Field Course in Coral Reef Ecology



COURSE LOCATION:  Bocas del Toro Biological Station, Boca del Drago, Isla

Colon, Republic of Panama. The biological station is located on a hill

facing the Caribbean Sea.  Coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems are

in front of the station and lowland tropical forests lie directly behind.

This juxtaposition of the two most biologically diverse ecosystems provides

tremendous opportunities for education and research.  See   for details.

INSTRUCTOR:  Dr. Lonnie Kaczmarsky, St. Johns River State College, email:  .

Specialty: coral reef ecology, coral diseases and anthropogenic impacts on

coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves and fish populations.

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  NOTE: Diving certification is not necessary to enroll

in this course, but is recommended. For SCUBA-certified (PADI, NAUI, or SSI

certified) students who will be diving, there is a $100 Lab Fee with this

course which covers tank-recharging fees.  Students with SCUBA certification

are expected to bring their own BC, regulators, mask/fin/snorkel and proof

of certification. For those not diving certified, students are expected to

bring mask/fin/snorkel.  Students using only mask and snorkel are exempt

from the lab fee.

This course is designed to provide the student with a sound foundation in

ecological concepts, techniques and experimental design in field research as

applied to coral reef ecosystems. The material covered is equivalent to a

university upper level course in coral reef field ecology. The course will

begin with a global ecosystem perspective and then will progressively narrow

to assess the way in which local reefs are influenced by both global and

local phenomena. We will briefly survey reef systems in various parts of the

world and focus in depth on Caribbean reefs. Using the reef at Bocas del

Toro as an example, we will carry on an inventory of representative reef

biota to characterize a general reef community. We will examine several

theories of the origins of reefs and discuss some controversial arguments on

the ecological processes ruling the dominant state and health of coral

reefs.  Students will learn to characterize a general reef community and its

place among surrounding marine habitats.  The major reef biota will be

discussed in terms of their phylogeny, biology, physiology, ecological

requirements and roles in species interactions on reefs.  We will discuss

the impacts of anthropogenic stressors to coral reefs and the role of marine

reserves in reef restoration and conservation.  In the inventory we will

examine several experimental designs and sampling schemes with regard to

their usefulness in a reef setting.

Formal Lectures.  Lectures will present topics that provide a background for

the fieldwork in an interactive discussion format. Topics are selected to

teach students about the biology and ecology of the reef organisms they will

encounter and permit students to develop an awareness of the objectives of

research on coral reefs as well as an appreciation of current theoretical

and practical issues in ecology.

Lecture Topics

* Fundamentals of oceanography, global ecology

* Plate tectonics, formation of ocean basins, continents and ocean currents

* Reef morphology, distribution of reef systems

* Seagrasses and mangroves: interactions with reef systems

* Coral reef community study – sampling methods for distribution and

abundance of organisms

* Coral reef community study – components and interactions, trophic dynamics

* Biology of coral reef organisms: Cnidarians

* Biology of coral reef organisms: Poriferans

* Biology of coral reef organisms: Echinoderms, Arthropods and Annelids

* Biology of coral reef organisms: Fishes

* Biology of coral reef organisms: Macroalgae

* Ecosystem stability, resilience and fragility

* Anthropogenic effects on reefs: climate change, over-fishing, diseases

* Marine protected areas and reserves

Readings.  Assignments relating to lecture topics will be made from the

texts and supplementary research articles provided in the library.

Required Texts

Sheppard, CRC, Davy, S.K. and G.M. Pilling The Biology of Coral Reefs,

Oxford Press, USA.

Humann, Paul. Reef Coral Identification, New World, Jacksonville, FL.

Humann, Paul. Reef Creature Identification, New World, Jacksonville, FL.

Field Work Briefings.  Prior to departing for the reef site, dive teams will

be formed and the objectives for the day will be outlined and discussed.

Assignments will be made to the dive teams and coordinated.

Group Exercises.  During the first week, students will visit several sites

in the vicinity of the station to familiarize themselves with the area and

to make observations that may lead to hypotheses that could be tested in

individual projects. Students will be organized into dive teams and will

carry out field exercises in which they will gain experience in the use of

sampling equipment and techniques used in reef research and monitoring.  In

the evenings, students will participate in Œdebriefing sessions¹ during

which they will identify the reef organisms they saw during the dives of the

day and record the common name and scientific name of the species in a


Individual Research Projects.  Each student will be expected to prepare a

research proposal for an original project in consultation with faculty.

Projects may be suggested by observations made during group exercises or

from the research literature, and will be evaluated on the basis of

feasibility in the available time, soundness of experimental design and

concept. During the final week of the course, data analysis and writing of

project reports will be carried out and students will present their results

orally in an end-of-course symposium. They will present the research report

on their findings in the form of a journal article for evaluation.

BOQUETE CLOUD FOREST FIELD TRIP:  This field trip will allow students the

opportunity to visit other areas of Panama, to experience Panamanian

culture, and to visit tropical cloud and seasonal forests first hand.  We

travel in ITEC boats to the mainland and then by chartered bus to Boquete

which lies at the base of 11,000 ft. Volcan Baru.  The bus trip will take us

up and over the central mountain range and through Palo Seco National Park.

Several stops will be made in route.

COURSE LENGTH:  ITEC Summer field courses are about four weeks in length.

The CRE B-19 will run from June 15 through July 10, 2019.

TUITION: $2250 USD plus a $100 lab fee.  Tuition fee includes all lodging,

meals and airport transfers in Bocas del Toro.  The tuition also covers

transportation and lodging during the 3-day cloud forest field trip on the


REGISTRATION DEADLINE:  May 15, 2019.  The course is limited to 10 students

and applications will be evaluated as they arrive. Applications can be found

at  If you believe that

your application may arrive late, notify ITEC.

GRADING and COURSE CREDIT:  Grades will be assigned based on attendance at

lectures, exams, reports, proposals, as well as by less tangibles such as

personal attitude, motivation, and contribution to the course. The

instructor will provide a breakdown of points earned and final letter grade

to your academic institution. The student is to provide direct evidence of

course participation such as the syllabus, schedules, handouts, lecture

notes, proposals, reports, etc. Course credit must be arranged in advance

through the student¹s institution and academic advisor.  Contact ITEC for


APPLICATIONS can be found at:

CONTACT:  Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation, 2911 NW 40th PL,

Gainesville, FL 32605, phone: 352-367-9128, email:

, web:

.  ITEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

founded in 1996.