My choice to study abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I never thought I would have such incredible experiences doing research, but here the ocean is our lab and it’s truly surreal.
Last week, I spent 4 hours on Thursday and 4 hours on Friday snorkeling. This wasn’t recreational snorkeling though—I was snorkeling for my Resource Management class. We were collecting queen conch, Lobatus gigas, to take on the boat, measure, and return safely to the water. This experience isn’t entirely as glamorous as it sounds – it turned into a 15+ page paper. But it was my favorite few days of class ever. During the last transect of data collection on Friday, I saw a hammerhead shark. One of my favorite moments of this semester happened in class at 5:30 pm on a Friday!! I avoid Friday afternoon classes at all costs at the University of Richmond, but I am so glad I was in “class” at that time.
One of the activities we look forward to the most here is sharking. This is when our Marine Ecology professor, Dr. Aaron Henderson, takes 5 students and 2 interns out on a boat to set drumlines to try and catch sharks as part of an ongoing tag and release project. Last Friday night, after we finished a second day of collecting conch data, a group went sharking – most of us went to sleep before this group got back. I got to go out the following Sunday and we were able to tag two reef sharks. Here is a picture of McKinley Nevins handling one:
While the academics here are amazing, the people are as well. It’s so exciting to be around a group of individuals who are interested in so many of the same things that I am. For example, when we were measuring the conch on the boat for our data collection, we had to hold the shells out of the water for a few minutes. If you hold the shell upside down for long enough, the conch might come out and look out at you with its cute little eyes. My group and I held the shell of a little conch while it looked out with its little eyes, and we baby talked that thing for a good five minutes before setting it gently back down on the seabed. That’s a special group of individuals right there. And to make it even better, we all have great taste in sandals: