Once again my season in Belize has come and gone. The best part of my work at Half Moon Caye is the last: a group of Biology students from various Ontario universities, led by University of Western Ontario Professor Graeme Taylor, spend 11 days in camp doing a course in Field Studies.
The students have a variety of tasks to complete, starting before they even leave home. Their first task is to learn to identify a wide range of commonly-seen marine life, ranging from sponges and corals to fishes.
An aside: the plural “fish” refers to individual fish. The plural “fishes” refers to types or species of fish.
With a head start on species identification, the students were ready to go right into the water, so they spent the next few days familiarising themselves with the various snorkel sites. A part of their course was to keep a field journal, where they could record observations, keep track of species, and generally organise their thoughts. The ultimate goal was to explore and nourish their curiosity. Unstructured, unguided observation leads to questions. Questions and further observation lead to hypotheses. Further thinking leads to ideas about how to test these hypotheses, or to determine whether they are testable, in practice or in principle. Then the real work begins.
Once the students, working in pairs, had developed a question, hypothesis, and means to test it experimentally, they began to do their data collection. They were by no means restricted to the reefs; many of the students developed projects with terrestrial, semi-terrestrial or inter-tidal organisms. Nothing on or near the island was safe from their sharp eyes and simple measuring instruments. Everything was either passively observed or measured and put back as found.
The students worked hard and were serious in their application to this course. This was no spring break, but it was fun and the students learned a few things about the nature of field work, and got a taste of the difficulties of doing science in the field.
Best of luck to you all, and thanks to Graeme and Carli for your hard work in making this happen.