The first month at UVI has passed and I am grateful to have chosen the Virgin Islands for my study away semester. Every beach has been gorgeous, and while some are better for snorkeling than others they have all been worth visiting. The classes have been manageable and fairly interesting. My favorite has been Scientific Writing which is centered around writing papers for publications and proposals. It has been difficult re-learning grammar rules that I last reviewed in 6th grade, but it has been helpful for writing effective research papers.
I have met amazing people already, some are also on exchange and others are full-time students at UVI. It has been a lot of fun exploring the shops, trying new restaurants, and checking out the different areas of the island. I hope to visit St John again soon. I was only able to see Honeymoon Beach the last time I visited but there are other beaches known for incredible snorkeling that are worth the ferry ride. A lot of the other exchange students want to explore the island and area as well, so it has been easy to find someone to go on a day trip with.
This week I have the opportunity to help a graduate student with his research on invasive seagrass and conch. Conch are common sea snails in the Caribbean and contain a variety of species, including the Queen Conch and the Fighting Conch. The work this week will either involve transect surveys at various marked locations or collections and identifications at Brewers Bay. I am beyond excited to help with this project because I have been interested in marine invertebrates for a long time. This will be my first introduction into field work assessing invertebrate ecology and the influence of invasive species, and I hope to learn a lot about the techniques used and the impact of invasive species on the Virgin Islands natural communities. Hopefully it will include connecting research work with the local communities and fisheries of St Thomas as well. I believe that the findings of research cannot be effectively implemented into local policies to help wildlife if the community is not involved in the work being done and the human-viewpoint of conservation considered. For example, the conclusions of a fish abundance survey may state that no fishing can occur to allow the population to recover. However, if the local community depends on the fish for their livelihood and they never heard of the research until this statement was made, how can it be expected for the findings to be considered and followed? I hope the close ties between Conch research and the Caribbean Conch fisheries around the Virgin Islands can help me gain experience including social aspects into scientific research.