Hello World! Is it true that you are still out there? From where I’m sitting it almost feels as if all that is left on this globe are these sandy roads, these colorful huts, homes, and storefronts packed into and on top of each other along front, middle, and back street, these hotels and tourists chipped and burnt from the equator sun. I’m convinced that this soundtrack of whistles, cries, screeching parrots, vendor’s bells, shuffling feet, speeding gulf carts, humming conversations and screeching taxis is the only one that could possibly exist. Like these people who look you in the eye when they talk, tanned from a lifetime of heat and hurricanes, blue skies and windy days are the only people alive. But what I think fools me the most, what traps me here in this place and allows me to forget that the world rolls on is that crystal blue, teal, white, and grey mass that absorbs the horizon. What could there possibly be beyond the ocean? It dictates everything here and has enchanted all of us.

Well, this is Megan, sending you a message from that place that Madonna termed “la isla bonita.” We’ve officially been here for three weeks, which means that we are in the thick of it with only three more to go. Last week felt a little bit like a pinnacle. We finally had advance camp, which means that all of the planning and work that we have been doing over the past few weeks has begun to be tested and tried by real live students.  Our professors arrived on Thursday, and Lobsterfest rounded out the week on Saturday.

Every year Advance Camp hosts a collection of students ranging in age from 12 to 18. These students are invited to camp and offered the opportunity to conduct a little research or just learn a little bit more about science while gaining some hands on experience with conservation. Anyone with an interest or curiosity is welcome to attend! Last year the students worked on a project raising awareness about mangroves, planting baby mangroves and making a video about their work that can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcZa_P6X5F4 and another one here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecOl_F8cKoE. This year we decided to give the students the opportunity to learn a little bit more about Hol Chan Marine Reserve the oldest Marine Reserve in Belize, which protects 3 square miles of marine habitat around the island. Our goal was to introduce the students to the work they do and the nature of science as a collaborative endeavor.

SeaGrassNet sponsors a worldwide initiative to protect and monitor seagrass beds, as a part of this network Hol Chan has set up a number of permanent transects around the island to chart the health of local seagrass beds. SeaGrassNet sponsors 122 sample sites in 33 countries around the world, a number of which are in Belize, and 3 conducted by Hol Chan. Sample sites are composed of three transects, with twelve quadrants set up along each transect. Within each quadrant the types, density, and quality of seagrass is analyzed. A core is also taken from right outside of the quadrant, the specimen collected from that is dried and then later weighted to help asses the quality of seagrass from the area.  To give the kids hands on experience conducting a scientific experiment we set up two transects in the shallow waters in front of the San Pedro high school, the only high school on the island, where Advance Camp is held.

Students set up the transect tape for our sea grass research
Advanced program participants paint a mural advocating for sea grass protection
Each day of the week was dedicated to one step of the scientific method and each day the students acted out that step in our experiement. We started with Background Information and Questions on Monday, we talked about what seagrass is, why it an important part of the island’s ecosystem, and began to think about why we would study it. The next day we moved on to Hypothesis and Methods, followed by Data Collection and Analysis when the students collected their own data and took it to the Hol Chan headquarters to process. We concluded with Results and Application when we talked about what we had learned from the experiment and how we could share this information with the wider community. The number of students attending camp grew daily and by the last day we had collected quite the swarm, anxious to help, learn and play. We were all excited by the success of the project, not only did it seem like the kids learned something but they enjoyed the process and the results. The six of us were standing you couldn’t have ask for more.
Megan and Angela talk about the scientific method while students decide which step we have completed in our research today

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