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Montserrat Tropical Ecology

Notes from the field 

January 5, 2016

Greetings from Montserrat!! 

A view of the Souffriere Hills Volcano on Montserrat.This past week students from Bard College at Simon's Rock, and Bard College at Annandale on the Hudson, traversed many miles to the small Caribbean island of Montserrat. After the multiple long hours of travel spent sleeping in airports, flying scrunched in the back of a plane and getting tossed about on the Montserrat ferry, the students and faculty arrived to explore the island and study tropical ecology.

The trip began not with elegant hikes and beautiful beaches as one might think but instead a day spent in bed, resting from the harshness of travel. A few students ventured out and explored the island for a few hours but in the end everyone gathered and “enjoyed” an incredibly spicy meal cooked for the lot by our own Mike Bergman.

beach classThen the real excitement commenced, as the group hiked through the lush green forests, walked along the beautiful beaches, swam through the clear coastal waters, and drove around on the crazy steep roads of the island. The following are some of our favorite moments and experiences in the field.

Our most recent exploration came in the act of snorkeling off the coast of Lime Kiln Beach. Once in the water, we saw a number of colorful sea creatures, including a green turtle, stonefish, barracuda, puffer fish, stingray, and many sea urchins. We also saw something, which we initially thought to be a sea snake, but upon further research realized is likely a moray eel or spotted eel.

mike bergman lectureEarly in the week, prior to venturing into the ocean, we began learning all about the Souffriere Hills volcano that formed the island, and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory where scientists monitor the still active volcano. Mike Bergman, a professor at Simon’s Rock, spoke to us in depth about plate tectonics and volcanism in order to give us a better understanding of the data scientists collect and analyze at the observatory. With our newly learned knowledge, we journeyed to MVO where we watched a documentary on the ongoing volcanic activities of Soufriere Hill Volcano and got a tour from Dr. Paddy Smith and the unfortunately named Rod Stewart (his own admission) who is the director of the MVO. In terms of monitoring the volcano, the scientists use real-time seismic data, along with thermal cameras, GPS, and simple observations to keep track of the volcanoes current mood.

black and yellow leeward racer snakeBesides our focus on the volcano and geology, we also ventured out on a variety of hikes to study the landscape and organisms found on the island. Our legendary reptile and amphibian expert Sarah Snyder may have taken a while to learn how to drive on the left side of the road, but when it comes to lizards, she sure knows her stuff. Sarah led a few lectures as well as lizard hunts around the trails and our neighborhoods in search of interesting organisms. We found a multitude of different lizards such as geckos, ameivas, and iguanas. As well we viewed both species of snake that live on Montserrat, the Leeward Racer and the Montserrat Worm Snake (not much bigger than a large earthworm).

Upcoming in the future is a change in faculty to our resident fish and underwater experts, Bob Schmidt, Erin McMullin and Chris Bowser as we take a closer look at the underwater habitats in Montserrat. Check back in next week for more!

January 18, 2016

Hello again from Montserrat!! This week we had a switch in faculty and began to learn about fish, eels, and other fantastic organisms that live in aquatic habitats.

TSein at the top of the stream he first day of classes with our new teachers led us to divide and conquer the landscape. We arrived at Bottomless Ghaut and split into three groups. Bob Schmidt stayed with some students and seined the top of the stream where they were able to come across a few different beetles, a juvenile dragonfly and a mullet. The other two groups split and went down to the beach in search of lizards or walked down the ghaut to find a spot for an eel net.

Students with sein.The group that journeyed down to the bottom of Bottomless Ghaut, needless to say never made it…

Was that a bad joke? Who knew? In actuality the students did make it down to the bottom of the ghaut. In fact, they made it and set up the awesome looking net below, with some guidance from Mr. Enthusiasm himself, Christopher Bowser.

In addition to setting traps for eels and collecting fish, the students managed to snag a large sea crab. Unfortunately while passing it around and determining which parts would be best to eat raw one of the students (whose name cannot be released) was badly bitten by the crab. Mr. Crabs, as he has uniquely been named, will forever have taken ahold of the two millimeter piece of skin from this poor boy. Fortunately, for the sake of the trip, the matter was resolved easily by the use of a band aid and thus our adventure was able to continue.

To sum the past two weeks up, we began asking what the best part of the trip was so far. Many students have gone on the record saying that in fact the highlight of the trip is a soda called Ting. Ting is a delicious Caribbean soft-drink with a burst of grapefruit. Crab.All of this delicious flavor comes packed in a translucent green bottle, delivering a wondrous utterance of carbonated citrus upon your tongue. Now many people may think that this as a highlight to the trip could be strange and you could be right, but perhaps it could be that the water is too blue here, maybe that the sand is too soft or the bed's too comfortable, but for some unknown reason amidst this tropical paradise, Ting is one thing that always brings a smile to everyone’s faces.

Overall, with only a week and a half left in the trip, we can only hope to continue learning and exploring this great island and the mysteries it may still hold.

Oh and also continuing to grab a Ting and watch the sunset.