It’s been several weeks since the students arrived on South Caicos, and we have now fully transitioned from the introductory phase of the semester to the full-on academic phase. All three academic courses (Tropical Marine Ecology, Principles of Resource Management, and Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values) are in full flow, and the students are busy with lectures, field exercises, and assignments – while also finding time to explore our unique little island.
In the Tropical Marine Ecology course we have so far looked at the biology of mangrove trees and seagrasses, as well as the ecology of the communities that these highly important biogenic habitats support. This has included trips into the field where native seagrass and mangrove species were identified – as were the associated macroalgae, invertebrates, and fishes. The biodiversity in these habitats is truly amazing, and it’s unfortunate that they are being lost on a global scale at a rate comparable to that of tropical rainforests. Not least because mangrove forests and seagrass meadows are utilized by the juveniles of many coral reef-dwelling organisms, and without the mangroves and seagrasses, biodiversity on the reef has been shown to decline. This week we will shift our focus to coral biology and the ecology of the reef, thereby completing our coverage of the three main coastal ecosystems that are characteristic of tropical regions, before moving on to the field methods used to assess their health and biodiversity.
Despite the busy academic schedule, there has been no shortage of extracurricular activities at SFS-CMRS. Our students have familiarized themselves with the local community via visits to the schools, helping with soccer training, and hosting swimming lessons for local children. We have also commenced our 2017 shark research program, and students got their first opportunity to participate in this ongoing research. Alas, it was a quiet night in the field for the sharks, but with three sharking trips scheduled for the week ahead, I’m pretty sure we’ll see some action soon!