News from The Kings of Wessex Academy

Student adventurers in Dominica

27th September, 2018 by Jude Owens

The nights are drawing in and it will soon be October, but for some Year 13 Biology students at The Kings of Wessex Academy, they have extra lovely summer holiday snaps to look back on after the Science Department’s Operation Wallacea expedition travelled to Dominica on a conservation and biological research trip.

The timing was significant nearly a year after the country was ravaged by Hurricane Maria as the first Caribbean island to be hit by the full category-five force of the storm, which caused devastation, and destroyed properties, silenced communications and cut power and running water. Operation Wallacea helped to bring money back into the economy in supporting the guides and projects and Kings’ staff and students were also asked to bring basic supplies with them, including pencils and pens, rulers, and other school equipment.

Staying on this beautiful island that was still in the process of re-building infrastructures, it was time to get down to basics. During the first week the students and staff lived in tents in a forest Ecolodge and during the day they worked with scientists and professors in the field to collect data on birds, bats, freshwater invertebrates and insects. A biological highlight was catching lizards (proper name - anoles) using beanpoles with string nooses, and then taking their morphometric data, before releasing them back where they were found. This study was used to compare the populations of the native vs. invasive anole.

There was an intrepid twist in that the daring Biologists had to cross a river to get to and from their camp; which was rather more than paddling, as the river was up to their waist because the bridge was plunging in and out. The students also helped to build up a dataset to see the effects of Hurricane Maria on the biodiversity of Dominica and visited spectacular waterfalls and volcanoes and were wowed by a pod of sperm whales up the West Coast of Dominica to Fort Shirley. Working in the field like true scientists, they collected water samples from the Champagne reef, where bubbles of CO2 come out from the ocean floor and used them to analyse the effects of pH on aquatic life.

For the second week, the group went upmarket and stayed in the late 18th Century Fort Shirley, built by the British. They completed an open-water dive training programme or snorkelling and used stereo camera technology to analyse the benthos. Transect work involved quadrats to ascertain the impacts of increased sea temperature on coral bleaching and they literally did some hunting and a’fishing when they speared the invasive lionfish before cooking them for dinner. (Yummy!)

There were more adventures on the way home when the group had a 24-hour delay and stopped over in Barbados for a bonus night where they feasted on the best food of the holiday!

Commenting on the trip, Subject Leader for Biology Lyndon Davies said:

“This was a wonderful trip for our students and really brought to life Biology in the field and we felt like we were helping the people of Dominica as well; which made it all the more meaningful. Our young people were inspired and inspirational in seizing the many opportunities and I know that many of them are already thinking about studying Biology at university. Well done everyone!”