UNC Wilmington Students Blog About Tropical Marine Research for Prestigious Field Course

Snorkeling in Bay

For a budding biologist, it's the opportunity of a lifetime: an almost fully-funded trip to study the tropical ecosystems of Bermuda, one of Earth's most mysterious places.

This Spring Break, eight University of North Carolina Wilmington students-Ashley Whitt, Heather Page, Jennifer Idol, Rachel Dixon, Renee Fucella, Zachary Siders, Robert McNeil and Laura Flessner-participated in "Field Methods in Tropical Marine Biology," taught by biology faculty members Sean Lema and Alison Taylor. The course is part of an exchange program with the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science in the U.K., with students and faculty from both institutions collaborating on the 10-day field course.

Student teams explored the island's rich variety of habitats, including coral reef, seagrass and mangrove communities. Each student was expected to identify a research topic, collect and analyze data while in Bermuda, and present findings orally and in written form. Students also kept a daily blog about their adventures.The course introduces students to the professional lives of field researchers.

"This is a landmark experience in terms of how our students approach research and outreach for the rest of their lives," Lema says.

A donation from the Gillings family provides financial support for students to participate in the exchange program and competition for the opportunity is fierce.

The field course is one of seven Spring Break education abroad programs conducted by UNCW faculty and the Office of International Programs this year. Other destinations included Belize, Costa Rica, Curacao, Czech Republic, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Seagrass Sampling at Bailey's Bay

Photos courtesy of UNCW

-- Lindsay Key '11 MFA, media research assistant, 910-962-7252


The bay was teeming with life including sea cucumbers, parrotfish, angelfish, sea hare, and we even caught a glimpse of an octopus! Although the bay was beautiful, the shoreline was littered with plastic, broken glass, and other debris. Even though Bermuda seems like a paradise from afar, witnessing this level of marine pollution really reminded us all of the severity of anthropogenic impacts on the marine environment. -- March 11, 2011, Laura, Rachel & Renee