By Chantale Bégin (TMEC instructor)
From May 6-20, 2018, 21 students from the University of South Florida will come to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, to learn about coral reef ecology and tropical marine conservation as they work with the Soufriere Marine Management Association (SMMA). Students will learn how to survey coral reef ecosystems using scuba diving, as they assess the condition of the reefs in and out of the SMMA. This will allow them to determine how reefs have changed since 2011, the last time they were surveyed. Because high sedimentation rate is known to be a major stressor to corals here, students will also participate in the sampling of sediment cores near the Soufriere River, and in measuring sedimentation rate at various sites around the SMMA using devices called SedPods (described in a future blog post). In early April 2018, `I worked with the rangers at the SMMA to dive at 18 sites inside and outside the marine park and deploy 3 sedpods at each site. These sedpods will be on the reefs for around 4 weeks before students in TMEC retrieve them next month and collect the sediment that has deposited on them, to be quantified and analyzed back at USF.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. During these courses, students learn scientific diving techniques over a 10-14 day period and carry out research and monitoring of coral reefs at various sites. Many of these courses are done in partnership with local environmental organizations, like the Union Island Environmental Alliance and the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.