Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Belize - Invertebrate Biology

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Expectations High for a Week of Hands-On Learning, Belizian Style...

Eric Wetzel -- This week 14 students will travel to Belize and the paradise of South Water Caye (SWC) to study the biology of invertebrate animals. This small island, about 14 miles off the coast, is in contact with the barrier reef of Belize. As one might suspect, it’s a beautiful tropical location. This will be the third group of Wabash students to visit SWC over the last 5 years.


 The primary goal of this trip is to sample and observe as much of the biodiversity of the marine invertebrates as we can. We visit a range of different habitats which exist in this area: forereef, backreef, and patch reef areas, reef flats, mangroves, and seagrass beds. Students encounter and become familiar with well over one hundred species of invertebrate in addition to many species of vertebrates (mainly reef fishes, often including a curious barracuda), plants, and marine algae. Instead of simply “check-listing” species, students will also get to conduct a small research project on which they’ll report (to the group) near the end of the week. These are always enjoyable as well as entertaining, and intended to force the students to look more carefully at one or two species in particular.


Students keep detailed journals of the trip and will, of course, blog about their adventures. Through journaling students are not only encouraged to record species observed and notes from background lectures, but also to reflect on the total experience, from the time we are waiting to depart from Indianapolis to about one week after they’ve returned to Wabash after the trip.


To paraphrase comments which virtually all students have made in the past, I expect this trip the change the way they look at invertebrate animals, the way they view the class and their lab experience at Wabash, and the way they view their lives, particularly in socioeconomic terms. Given that we’ll spend much of our time snorkeling over various habitats, the students and I are ready for a real “immersion” experience.


 In top photo: A close-up look at some of the invertebrate diversity on the reef. At lower right, students prepare to snorkel the oceanside of the Belize barrier reef.