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"The best thing about MCC's environmental
ecology course and the (Belize) field study is it opens
students' minds to the fact that what we do here in
Massachusetts can affect what happens around the
world. Though it sounds like a cliché, it really does
teach them to act locally, but think globally."
Chemistry Professor John Savage
love of scuba diving and concern for the environment
drives Chemistry Professor John Savage to return year
after year to study coral reef ecology in Belize ­ and he takes
students along for the underwater ride.
Since 2007, Savage has run four International Education Fel-
lowships to the tiny Central American country. In June, he
hopes to lead another "Belize Experience" to the popular div-
ing destination.
With the help of his co-leader, Biotechnology Professor Paul
Patev, Savage takes up to 14 students on two-week research
trips to Ambergris Caye, a mangrove island adjacent to the
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Located 14 miles off the coast of
Belize, the reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world,
after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The goal of the trip is to gather underwater data --
counting fish, coral and invertebrates (lobsters, sea urchins,
etc.) -- and assess the general health of the same 400-square-
meter section of coral reef for Reef Check. A nonprofit
organization dedicated to coral-reef conservation, Reef Check
has established an international network of volunteer divers,
trained and led by scientists, that monitor coral reef health.
"My students are contributing real data to a big, big project ­
a continuing study of the world's coral reefs," said Savage.
"We are conducting a scientific sampling of a very specific
area of the reef in Belize."
But don't assume this is a laid-back, Caribbean vacation.
It's a rigorous scientific course, technically the lab/field study
component to Savage's "Coral Reef Ecology" environmental
science class. In order to apply for the trip, all students must
pass the course ­ and many are also certified scuba divers.
"This trip is all about science, and conducting this underwater
sampling requires advanced diving skills. It's physically
demanding," said Savage. "We don't have to worry about
students staying up all night," he added, laughing.
"They are exhausted ­ they take naps!"
According to Savage, teams of Reef Check divers like his are
doing for marine biologists, what amateur bird watchers do
for ornithologists. The more trained eyes you have in the field,
the better your overall data.
Global Education
John Savage
Gathering Scientific Data About
Coral Reef Health in Belize