This semester, twelve Honors College students spent their spring break in the Bahamas snorkeling, hiking, and studying Tropical Island Ecology and Geology as part of a general education science course.
The course led by Drs. Dawn Ford and Ann Holmes was the first time students outside of declared science majors had the opportunity to take advantage of the resources at UTC’s Affiliated Biological Field Station, Gerace Research Centre. As part of the long standing relationship between our University and the research center, students travel to San Salvador for interactive research outside of the classroom.
“My favorite moment was when we did a night snorkel at Graham’s Harbor because we got to see sea turtles. That was such a neat experience because it was so sudden, and I don’t know if I will ever get to experience that again,” said Lauren Dunn.
That was a highlight of the trip for Alex Schwartz too,
“While doing a night snorkel, I got to swim super close to two green sea turtles, and also got a couple feet from a 5ft barracuda.”
The group spent most of their days at inland ponds in San Salvador, Bahamas, where they measured the environmental impact of category four hurricane, Joaquin after it struck the island in October of last year.
“The first couple of days we were there it was just kind of them showing us the island and exploring the walking trails. The next day we actually went out and snorkeled in the pond to familiarize ourselves with it. And then the next days we kind of hit the ground running with research all day,” explained Emily Sherman.
Before the trip, the class made up of students from all majors, met on a weekly basis this semester to prepare. They studied the island’s culture, history, and the varying species they would encounter in the pond during their research. They were also split into three distinct groups to focus their research on different aspects of the hurricane’s impact on the ponds.
All three groups recognized the hurricane’s impact when their data revealed a decrease in species and a difference in the makeup of the sediment around the ponds.
Ashton Mitchel worked in the group who studied the outcroppings of San Salvador’s Oyster Pond. In photos taken during their research process, species of algae that were abundant in the pond pre-Joaquin had diminished by a visible percentage. But, the group noticed that the species were responding, and repairing. The hurricane caused a stressor that put the remaining species’ reproductive systems in overdrive.
Mitchel plans to return to San Salvador next year for more in-depth research. She’s hopeful that some of the species they couldn’t find this year might have returned, given the extra time.
After their study abroad experience, students from the trip encourage fellow Mocs to “seize the opportunity.”
“The money or travelling aspect may seem scary or undoable, but it is definitely worth it. It is such a positive and life changing time,” Dunn concluded.
For more photos from the trip, check out this compilation.