Deep blue sea

Most students don’t expect to depart a college visit with a plane ticket to Central America. Lycoming College sophomore Kearsten Kreitz and 2012 graduate Brittany Buckely did just that, though, after attending the College’s annual Science Saturday program as high school seniors. Each year, the admissions office raffles off one certificate, redeemable for the cost of airfare, to the biology department’s tropical marine biology course. Kreitz and Buckley will be cashing in their winnings this summer for a week-long excursion to Roatan Island, Honduras.

Lycoming students have been travelling to the Caribbean, Gulf and Central America for the May Term course, under the direction of Dr. Mel Zimmerman, professor of biology and director of the College’s Clean Water Institute, since 1984. Zimmerman has made 23 trips with more than 200 students from Lycoming.

Zimmerman and his wife, Gail, a certified Biology teacher, served as directors of the Hoftstra University Marine Lab in Jamaica. When the lab closed in 2005, he used a professional development grant to complete an eight-day workshop on tropical marine ecology at the Roatan Institute for Marine Science (RIMS), a private teaching and research lab housed at Anthony’s Key, Roatan Island, Honduras. 

This year, 16 students will travel to RIMS on a week-long trip that culminates their May Term course in tropical marine biology. Two to three snorkel and dive trips each day – including a night dive and optional shark dive – along the reefs will explore coral diversity and reef health, along with the ecology of organisms such as sponges, squid, octopus, sea turtles and fish.

An added bonus to the lab is a dolphin training and research facility. Field trips also include a tropical forest/garden ecology tour and a “zip-line” canopy tour that starts in the central-highland and ends at the sea and a night snorkel.

Twelve of the 16 students enrolled in the class are Professional Association of Diving Instructors-certified open water divers. A scuba certification course is offered every semester at Lycoming for physical education credit. Visit the May Term course’s blog, which departs for Honduras June 2, here.

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