Diving into Their Studies (Includes Slide Show)

Marine Biology Class Finds Ideal Lab in Belize

Assistant professor of Biology Ginger Fisher dives to examine a ray (not pictured) at one of the snorkeling sites near South Water Caye. There is a large elkhorn coral in the bottom left with fire coral next to it. Photo courtesy of Ginger Fisher. Related: Slideshow at end of story.

It's understandably difficult to teach marine biology in a landlocked state, so Ginger Fisher needed to get creative.

To serve as the lab for her marine biology course, the assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences took eight students from the lecture portion of the course to the Central American country of Belize during spring break to examine aquatic life at the source.

The examination in the Caribbean Sea made for a learning environment that the classroom could not.

"We looked at marine-field techniques, and clearly the exposure to the habitats we talk about in class was a big goal," Fisher, Ph.D., said. "We wanted to give our science majors the opportunity to travel abroad."

In addition to snorkeling and hiking, students were often paired in teams to answer questions about a certain location and its inhabitants, identifying different species and creating a final research project and lab report.

Fisher said the group was fortunate to see several types of marine life on the trip, including nurse sharks, sting rays, octopi, eels, crabs, turtles and countless species of fish.

By spending a week on an island on the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, the students were treated to a gorgeous and almost-untouched natural classroom. Pictures from the group's trip can be seen below.

About the course

This was the first year the Belize trip was offered as a part of the course's laboratory component, and it will continue to be offered every other spring semester. The only prerequisites for the course are an introductory biology class (BIO 110), so it is not limited to majors only, and knowing how to swim, of course. For more information, contact Fisher at ginger.fisher@unco.edu.

The entire group before an evening snorkel trip taken at the dock of International Zoological Expeditions on South Water Caye. Front row, left to right: students Sami Piper and Jamie Melton; Ginger Fisher, an assistant professor of Biology, and Sarah Milam, an administration assistant in the School of Biological Sciences. Back row, left to right: tour guide Dan; students Sierra Rickford, Breanna Cullar, Paul McPhail (in the very back), Whitney Brundage, Chelsea Gonwa and Brennen Murphy.

The group travels through an interior lagoon on the way to a snorkeling site, known as Tobacco Cut. The land in the background is Tobacco Caye, Belize. Students from left to right: Brennen Murphy, Breanna Cullar and Chelsea Gonwa.

Students gather together to complete worksheets regarding that day's activities

Fire coral with blue headed wrasse (skinny) and triggerfish (wide) in the distance taken on a reef near South Water Caye, Belize.

Taken at the Bocawina Rainforest Resort in Bocawina National Park, this is the suspension bridge the group traversed to get to its first ziplining station.

From left to right: students Sami Piper, Jamie Melton, Paul McPhail, and Sierra Rickford; Sarah Milam, an administration assistant in the School of Biological Sciences, and Ginger Fisher, an assistant professor of Biology. Taken near Hopkins, Belize at the Bocawina Rainforest Resort in Bocawina National Park.

A sea urchin in the genus Diadema.

Assistant professor of Biology Ginger Fisher dives to examine a ray (not pictured) at one of the snorkeling sites near South Water Caye. There is a large elkhorn coral in the bottom left with fire coral next to it.

A loggerhead turtle with remora fish attached to it at Whale Shoal near South Water Caye.

The group relaxes by playing volleyball on South Water Caye.

Ginger Fisher, an assistant professor of Biology, (facing the camera) holds hermit crabs, while Breanna Cullar (left) and Sierra Rickford (right) examine a tulip snail (in Rickford’s hand).

Student Breanna Cullar (left) and Sarah Milam, an administration assistant in the School of Biological Sciences, kayak over the seagrass beds at South Water Caye.