Published: June 03, 2010
Amy Kerr ’11 has been dreaming of scuba diving in Honduras ever since
her freshman year when she first heard about the Coral Reefs course
taught by UT Professor Kevin Beach.
“I have been scuba diving
since I was 12 and have had a passion for marine science since I was 4,”
said Kerr, who is majoring in marketing with a minor in biology. “This
was definitely a unique opportunity that I knew I had to take advantage
Stretched over the spring semester, the honors
gave students a complex view of coral reef ecosystems, including the
geology, biology, ecology, physical and chemical characteristics, and
the effects that humans have on reefs. The ability to move beyond the
lab and give students a hands-on experience is crucial, said Beach, who
also involves undergraduate students in his research on the ecology of
macroalgae in seagrass beds.
“The students get an authentic, scientific experience instead of something canned in a laboratory,” said
who conducts research in the Florida Keys with NOAA's National Undersea
Research Program. “They really become coral reef biologist by the end
At the end of the semester, the 17 students in Beach’s
class headed south to Roatán, Honduras, from May 9-23. For the first
week, students worked on their diving skills and underwater
identifications of marine organisms like algae, hard corals, sponges,
octocorals and invertebrates.
“The highlight of my trip was
definitely the beautiful coral reefs we were able to dive on,” said
Kerr, who called the coral tunnel formations “stunningly beautiful.”
the second week, the students conducted individual research projects on
anything from fish behavior to coral cover and aspects of reef ecology.
Kerr paired up with UT senior Emily Clark for their project
focused on the percent of hard coral cover versus the percent of
Lobophora (a type of algae) cover at both 30-feet and 60-feet in the
Sandy Bay West End Marine Reserve.
“Actually being able to
identify the organisms underwater versus on a PowerPoint in a lecture
made such a tremendous difference,” said Kerr, a part-time public
relations assistant for UT’s Admissions Office and a special events
intern at the American Diabetes Association. “By experiencing and
observing the organisms and their relationships with each other, I was
able to really learn the information as well as apply it.”
said the students also benefited from the cultural experience of living
for two weeks in a developing country. The students visited a fishing
village and a local market and talked with the resident divers, getting
an insider’s look at life in Honduras.
Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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