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Students study reef ecology in Curacao

TAMPA, Fla. -- This past May, the University of South Florida Department of Integrative Biology took a step toward teaching students in a more experiential way. Eight students from the Coral Reef Ecology course opted for a 1-credit field course, which gave them the opportunity to travel to Curacao at the end of the spring semester to perform hands-on research.

Chantale Begin, Ph.D. is the integrative biology instructor who presented the idea and embarked on a nine-day excursion with these students to the island of Curacao. The students were able to take the knowledge they had learned through a textbook all spring semester and apply it while scuba diving in the Caribbean coral reefs to conduct research.

“It’s hard to get a sense of what an ecosystem really is until you get to experience it,” said Begin, which is exactly what these students were able to do.

A typical day in Curacao began with a 9 a.m. scuba dive. Throughout the day, the group would travel to different sites and dive for 40 to 50 minutes at a time, averaging about three dives a day. The students practiced reef-monitoring techniques, identified coral species and fish species, belt transects, fish surveys, and other data collection methods.

Ruth Barthle, a biology major on the trip, said performing these tasks were a lot different from reading how they are done in a book than when they got the chance to do them in the water. Each day after they completed their dives, the students met back at the host research station, Carmabi, to evaluate their findings and interact with other students and researchers from all over the world.

USF student Jorge Torres won the Overseas Study Compass Award scholarship in order to travel to Curacao. Torres said overall the experience of this course “not only familiarizes students with a new culture and a new vision of lifestyle from the foreign people but also equips one with the basic skills, and practice needed in order to perform underwater science with scuba gear.”

In addition to getting field experience, all of the students became scuba certified and certified scientific divers, which will help in the future to further the students’ careers.

Many students agreed that one of the best highlights from Curacao was a nighttime dive where tentacles from the corals and bioluminescence lit up the dark water. Whether it was enjoying the underwater marine life or just experiencing the oasis of Curacao, USF students proved the value of learning through travel and application.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Integrative Biology Student Success   
Author:Paige Russell