Photo: Scott McCullough

The Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize, one of the most pristine marine environments in the Caribbean Sea, has become an educational destination during spring break for Wake Forest students and faculty studying climate change and sustainability.

During Spring Break, two groups from campus crossed paths on the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, which is part of Belize’s Barrier Reef.

Students taking seminar courses Biology 311 and 312, Ecology and Conservation Biology of Coral Reefs, have been reading scientific literature and discussing their ideas and opinions pertaining to coral reef ecology. Student Mike Fasano described it as a forum “to facilitate critical review of the literature and provide insight into the importance of research.”

To prepare to study hundreds of species of reef fishes and dozens of soft and hard corals as part of the courses’ lab component, Fasano and classmates had to take one of the most unusual tests of their lives – snorkels and bathing suits were required. Graduate student Ben Perlman, who co-teaches the two course sections with biology faculty Miriam Ashley Ross and Miles Silman, has been giving the “pool quiz” the past three years to prepare students for the annual spring break study trip to Belize.

“I do this to help get my students prepared for all the different fishes and corals we’re going to see in the wild,” he said. “It’s a really fun activity just to get them used to their snorkel gear, and, for some students, it’s their first time snorkeling so it gives them practice.”

Masters in Arts in Sustainability students from Wake Forest also traveled to Belize to serve as consultants for the government.

The students have done a lot of work on climate change impacts in coastal communities, developing practical problem-solving skills that address the challenges of climate change and haphazard coastal development in Belize.

Students traveled to Belize City, Belmopan, Placencia, and Lighthouse Reef Atoll to visit affected areas and meet with government officials, researchers, conservationists, and economic planners. The final project requires students to research and draft recommendations for a monitoring system to evaluate the effectiveness of a coastal management and development plan.

By Bonnie Davis, WFU News & Communications

Additional Coverage:

Diving into Biodiversity

Message in a Belizean Bottle