Why did you pick an SFS program? What were some of your favorite things (academically or recreationally) about your program in the TCI?

I decided to come to an SFS program to push myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself academically. Living in rural Pennsylvania, the ocean is not something I get the opportunity to study and experience on a daily basis. It has been such a blessing living on this beautiful island! One thing I am really going to miss after returning home is the friends I have made here (both human and canine). Being completely immersed in a place with like-minded people with a passion for the earth and environment has been incredibly motivating and refreshing. I am grateful to have made lifelong friendships with so many wonderful people.
 

What piece of advice would you share with a future SFS student coming to your program?

Do as much as you can! Say yes to every snorkel/dive, outreach activity, opportunity, and even just walk around town. Time flies by here, and it is so worth it to be tired at the end of the day if it means you got to experience something new and exciting. You never know who you’re going to meet or what you are going to learn just by talking to the people who live here and listening to their stories.
 

Students from this semester’s group ready for a night snorkel. Photo by Caitlin O’Brien.
 

What’s the first story you’re going to tell your friends and family?

The first thing I will tell my family and friends will be all the amazing wildlife I was able to see throughout the semester! Every snorkel I went on I saw something new and beautiful, and I can’t wait to show my family and friends all the pictures I took!
 

Expectations vs reality: What were you surprised by? How has your perspective of the country changed over the course of the semester?

Many people think of tourism when thinking about the Turks and Caicos Islands. However, the Center is located on South Caicos, which is a small fishing community. At first I was worried about living in such a small, isolated community, however, over the course of the semester I have been able to meet so many wonderful people in the community and have come to realize just how connected and strong the South Caicos community is.
 

Now that Directed Research (DR) is over, how would you say it went? What kind of research did you conduct?

My directed research project focused on assessing marine debris on South Caicos. We conducted beach surveys where we collected garbage and then analyzed the types of garbage we collected. We looked at the composition of the garbage (plastic, glass, metal, etc.) and the size and use of the debris. We also looked at the town’s waste management system and hope to use our results and findings to help the South Caicos Environmental Health Department better manage the waste here on South. It has been super amazing working with Dr. Kassie Dudek, who is our resident plastic and marine debris expert. This project was also very fulfilling, as we were able to do many beach cleanup projects and hopefully make a positive impact for the community here.
 

Students serach for microplastics within a quadrat along their transect. Photo by Julia Locke.
 

What three adjectives best describe how you are feeling right now?

Energized, humbled, connected.
 

Final thoughts?

I would just like to give a HUGE thank you to all the staff here at SFS TCI! They truly make living in a foreign country feel like home.  
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Curious to learn a bit more about the SFS Turks and Caicos Islands Center? Click here to read about why we’re based there, our environmental research focus, how we connect and support the local community, and even take a tour of the Center.