Nineteen students from Eastern Connecticut State University recently traveled to San Salvador Island to study tropical biology. The trip focused on studying the history and development of the local fauna on the island as well as in the surrounding waters. The group’s research was based out of the Gerace Research Center, which occupies a former U.S. naval base in Grahams Harbor.
This class was offered as one of Eastern’s “global field courses,” which provide unique learning experiences to students by allowing them to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting. The tropical biology global field course has a long history of success at Eastern and has been offered every summer since 1968. The course alternates annually between traveling to San Salvador Island and Costa Rica.
San Salvador Island and other surrounding islands in the Bahamas offer a unique opportunity for biology students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. As opposed to more common continental or volcanic islands, San Salvador is a large platform of carbonate sediment, and many of the plants and organisms found on the island are exclusive to the region.
The field experience in the Bahamas allowed students to conduct research and make informed observations about creatures they could never have encountered elsewhere. “The second I got in the water, I realized that there was so much going on,” said biology major Megan Barnes. “I was shocked when I saw all of the different colors and all of the different fish. Most people have never even heard of these fish, but this global field course gave me the opportunity to see them firsthand!”
The group also closely examined the ecosystem of this unique region. “One highlight of the trip was the frequent sightings of sharks and sea turtles, both signs of a healthy coral reef ecosystem,” said faculty advisor and Biology Professor Charles Booth.
Students were also able to enjoy the scenery and local culture of San Salvador. They visited an open-air market in San Salvador’s largest community, Cockburn Town, and attended a fish fry put on by the locals. The students also travelled to the hand-operated Dixon Hill Lighthouse, which has been in operation since the mid-1800’s, and got to see how it worked in person.
Even when they weren’t conducting field research, students were able to observe a variety of native animals. They were able to see the endangered San Salvador rock iguana in its natural habitat, in addition to exploring San Salvador’s largest cave, Lighthouse Cave. Made primarily of limestone, the cave houses a large colony of bats estimated to number between 200 and 500, which students were able to observe.
Barnes encouraged future students to look into this global field course, saying, “It was an amazing opportunity. I had to learn to take each day as it came because I never knew what we’d encounter, from weather, to plants, to animals; each day was a unique experience.”