It is not often that you get to observe nature while taking an exam. In my opinion this is one of the best things we get to do at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies on South Caicos. Our class days are usually spent half in the classroom and half in the field, and they occasionally involve long walks on the beach.
In our Tropical Marine Ecology class we have already memorized 67 species and had two exams. The process for this is pretty great. It starts with a lecture identifying the creatures we need to learn. First it was mangrove communities, then sea grass communities, and next it will be coral reef systems. Then, during the afternoon on the same day, we are taken into the field to see the organisms we were talking about. We are broken into small groups and the interns show us the creatures as we see them while snorkeling in their natural habitats. We are given a few days to study and then we have our exam. We go out into the same groups as before with our underwater slates and the intern will point to an organism and ask for the scientific name, feeding mode, or phylum of that organism. While we’re out we often see rays and barracudas, and the occasional shark from the boat. The barracudas are very curious and have been known to follow interns and students.
Wednesdays and Saturdays are reserved for waterfront activities and community enrichment. Waterfront activities are dives for those who are certified or separate dives for those who are getting certified, or snorkeling for those who aren’t. So far during these activities I have seen a Hawksbill sea turtle, multitudes of fish, a nurse shark, a couple lionfish, and some puffer fish. We also had a very large jack getting very close on our last dive. Community engagement involves going to the local elementary school and working with the kids. I have been teaching art classes, painting word trees, and designing a mural for one of the buildings. On Saturdays the kids come to the Center for swim lessons and we lead different stations, ranging from crafts and science experiments to foosball games. Working with the kids has been very rewarding because they are always so excited to see us. I also had the opportunity to go to their Reading night at which teachers, local community members, and students performed and read various stories. They had a bonfire with marshmallows; it was a really fun night.
We are coming to the end of our first month on South Caicos and it has been wonderful so far. I am definitely looking forward to living and working with the great people here for the next 12 weeks.