November 6, 2007

Chicago City Day School Students Do Reef Check in the Bahamas

Submitted by Thomas McFeely

For the past five years, students from the Chicago City Day School (CCDS) have participated in an expedition culminating in a Reef Check Survey at the Bimini Islands in the Bahamas. The Chicago City Day School Coral Reef Conservation Expedition is a global extension of a local service learning/conservation project in which CCDS middle school students monitor and restore a section of the Chicago River. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students apply the assessment skills they have developed during the river project to marine and terrestrial habitats in the Bahamas and utilize the John G. Shedd Aquarium’s R/V Coral Reef II to examine the Bimini Islands and their surrounding habitats.

The focus of the expedition is marine conservation. Before heading down to the Bahamas, the pupils prepare for the expedition by participating in a course that takes place after school. During this course, the students study many different aspects of the marine environment including: fish and invertebrate biology with an emphasis on corals; various marine habitats found in the Bahamas; physical and chemical properties of the ocean; and environmental issues facing the world’s oceans. Using the Reef Check DVD, PowerPoint presentations and field guides, the students are thoroughly prepared to conduct a Reef Check Survey. At the conclusion of the course, students spend a day at Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium practicing observation and identification skills. In addition to meeting with aquarists to discuss coral conservation and propagation, the students also conduct fish ethograms and are sent on a scavenger hunt to identify different marine species, receiving bonus points for finding Reef Check indicator species! Once in the Bahamas, the participants study, explore and collect data on the various topics introduced back in Chicago. 

This past summer, two teams of dedicated middle school students from CCDS managed to conduct separate Reef Check surveys of Turtle Rocks, a shallow reef in Bimini. The students completed the surveys in teams of two while snorkeling. An instructor, who was there to monitor the students’ progress and assist if questions arose, accompanied each team. The team members were extremely focused and committed to obtaining accurate data for Reef Check. This was evident in the invertebrate survey where, despite the overwhelming numbers of gorgonians (2000+), students took their time, developed a plan and made sure every individual was counted.

After the Reef Check survey, the students snorkeled a reef that is heavily impacted by humans. This was a good opportunity for the students to see first-hand some of the consequences caused by humans on coral reefs which lead to a great discussion about coral reef conservation and opportunities that they have as young students to address some of the issues threatening coral reefs. This discussion was especially pertinent this year, since we observed the first signs of coral bleaching at our Reef Check site and encountered no fewer than six exotic lionfish. Once the expedition was over, all agreed that participating in the Reef Check survey was a rewarding and empowering experience.