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Reef sharks don't deter Lycoming College students from diving in Honduras

Reef sharks don't deter Lycoming College students from diving in Honduras

Students learned more about marine research on a trip to Honduras.

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While on a trip to the reef off Honduras, Lycoming College students watched 15 large sharks with awe as their streamlined bodies, which can get up to 9 feet long, slid soundlessly through the water in search of prey. Watching sharks in their natural environment was one of the highlights of the students’ trip to Roatán Island off the eastern coast of the Central American country.

As part of a tropical marine biology May Term course, the group traveled to the Roatán Institute of Marine Science (RIMS), which is a private teaching and research lab. The island of Roatán is along the southern edge of the Mesoamerican reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.

“Educating young people about our world is imperative if we want to continue to maintain healthy ecosystems and minimize the destruction of habitat throughout the world,” said Mel Zimmerman, Ph.D., biology professor at Lycoming College. “The trip helps Lycoming College students, many of whom have not traveled much beyond their own home state, experience different environments and cultures. They lose their fear of others and gain an excitement about the possibilities before them.”

While there, the students learned more about data collection methods using an underwater transect line to collect data on the percentage of live corals and those covered by algae as part of the institute’s reef monitoring project.

They also completed 12 dives over six days, including a night dive and a night snorkeling excursion where they saw bioluminescent plankton and a large octopus. While snorkeling during the day, the divers encountered many types of tropical organisms including: sponges, squid, octopus, sea turtles and many fish species like groupers, wrasse, parrotfish and butterfly fish. They also observed a hawksbill sea turtle feeding on its main food, the barrel sponge, and a green sea turtle swimming on the top reef. A snorkeling trip through mangroves helped reinforce the importance of these trees for aquatic life and shoreline protection.

Lectures throughout the trip helped students better understand the impacts of global warming, ocean acidification, coral diseases and the effects of the invasive lion fish on the reef ecosystem. Fifteen bottlenose dolphins reside at RIMS and, after lectures on their ecology and physiology, students were able to snorkel with them as part of their course encounter.

The group also completed a 100-foot deep dive to a 200-foot cargo ship — the Aquila — sunk as an artificial reef in 1996. Before leaving for the trip, all Lycoming students became PADI open water dive certified at the college pool by Zimmerman.

Field trips also included a tropical forest and garden ecology tour and a zip-line canopy tour that started in the central-highland and ended at the sea. While on hikes, participants observed coffee, cacao and various tropical fruit trees.

Students participating in the trip included:

Ashley Bresee
Mariah Durrant
Samantha Fischer
Jacob Fronko
Brittany Lenze
Alison McNett
Sarah Musheno
Bree Nishibun
Dominic Novella
Kevin Peck
Lindsay Smith
Danielle Sabins

As if the dives and snorkeling excursions weren’t enough excitement, the group enjoyed a festival barbeque where three earned accolades: Bree Nishibun won the limbo contest, and Ali McNett and Ashley Bresee won a dance contest.

Also participating in the event were Emily Bohlin, Lycoming’s biology lab manager, Zimmerman’s wife, Gail, who is an ecologist, and his son and dive master, Drew.

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