BI 3263 Special Topics in Biology: The Ecology of Curacao Coral Reefs and Mangroves (3 credits)

Students will study the marine biology and ecology of the fringing reefs and mangroves of Curacao. Curacao is a dry tropical island in the southern Caribbean and as such its ecology is very different to that of Maine. Students will visit Curacao for two weeks during the course, snorkeling to examining coral reefs, mangrove forests, and National Parks to study the different habitats within the island. This course counts as an Academic Field Experience.

BI 3883: Coral Reef Diversity (3 Credits)

Students will study the role of fish and the biodiversity of coral reefs in and among the coral reefs of Curacao. They will conduct reef surveys in different areas of the island and compare the relative abundance of fish species to those in other Caribbean Islands. The potential effects of the recent influx of immigrants/refugees from Venezuela upon fish populations will be examined along with local fish practices in general.

Instructors: Dr. Emma Perry and Randy Colvin

  • May 14 – 15 on campus in Unity, Maine
  • May 16 – 30 in Curacao
  • June 1 – 3  on campus in Unity, Maine

Class Size: 12 Students

Tuition (BI 3263 and BI 3883): $3540.00
Fee $1000 (Non-refundable deposit of $700 and a copy of your passport due by January 17, 2020).
Tuition and Fee due in full by February 3, 2020

Register Now!

About the Instructors:

Emma-Perry-Unity-CollegeDr. Perry completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at Exeter University, Britain, where she was born and raised. For her senior thesis, she studied habitat preference by the burrowing brittle star Acrocnida brachiata. After graduation, she moved to Tampa, Florida to do a Ph.D. on echinoderms with Dr. J. Lawrence and Dr. L. Robbins. She became interested in the process by which echinoderms, especially sand dollars, constructed their intricate three-dimensional skeletons. Since then, she has become more generally interested in the biology and systematics of lesser known marine invertebrates. At Unity College, Perry has been researching tardigrades with student participation.

Travel Itinerary:

Curaçao is a dry Caribbean island surrounded by fringing reefs. We will visit beaches around the island examine the marine ecosystems by snorkeling, tidepooling and swimming. We will survey the fish communities at each location and compare different communities. We will also examine local culture and government and their attitudes to their surrounding marine environment. By the end of the trip students will know the coral reef ecosystems and the associated biodiversity as it varies according to its position around the island of Curaçao.

Student Preparedness:

Students will spend most days in or under the water snorkeling. We will need to hike to some locations so students will need to be strong swimmers and be able to tolerate very hot dry weather while walking to the sites. A large water bottle is a must for these days along with ability to carry their snorkel gear the necessary distance to the beach. While the following is a tentative itinerary, actual locations may switch according to the prevailing winds so that we snorkel in quiet waters.

Tentative Schedule: (View the blog from the 2019 trip!)

May 14 – Unity College, Maine

  • Natural history of Curaçao
  • Overview of Marine Habitats
  • Overview of Course Assignments
  • Gear check

May 15 – Unity College, Maine

  • Political History of Curaçao
  • History of Slavery on Island
  • Introduction to Coral Biology and Coral Reefs on Curaçao

May 16- Travel to Curaçao

  • Travel to Curaçao from Unity College campus (usually through Miami).
  • Arrive at CARMABI by 10pm

May 17 – CARMABI

  • Tour of CARMABI
  • Visit Sea Aquarium – practice local marine species identification
  • Snorkeling test (at CARMABI)
  • Overview of Meiofauna experiment (pairs of students will sample at each location)

May 18- Snorkeling to observe marine species

  • Daaibooi Beach
  • Students snorkel in buddies, and use slates to record preliminary observations
  • Meiofaunal sampling – team 1
  • Hypotheses generated based upon preliminary observations
  • Team 1 conducts meiofaunal analysis

May 19 – Fish surveys

  • Kokomo
  • Students will conduct underwater fish surveys using dive slates
  • Natural History Observations
  • Meiofaunal sampling – team 2
  • Data analysis
  • Team 2 conducts meiofaunal analysis

May 20 – South Shore Beach Examination

  • Visit salt flats and flamingos at Willibrodus and hike to beach
  •  snorkeling, make observations
  • Meiofaunal sampling – team 3
  • Data analysis
  • Team 3 conducts meiofaunal analysis

May 21 – Soft Coral Identification

  • Playa Lagun
  • Students will conduct underwater fish surveys
  • Soft coral identification and assessment
  • Observations of terrestrial lizards and birds
  • Meiofaunal sampling – team 4
  • Students compare fish survey data between locations
  • Team 4 conducts meiofaunal analysis

May 22 – National Heritage of Curaçao

  • Day in Willamsted –National Heritage Site Architecture.
  • How to be a responsible tourist
  • Visit Willamsted Slavery Museum.
  • Dinner in town

May 23 – Rest Day

May 24 – Assessment of Coral Health

  • Director’s Bay
  • snorkeling, make observations
  • Assessment of coral health
  • Meiofaunal sampling – team 5
  • Data analysis
  • Team 5 conducts meiofaunal analysis

May 25 – Mangrove Community Ecology

  • Sea kayaking to visit Mangrove communities and examine restoration program. Meiofaunal sampling of mangrove epiphytes– all teams
  •  CARMABI: Data analysis, meiofaunal analysis.

May 26 – Comparison of Natural Reef and Pier Communities

  • Visit tugboat
  • Snorkel along pier
  • Lunch
  • Snorkel out to wreck observing species on wreck and on rocks nearby.
  •  CARMABI – Data analysis

May 27 – Rocky Shore Ecology

  • Christofel Park- slave plantation (terrestrial tour)
  • Hard rock beach transects

May 28 – Ecology of Sea Turtles

  • Visit Playa Grande, snorkel with turtles, make observations
  • Dinner in Willamsted

May 29 – Travel from Curacao to Unity

May 30 & 31 – Independent Student Work

June 01 – Class Analysis of student data

  • assessment of the biodiversity and health of inshore communities of Curaçao

June 02 – Class analysis of meiofaunal data – species identification and discussion of ecological significance

June 3 – Final class presentations