Stratford student completes global field course on San Salvador Island

A number of students from Eastern Connecticut State University recently traveled to San Salvador Island to study tropical biology. The trip focused on studying the history and development of the local fauna on the island as well as in the surrounding waters. The group’s research was based out of the Gerace Research Center, which occupies a former U.S. naval base in Grahams Harbor.

Among these students was Patrick Aspinwall class of 2016 of Stratford. Aspinwall’s major is biology.

This class was offered as one of Eastern’s “global field courses,” which provide unique learning experiences to students by allowing them to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting. The tropical biology global field course has a long history of success at Eastern and has been offered every summer since 1968. The course alternates annually between traveling to San Salvador Island and Costa Rica.

San Salvador Island and other surrounding islands in the Bahamas offer a unique opportunity for biology students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. As opposed to more common continental or volcanic islands, San Salvador is a large platform of carbonate sediment, and many of the plants and organisms found on the island are exclusive to the region. The field experience in the Bahamas allowed students to conduct research and make informed observations about creatures they could never have encountered elsewhere.

The group also closely examined the ecosystem of this unique region. “One highlight of the trip was the frequent sightings of sharks and sea turtles, both signs of a healthy coral reef ecosystem,” said faculty advisor and Biology Professor Charles Booth.

Students were also able to enjoy the scenery and local culture of San Salvador. They visited an open-air market in San Salvador’s largest community, Cockburn Town, and attended a fish fry put on by the locals. The students also travelled to the hand-operated Dixon Hill Lighthouse, which has been in operation since the mid-1800’s, and got to see how it worked in person.

Even when they weren’t conducting field research, students were able to observe a variety of native animals. They were able to see the endangered San Salvador rock iguana in its natural habitat, in addition to exploring San Salvador’s largest cave, Lighthouse Cave. Made primarily of limestone, the cave houses a large colony of bats estimated to number between 200 and 500, which students were able to observe.

Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 164 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 24 other states and 50 other countries. A residential campus offering 40 majors and 56 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked in the top 30 public universities in the North Region, by U.S. News and World Report in its 2015 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded “Green Campus” status by the U.S. Green Building Council six years in a row. For more information, visit easternct.edu.

Eastern Connecticut State University students with Professor Booth during the San Salvador global field course.

Eastern Connecticut State University students with Professor Booth during the San Salvador global field course.

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