In Summer 2015, Dr. John Nason (EEOB) and Dr. Mary Harris (NREM) co-led 12 Iowa State undergraduate students in a study abroad course (Biol 394, NREM 496) culminating in a two-week trip to Belize. Belize is located on the Caribbean coast of Central America and provides students with a diversity of learning opportunities, both biological and cultural.
The first week of the Belize trip exposed students to terrestrial ecosystems in the forested interior, a region of rugged Karst topography. Daily activities included guided trips to Five Blues National Park and its Duende Caves formation, and to Blue Hole National Park for travel by foot and by water through St. Herman’s Cave, a site with a number of ancient Mayan artifacts. They also visited the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, took a guided night walk through the Belize Zoo, and traveled to the small coastal village of Hopkins to visit with the local Garifuna people and enjoy their food and drumming performances.
The second week of the trip exposed students to marine ecosystems associated with two coral atolls lying outside of Belize’s Barrier Reef. They stayed at a rustic field station on Calabash Caye, which is run by the University of Belize. From there the class snorkeled a variety of the Turnoff Atoll’s inner and outer reef environments, including interactions with wild bottlenose dolphins. They also travelled to Lighthouse Reef to snorkel the perimeter of the Belize’s famous Blue Hole, and to explore Half Moon Caye National Monument, a protected seabird nesting area.
The 2015 study abroad trip was an enriching learning and cultural experience for students (and instructors!). The course be offered again in Summer 2016. These study abroad activities comprise an important component of the Broader Outreach goals of NSF award DEB-1146312 to P.I. J. Nason, which includes financial support for undergraduate course participants.