Skip to main content

Depth of Knowledge: ISU Students Study in Honduras

With data collection sheets in hand, Jamie Hefley (’23 biological pre-medical illustration) scuba dove into blue-green Caribbean waters off the island of Roatán. She hoped to survey a species in the wild that she had studied online back at Iowa State — Spirobranchus giganteus, or as it’s commonly named, the Christmas tree worm.

Hefley and her research partner were in luck. They didn’t observe just one of the colorful annelids. During their eight-day biology field course, they surveyed over 157.

“I was so excited!” Hefley said. “I thought, ‘They’re here, they exist!’”

Exploring a new ecosystem

Hefley was part of a small group of Iowa State students who traveled over spring break to Roatán for Iowa State’s Biology 394 class, a Caribbean marine biology field course.

Roatán is located off the coast of Honduras on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest barrier reef system. A dive destination, it’s also home to the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences, a research and teaching institution. 

Exploring a new ecosystem

Hefley was part of a small group of Iowa State students who traveled over spring break to Roatán for Iowa State’s Biology 394 class, a Caribbean marine biology field course.

Roatán is located off the coast of Honduras on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest barrier reef system. A dive destination, it’s also home to the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences, a research and teaching institution.

Iowa State’s Biology 394 class traveled to Roatán over spring break, located off the coast of Honduras on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Submitted photo.

Don Sakaguchi, Morrill Professor and director of Iowa State’s undergraduate biology and genetics programs, co-led the spring semester course with Jeanne Serb, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology. This was Sakaguchi’s 11th time leading the unique, hands-on learning experience.

“We continue to do this because it’s a great opportunity for our students and because the students have been great ambassadors of Iowa State,” Sakaguchi said. “The people at the institute really like Iowa State because they like our students. As soon as we arrive at the airport, we are greeted with open arms. It really is like going to see friends when we are down there.”

In 1998, Sakaguchi was approached by Warren Dolphin, Iowa State emeritus professor of biology and former biology program director, about helping lead a new international marine biology field course. It proved to be a perfect fit. While Sakaguchi’s research is in neuroscience and stem cells, he has a personal passion for diving. As a former advanced open water scuba instructor, he experienced some of the best diving in the world, from the island nation of Palau in the Indo-Pacific region to the Great Barrier Reef along the coast of Australia.

“I had an opportunity to dive all around the world and develop a strong interest in preservation of marine environments,” Sakaguchi said. “This was a great opportunity to develop this course, share my experience with students and expose them to a different ecosystem in a different country. Our goal is that students gain a tremendous appreciation for the extreme diversity in the oceans and the importance of the coral reefs.”

Continue to read the full article here.

This course will be offered again in Spring 2023. Learn more here