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Research on oceanic life takes students to Bahamas

Published on June 21, 2023

Research on oceanic life takes students to Bahamas

Field study at the beach

A night snorkeling trip

Dinner on the last night in the Bahamas

A field trip to the Bahamas in May gave 11 students in a tropical biology course at Eastern Connecticut State University a chance to observe and collect data on the flora and fauna of oceanic islands. The field trip was an extension of a seminar on oceanic island ecology taught by biology Professors Kristen Epp, Josh Idjadi and Brett Mattingly, who joined the students on the trip.

During the 12-day trip the group visited a barrier reef, a mangrove estuary, dunes, a fossil reef, rocky outcrops and more. Most of their time was spent at the Gerace Research Centre on San Salvador Island.

“The trip to the Bahamas was the most life-changing experience. I made friendships that will last forever and memories that will never fade. The professors made the trip amazing, and it was worth every penny. I wish I could do it over again!” said junior Natalie Lorenti.

Marine studies during the trip focused on the communities of coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves, beaches and the rocky shores. The terrestrial studies included the flora and fauna of caves, mud flats, sand dunes and upland shrub areas.

The trip was “very different from any hands-on class experiences I have ever had because we were learning with things in front of our eyes,” said senior Isabel Mund. “We had lab classes every night but all of us wanted to be there,” she said.

“We saw so many amazing and beautiful organisms and ecosystems,” said Professor Epp. “These observations are not something that can be replicated in a classroom, and it is such a valuable learning experience for students.” That was despite some rough field conditions, she said, such as thunderstorms and turbulent water.

Two lab activities were studying the composition of the plant community along a dune and exploring disease prevalence on brain corals at two reefs. The students also learned about the archeology and modern history of San Salvador Island from a co-founder of the research center, Kathy Gerace.

“Any class that offers a lab at Eastern will provide hands-on experiences that enrich what we learn in the classroom, but to be able to spend time in the field, experiencing firsthand the beauty and diversity of tropical flora and fauna, is something entirely different,” said senior Phoebe Miller. “Our professors gave us the most unforgettable experience on San Salvador Island by sharing their love for the plants and animals that live in the Bahamas and instilling in us a newfound appreciation for biology and what it means to be in this field.”

Written by Lucinda Weiss