Program Goals and Activities
The Pacific Islands course will provide abundant opportunities to study both marine biology and terrestrial ecology. We will focus much of our attention on the critical themes of 'climate change' and 'conservation'. Teaching will be done through field work, lectures and seminars by visiting scientists, and through assisting on local conservation and restoration projects.
Our first theme for consideration will be “climate change and its impact on the marine ecosystems.” Coral reefs are considered the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, being impacted by ocean acidification, invasive species, over fishing and pollution. It is estimated 75% of the remaining coral reefs are under threat, with climate change being one of the main factors. This part of the course will focus on marine biology and the threats faced by marine ecosystems.
We will split our time between our three Mariana Islands. First, we will explore Guam, the largest and most populated island, where there is a long history of invasive species and unsustainable fishing practices. On Guam, students will snorkel among bomb craters from World War II and see first-hand the impact of long-term use on the marine environment. We will then travel to Saipan, a relatively well protected island whose emerald green forests rise above powder sand beaches. Tourism has been limited to small sections of the island so students will get to witness relatively intact coral reefs with a variety of fish species. Finally, our travels will take us to Rota, the smallest and most remote island. A forgotten gem between Guam and Saipan, it boasts an incredible array of marine life and tropical forests. Here sharks, octopus and rays can be readily seen in the pristine coral reefs off the island's lagoon. We will compare the reefs of these three islands and discuss the threats to their dynamic yet fragile marine ecosystems. Additionally, we will explore how a rise in sea level will impact the Pacific Islands and its people.
Under our theme of conservation, our team will investigate local conservation and restoration initiatives to learn about current and future threats to our three focal islands. Students will participate in ongoing research projects, gaining insight into how scientist form research questions and learn the best methods to carry them out. Additionally, our team will participate in current restoration and conservation projects, experiencing first-hand the practical realities of research. We will cover both marine and terrestrial conservation, climate change, water shed management, invasive species as well as participate in coral and fish monitoring programs.
And finally, students will have the opportunity to learn about the unique culture of the indigenous Chamorro people. A resilient culture, the Chamorro have endured occupation from outside groups since the mid-1500s. Historically, the Chamorro were expert seafarers and skilled craftspeople, holding close their core cultural value of inafa'maolek, translated as "doing good for each other". Today, because the Marianas are a part of the United States, the Chamorro people enjoy greater economic opportunities than many other Micronesian peoples. We will have the opportunity to meet Chamorro locals and participate in a variety of cultural experiences, enabling us to better understand this historic culture and their values toward stewardship.
By the end of the program students should have a clear understanding of marine biology, the threats marine ecosystems are currently facing, and future restoration and conservation challenges. They will also have a better idea of the vulnerability of island ecosystems to climate change and invasive species, and what can be done to mitigate these problems.
No prior field research experience is required. All field methods and skills for data acquisition will be taught on this course. We expect students to have a positive and engaging attitude throughout the course. In exchange, they will be rewarded with an incredible experience, exploring a remote area with unforgettable marine ecosystems that few people get the chance to visit. Teaching will be done in the outdoor setting, through hiking, visits to protected marine areas, and student-led independent research projects. Seminars will be led by Wildlands Studies staff, local conservation organisations and researchers.
The first three weeks of our island program will be spent on Guam. Here students will learn about threats to the Pacific Islands, current research being undertaken and local conservation initiatives. We will participate in a number of research and conservation projects to examine first-hand how invasive species have affected the ecosystems of Guam. Students will start to develop their own independent project ideas, and undertake our initial marine surveys to form the basis of our three island comparison.
The following ten days will be spent on Saipan where students will learn the impacts of poorly managed tourism on the local environment, and potential ecotourism initiatives. On Saipan, we will spend a significant time in the water, learning the biology of coral reefs and their associated fish communities, ocean acidification and the effect of pollutants such as plastic on marine life. Students will further develop their independent projects, many of which will have a marine focus. We will spend a small amount of time in the forest comparing the bird communities of Saipan and Guam.
The final ten days will be spent on Rota. Here students will experience a pristine tropical island ecosystem, allowing them to imagine Guam and Saipan as they once were. We will attempt to understand why Rota's coral reefs are so intact and discuss additional protection initiatives Rota could undertake in order to further ensure the protection of its coral reefs. Additionally, we will reflect on our experience on Guam and Saipan to propose future conservation programs and restoration initiatives. Students will finish their independent projects on Rota.