A Bahaman Field-Trip during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Erica Mannis discusses the lengths that both staff and students went to ensure that the Marine Biology Coral Reef Field Course could go ahead despite the ongoing pandemic.
This past term I was one of 33 lucky second year Biosciences students who travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to the small island of San Salvador in The Bahamas to study tropical coral reefs. To travel internationally with 40 group members felt like pulling off the impossible as the world continued to face the global pandemic.
To travel internationally with 40 group members felt like pulling off the impossible as the world continued to face the global pandemic.
Leading up to the trip, the idea of setting foot in an airport felt like a distant daydream. With constantly evolving virus precautions, confirmation of travel for the trip came mere weeks before our departure, leaving little room for excitement. Personally, the idea of completing all the daily health questionnaires, scheduled COVID-19 tests (both before during and after), visas and passenger locator forms was overwhelming to the point where I debated whether this trip would truly be worth it. Nonetheless, despite the undeniable impacts of coronavirus on this trip, it was proven a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience and the highlight of my degree thus far.
The organisation was just the start of a virus-free trip. One particularly prominent memory is day five testing at the Bahamian health clinic. We shuttled seven of us, squished in a car (including the module coordinator –Dr Jamie Stevens– in the boot) through the drive-in test centre. Then awaited test results in 30+°C heat for over two hours – wearing a mask had never been more uncomfortable, and it was certainly an experience I will never forget.
But this was a trip filled with experiences I hope to never forget, even with the constraints of working, dining and lodging in our covid-secure bubbles. From practising our snorkelling skills on the first day alongside sea turtles to swimming in from the reef with a nurse shark underneath us, exploring fossilised coral islands with endemic iguanas and dancing with our lecturers to Taylor Swift (after a few too many rum and coke’s). This was a trip filled with great moments that not even a global pandemic could dampen.
This was a trip filled with great moments that not even a global pandemic could dampen.
This was truly a unique experience that I believe every student on the trip was grateful for, considering such exceptional circumstances. As long as it was legal for us to travel, our module lecturers fought for us to have the experience and truly love the science we were studying. From online labs in September, this was a huge leap to hands-on learning that left us inspired with a true understanding of the study system.
We experienced what it is like to be a field ecologist, and saw the diversity of corals and fish that our coursework would be based upon, in front of our eyes. Naturally, swimming over coral reefs is far more engaging than starting an analysis of a data set posted on ELE from a previous year group. However, after the year of online teaching which we’ve all scrambled through from our university bedrooms, this trip proved the necessity of interactive learning and came as a welcome reminder of why I chose to study this degree.
Pioneering this trip in the wake of an unprecedented pandemic proves not only the importance of students experiencing their studies, but that carefully planned future field trips across academic departments are not only possible, but vital. It is easy to say that a trip to The Bahamas was the best module I have taken at university, but, what it truly showed was that the experience of a module in person will never be replaced by an online substitute. I, along with many of my fellow students, left inspired – by our lecturers, the location and the content we were able to study. Socialisation and safe interactive learning are not only possible – as shown by taking 33 students across the world without a single case of COVID – but necessary to produce students who truly engage with their subject.