Last week I had the privilege of paying a visit to The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies on South Caicos to live vicariously through the spring 2012 semester students for a bit. To watch the Center come alive and see students discovering the quirky little island of South Caicos for all it has to offer – it’s truly remarkable.

SFS and the South Caicos community just “click,” and it is so interesting to see our structured, intensive research program play out in this laid-back Caribbean context so harmoniously. The small population of permanent residents is an eclectic mix of Haitian and Dominican immigrants and belongers, and the variety of cultural backgrounds and beliefs are well represented in Cockburn Harbour. It’s a pretty lively place for only having 1,000 local residents!

I am surprised and excited about the access that our students have to the South Caicos community and what an important working relationship the program has with the local people. I was an SFS student in Kenya in 2009, and the community involvement in the Turks & Caicos program is just as great as the one I was involved in.

The local people appreciate the students and staff for the work that they do and welcome them into the community as peers, the students act as great ambassadors, and have developed a good rapport with the community. This connection seems to create a sense of ownership in the students and really inspires them to be proactive about creating positive change and protecting the marine resources of South Caicos through their research.

The amount of time the students spend in the field is impressive. Students engage in hands-on field work and real world applications of marine ecology and resource management, while learning about the beneficial policy implications that result from good science.

The staff at the Center work endlessly to provide an incredibly well rounded experience for SFS students. If it’s an academic day, the students are kept busy with meaningful lectures and presentations to inspire debates and discussions. At least two days a week are dedicated to organized community outreach projects.

Environmentalism and sustainability is not just the focus of the academics – it is a way of life at the Center. Students are not encouraged, but expected to compost their food scraps and be conscious of food waste (take only what they plan to eat), take only one freshwater shower a week, use only biodegradable toiletries, drink only from reusable water bottles – the list goes on.  The staff members have set the standards high for the students to really practice what they preach.

As for me… I learned that I am unfortunately not skilled at snorkeling and I’m an even worse underwater photographer.