CONWAY, Ark. — Eighteen students at Hendrix College recently explored marine environment in Belize as part of biology professor Dr. Jenn Dearolf’s marine biology course.
“The only way to teach a marine biology class at Hendrix in Arkansas is to have a trip to the ocean linked to the class,” Dearolf said, adding that the trip was required field research for students in the spring semester class. Belize’s barrier reef is the second-largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, offering ample hands-on research opportunities, she added.
Prior to the trip, students learned about rocky intertidal zones, estuaries, the epipelagic, the deep ocean, coral reefs and mangroves. They also learned about some of the organisms that they would see on the coral reefs of Belize and studied to which taxonomic groups the different organisms belonged, their scientific names, and distinctive features of the taxonomic groups.
Student participants included Chloe Benichou, Robin Brown, Caitlin Cook, Sydney Haldeman, Alysa Hansen, Jordan Jehlen, Meghan Kerin, Julia King, Sophie Knorek, Wes Mills, Justin Mosbey, Michael Ottenlips, Brittany Page, Lauren Ricci, Melanie Roach, Josi Robertson, Hans Schleicher and Kevin Spatz.
They were accompanied by Dearolf and Hendrix biology professor Dr. Joe Lombardi.
The group visited the Belize Marine Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) to observe marine organisms in their environment.
They spent their days snorkeling in Tres Cocos, Mexico Rocks and Mexico Cave, Caye Caulker North Cut Back Reef and Caye Caulker Wreck, Tuffy and Mangrove Isles, Turtle Rock Island and Shark Ray Alley.
At Tuffy, they performed an experiment and collected data to determine whether there existed a correlation between the size of a cleared area in the turtle grass beds and the number of sea urchins on the adjacent coral reef.
Dearolf is collecting data from her students, who will write up the experiment as a lab report in the form of a biological journal article.
Students also explored the Marine Protected Area (MPA), off the coast of San Pedro, which is one of the most successful in existence, “making it possible for the students to see many organisms not generally encountered in other parts of the Caribbean,” said Dearolf.
“It was so surreal to see the different types of coral and sponges from our books directly underneath us,” said Mills.
“For me, this trip was confirmation that I want to pursue marine biology,” said Spatz, who plans to begin an internship at the Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Fla.
On land, the students explored caves and notable Mayan archaeological sites including Tikal in Guate-mala.
The land travels were designed to expose students to Mayan culture. While immersed, students were required to keep a journal or write an essay to earn Odyssey credit for global awareness.