Marine and Island Ecology
Term III
Gerace Research Center
San Salvador, Bahamas

During term III (April and May) the biologists at Elmira College teach a 6 credit course on a small island in the Caribbean. The course is for full time Elmira College students only. We have been teaching this course for over 41 years and are a founding member of Gerace Research Centre on San Salvador Island, The Bahamas.

While students explore the ecological, geological, and cultural aspects of the island, they will learn the plants, insects, birds, fish, and molluscs. Students will also design and execute their own scientific studies.

We stay at the Gerace Research Centre while on the island. The research centre was originally a cold war U.S. naval base. During the late sixties Don Gerace and several New York colleges (including Elmira College) turned the base into a biological research station. Today the base is operated by the College of the Bahamas and run by a professional staff, taking care of hundreds of visiting students and researchers each year.

Our students stay in comfortable, clean, simple housing while studying on the island. Meals are prepared by the staff and all of our needs are handled by the base. Facilities include: wet labs, sea water tanks, microscopes, library, molecular labs, herbarium and other collections, machine shop, dinning hall, laundry, and basketball courts.

The class spends most of its time in the field. We hike throughout the island and visit many interesting geological and ecologically important features. The interaction of freshwater and seawater on San Salvador has left many sink holes, caves, and inland lakes which we explore extensively.

Nearly every day, sometimes multiple times each day, we will be snorkeling. The island offers dozens of reefs to dive, each with a different feel and level of health. We compare the fish, corals, and other invertebrates at each reef and try to come to some conclusions about what determines the health of a reef and what a healthy reef really looks like.

Each beach also has a story to tell and we study the near shore ecology of the island. We do beach profiles and explore the correlations among aspect, beach slope, wave action, and weather. We also examine beach profiles and their relationship to the plant and animal communities nearby.

Independent research projects are an important part of this term III class. During the third week of our class each student must write a research proposal and defend it in front of the class. After review and comments we help each student determine the feasibility and the appropriate methods and statistics to use in addressing their hypothesis. Some previous student research included: predation on nearshore plants versus inland, seed predation on Jimbay plants, coordinated movement in sea biscuit populations, native vs. introduced mockingbird distribution, parrot fish feeding preferences, sea fan distribution in reefs with varying wave intensity, sea urchin distribution in tidal pools, and foraging behavior in local ant species.

Above all, our students get to explore a beautiful island paradise, and in the process begin to appreciate the incredible diversity of life around them. The format of the course is intense. Classes run 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. We start at 7:30am and stop at 9:00pm. Lecture and lab hours are intermixed with field trips. The average day is 7:30am: breakfast, 8:30am: lecture, 10:00am: hike and snorkel, 12:00pm: lunch, 1:00pm: lecture, 2:00pm: field trip to hike and snorkel a new reef, 5:00pm: dinner, 6:00pm: library hour, 7:00pm: lab time, lecture and journal writing, 8:00pm: snack bar opens, 9:00pm: collapse into a comatose like sleep. Saturday night and Sunday morning and afternoon are the only unstructured times which students use to rest and relax.

During this course students will develop observational skills and begin to think scientifically in a student centered, experiential, and wonderfully relaxing tropical island atmosphere.

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