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Tropical Ecosystem & Megafauna High School Course
Tropical Marine Ecosystems - Conservation in Action
Students will participate in a hands-on field study, and this course is equivalent to a semester long high school science elective. The scope of the course is to cover the biology and ecology of critical marine species impacted by human activities with a focus on species in Turneffe Atoll and the Coastal Zone of Belize. Our approach is to use lectures, discussion, inquiry activities and lab and field investigations to demonstrate the relevance of marine conservation issues and provide experiential applied learning. Lectures will be interactive and use an ecosystem approach to conservation and management of particular habitats and species. Inquiry activities will foster a student's desire to learn more about a topic and help guide them in their own journey to discover and educate their peers on topics of interest. Lab and field investigations promote scientific inquiry skills and allow the students to put into practice the concepts they have learned in the classroom. We will be emphasizing both individual learning practices as well as collaborative learning in small group situations. In addition, students will get to learn about current scientific research and conservation efforts from the people that are making a difference in Belize.
A typical day will consist of either morning or afternoon classroom sessions with boat excursions during the alternative half of the day. Evenings will be utilized for small group work, homework and an occasional evening lesson. This course will include instruction in general marine mammal ecology, anatomy, physiology, evolution and population biology and specifics about bottlenose dolphins and Antillean manatees in Belize.
Lectures and Inquiry Lessons:
- Coral Reefs Ecology
- Sea Grasses and Mangroves
- Dolphin social systems and biology
- Manatee biology and behavior
- Photoidentification of marine species: focus on dolphins, manatees, sharks and turtles
- Sea turtle biology and conservation
- Crocodile Conservation
- Fish behavior & biology
- Marine Pollution
Scientific Inquiry Activities (Labs and Field Investigations)
- Dolphin Data Collection
- Coral, fish and invertebrate surveys
- Estimating seagrass biomass
Field Trips & Activities
- Beach Clean Up - Marine Debris Art Project
- Consideration of sustainability at Turneffe Facilities
- Exploration of littoral forest and/or grassland
- Visit Crocodile Nesting Sites
- Visit to the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute at Calabash Caye
- Mangrove snorkel & jellyfish lagoon
- Visit to the Drowned Cayes Manatee Sanctuary
- Culminating Activity: Role play simulation – Turneffe Marine Protected Area Initiative
Assessment and Grading
Topic Tests or Quizzes 15%
Labs & Field Investigations 20%
Inquiry Activities 25%
Independent Project 20%
Class Participation 20%
Barbara Bilgre worked with the Oceanic Society in Belize as the Principal Dolphin Investigator, and secondarily as Manatee Researcher from 1992-1993 and 1999-2001. In addition to initiating a photoidentifcation catalog of dolphins in Turneffe Atoll, she helped open the Blackbird Oceanic Field Station in 2001. Barbara also conducted dolphin research and natural history programs with the Oceanic Society at Midway Atoll. She is currently a certified high school teacher specializing in biology and environmental sciences. During her 11 years professional teaching experience, Barbara has taught at a public school in Arlington, Virginia, at International Schools in Berlin, Germany, Thailand and Costa Rica, and currently teaches at The Galloway School in Atlanta, Georgia. Her approach to teaching is through the use of inquiry to engage students and to facilitate students in becoming more active in their learning practices. In addition to promoting Global Citizenship and Sustainability programs in various schools where Barbara has worked, she is also working with Advance Placement teachers in Environmental Science to redesign classroom practices to utilize a more holistic, case study approach.
Blackbird Caye is approximately 90 minutes by motor vessel east of Belize City.
Operated by the Oceanic Society, the Blackbird Caye Field Station sits on a low sand and mangrove island archipelago within the barrier reef system of Belize. This is a remote tropical island with no medical facilities. A private airstrip is available for emergency evacuation.
Rendezvous with instructor at the Atlanta International Airport. no later than 8:00am. Fly as a group to Belize City. Afternoon arrival. Travel by boat to Blackbird Caye, Turneffe Atoll. Dinner and settle in. Program orientation and safety overview.
Day 2 to 7
Lectures, Labs, Fieldwork.
Transfer by boat to St. George's Caye Field Station. Afternoon field program with sea turtles.
Day 9: Morning field program. Afternoon recap, exam.
Day 10: Transfer from St. George's Caye to Belize City and the international airport for your flight home. Group arrives in Atlanta at 5:45pm.