Like most gratifying and engaging adventures, this past week has flown by. The second week went much quicker than the first. Our final days here in Saint Lucia consisted of our last research dives to collect all remaining data, a few reef clean-up dives, giving presentations and engaging in activities with children at local schools and we enjoyed some leisure time for the last two days of the trip as well.
This study abroad course was a condensed field work course, so each day had an explicit schedule with tasks that were pertinent to the research being conducted. The goal here was to use the collected data from this course and previous surveys conducted in 2001 and 2011, to see how the coral reefs and fish populations have changed in the SMMA (Soufriere Marine Management Association). The coastline has been broken down into different types of areas including “no-take” reserves where fishing is prohibited and then fishing areas, yachting areas, multiuse areas, and recreational areas. We collected data from reefs inside and outside the marine reserves. Once we assessed what changes have occurred over the past 17 years, and inside versus outside the reserves we will be making suggestions to the SMMA on what can be done to preserve the reef ecosystems on their coastline.
After collecting data, we spent significant time analyzing it and preparing for our presentations to our Professor, Dr. Chantale Begin. We presented our findings late Thursday evening (May 17th) and she prepared her own presentation that night to present to the stakeholders in Soufriere, early the next morning (May 18th). The presentation went well, it was a great honor to contribute to the research done and to attend the presentation of the preliminary results to the stakeholders in Saint Lucia. This experience provided me with priceless knowledge and skills that I will use for the rest of my life and more importantly it confirmed for me that to continue down the path to becoming an environmental biologist is the best path for me. This study abroad trip has boosted my confidence in my abilities and has shown me that there are opportunities around every corner, just waiting to be taken.
Although assessing change and finding solutions to coral reef decline through the research done here was the main purpose of this trip, something equally important that we participated in, is the education of young generations. We had the privilege of visiting several local schools to teach the kids about the effects of plastic pollution and a poorly managed watershed has on marine ecosystems. They gave us their full attention and were fully engaged in our lectures and activities. Their willingness to learn and desire to be a part of the change for the future was very exciting to witness. It reinforces all the reasons I decided to go into this field. Future generations have the same right that we do and the generations before us to experience the beauty and wonder of this planet. Through the education of people world-wide, the implementation of sustainable habits, for the everyday person and in the corporate world (sustainable fishing/farming practices, etc.) and finding sustainable alternative materials to plastic, we may be able to reverse some of the damage and advocate for the health of our planet for the sake of all species that call it home.
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