Conservation biology class gets hands-on at Sapelo Island

Conservation Biology class trip to Sapelo Island & Okefenokee Swamp
Curated by Debbie Aiken '12 Debbie Aiken '12

Every two years, Oglethorpe biology professor Dr. Roarke Donnelly takes his Conservation Biology class on a 4-day trip to Sapelo Island and the Okefenokee Swamp. The trip provides real-world context for many lessons in his course—not to mention a few bumpy rides in the back of this truck. 

Just after arriving on Sapelo Island, students set up a motion and heat-sensitive camera in a secluded area in hopes of catching a glimpse of the island’s resident bobcats. The camera was retrieved at the end of the trip with shots of deer, raccoons and opossums, but no cats.

The team set up a series of five nets in order to trap, identify, band, and release birds. Here, students use a bird guide to identify the species of the bird Dr. Donnelly untangles. 

Biology major Yidi Amha prepares to release a Carolina Chickadee. 

Students observe Brown Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorands nesting on a shipwreck in the ocean. They had the opportunity to see some of the rare or endangered bird species they’d learned about in class.

Learning happened everywhere—even on the beach! Dr. Donnelly led students on a hike from the beach inland to learn about sand dune formation and how the vegetation in these areas changes over time. 

With very few vehicles on Sapelo Island, the biology team spent a lot of time walking from the dorms at UGA’s Marine Institute to various parts of the island. 

Students were eager to explore an old lighthouse to look for owl pellets, which can be dissected to learn about the birds’ diet. 

This is an OU classroom! Dr. Donnelly explained the history of Sapelo Island, while students sat “poolside” at a mansion built by R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco mogul eventually sold the estate and other island property to the state of Georgia. 

The group stopped at the Okefenokee Swamp on the way back to Atlanta to learn about the natural cycle of wildfires—one in particular burned for more than 13 months in 2011, changing the landscape for years to come.

What better place to learn about the geographic features that allow for the formation of swamps—than to stand in the middle of one?

The class took a guided boat tour through the swamp where they learned about plant species that thrive in this environment, like Bladderwort and Neverwet.

The swamp tour gave students the chance to see adult and baby alligators, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets and Red-Shouldered Hawks.

Dean Easton, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained his team’s efforts to monitor, protect and preserve the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. 

The students who travel with Dr. Donnelly on this biennial trip always stop to pose for a photo amid the branches of this spectacular Live Oak, and would likely agree there’s no substitute for out-in-the-field learning. “You can talk about it all you want,” says Dr. Donnelly, “but to actually see and touch is a completely different experience.”

 

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Study Abroad Awesomeness

Autumn Wright 4I’ve heard plenty of excuses why students don’t want to study abroad. They don’t want to miss out on a semester. They’re afraid they’ll get behind. Perhaps there’s an internship they want to do, or a concert they want to go see. Maybe they think that it’s too difficult to put all their friends and family behind them and run away for a year.

Let’s get this straight: study abroad is not always the glamorous life depicted on the glossy brochures in front of Dr. Collins‘ office, where a politically-correct diverse range of students stand in front of An Important, Easily-Recognizable Monument and flash their Photoshopped-white teeth at the camera on a perfect spring day.

But sometimes it is.

Autumn Wright 3The Road to Cultivation 128There are moments that feel perfect, those once-in-a-lifetime sparks that imprint themselves on your mind. Standing on a bridge over the Seine on New Year’s Eve at midnight while the Eiffel Tower lights up and fireworks flash over the Parisian skyline. Climbing to the top of some ridiculously tall, ridiculously old cathedral so you can catch a glimpse of the city from above. Lying on the grass with new found friends from all corners of the globe, the taste of the pastry you bought at the nearest boulangerie still on your tongue. And, feeling like the world’s biggest bad ass for navigating London’s winding roads and underground on two hours of sleep.

Autumn Wright 2Study abroad will lead you to places that you never pictured yourself going. For example, even though I’m studying in France at the moment, I’ll be going to England in a fortnight with my job. I have an internship this summer through my school here in France that spans across three different countries, taking me all the way from Amsterdam to Paris. (Which seriously rocks. If I’d stayed in Atlanta, I would probably have some cookie cutter internship that would have involved making copies and using my honed barista skills to brew pots of coffee.)

Autumn WrightSeriously. Study abroad is one of the best experiences of my life. College is one of the only times where you can take a semester or two “off” and just go somewhere and it’s perfectly acceptable. If you try doing the same with your boss in a couple years’ time, I doubt they’d be too thrilled to let you go adventuring across Europe. Study abroad now, or else regret it later.

Autumn Wright, an Oglethorpe University junior majoring in French, is studying abroad and interning in Lille, France.