Browser warning

Students Conduct Underwater Research in Honduras

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 of.”

Stretched over the spring semester, the honors travel course 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 Beach , who conducts research in the Florida Keys with NOAA's National Undersea Research Program. “They really become coral reef biologist by the end of it.”

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.”

By 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.”

Beach 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
Sign up for UT Web Alerts