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San Salvador Island in the Bahamas

This course, which focuses on the geology and marine ecology of the Bahamas, includes a 10-day fieldtrip to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. In the classroom at W&M, students will learn the basics of marine ecology, paleontology, sedimentology, as well as Bahamian history, culture, and archaeology. In San Salvador, students will explore several marine and terrestrial environments, including coral reefs, sandflats, seagrass, tidal estuaries, limestone caves, blue holes, brackish water lakes, and more. We will investigate 400,000-year-old fossil coral reefs, and quantitatively compare their paleoecology and diversity to modern coral reefs via snorkeling. We will assess the effects of humans and human history on the island and its diversity by examining archaeological sites dating back to the indigenous Lucayans (circa 1000 years ago), historical sites dating back to British colonial rule and the African slave trade (sugar plantation circa early 1800s), and the modern town site (Cockburn Town).

Objectives: To introduce you to: (1) the basics of marine ecology, paleontology, and carbonate sedimentology, (2) coral reef environments and the organisms that inhabit them, (3) the culture and history of the Bahamas, its inhabitants, and their effect on the natural world, and (4) the most effective practices for taking fieldnotes.

Course Requirements: All students must be able to swim and must have a valid passport. Please note that a required swim test will be scheduled during the first three weeks of class. Less experienced snorkelers and swimmers are required to attend 5-6 swimming sessions in Adair Pool, which culminate in learning the basic skills of snorkeling and trying out snorkeling gear.

Prerequisites: Geo 322 (Sedimentary Record) OR MSCI 330 (Intro to Marine Science) OR Geo 325/Bio 317 (Paleontology) OR instructor permission.

Past Course Syllabus