Eleven students returned from TMI’s first research expedition to the island of Dominica last month on June 29, 2019. Led by Science Department Chair Rob Friedrich and Personal and College Counselor Lisa Condrey, students spent two weeks on the island exploring the ecosystems, collecting data, and learning about the coral reefs.
Dominica’s economy relies heavily on agriculture and tourism. But, after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, the forest and plantations were destroyed. Students saw firsthand that the forest was turned “upside-down,” as the scientists on site described it. Instead of towering trees with little to no understory, the island is now dense with low trees, shrubs, and vines. Good conditions for agriculture require good soil and healthy sources of water, while tourism in Dominica is driven by beautiful forests and healthy reefs. Will the forests come back? Will the reefs regain their health? Understanding the state of the ecosystem is essential to answering those questions and was the foundation of the work that our students participated in.
In two short weeks, our students and faculty hiked, drove, and boated 183 miles around the island, which included going up and down approximately 16,500 feet of elevation! Each day, one of our student teams helped study one of six areas: insects, birds, forest re-growth, stream health, invasive lizards, and bats. Students were able to assist in collecting over 300 species of insects in five days and the anole lizard team was so efficient that the researchers ran out of sample collecting tubes!
Down on the coast (after spotting a sperm whale and her baby), the group transitioned from research to learning where they experienced the beauty and diversity of coral reefs and the tremendous economic and health benefits they bring to humans. They not only heard about, but saw firsthand, how reefs around the world are on the decline.
Some scientists believe it may take decades for the ecosystems to return to normal in the areas hit by Hurricane Maria. By participating in active field research on rainforest and reef ecology in Dominica, our TMI students made invaluable contributions to the ongoing research efforts in understanding what the full impact of the hurricane will be.