Each year my adviser Bradley Peterson and fellow professor Joe Warren take a group of undergraduate students to Jamaica to participate in a course called Tropical Marine Ecology. This year is no different, although they ended up there a day late due to the most recent snow storm. That said, they all got there safe and appear to be settled in nicely. The idea behind the course is to get the students to learn about tropical marine environments by actually seeing them first hand – many of the upper level marine classes at Stony Brook are experiential in that students get hands on experiences in the field. Tropical is no different. The first few days will consist of lectures and snorkeling around to learn about the species in Discovery Bay, where the group stays. Once they take their practical, the students need to conduct a research project which they then write up for their grade in the course.
It is a short course (only ~2.5 weeks), so it is hard to accomplish very rigorous scientific experiments (also, any equipment they use needs to be brought with them, which also makes things difficult), however, the students undertake a variety of projects, investigating mangroves and seagrasses, coral cover, sponge communities, fish territories, etc. Some of the research under taken is of high quality and warrants publication. One such publication came from a group of students when the trip still went to the South Pacific where they investigated how Stegastes damselfish controlled algal assemblages, and the interplay between herbivory and nutrient addition. (Gobler, C. J., Thibault, D.B., Davis, T.W., Curran, P.B., Peterson, B.J., Liddle, L.B. 2006. Algal assemblages associated with Stegastes sp. territories on Indo-Pacific coral reefs: Characterization of diversity and controls on growth. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 336: 135–145).
More recently, a colleague of mine investigated the difference in growth rate and grazing of Thalassia between groundwater influenced and non-groundwater sites in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, with some interesting and unexpected results. That manuscript is currently submitted. In addition, thanks to her undergraduate visit to Jamaica, Amber developed her dissertation project investigating sponge community dynamics and recruitment on reefs impacted by sedimentation due to the creation of mega-resorts and those with no impact. She visits Jamaica frequently to collect data (I have tried to get her to blog about this stuff, maybe one day she will).
Anyway, back to the course. For many students, it is their first time in a tropical environment, their first time SCUBA diving, or both. It is also the first time a lot of them are expected to independently do a research project and write up/present the results. It is a great experience, and one the students truly enjoy. You can read about their excitement and adventures on the trip’s blog Tropical Blogs. You should definitely check it out.