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Studying Coral Reef Ecology in the Bahamas

By Colleen Kearney Rich on July 18, 2016


Can you earn credit while swimming with sharks? Yes, you can. For the past 13 years, School of Integrative Studies professors Greg Justice and Tom Wood have been traveling to the Bahamas each summer with students for their Coral Reef Ecology class.

Mason students examine reef formations during the Coral Reef Ecology course in the Bahamas. Photo courtesy of the School of Integrative Studies

Mason students examine reef formations during the Coral Reef Ecology course in the Bahamas. Photo courtesy of the School of Integrative Studies

In the 3-credit course, students learn about reef ecosystems while living on board a 65-foot sloop and sailing around the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

“On this trip, I advanced my diving skills, becoming more proficient in night diving and buoyancy, as well as learning how to run underwater transect survey lines for data collection,” says environmental science major Eran Nimtz. “I was also lucky enough to be on board with a few amazing professors, and was able to learn about weather patterns at sea, the Bahamian coast, and underwater noise pollution.”

For Tim Milmoe, BA Integrative Studies ’15, being able to see things firsthand changed his perspective. “It is one thing to study a macro-level problem such as climate change in the classroom, but it is completely different seeing the side effects for yourself,” he says. “We saw a devastated coral reef that had been eroded by the pH and temperature changes of the water. It changed my perspective on how I think about and treat the environment.”

For everyone involved, a high point was swimming with blacktip sharks in a large underwater cavern, known as a blue hole.

“We saw more than 200 blacktip sharks glide silently over the rim and disappear into the calm, blue distance toward open ocean,” said Nimtz. “It was one of the most peaceful and beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”


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