CentreTerm trip immerses students in Caribbean ecology

Assistant Professors of Biology Mark Galatowitsch and Marie Nydam led a group of 24 Centre College students on a CentreTerm study abroad trip to Belize in January.

“Our course taught students about the fundamental concepts of Caribbean ecology by experiencing first-hand different Caribbean ecosystems,” Galatowitsch said. “We also had the opportunity to learn about Belize’s rich culture and history, which have influenced these ecosystems. We divided our course into two main sections, marine ecology and terrestrial ecology.”

The group spent the marine ecology section of the course on Tobacco Caye, a coral reed island, to study the interactions between coral reefs, neighboring seagrass beds and mangrove forests.

During the terrestrial ecology portion, students explored savannahs, dry tropical pine forests and tropical rainforests, but spent most of their time in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve at the Las Cuevas Field Station.

In addition, the group visited the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where they took a night tour of the Belize Zoo to observe large and elusive nocturnal Belizean animals. They also canoed along the Sibun River to learn about freshwater ecology and the connection between the terrestrial and marine ecosystems, as well as hiking in the Belizean savannah.

Students visited the Caracol Mayan Archaeological Site, which is Belize’s largest Mayan site near the Guatemalan border. They also spent a few days exploring the town of San Ignacio.

Because of this trip, Galatowitsch hopes that the next time students go snorkeling on a reef that they will appreciate the ecological complexities they are seeing. He anticipates that students will be interested in exploring other rainforest habitats, becoming more comfortable with wildlife and nature and more experienced in how to conduct field work.

“We hope that our students better appreciate how complex and dynamic ecosystems are, but also how very different ecosystems are connected across the landscape,” he said. “This not only applied to the amazingly diverse coral reefs and rainforests of Belize but also to ecosystems in Kentucky. Beyond the biology, we also hope they appreciate the diverse and complex Belizean culture and history, along with the modern challenges of protecting and sustainably interacting with the Belizean environment.”

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by Kerry Steinhofer
February 18, 2019