By: Conrad Pfalzgraf

Posted: November 9, 2021
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Student Post

The Communities and Life of South Caicos

Turks and Caicos Islands

South Caicos and ALL of its inhabitants have made a lasting impression on me as a young scientist.

We are nearing the middle of the semester here at SFS Turks and Caicos, but it feels like we just arrived. I can honestly say it has been a dream come true. As a child, I could not have imagined doing all of the things I get to do here as a matter of routine! Getting to scuba dive and snorkel in such a beautifully diverse ecosystem with vibrant fish, pristine corals, and crystal-clear waters has been unreal. Snorkeling around mangrove forests, coral reefs, and seagrass beds for class seems like a fantasy! It is the hands-on nature of the learning here that is making this experience so meaningful. To be able to apply what I have read about in the classroom helps me give meaning to it and be even more inspired to make a positive impact on the world.

We have a very busy schedule packed full of classes and activities. We could be doing a conch field exercise in the morning, volunteering in the community in the afternoon, and then taking an advanced open water scuba (AOW) course in the evening. Packed schedules like these make weeks go by quite fast. The diversity of material, learning objectives, and activities have already helped me become more aware of my positionality and what that means for me as a scientist.

Students prepare to head out on the water. (Photo: Conrad Pfalzgraf).

One thing that makes the Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) such a special place are its nonhuman residents: several lucky dogs get to call the research station home. There’s never a dull moment around here with our four-legged friends running around the campus and sitting with us in class. Ella, Miles, Missy, Louie, and Patchy are just some of them!

Patchy the dog. (Photo: Conrad Pfalzgraf).

Miles and Ella are the two youngest residents. They help around the station by stealing shoes and barking late at night. Having the dogs around helps those of us missing our pets feel more at home. Heidi, the Center Director, works closely with the Turks & Caicos Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TCSPCA) on Provo, so each May when the TCSPCA comes to the island to spay and neuter dogs to help with the island dog population, our classroom at CMRS becomes a vet clinic. There is also the opportunity to adopt an island dog and take it with you back to the States! These island dogs are referred to as potcakes.

Louie the dog. (Photo: Conrad Pfalzgraf).

Some of the other residents of the island are horses and donkeys. Although this island is only eight square miles, there are many of these hooved residents. These equines are descendants of animals who were brought here during the salt industry days. It is not unusual to see them grazing as you walk around the island.

Of course, the marine residents are amazingly diverse and spectacular to view. It is not unusual to see an eagle ray jump out of the water or to see bioluminescence from the resident glow worms at night. A snorkel can offer you views of seahorses, nurse sharks, southern stingrays, an array of fish in the seagrass beds, and patch reefs, among many other flora and fauna. If you dive to a greater depth, you may get to swim with a hawksbill sea turtle, or if you’re as lucky as I was, you may nearly get a wing to the face from an eagle ray!

Students diving alongside a Hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo: Conrad Pfalzgraf).

Being around like-minded people also means endless support. We have participated in an array of beach cleanups and everyone has been very supportive of my nonprofit, Send a Bag Pick Up a Bag (you can learn more @sendabagpickupabag)! By supporting this cause and cleaning up the surrounding areas’ beaches and inland areas, we have played our role in serving the community as well as protecting the marine and terrestrial beings who make this island so special.

South Caicos and ALL its inhabitants have made a lasting impression on me as a young scientist and as a sentient being who enjoys sharing this planet with so many uniquely wonderful creatures. Thank you CMRS students and staff – you will always hold a special place in my heart.

(Photo: Conrad Pfalzgraf).



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.

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