Junior biology major Mariah Huneke dives to explore the reefs in Belize. Students had the opportunity to study plants and other wildlife in the area over spring break. Photo courtesy of Mariah Huneke and David Carrasco.
- by Daniel Heitshusen
Twelve Concordia students visited Belize’s Tobacco Caye island for their Marine Biology study tour class (BIO 363) over spring break.
Assistant Professor of Biology Professor Jennifer Fruend, a retired Concordia professor, and an alumnus who is a professional marine biologist accompanied students on the trip.
“Belize has the second biggest barrier reef in the whole wide world…that creates a system where we can see a lot of different habitats all in one place,” Fruend said. “Tobacco Caye, then, is right on that barrier reef.”
The class spends weeks beforehand preparing students to go on the study tour.
“We spent the weeks leading up the trip learning how to identify fish and coral species,” senior Erin Rowland said. “We did a pre-trip snorkeling lesson to make sure we were going to be comfortable in the water. We learned about coral reef formation and the ecology of the systems.”
The group was on Tobacco Caye for six days with a lot of different experiences on the island. They snorkeled during the day and night to learn about the ecosystem, cleaned up trash from the reef, saw Mayan ruins, and talked with the native people of Belize.
“One of the things that was really humbling, and kind of sad, about the trip was seeing the coral reef ecosystems that weren’t necessarily as healthy,” Rowland said. “A lot of the reefs we were at were pristine and gorgeous, but then every once in a while we’d get to a reef where there had clearly been some sort of human interaction, or some sort of ecosystem shift where you could see (that) the coral was dying.”
Fruend said the animal life was one of the major highlights of the trip.
“(One) highlight, I think, was seeing the sea turtles,” Fruend said. “We saw hawksbill sea turtles. And the sharks. So, on the patch reefs, there are lots of nurse sharks that would swim between our legs or under our bodies. We had maybe four or five that kind of circled around us, which was super cool…Nurse sharks are very calm, docile, not aggressive.”
Fruend said the hope is that students will come away from the trip being able to apply what they have learned. One of Fruend’s goals for the trip involves learning to love the people on earth and being able to relate to them.
“I want my scientists to be able to love all of the people in this world,” Fruend said. “So, by being able to go to places like Belize or Costa Rica, or wherever, we get to interact with and appreciate people who live in a different part of the world than we do. They eat differently than we do, they speak differently than we do…So, first and foremost I want them to learn and love people.”
Study tour classes are offered every Spring as a BIO 36_ class. People who are not biology majors are also welcome to join and are encouraged to talk with Fruend.