Ken Marion, Ph.D., loves taking students to the remote Bahaman Island of San Salvador to study the tropical ecology of the region. He’s done so more than a dozen times since 1993, and he says making the journey never gets old.
|Jim McClintock (left) and Ken Marion show a hawksbill sea turtle they caught and released on their recent trip to San Salvador. |
“My wife goes on the trip, and we’ve just loved interacting with students through the years,” Marion says. “Traveling and doing these study-abroad programs are different, and it’s not for every faculty member, for sure. You are with the students 24 hours a day for several days. You really get to know them and interact with them on a more personal level, but I enjoy that very much.”
UAB in the Bahamas is one of several Study Away programs faculty and students will be involved with this summer. Some of the other programs include UAB in Peru and upcoming trips to India, Honduras, Italy, Japan and Spain.
Marion’s group, which also includes University Professor Jim McClintock, Ph.D., and 17 students of various disciplines, has been studying the ecology of the region.
The program — one of Study Away’s longest running — is part of the Biology 267/567 courses that encompass field-based studies of the rich diversity of marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats and associated fauna and flora of San Salvador. Students hike through inland forests and coastal dunes to examine the tropical vegetation uniquely adapted to these environments, as well as the abundant bird life. Shallow-water snorkeling provides easy access to a rich diversity of coral reef fish, marine invertebrates, seagrass communities, mangrove estuaries and soft-bottom sand habitats.
The course began in April with several in-class lectures preparing the students for their hands-on studies in the Bahamas.
The benefits to students are numerous, Marion says.
“It enables them to see organisms and experience different ecosystems we just don’t have around Alabama,” Marion says. “But it also is a different cultural experience. You’re going to a different country where there are different customs and accents. I think it’s quite enlightening for some of our kids who have never been out of the country in some cases.”
It’s also historical. Marion always has a group photograph taken at the spot on the island that commemorates where Columbus first made landfall in the new world.
“It’s not just biology for us,” Marion says. “It’s cultural and a little historical, which is something most courses don’t get with just a lecture in a classroom.”
Rainforest, Galapagos ecology under study
McClintock and Marion co-teach two other courses that have study away components: Rainforest Ecology and Galapagos Ecology.
They have taken students to Costa Rica on five occasions during which the students studied four ecosystems — the mountain cloud forest, the volcanic slope, the Caribbean rainforest and the swamp rainforest.
McClintock and Marion took students to the Galapagos Islands for the first time in 2007 and hope to go back again in 2009.
“That is just a spectacular experience,” Marion says. “The animals there show absolutely no fear. They are right there in front of you, and they don’t move. And it’s also the only spot in the world where you can snorkel with sea turtles, sea lions and penguins all at the same time. It’s just amazing.”
Marion says these experiences aren’t just beneficial for students.
“As I mentioned, I love the interaction with the students,” he says. “And these courses enable us as teachers to expand our horizons in something other than our own little niche and research area. It’s an invaluable experience.”