When preparing to study abroad on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire, I expected to learn about the ecosystems of Bonaire and the management of the island in the class. Those expectations were met in very real and practical ways. At the beginning of the trip, we learned about the island and the culture from Daniella, our “island mom”, which was very helpful as it quickly got us acclimated to the island and its customs and gave us a very good background about life here and how that has changed over time. Shortly after that we began learning about the fish and coral of the island and had to memorize 89 different native fish species, which was also helpful because it made it so we could apply that knowledge on almost every snorkel of the trip because we learned it so early on. This definitely made the information I learned about the corals and fish stick more in my brain as I used it over and over in the water. Learning about things that we were not tested over and doing so in a more informal setting- such as attending a talk on sea turtles- also added to the experience as it allowed me to learn about more of Bonaire’s ecology without as much stress, which made it more enjoyable to learn. Using the knowledge about corals and fish not just on the test or even just for snorkels but also to create quadrants and transects also gave me a chance to apply the knowledge I’d learned in a way that is applicable to the real world while also teaching me new scientific skills.
I appreciated that we got to snorkel in different areas to see the variation of species and biodiversity throughout the island, it was exciting to get to see something new every day and it made me stay more aware than if we had only gone to one or two sites. My favorite parts were the times we snorkeled and the times we got to actively contribute to conservation: working in the mangroves, building a fence as part of a reforestation project, and removing invasive trees. I found this work to be very rewarding as we got to contribute directly to the conservation of Bonaire and make a small difference on the island while also gaining a better understanding of what conservation work looks like in practice.
To me, experiences like this are invaluable because I could not learn any of this nearly as well in a traditional classroom setting. I have always found that when I learn in the field, I not only learn more and understand more details of what I am learning, but that it also sticks with me much more than when I learn about the same things in a classroom. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and I believe that what I have experienced and learned will stick with me forever.