In the midst of yet another Wisconsin cold snap, biology students enjoyed a southern sun.
From Dec. 28, to Jan. 11. Chris Yahnke, an associate professor of biology, and Emmet Judziewicz, a professor of biology, led a group of students to Hawaii as they have each year since 2011. The group stayed on Hawaii Island, or the Big Island, and worked on fencing at the Nature Conservancy and snorkeling among dolphins in the Pacific Ocean.
The trip is a course in marine ecology available for academic credit, but students have hands-on learning experiences. In a unique assignment, students put together presentations on topics related to marine ecology and presented them in relevant areas on the island.
Kevin Schmidt, a biology major, gave his presentation on Parrotfish near the bay in Kona.
Hawaii held surprises and firsts for students as well. Schmidt was surprised by the extent of volcanic rock covering the island and many black sand beaches. In addition, encounters with sea turtles and humpback whales were new to many students.
“Learning in the field gives you direct insight into the behavior of these animals as opposed to trying to visualize it through text or preserved specimens,” Schmidt said.
This especially applied to schools of fish encountered while snorkeling.
At the Nature Conservancy, students worked with local organic farmers putting in fencing. Fences keep out invasive wildlife such as pigs and goats. In fact, the only native mammals to the island are bats.
Invasive plants are also a problem. Judziewicz said many tropical plant species Hawaii is known for are actually not native to the island.
Students also visited the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, an affiliate of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Students dissected the contents of a Laysan albatross stomach with the help of Etta Karth, an education specialist. Yahnke said many inorganic substances and even a paper label were found in the boluses.
“Thousands of albatross die each year from a full stomach of plastic or from chemicals that leak when ingested,” Karth said.
Debris from as far away as the Great Lakes can be found washed up on Hawaii’s shoreline.
Yahnke said the overall goal of the trip was to show students the vast differences in culture and ecosystem of an island community and the mainland.