It’s hard to believe that we have been living on South Caicos for almost two months now! A place that only seemed like a dream in August is now our reality. Since our program began, we completed many identification sessions learning the scientific names of multiple fish, mangrove organisms, and other coral reef inhabitants. Students here have also made it through three midterm exams, assessment papers, a poster presentation, snorkeling and SCUBA diving in excellent underwater sites, and many informative lectures. The faculty and interns rewarded us at the end of our exams with a traditional team scavenger hunt where we exercised our creativity and celebrated the end of midterms and start of fall break!
To begin break, we were given the opportunity to explore the other islands making up the Turks and Caicos Islands. Students and faculty went camping in North Caicos to explore other livelihoods, historical monuments, and natural beauties. On North, we adventured through Wade’s Green Plantation and agricultural farms. We traveled through Middle Caicos and trekked through limestone caves filled with five bat species and beautiful caverns.
Throughout our camping trip we were led by a knowledgeable guide who gave us detailed information about many unique features of these islands. He definitely made the trip a fun and memorable experience for us all! Our camping trip was wrapped up in Providenciales, a popular tourist destination of the TCI. Throughout the entirety of our trip, we conducted a National Seafood Survey across the different islands to calculate seafood consumption of residents and tourists. It was a very interesting experience and I’m glad we were able to help the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs.
Now that we have thoroughly enjoyed fall break, we are quickly moving into our Directed Research projects. Students will be working in the social sciences, resource management, and natural sciences. We will explore research topics involving eagle rays, invasive lionfish, coral reef health, seafood consumption, fin fish dock landings, and more.
I am thrilled to say that I will be working with Dr. Aaron Henderson studying lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris). Two teams will venture into shallow mangrove and inshore habitats via boat and vehicle. We will set up gillnets to capture the sharks, measure features of their external anatomy, extract tissue samples, and practice the art of tagging. Collecting data for sharking involves long days out in the field which is very time consuming. Students must be flexible with their Directed Research time because it often depends on tidal patterns. The projects seek to identify habitats occupied by juveniles, movement patterns, tag retention rates, effects of abiotic factors, size distributions, and more.
I am excited to learn about experimental design and analysis and be challenged by the difficulty and complexity of the research. Upon the analysis of our findings, we will polish our presentation skills by presenting our research to the community, increasing their environmental awareness. Techniques gained in the field and through data analysis will prepare me for a future graduate program and for a profession in field biology. The research projects provided by the faculty at the Center for Marine Resources Studies will push us to be better students and scientists. Now, let’s go sharking!