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Students explore ecology, build community partnerships on San Salvador Island

Students snorkel on the San Salvador Island study abroad trip in 2014.A group of Georgia College students are spending two weeks learning and exploring on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas with the goal of conservation in mind. Home to fewer than 1,000 and boasting a unique culture, ecology and environment, the island recently established five new National Parks. Now, Georgia College students are working with others to help with ongoing protection of those areas.

“The idea is to build a sustainable income for Bahamians of San Salvador Island, who are very much dependent on the continued conservation of the reef,” said Professor of Biological and Environmental Science Dr. Melanie DeVore, who recently secured $25,000 in support from Seacology. “Having these are crucial to the island in ensuring that ecosystems are not destroyed.”

The San Salvador Living Jewels (SSLJ), a local grassroots organization to promote conservation and sustainable use of the island, has played an instrumental role in the development of the recent parks and in the GC study abroad experience. Sandra Voegeli, a founding member of SSLJ, has been a longtime partner of the study abroad program led by DeVore. The program has also had help from Associate Professor Dr. Debra Freile from New Jersey City University, who has collaborated with Georgia College students for 16 years on research projects. Together, the Georgia College program links research directly into outreach and community service. Voegeli says outreach done by GC students, such as the San Salvador Sea Camp, has lasting effects.

 “San Salvador Sea Camp for local children ages 8 to 13 provides a unique opportunity for them to learn swimming, safety and marine conservation,” said Voegeli. “The grand result is these children grow up to be the stewards and island leaders committed to sustaining their island’s resources for future generations.”

The students will aid with the conservation of the 17,000-acre of protected areas on San Salvador Island by developing materials for signage and touch tanks, which are tanks that designed to allow visitors to get up close and person to marine life, during their two weeks on the island.

“After spending a few days on San Salvador Island, it’s incredibly apparent how unique, beautiful and vibrant the island is,” said senior environmental science major Peter Flamming “It’s also clear how worthy of protection the island is—it truly is a hidden jewel of the Caribbean.”

Having taken students on this study abroad experience for 16 consecutive years, DeVore says a mainstay of the program is the notion of building upon relationships to create viable community outreach on a global scale.

“The main idea of this community outreach is you have to build relationships and then you get to the point where you can build programs and use that as a teaching resource,” said DeVore. “For faculty, we want what we do to be distinctive and really be able to translate what students are learning to real life and real situations—that’s the ultimate goal.”

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