June 10, 2003
Southampton College Research Group Spends January in South Pacific
Students Have Hands-On Learning Experience in Vanuatu
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Professors Stephen Tettelbach and Howard Reisman had a productive one month tropical marine biology trip last semester, and recently finished analyzing their data. Along with 14 of their students, they recorded 140 species of fish not previously known to live off the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu.
Vanuatu, a chain of islands northeast of Australia, is still largely unchanged by encroaching tourism, and some of the people live much as they would have hundreds of years ago.
The fish have now been added to the list of 510 known species maintained by Fishbase, an international organization devoted to recording fish locations worldwide. These new species represent an increase of greater than 27 percent for the region. Some of the more unusual names for the fish include Palette Surgeon, Rock Mover and Oriental Sweetlips.
Student hands-on research included topics such as "The Territoriality of Butterflyfish," "The Ecology of Juvenile Domino Damselfish" and "The Range of Movement in Anemonefishes."
"Most scientists don't have this kind of opportunity, let alone students," Tettelbach said. "Some of these projects have never been done before."
Southampton College's location on the East End of Long Island provides an excellent laboratory for studying temperate marine ecology. But to learn about tropical marine ecology, Southampton offers courses that immerse the student in the tropical marine environment. For the last 23 years, the Tropical Marine Biology course has been taught at various locations in the South Pacific including Fiji, Tahiti, The Cook Island, Tonga, New Caledonia, and the Solomon Islands. Coral reef ecology is the primary focus, although other tropical marine ecosystems are also studied.
Typically, three locations, chosen for their pristine habitats, are the sites of the study for the month. Approximately half of the course is made up of organized lectures, demonstrations and field trips in order to learn the dominant organisms and their roles in the ecosystems.
The latter part of the course is devoted to an independent research project, often a comparative study carried out at three study sites. A project report is submitted two weeks after students return to campus. Some of the reports have been published in undergraduate research journals. Major field activities include snorkeling, reefwalking and underwater photography.
Information about the course may be obtained from the Natural Science Division Office by calling (631) 287 8400.