education. The program, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, awards students based on academic achievement and demonstrated student leadership.
Rose was also the recipient of the National Merit Recognition Scholarship and was recently awarded the Mr. William Triche ’50 and Ellison Miles Scholarship through the College of Science, all of which have allowed him to be on track to graduate debt-free. Without the support he’s been awarded, Rose said it’s unlikely that he could have pursued his various scientific passions, let alone return to Roatán for his internship.
“Ever since my experience, Roatán and the people who live there have held a special place in my heart,” he said. “Being able to come back, reconnect with old friends and give thanks to some of the people directly involved in my rescue was incredibly fulfilling. I also had a chance to assist with some of the institute’s ongoing conservation projects, including their work in coral restoration. For me, that was an opportunity to give back in a small way to a place that’s given a lot to me.”