The Decline of the Coral Reef--Coral Bleaching and Diseases with Dr.
Garriet W. Smith
Host: Barbara Kolb
Growing 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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.