Life Science, Biology, AP Biology, Integrated science (Level 1,2,3,4, dependent on participants), Environmental studies
In most participating schools, this opportunity is part of a marine studies course or something of this sort. My circumstance is unique in that I may not affiliate with my school system, though students may arrange to earn Independent Study credit. For the past two years, we have been studying adaptations of organisms in various habitats. I have liked this topic for it stresses the similarities among biomes, and is observable on virtually any outing. I do spent time trying to make students aware of the opportunity, and I spend hours helping students with fund raising. I do not spend class time with this activity as it would not be appropriate to do so in my situation.
Abstract of Activity:
International Field Studies (IFS), Columbus, Ohio, offers land based field studies on Andros Island in the Bahamas as well as sailing trips through the Exumas. I have traveled with students to Andros for the land based field studies for three years and for the sailing trip for one year. I have been very pleased with IFS. I simply wanted to share this with others because I believe it is a worthwhile activity and I wish I had been aware of it earlier in my career.
Traveling with Students
Having traveled with International Zoological Expeditions (IZE), People to People, and International Field Studies (IFS), I can state that my experiences with IFS have been particularly positive. IFS, based in Columbus, Ohio, coordinates land trips to Andros in the Bahamas as well as sailing trips which are usually through the Exumas. IFS offers instructor guides to field studies as well as a state approved curriculum. A summer workshop for teachers is available. The teacher is in charge and may run a tight program or some- thing less structured. Most staff members are recent college graduates taking off a year or so prior to grad school so they are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and relate well to the high school students.
Land Trip to Andros Island
Andros is the largest island in the Bahamas. It has very little tourism and is one of the most unexplored places in North America. Thus, the island remains nearly untouched. The people are very friendly and like to talk with us about their culture. They don't beg for money nor do they approach us selling trinkets. Homes are modest but reasonably well kept. There is not an emphasis on material things.
Most days we spend considerable time in the ocean. We visit various areas of the coral reef. We swim in oceanic blue holes, compare patch reefs to the barrier reef, and compare aquatic life on the leeward side of an island to life on the windward side. The snorkeling is different from one site to another. We see lots of invertebrates -- coral, sponges, anemones, urchins, fairy shrimp, lobsters, several different mollusks. The fish are plentiful and quite colorful. It's like swimming in an aquarium! Since the island does not cater to tourism, the snorkeling sites are rarely visited and so are reasonably pristine. Andros does have the third largest barrier reef in the world which is considered by many to be the most diverse.
We visit tidal pools, tidal rivers, isolated cays, mangrove swamps, coppice, pine forests and savannahs. We hike around some islands to observe various plant adaptations to living by the sea. We observe nesting terns and other birds, usually lizards, and always hermit crabs. We also learn a lot about the geology of the islands.
We usually do land tours two days. The towns are really small settlements. There are very few shops. Only occasionally does one find tourist-type souvenirs. We visit the home of a woodcarver whose work has been displayed at the Smithsonian. We visit an Androsian batik factory. It is quite small -- almost a cottage industry. We watch baskets being made in Red Bay. These are sold from a small shed in back of the family home. We visit Morgan's Bluff where the legendary pirate supposedly raided ships. Nearby is a cave where Morgan allegedly kept his bounty. Now the cave is home to several bats which can be seen fairly easily. We go to the northern part of the island where sponge fishermen prepare their catch for shipment to Nassau. We enjoy swimming in fresh water blue holes. Blue holes, both oceanic and fresh water, are associated with limestone formation. Many geologists do significant research in the Bahamas, especially in Andros.
It gets dark by 7:30 p.m. in Andros. The staff has prepared several lectures from which teachers select those topics they consider most relevant. Following the lecture, we find other interesting things to do. Some evenings we go hunting for land crabs. Sometimes we try to fish, though we've not been very successful. We often sit on a deck close to the sea and just enjoy the ocean, the sky, and one another. The ocean is a mysterious place at night. It is truly fascinating. The skies are unbelievably beautiful. There is little pollution and only a bit of light from Nassau so the stars are clearly seen. Also, many constellations are visible in the southern sky.
There isn't much agriculture on the island. The people depend on the sea for fish and on their own small gardens. Nearly all of our food is brought in from Florida. It is prepared by Androsian cooks. It is mostly the kinds of foods we are used to eating. However, we do have some Bahamian food. I always request this! We have fresh fish on more than one occasion though there is usually a modest additional charge for this.
I call what we do "immersion science." We are literally surrounded by an environment very unlike that of "clear cut and plant corn" Ohio. We learn by doing. Few of my students have ever been to the ocean, much less to a subtropical island. We learn some ecology, geology, astronomy, botany, some history, something of a different culture. We also learn more about ourselves.
Scuba diving can be arranged for certified divers, including students. Cost is $15 per dive though one must have his/her own equipment.
Sailing in the Exumas
This summer I tried the IFS sailing trip. This is a very relaxed trip though it is also challenging. There is considerable sharing of responsibility. All are expected to take an active part in daily sailboat operations. All share galley duty. On a daily rotational basis, each participant is involved with preparation of meals, washing dishes and stowing galley materials when each meal is done. Fresh water is limited and is available only for drinking and cooking. Bathing is done in salt water. We explored uninhabited islands, and snorkeled at particularly untouched sites. We visited the Exuma Cay National Land and Sea Park, accessible only by boat, and observed the Rock Iguana, an endangered species, on Allen's Cay. We enjoyed a wonderful beach barbecue of cracked conch which our captain got for us. We did learn how to clean and cook them! We used the scraps to attract six sharks to shallow water. Three dolphins preceded us to our final anchorage. This was an especially delightful ending to a very worthwhile trip!
Finances, Addresses, and Phone Numbers
The cost of the trip is reasonable in that it includes round-trip air from Ft. Lauderdale, everything except one evening meal and whatever snacks and/or souvenirs one elects to purchase. There is no need for much spending money as there simply is not much to purchase. Cost for the land trip or the sailing trip from Ft. Lauderdale is $720 per person if arranged before October 1 and secured with a $200 group deposit. After October 1, the cost per person is $745. For more information, contact International Field Studies at 709 College Ave., Columbus, OH, 43209. Phone: (800)962-3805 or (614)235-4646. Land trip: 8 students/teacher. Sailing: 6 students/teacher.