Day 5–9 The best way to learn about corals is up close and in the water. The reefs of San Salvador have a rich variety that is quickly accessible from both shore and boats. Observe coral species we’ve studied in class at various snorkel and scuba sites. Examine rare pillar and fused staghorn corals. Learn how to diagnose coral diseases and colonies experiencing bleaching and algal overgrowth. Analyze and discuss the feeding habits, life cycles, symbiotic relationships and ecological concerns of a coral reef system. As our skills in the water progress, we head out on our first wall dives. Check out a spectacular reef which drops dramatically from 35 to 6,000 feet. Keeping your eyes peeled for big fish and sea turtles, descend into deeper waters to survey different growth forms. Then drift snorkel Pigeon Creek and cruise along the mangrove roots looking for tiny fish. Scuba dive at night to discover the magic of bioluminescence and the marine world’s nocturnal metamorphosis.
Day 10–12 Need a break after cramming your brain with coral knowledge? Trips to Cockburn Town and other island settlements provide a welcome distraction. Get to know friendly locals as you shop for souvenirs. Climb the lighthouse steps for a magnificent view. Investigate archaeological sites and the ruins of abandoned sugar, citrus and sisal plantations. Feast on a picnic lunch at the beach where Christopher Columbus first landed. Venture inside coastal caves or bodysurf at Sandy Point.
Day 13–17 The next phase of our course comprises reef fish ecology. Over a hundred species are found in the waters surrounding San Salvador, each with unique behaviors and habitat preferences. After some introductory ichthyology lessons, we’ll focus on the details of different fish families. Sea basses, parrotfish, stingrays, puffers…we cover these and many more. Visits to shallow patch reefs and deeper walls get us up close to the creatures we study. Learn how to hover upside down to find ledge-dwelling basslets and hamlets as you become master fish stalkers! Soon you can tell related species apart with no more than a quick glance. These skills will soon come in handy!
Day 18–21 We spend our final days as professional marine biologists in training, assisting with ongoing research programs at Gerace. We design and carry out our own underwater fish count surveys for REEF and help with monitoring projects involving seagrass, coral or commercially important species. Preparation and teamwork is essential for these scuba-based studies, but we’re ready. An evening hike to North Point provides a breezy place to watch the sun sink into the ocean. Maybe we can even see the green flash! In this beautiful setting, we marvel at how much we’ve learned, explored and accomplished, and at how fast three weeks can fly by.