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The Decline of the Coral Reef--Coral Bleaching and Diseases with Dr. Garriet W. Smith

Presenter: Dr. Garriet Smith
Discussion: SciTalk 6: Coral Reef Destruction

Host: Barbara Kolb

Host- Barbara KolbGrowing up along theTexas Gulf Coast, I spent countless hours investigating shore creatures and making friends with brown pelicans. Even as a very little tyke I spent all day in and around the surf. My parents could never get me out of the water.

As a Biology major at Southern Methodist University, I focused on zoology for my master's. However, not until I snorkeled in Acapulco one summer did I see my first live starfish. That was such a memorable event, because one look at those moving tube feet and how a starfish really "works" is easily understood. I knew I wanted to try to make Biology "come alive" for my students, so they would not think Biology was just a bunch of dead, preserved specimens.

When I taught in Trinidad and Venezuela, I had to first teach the students how to swim before I could introduce them to marine biology. I snorkeled and dived all over the Caribbean, mostly for recreation, never thinking that the reefs I so enjoyed might someday be in peril. And, although I loved the ocean so much, I pursued another area of biology (molecular genetics) for PhD work (ABD).

Located high in the Appalachian Mountains, over two hundred miles from any ocean, and fifteen hundred miles from any coral reef, James River High School is an unlikely place to have a marine biology program. However, several years ago, I decided that instead of telling my students about coral reefs, that they should see for themselves.

In 1987 we made our first visit to St. John Island, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. After earning our money on every imaginable fund raiser, we fly from the nearest airport fifty miles away, change planes at least once, land in St. Thomas, go across St. Thomas to the ferry, and cross the sound to St. John. Then we load everyone on open air taxis (a flatbed truck converted with seats), and drive around the only road on the island to the camp. Each year we take the same taxis, driven by old friends we have made on the Islands, and stay at the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station at the far southeast end of the island, two miles down the mountain past the end of the road. Just after our first visit, the islands were hit with a terrible hurricane. Since 1987 scientists have noticed that Caribbean reefs have continued to decline. Now I want my students to be part of the solution, not just visitors to some beautiful reefs. I only hope we will have reefs left for the next generation of students to investigate.

Our program now includes students from three high schools--along with James River, I teach Marine Ecology to Lord Botetourt High School students over Interactive Television. Students at Allegheny High School take a class with Jane DeGroot. We now offer dual enrollment credit --high school and college credit at all schools. This April thirty one students will make the trip. Also, we will be broadcasting live from St. John, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Pacific daylight time) over the Global Schoolhouse reflector site on Friday, April 17. Anyone interested in participating can contact me at: aebkolb@rbnet.com.

In order for students to be able to map transects of the reef, including the invertebrate species as well as vertebrates, they must know all the common reef fish, and the other reef organisms. So far they can identify over 250 species of fish, both juvenile and adult stages. Some past research can be found on our website: http://www.3rdimension.com/marinebio

When students return from our field trip, they agree that their lives have been changed and that they want to preserve the ocean's ecosystems.

"Knowledge of the oceans is no longer a matter of curiosity; our very own survival may hinge upon it," is attributed to President Kennedy, March, 1961, but any of us could echo those words.


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