Every other December, a handful of students visit the home of the San Salvador Rock Iguana with David McKenzie, biology professor, to experience field ecology. During the last trip, one of the iguanas was killed.
“There are about five hundred left in the world,” said Scott Romeiser, senior biochemistry major. “They are endemic to San Salvador island, however none of them really live there; they live on cays…The feral dogs and cats have essentially killed them off. One of the feral dogs got into a breeding enclosure that was on campus, which is essentially two lives lost for what is a critically endangered species.”
Romeiser was one of 13 students who participated in the ten-day course over winter break alongside McKenzie and Marshall Sundberg, biology professor.
“I didn’t think about it too much just seeing them straight out,” said Calder Klink, senior biology major. “It may seem a bit insensitive, but they were just another animal.”
According to Klink and Romesier, the students were all instructed not to tamper with native wildlife, given how fragile some of the ecosystems are.
“I really learned to appreciate and embrace the diversity of nature and that you don’t have to go to the Bahamas to appreciate biodiversity,” Romesier said. “We saw this squid, and it inked so that was cool…The class really enriched that experience because we had to pay attention to what we were looking at, the ecology of the living things and how they all work together.”
While it was Romesier and Klink’s first trip to the Bahamas, it is a routine expedition for McKenzie.
“The guy I took it over from, Dr. Dwight Moore, said that he had been teaching the course for over 20 years,” McKenzie said. “The class is called Tropical Field Ecology…I love it. It’s probably my favorite class to teach because you get to go out there and see the biology rather than just reading about it.”
McKenzie said the class has existed for over 35 years and is something he is excited to continue given the diversity the islands have to offer.
“The iguana is a subspecies of the green iguana, so that main island and a few of the cays are the only places on Earth you’ll find them,” McKenzie said. “There is a pupfish which is just a little fish that seems to be going through rapid evolution on the island…It’s found nowhere else on Earth.”
According to McKenzie, there are plenty of benefits to field work that students can’t get at home.
“I love not having the class be research-focused but instead focusing on the field learning and having them ask why they see what they do,” McKenzie said. “It’s so different than any of the other classes we offer…Each trip is different but there are so many unique chances for immersion that students of all backgrounds can prosper from that exposure.”
The class is open to all students who can afford the approximately $2,000 it costs to attend. Interested students should contact McKenzie ahead of time to get their spots for the 2021 trip at email@example.com.