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Coral Reefs, Belize Barrier Reef
Barrier Reef
Snorkeling in patch reef behind the barrier reef crest
Students heading from South Water Caye for field work
Students recording coral, algae, fish, sediment and water depth data along a transect


Thirteen students majoring in biology, geology and environmental science made a trip to South Water Caye on the Belize barrier reef in May, 2015. This trip was the culmination of the “Ecology and Geology of Coral Reefs” course taught by Sarah Johnson and Dr. Denice Robertson in the spring. Four additional research students led by Dr. Gail Mackin accompanied the class for their introduction to marine ecologic and geologic field methods, and then remained in Belize to continue their research for several more weeks.
Students in the coral reefs course arrived on the barrier reef to complete a group project begun in the classroom during the spring semester. Projects included comparing the coral and algae density and species present in the 1970s with the present day; comparing the diversity of corals and fish at different water depths and sediment thicknesses, and comparing the reef morphology, coral, algae, and fish diversity inside and outside of a recently established marine reserve zone. All students collected data from multiple locations around the reef, all in shallow water accessible by snorkeling.

Thanks to an International NKU Research Council Award for Student Research Abroad grant, students were able to use GoPro cameras to record every transect. Video transects made the identification and measurements of corals and fish much more accurate, particularly since field conditions this year included strong currents most days. Each group analyzed their data in the evenings, and at the end of our trip gave a presentation to the entire class on their results. Three students, Courtney Roush (biology), Heather Cole (geology) and Katie Ollier (environmental science) received grants to continue their research into the summer, and presented their results at the Bullen Summer Research Celebration in August, and at the 2015 KAS meeting at NKU in the Fall.