Twelve MVC students who took the “Coral Reef Ecology” biology class last spring spent two weeks in the small Central American country of Belize, studying the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere.
Waylon Hiler, assistant professor of Biology, who instructed the course and led the students on the trip to the 15,530-acre marine reserve at an island off Belize and south of the Yucatan Peninsula, talked about the research expedition during a presentation for the Faculty Lecture series on Oct. 23 in the Formal Lounge.
Hiler said that second-eight-weeks course was an introduction to biological and ecological principles of a coral reef and, in going to Belize, the students became certified as divers. The research trip also included fish identification, snorkeling in water at 80 degrees, and getting to see a variety of sea creatures, including sharks, jellyfish, and sting rays. “Students got to snorkel through the mangrove roots,” Hiler said. “The students got to see endangered species, like a green sea turtle and a manatee.” They ate lion fish, which is an invasive fish that poses a problem for the native fish species. They also found snakes on the island, including boa constrictors.
The arrangements for the trip were coordinated by a company called Blue Ventures. “We were the first college to utilize Blue Ventures for a class,” Hiler said, adding that it was a good partnership and that he hopes to return with other classes to Belize in the future. A language barrier was not a problem, as Belize’s principal language is English. The MVC group stayed at a research station, which Hiler said was “no Hilton,” but was very functional for its research purpose and had running water for showers and toilets. The beach location provided views of beautiful tropic seascapes. Hiler said a typical day was making the first ocean dive at 6 a.m., with three other dives throughout the day.
Three students who had gone on the trip attended Hiler’s presentation. They found the experience to be exciting and
educational. Student Jennifer Land said she especially enjoyed being able to scuba dive. Student Kalen Brady said that it was the first actual survey experiment he has participated in. Student Alex Phillippe said it was particularly memorable to swim 100 feet down through canyons, during which he was able to see a shark. Other students who participated in the trip were Marianella Benavides, Derek Brown, Miranda Groth, Stephanie Putnam, Carlee Robinson, Pearce Sloan, Luke Weinreich, Allie Wirts, and Brittney Woody.
The course, which is scheduled again for this spring within the Biology course listing, is open to students of all majors. The lab fee for the research expedition, to cover costs of travel and accommodations, is $3,200.