Biology Students Travel to Bermuda for Research

By Abby Wargo

Student Life Editor

For some Washington College students, relaxation and learning came together for a two-week summer course in Bermuda. A group of 18 students, along with Assistant Associate professor of environmental science Dr. Rebecca Fox and professor of biology Dr. Martin Connaughton, studied topics related to environmental science and biology. The students received four credits towards an upper level biology or environmental science course.

Deaven Maull, a junior majoring in environmental science and minoring in biology, said, “the purpose of the trip was to look at the complex ecology of the Bermuda Islands, the impact that human habitation has had on the natural history, and current environmental concerns and ways to reduce those concerns.”

The students and professors worked closely with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science. During the day, they would snorkel and catalog different kinds of fish, take historic tours and hike, or learn about the impact that humans have on the Bermudan ecosystem. One day, they got to visit the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo. In the evenings, students at- tended lectures and discussed what they had learned and activities for the following day.

The students were separated into three groups prior to leaving, with the task of making a video in different locations covering different topics. Maull’s group was assigned Tobacco Bay and Fort St. Catherine.

From left, junior Kristy Grovom, seniors Breanna Caruso and Gabby Leach, and junior Deaven Maull.
From left, junior Kristy Grovom, seniors Breanna Caruso and Gabby Leach, and junior Deaven Maull.

Jessica Woodall, a sophomore environmental science major, said her group’s topic, “was sea grass beds. It was really hard to get footage because sea turtles ate up all the sea grass bed we kayaked to. I knew that Taylor [Stofko] was going to another sea grass site for her [Cater Society research] project, so I asked to tag along and get footage for our video,” she said. “Other groups had similar problems, and we had to be flexible and take the initiative to get what we needed for our projects outside of ‘class time’.”

The group itself stayed in St. George on a canal with ocean access and was close to Hamilton.

“Bermuda is not very big, so being on one side of the island was not a huge problem. Saint George’s is much quieter than Hamilton, and also ideal for the unique sites we went to. Stay- ing at BIOS was perfect because the people there helped us out a lot, driving buses, boats, being our guides, teaching us, and they were all incredibly nice,” Woodall said.

While Bermuda is a beautiful island with interesting tourist attractions, it is also a great place to research biodiversity. “The water is oligotrophic, meaning nutrient poor, but all of these organisms [in the water] are able to survive because of coral’s tight nutrient cycling, called the coral reef paradox. Coral is so important to the overall health of the ocean, and so many people don’t realize that without coral the ocean would really be a desert,” Maull said.

Woodall most enjoyed learning about the Cahow, Bermuda’s national bird.
“It was once the rarest bird in the world, due to excess hunting, and was thought to be extinct for a long time. When a nesting pair was found in Bermuda, a huge conservation effort was launched to try and save them. Because of this, the population of the Cahow has increased, and they are only the second rarest bird in the world now.”

In addition to earning class credit and fulfilling requirements to graduate, students had varying reasons for taking the trip.

I have always been interested in marine biology and the ocean, and I was hoping that this trip would help me see if that was the correct path to pursue after college,” Maull said.

Woodall said, “The Bermuda course was absolutely vital for me to decide if I wanted to pursue aquatic science as a career path. After the trip, I know for sure that this interests me and that I do want to study aquatic environments in the future. I also hope to return to Bermuda for work or even an internship. I loved it so much I really didn’t want to leave.”

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