I had forgotten how much you can learn by getting your hands dirty. When we put our knowledge into practice, we expose ourselves to the ocean and we retain much more of the information presented to us. I had forgotten how much fun learning can be.
— Erin Lyons, University of Virginia, Spring ‘16
Snorkeling and scuba diving in the waters surrounding South Caicos, students learn field research and monitoring techniques to identify and assess the health of a wide range of marine organisms and habitats. Students learn to identify and observe the behavior of marine species, assess coastal and marine habitats, quantify fisheries resources, and analyze implications of fishery policies. TCI has an extensive network of 34 protected areas, but its effectiveness is still not fully understood. With the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park and East Harbour Lobster and Conch Reserve at their doorstep, students evaluate the concept and practice of marine protected areas (MPAs) as a resource management tool.
In the community, students consider the challenges of assessing the rights and needs of local stakeholders and reconciling those with conservation goals. Fisheries management and market engagement require considered analysis of the costs and benefits of species protection, fishing techniques, and market dynamics, all in the context of global and national markets and policies. Assessing the feasibility and ecological viability of resource management and habitat conservation options, including their associated socioeconomic implications, brings students face-to-face with the real-life dilemmas that challenge governmental regulators and the residents of South Caicos.
The growing tourism industry in TCI is increasing the demand for reef fish on restaurant menus. Local fishers on South Caicos recognize this market, and commercial sale of select reef fish species is rapidly increasing. In addition to "no-take" MPAs, TCI has recently established size and other restrictions on several commercially important species. The impact of these new policies will be reflected in our research efforts. Through field observation, exercises, and research, students learn the concepts and skills needed to understand marine ecosystems and island community dynamics.
- Learn about tropical marine ecology, evaluate fisheries management and policies, and practice field research skills in one of the most pristine marine habitats in the tropical Western Atlantic
- Scuba dive and snorkel for fish, coral, seagrass, and mangrove identification exercises
- Excursion to neighboring Providenciales, Middle Caicos, and North Caicos: tour aquaculture operations and desalination plants; explore the caves and bat colonies of Middle Caicos; discover the tropical dry forests of North Caicos; absorb local ecological knowledge of bush medicines and foods; study the rich cultural history of the territory
- Study ecosystem function and anthropogenic impacts on marine environments
- Examine habitat enhancement and restoration practices
- Evaluate the abundance of queen conch inside and outside of MPAs, and interpret how the data reflects protected area effectiveness
- Attend lectures by Department of the Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) officials on the government’s fisheries regulations and enforcement
- Learn to collect data relating to the health of coral colonies through an in-water coral bleaching exercise
- Participate in a site tour from a local tourism developer and discussion on plans for constructing residences and a resort
- Tag and collect morphological data on sharks and sea turtles to gain an understanding of population dynamics, contributing to the management and conservation of these species
- Explore methods for determining costs and values associated with using marine resources and produce an economic valuation report
- Visit local seafood processing plants and participate in discussions with operators
- Develop field research skills including marine species identification and behavioral observations, biodiversity assessment, survey design and interviewing techniques, field research ethics, stakeholder facilitation techniques, data management and analysis, scientific writing and oral presentation, snorkel and scuba skills, and habitat assessment and mapping
SAMPLE DIRECTED RESEARCH PROJECTS
- Conduct a population size assessment of potential commercial finfish species around South Caicos
- Assess ecological and social impacts of climate change and ocean acidification
- Examine the density and distribution of invasive lionfish
- Study the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of marine debris
- Examine coral reef ecology, including growth, survival, and recruitment
- Describe residents’ environmental ethic through photographs
- Analyze the interactions between mangrove and seagrass faunal communities
- Assess local livelihood strategies and human capital, including perceptions of tourism and fishing industries
- Explore seasonal differences in migratory and resident bird populations
- Evaluate conch population structure and regulation compliance
- Uncover the impact of youth empowerment through marine-oriented citizen science
- Examine elasmobranch ecology
GET INVOLVED WITH THE COMMUNITY
The community of South Caicos has hosted SFS students for more than 20 years. During that time, staff and students have integrated into the small community on multiple levels. We are dedicated to helping the community conserve its natural resources and develop sustainably.
Students become involved with the community, learning about Caribbean culture and island society. Community activities may include:
- Providing swimming and snorkeling lessons for local children
- Interacting with local families to better understand new cultures through the Friendship Family Program
- Hosting “Sea Day” at the Center to introduce local students to the marine environment
- Reading, tutoring, and other volunteer projects at the local library and grade school
- Collaborating with local youths and NGOs to conduct beach cleanups to increase environmental awareness
- Presentation of student research to disseminate findings to the local community
PADI SCUBA CERTIFICATION
Because scuba diving is a valuable skill for students who are interested in pursuing a career for future studies in field research of marine ecosystems, the Center offers PADI Open Water Diver certification to semester students. Certification takes place during the first two weeks of the program. The course, taught by the Center’s Dive Safety Officer and assisted by PADI Divemasters, introduces students to diving and the environment where they will be learning and researching for the next several months. PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification is also offered to interested students during the semester.
Note: It is not necessary to use SCUBA to participate in the program; many students choose to snorkel only. Divers and snorkelers must bring their own SCUBA and snorkeling equipment, and the certification courses are offered at an additional cost. Weights and tanks are provided on-site at no cost. Please contact the SFS Admissions Office if you have any questions.
The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies, located just steps from a crystal clear ocean laboratory, is adjacent to Cockburn Harbour, a town of about 1,200 residents. Our field station sits about 40 feet above the water, looking directly out to sea. Within a three-mile radius are coral reefs, mangrove islands, sea grass beds, and carbonate platform flats offering abundant snorkel and dive sites. The facilities include a dining area, kitchen, classroom, computer room, pool, and a veranda with spectacular ocean views. Students share living quarters in two residence wings. We are fully equipped for marine operations with access to docks, motorboats, a compressor, and plenty of tanks and weights for scuba diving.