Directed Research and Cyclone Ita

April 18, 2014

Australia: Tropical Rainforest Studies, SFS alumni posts, SFS staff

Name: Olivia Tempest
Position: Program Intern
Program: Rainforest Studies, Australia
SFS Alum: Australia Spring 2012

Just last week, we began the final portion of the semester, the Directed Research (DR) component. The students divided into three research groups led by each of the faculty. The “Casual Pademelons” led by Sigrid Heise-Pavlov, are studying wildlife behavior of Yellow-bellied Gliders and Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroos. Justus Kithiia and the “Just Us Nomads” are leading a project collaborating with and examining the potential for tourism with the Mandingalbay Yidinji Aboriginal population in Yarrabah, outside of Cairns. Lastly, I am working with Catherine Pohlman and the “Revegemites,” examining the dynamics of primary succession of tropical rainforest in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

Days in the field are full of early mornings, late nights, leeches, wait-a-whiles, and mozzies. But last week, the middle of two jam-packed weeks of fieldwork, we were interrupted by the threat of oncoming Cyclone Ita.

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Shark Week in the Turks & Caicos Islands

April 17, 2014

SFS alumni posts, SFS faculty posts, Turks & Caicos: Marine Resource Management Studies

Dr. Aaron C. Henderson
Resident Lecturer in Marine Ecology
The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies

Shark research at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) began back in 2005, and since then we have learned a lot about the ecology of the juvenile lemon sharks that inhabit the shallow coastal waters around South Caicos. However, as with most research, just as we uncover the answer to one question, ten more present themselves, and so our studies on these sharks continue. During our semester programs, all students get the opportunity to participate in shark research, while some students get more involved by undertaking their Directed Research project on an aspect of the sharks’ ecology. However, despite all the time that is spent working with the sharks, we are always looking for ways to increase our time in the field.

Which is why, for the first time ever, it was decided to continue our shark research during the intersession break in January of this year, and to invite SFS alumni to come back to CMRS to once again participate in this field work. Seven research openings were available, and they were quickly filled by seven enthusiastic alumni from a variety of previous semesters. But, this time they would not be returning to CMRS as students; they would be coming as visiting scientists. The 10 days that followed involved intensive fieldwork at a variety of study locations ranging from East Caicos down to Ambergris Cay, including some areas that we had never sampled before. Our hard work was rewarded with plenty of shark action; 35 sharks were tagged, including one nurse shark and one blacknose shark, in addition to one southern stingray.

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From Kelp Forests to Coral Reefs

April 15, 2014

SFS faculty posts, Turks & Caicos: Marine Resource Management Studies

Name: Tamsen Byfield, Ph.D.
Position: Resident Lecturer in Marine Resource Management
Program: Marine Resource Management Studies, Turks & Caicos Islands

Life in South Caicos forms its own universe, far from cafes, bookstores, movies, and fresh summer peaches. Wild donkeys and horses meander down streets, into private yards, past the dive shed, onto the school’s volleyball court and up to the kitchen, where an anonymous hand tosses out an occasional apple or two. The neighbour’s dogs keep one company as one sits on the school wall after dinner, and eventually adopt a newcomer into their pack (complementary flea removal courtesy of Clyde, the brindle).

Seaward, the ocean runs in shades of aquamarine, with habitat from mangroves to deep walls found within a 5-minute boat ride. Landward, the reality of human impacts on natural systems is starkly evident. This interface between natural and developed worlds makes South Caicos an excellent location for this program. The conservation and resource management issues affecting local tropical reef and coastal systems provide opportunities for research that can contribute valuable information to local stakeholders and facilitate the development of management strategies.

Coming here to work after completing my Ph.D. in temperate rocky-reef ecology has afforded me the privilege and opportunity to learn about and work on tropical reef ecosystems from an applied perspective, and to pass on this knowledge to students.  It has been a pleasure to watch the students develop from tenderfoots into confident researchers capable of applying information from their classes in environmental policy, marine ecology, and marine resource management to their own research topics. They arrived as sun-seeking hammock dwellers and they will leave as hard-working investigators able to intelligently discuss a range of current issues facing stakeholders living in developing tropical island communities with limited resources.

The Endless Plains

April 14, 2014

Kenya + Tanzania: Wildlife Management Studies, SFS students

Name: Samuel Katers
School: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Major: Biological Sciences
Program: Wildlife Management Studies, Tanzania & Kenya

After spending several months in East Africa, it has been hard for me to imagine how any new experience could possibly be able to surpass our previous adventures. However, the past four days of expedition in Serengeti National Park have exceeded my expectations, while exposing me to the incredible authenticity and magic of Africa.

While our main purpose for being in the Serengeti was for academic exercises, each day was also filled with exciting game drives, bursting with many species that we have not really been exposed to thus far. For two out of the four days, we conducted four field exercises within the park. The first exercise was a bird identification of the species within the Serengeti. Some of my favorites were the Lilac Breasted Roller and the White-headed Buffalo Weaver. It was fascinating to be exposed to such a huge amount of bird biodiversity, compared to what I see in my daily life at home.

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Collaboration with Indigenous People Opens New Research Opportunities

April 11, 2014

Australia: Tropical Rainforest Studies, SFS faculty posts

Name: Justus Kithiia, Ph.D.
Position: Resident Lecturer in Environmental Policy & Socioeconomic Values
Program: Tropical Rainforest Studies, Australia

At the beginning of this semester, students had an interesting interaction with the Mandingalbay Yidinji (MY) Aboriginal tribal group. Students went out on a field lecture on indigenous management of ‘country.’  Used in this sense, ‘country’ in Australia means an area of land and/or sea that traditionally belongs to an Aboriginal tribal group. The Mandingalbay Yidinji country lies east of Cairns across Trinity Inlet and includes a great diversity of environments, namely marine areas, mangroves, freshwater wetlands, rainforest-clad mountains, coastal plains, beaches, reefs and islands. During the visit, students learned about the traditional uses of plants, enjoyed a special lunch cooked in a ‘Kup murri’ (earth oven), and toured some sites on the country where there are particular environmental issues at the land/sea interface.  We discussed the past and present day land management and institutional arrangements.  Students also had an opportunity to visit Yarabah village, which we were informed is one of the largest Aboriginal settlements in Australia, but whose unemployment rate stands at 98%.
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A Week in Nicaragua

April 10, 2014

Costa Rica: Sustainable Development Studies, SFS students

Name: Erin Saal
School: DePaul University
Major: Environmental Studies
Program: Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica

We recently returned from a week-long trip to Nicaragua, during which we were able to explore several areas of the country while learning about Nicaragua’s approach to sustainable development. We spent our first three days on an island in Lake Nicaragua called Ometepe. To reach Ometepe we took a ferry from the mainland, and on the ferry we were able to catch our first glimpse of Ometepe’s beautiful coastline formed by two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas. Spending time in Ometepe was amazing because it felt a bit removed from the rest of the world. Ometepe is only just beginning to attract eco-tourists, so there is still a sense of isolation from the busy urban cities of the mainland. Ometepe’s main attractions are its many ecological attributes, including the volcanoes and petroglyphs left by indigenous cultures. Our hotel on Ometepe, Charco Verde, provided a beautiful view of Lake Nicaragua. In the evenings, many of us enjoyed swimming in the lake and watching the sunset.

The rest of our week in Nicaragua was spent in the city of Granada, which has a rich historical and cultural history. I loved all the colors in Granada, from the painted buildings to the shops selling piles of t-shirts. My favorite experience in Granada was the time we had to just walk around and explore the city, especially the local market. Much of Granada is very tourist-focused, but the market was really an authentic part of the city. It was a maze of stalls selling all sorts of products, including vegetables and fruit and school notebooks. There were even stalls offering watch repairs. It was also very crowded!
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Gentle Giants

April 9, 2014

Panama: Tropical Island Biodiversity and Conservation Studies, SFS faculty posts

Name: Annemarie Kramer, Dr. rer. nat.
Position: Resident Lecturer in Tropical Coastal Ecology
Program: Tropical Island Biodiversity & Conservation Studies, Panama

Our field trip this weekend was certainly one of the highlights this semester. We took a boat from our center in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago to mainland Panama to explore our surroundings more in depth. After visiting industrial banana plantations the students got to see an organic multi-species finca where cacao and different fruits are grown in harmony.

The next day we headed back towards the coast to see the tropical wetland reserve of San San Pond Sak. This area has been declared a wetland of international importance by the convention of Ramsar in 1993 and is situated on the border to Costa Rica.

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Volcán Barú, Banana Farms, and Manatees

April 9, 2014

Panama: Tropical Island Biodiversity and Conservation Studies, SFS students

Name: Laura Robison
School: Ohio Wesleyan University
Major: Animal Science/Zoology
Program: Tropical Island Biodiversity & Conservation Studies, Panama

We only have about one month of the program left. As I reflect on the semester so far I think about the things that have made it so amazing. I think of the community we have formed here; one that is filled with laughter even when we are in our worst moods, friendships in spite of our differences, and enthusiasm despite our exhausting schedule. I think of the boat rides we take to get from place to place and how the cool ocean breeze never fails to rejuvenate me. I think of the Bocas del Toro community members who have shared their time and knowledge with us. And I think of our ever changing schedule, which brings a sense of excitement and unpredictability to our daily routine. One thing I enjoy most is the variety of activities we have had the chance to experience. These past two weeks are a prime example.

The last week of March was our mid-semester break. Most of us headed up to Boquete, a town in the mountains of mainland Panama. While we did not stay in one big group, most of us did similar things and spent our time hiking to waterfalls, visiting natural hot springs, touring coffee plantations, riding bicycles, and all-in-all enjoying the change in scenery and the cooler weather. It was beautiful there and we all appreciated the much needed break.

For me, a highlight of the trip was climbing to the summit of Volcán Barú, the highest point in Panama. We started late at night, with the goal of reaching the top by sunrise. The view from the peak was definitely worth the 13.5km trek up and 1800m elevation gain. From the top we could see across the entire country, from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. We reached the summit just in time to sit and relax as we watched the sun slowly inch up out of the horizon. It was spectacular to see the world slowly light up around the summit, especially with the satisfaction of knowing that I had just climbed to the highest point in the country.

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Every Day is a Mystery and an Adventure

April 8, 2014

Australia: Tropical Rainforest Studies, SFS students

 Name: Margie Pfeffer
School: Skidmore College
Major: Environmental Studies
Program: Tropical Rainforest Studies, Australia


Wasn’t it just yesterday that we turned onto that dirt road and arrived at the Centre for Rainforest Studies? Now, here we are, done with finals, and about to start our Directed Research projects.

Last week, we got a break from all the papers and studying to embark on a five-day adventure with our friends. Here’s a little window into our trip, with some rules and things to keep in mind if ever you should want to repeat it.

Rule # 1: Don’t let it faze you

No matter what happens, you’re going to make it back alive. Maybe the car is a little hesitant to start. Don’t panic. So what if you’re not sure where you’re sleeping tonight? You’ll find a place eventually. It might be a no camping zone, a busy hostel, or a quiet place on the beach. Waking up to the sunrise on the beach totally outweighs that $14 you had to shell out for a parking space. Bottom line: live in the moment and remember that you’re only young once.

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Community Outreach on South Caicos

April 8, 2014

SFS staff, Turks & Caicos: Marine Resource Management Studies

Name: Molly Roe
Position: Student Affairs Manager
Program: Marine Resource Studies, Turks & Caicos Islands

Students are back into the swing of things here on South Caicos after the field trip to North and Middle Caicos and the mid-semester break. Case Study 2 and Directed Research have both started, so the days are academically busy. Additionally, there are different activities for them to be part of the community. We continue community outreach programs that have been implemented through the years (alumni will remember hearing “how many more minutes” on Saturday mornings as the local kids waited until the doors opened at 1:30PM). This semester the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) implemented new outreach programs which have been successful thus far!

As mentioned in the “Sea Day” News from the Field update, we have partnered with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDC) in Plymouth, MA. This partnership has played an important role in the Saturday outreach programming; we have had five weeks of whale activities at the “featured creature station,” which has successfully competed with the crafts and games stations. During these five weeks, the station had activities to teach the local kids (and us) about whales: how to identify individual humpback whales; humpback whale behavior patterns; baleen feeding; importance of blubber for marine mammals; and how whales communicate with each other. As the humpback whales have migrated north, the “featured creature station” now will focus on other featured marine creatures.  Last week, the station taught us about sea turtles as there was a turtle survival (homemade) board game.

Humpback Whale ID Activity

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