Here at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands we can offer the very best of Caribbean lifestyle. You can kick back in an oceanfront villa and enjoy a view of humpback whales breaching and sharks swimming through transparent turquoise waters. All this you can do whilst cooling off in a cliff-top infinity pool. Not bad for study abroad accommodation right?

Okay, okay, okay… I’m massaging the truth, and for that I apologize. Our student body doesn’t live in these villas… we just study in them! For the past two semesters our students have been regularly visiting coastal development sites that have a big part to play in the future of the small tropical island they call “the classroom.” A Chicago-based company has become one of the newest players in the region’s high-end property market with its plan to construct residences across South Caicos, predominantly at the ocean’s edge. For our students this is an almost unprecedented chance to witness from start-to-finish how well-financed development initiatives have the potential to change coastal and marine environments forever.

Fortunately, SFS students likely won’t be witnessing the kind of rampant development that has reduced some neighboring island paradises to sterile expanses of condos and sand. The developers on South Caicos are hoping to create a lifestyle of “barefoot luxury” where nature and 21st century living are not necessarily at odds. As part of the Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values course we offer, the developers (Sailrock Development Limited) give an SFS facilitated on-site class in sustainable development and ecologically-friendly building techniques. This occurs at their recently completed and under-construction luxury villas.

On return to our own facility the students then discuss issues surrounding such developments in the context of their conservation studies. The debates take in both the pros and cons of future construction projects planned on South Caicos, but generally acknowledge the fact that on an island where sustainable livelihoods are in short supply, well-planned development could secure the socioeconomic future of the island’s current population without significantly compromising either the local culture or natural environment. Many students have reported to me that the visit with Sailrock has been one of the highlights of their semester.

SFS really benefits from the professional connections we forge with local and international stakeholders. It allows our students to access the heart of environmental management issues, whilst also allowing us to research the impacts of human activity on the local communities we work in and on the stunning natural environments that we strive to help protect.

Oh… and by the way… from the oceanfront SFS property that is the home-away-from-home for the Turks and Caicos Spring ’13 class you can see breaching humpbacks whales and relax in our own oceanfront pool. Not so bad after all, hey?