Students From Around the World Study Coral Reef Ecology at BIOS

SCUBA diving

This summer, eight students from the US, Cuba, and Scotland traveled to Bermuda to participate in the Coral Reef Ecology (CRE) course at BIOS. This intensive summer course—geared toward upper level undergraduate and graduate students—exposes participants to the coral reef ecosystem at all organizational levels, from physiological ecology through population biology, community structure to ecosystem dynamics, and including human impacts.

Dr. Eric Hochberg, one of the CRE course instructors, said, “I have two goals with CRE. The first is to teach the students our most current understanding about how coral reef ecosystems work, from the biology to the chemistry to the physics. The second goal is to give the students practical experience studying real coral reef systems. This means strapping on a SCUBA tank, getting in the water, and making scientifically rigorous observations. This is training that cannot be taught in a classroom.”

Over the course of three weeks, students attend lectures on a broad range of topics and ecological principles; conduct six laboratory experiments using a variety of practical techniques (including cell fractionation by centrifugation, chlorophyll analysis, and measurement of coral growth); take part in nine field surveys to gain familiarity with current field methods (including video transects, quadrat sampling, and measurement of juvenile corals); and attend three seminars by BIOS scientists on current research relating to corals and coral reefs.

Toward the end of the course, students collate and analyze data sets from the field and laboratory exercises, look for trends and patterns across reefs, and present their analyses as final oral presentations. Amy Pope, a student at Furman University (USA), commented on this portion of the course, saying, “Taking CRE was a fantastic decision! What really sets it apart are the labs and field work. We not only collected our own data, but were responsible for analyzing and interpreting it. What we were doing was real science, which is absolutely thrilling!”

Rowan McLachlan, a second year undergraduate in marine biology at the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), said of his experience, “The three weeks I spent studying at BIOS changed by life! Everything I learned during my time there—from theory regarding the ecology of the reef to practical experience surveying and analyzing data samples—has benefitted me immensely. It has given me an idea of what to expect as an aspiring marine biologist, both in the processes involved in scientific research and also the difficulties that one can face.”

For more information on the CRE course, including a complete course description, the availability of partial scholarships for summer course tuition, and 2014 dates (to be announced), please visit