Students study, snorkel and soak up the sun in the Bahamas
Study abroad is an important aspect of the Centre College experience for a large majority of students, with nearly 85 percent studying abroad at some point during their four years of college. This year, more students are taking advantage of summer study abroad opportunities than ever before—and several of them recently returned from three weeks on an island in the sun.
Assistant Professor of Biology Brian Storz led the study abroad trip to the Bahamas, where students took a course in marine biology, studied local ecosystems and completed field research. Storz’s goals for the course included helping the students build an appreciation for marine biodiversity as well as a better understanding of the scientific process, while also living in a cultural environment different from their own.
The chance to study marine wildlife in person was a big draw for many of the students.
“I decided to go to the Bahamas because I thought it would pretty awesome to study marine biology in such an undisturbed habitat,” says Nicholas Forte ’14. “Everyone will tell you that San Salvador is a pretty remote island, which makes it such a great place to study marine biology.”
“The Bahamas trip was my once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the ocean in a different way—not as a tourist, but as a biologist,” echoes Cristin Palmer ’15. “It was amazing to be able to snorkel the beautiful coral reefs and explore one of the more isolated Bahamian islands.”
Through the course of the trip, Storz and the students snorkeled in areas around San Salvador to observe marine organisms and their interactions with each other. Students also got in small groups to fulfill research projects of their choice.
“The research that my partner Jason Ginn ’13 and I did looked at photoreception in coral reef fishes,” says Bret Marshall ’13. “I really enjoyed developing our own experimental design and just seeing how the scientific method works—and even the struggles of manipulating your design when it doesn’t work. This was helpful because labs usually already have a protocol that you follow word for word, so making up your own was interesting. Dr. Storz and other students would critique our design during our nightly class meetings, so we were able to critically think about everyone’s research.”
“My partner, Millie Horn ’15, and I did a research project on feather duster worms, which are worms that live in tubes on corals or rocks,” Palmer says. “They pull back into their tubes when they are threatened, so we studied how they react to different threats—like if a larger fish would make them retract longer than a smaller fish.”
Seeing marine life during the daily snorkeling trips was the highlight of the trip for the students.
“We saw sharks, red lionfish, barracuda, eels, sea turtles and a ton of other fish throughout the coral reefs,” Forte says. “We had to learn the different types of fish, coral, sponges, etc., for taxonomy quizzes, and it was really cool that when we went snorkeling we could identify most everything we saw.”
“The class provided several unique experiences,” says Marshall. “We were able to see endemic iguanas that are nearly extinct. We also were able to actively learn over 130 species of fish and an additional 140 organisms that inhabit the coral reef ecosystem. We saw the majority of these species if not all when we would snorkel. Snorkeling out to the wall of the reef was really cool because we got to see several sea turtles, reef sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks and stingray.”
One particular snorkeling adventure sticks out in Palmer’s mind.
“My favorite part of the trip took place on our second trip to Bamboo Point. We were near the shore digging up beautiful conch shells to take home when a couple of us made friends with a baby fish who would not leave our sides. He kept swimming circles around us and swimming up to our masks to check us out,” she says. “Another memorable experience took place a few days earlier. A couple of the guys built spears out of filet knives, PVC pipes and zip ties, and we went lionfish hunting at Pigeon Creek since lionfish are considered an invasive species. It was a lot of fun.”
For Palmer, being able to study abroad in the summer was important.
“I really enjoyed getting to study abroad in the summer because I don’t want to miss a cross country or track season,” she says. “I really enjoyed getting to observe the colorful fish—the parrotfish were my favorite—sea turtles, sharks and barracudas—animals most people see in aquariums, not less than 15 feet from them in open water! I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have gone on the Bahamas trip.”
Marshall agrees, citing the important and often eye-opening experiences studying abroad can afford.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to travel and experience a completely different culture. The trip definitely gives you a better perspective on life in a developing country,” he says. “It was also neat to get to know students traveling in your group because it gives you a greater appreciation for Centre students and faculty members.”