Eleven University of West Florida students, enrolled in field ecology, will explore coral reefs off the Pacific coast, investigate mangrove habitats, study an active volcano and zip line through the rain forest canopy beginning Aug. 10. Costa Rica will become their classroom as they embark on a 10-day journey through the most ecologically diverse tropical marine and forest areas in Central America. The field ecology course, led by UWF Professor Wayne Bennett, is an elective open to both undergraduate and graduate biology and marine biology students.
“This field course allows students to immerse themselves in the environments they are studying,” said Bennett. “This trip will be a capstone experience for many students who have spent much of their time in the classroom. It will also provide students insight into what direction their biology careers may take.”
The course requirements vary depending on the number of credit hours each student chooses to take. For example, students enrolled for one credit hour must complete an online lecture, test materials and attend the field portion of the course. However, students who choose three credit hours must also compile a photo journal of the plants and animals they see while in Costa Rica and turn in a research paper on some aspect of Costa Rican ecology or ecological physiology. Graduate students have all of the above requirements as well as the additional responsibility of presenting a seminar during the biology seminar course given in the fall.
The online lessons will also be reinforced by lectures that will be given each evening by two renowned Costa Rican naturalists. During these lectures, students will review what they have seen and apply newly obtained knowledge to the scientific photo journals they will keep. They will also learn plant and animal names and aspects of the fauna ecology.
“Participating in this field course will broaden the students’ biological experiences and provide them with the opportunity to directly participate in a scientific field expedition,” said Bennett.
Lois O’Boyle, a graduate research physiologist, is in charge of organizing the students for the trip and says that they are in for a treat as she recalls her experiences from last year’s trip.
“The students had an amazing time interacting with the local guides in Costa Rica last year,” said O’Boyle. “We saw various native species on our hiking and diving trips, such as howler monkeys in the tropical dry forest and humpback whales that surfaced next to the boat. The students learned not only about the ecology of Costa Rica, but also about life in the smaller towns and villages.”