Flagler students take on environmental issues in Belize during study abroad

From Staff

As global warming and carbon footprints become part of the national vocabulary, Flagler College liberal arts students spent the summer exploring new approaches to environmental issues.

Take Assistant Professor Barbara Blonder’s class trip to Belize, for example. This summer, the natural science coordinator taught her students about sustainable fisheries, environmental protection versus economic development and more. They learned by field research, scuba diving and talking to coastal residents of the Central American country.

“What was very unusual,” Blonder said, “was this course was populated not by biology majors, not by environmental science majors — but by communication and education and business majors.

“But they’ll go out and become county commissioners or heads of companies, or they’ll be teachers … Here are people who are going to go out for the rest of their careers and make a difference.”

Between cave explorations, fish counts and hammock naps, students discussed topics ranging from sea urchin population density to coastal tourism.

Some, like communication senior Kelsey May, chose to tailor their final projects to their majors. She wrote a magazine article on ecotourism after interviewing local researchers and residents.

“The article was about how, when you wipe out parts of the mainland and the mangrove trees [for cruise ship docks and buildings], it affects everything in the ocean, including the coral reefs,” May said. “The media needs to take attention to environmental issues — and I see it happening now.”

May took a class on environmental politics before the Belize trip, as well. She said both classes made an impact on her, but Belize was like nothing she had experienced before.

“We made friends with everyone from the captain to the cook,” she said. “We were immersed in nature. The jungle was right outside our window … Dancing in the first rain of the season in the forest was the best.”

Blonder said the conditions were challenging — no flushing toilets, lots of bugs, taxing field work and an unusual incident with a tapir — but the students “ramped up and met the challenge.”

Flagler College has no science majors, but Blonder said she hopes to teach similar environmental courses in the future.
“With science majors, you’re preaching to the choir anyway,” she said. “I think we have to go a lot broader to really change the world.”

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