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REEF (Research & Environmental Education Focus)

Students diving in the ocean

In collaboration with several government agencies, Tabor has engaged in a long-term coral reef ecology study among the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. In 2019, we took a new tack!

REEF Program

Every third winter, from 2000-2017, Tabor students had the opportunity to learn about the history, culture, and unique ocean ecology of the Caribbean through our REEF (Research & Environmental Education Focus) Program. Seven groups of 15 students flew to the Virgin Islands for eight days using the SSV Tabor Boy as a floating laboratory from which they surveyed the condition of the reefs in collaboration with the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Department of the Interior. This long-term study on the health of the Elkhorn coral and the waters in and around Virgin Islands National Park not only allowed our students to help put Elkhorn coral on the endangered species list, but provided a unique opportunity to combine history, cultural, and scientific studies from the classroom with hands-on investigation, research techniques, and skills into the fullest possible educational experience.

In 2019, students traveled to the Gerace Research Centre in San Salvador, Bahamas, to survey the reefs in several bays and identify the corals there, while also creating coral fragment trees to grow out healthy coral in hopes of "outcropping" them to areas of decimated reefs in the area over time. This is an exciting progression of our work and we hope you will read more about our first effort building a coral reef nursery. The facility at Gerace is land-based, providing dormitories and support services, opening the opportunity for hands-on research to more students, potentially multiple times a year.

Daily Schedule at Gerace Research Centre

  • Day 1: Arrival and orientation
  • Day 2: Research methods instruction, snorkel French Bay for population analysis of new coral growth
  • Day 3: Snorkel Long Bay, survey coral, gather fragments, continue work in French Bay
  • Day 4: Continue work in Long Bay, visit Sandy Beach
  • Day 5: Fragment tree construction and deployment
  • Day 6: Coral fragment collection and attachment to trees
  • Day 7: Assess and adjust work on fragment trees, swimming at Grotto Beach
  • Day 8: Clean up and departure

In the future, we hope to continue to learn about the challenges the reef colonies face in various locations, as well as how we might help to rebuild them.

Researching Elkhorn Coral

Elkhorn is one of the most important reef building corals, but since the 1970s there has been an 85% decline in their population. To assess the population and health of the Elkhorn, Tabor students hit the reef in small groups armed with a personal desktop assistant (PDA) and an underwater camera. Assigned a defined section, students map and document each and every Elkhorn colony in the transect area prompted by questions on the PDA. Meanwhile, the group photographer documents the colony with photos that back up their answers to the questions on the PDA. Teamwork and communication are key, and each group quickly develops the skills and strategies to best tackle the task.

As the Elkhorn are greatly impacted by water quality, students take fluorometer measurements from which the concentration of chlorophyll in the water is determined and nutrient concentrations are inferred. As we collect water samples, we analyze them for their concentration of dissolved oxygen, dissolved carbon dioxide, phosphate, nitrite, iron, and copper using Snap Tests. Students also deploy and monitor a HOBO Logger containing dissolved oxygen, conductivity and multiple temperature sensors at each study site. To better understand the currents and their speeds within the bays, groups release and track readings from tilt and drag meters created for this purpose. All this is crucial to the effort to understand the whole picture of the state of the reefs in our research locations.

Through this unique program, students have the opportunity to participate in real, scientific fieldwork where the data they collect may impact the protection of our coral reefs. Lessons supporting Tabor’s mission abound when combining service, community, and science!

Caribbean Research

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Building a Coral Reef

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