Award-winning Samford University geography professor Jennifer Rahn lived on the Caribbean island of Saba for two years after graduating from college and has been visiting Saba regularly for the 26 years since then. She often takes Samford students along with her in January and summer terms to give them hands-on experience and help them learn how to conserve the island’s ecosystem.
The trip offers students three diving certifications and academic credit in various degree programs, but it also benefits Saba. Recently, the Samford group has been focused on a coral nursery project there.
Patrick Thomason, senior geography major, has been on the Saba trip twice. He said he feels a responsibility to get involved in saving the environment, especially the coral, which he said suffers from a number of environmental pressures such as disease, damage from hurricanes and lethal bleaching. Each trip, more research is done in hopes of finding more ways to bring back coral in the nursery. “The challenge is finding the cheapest and best way,” Thomason said.
“The coral nursery is literally a nursery,” Rahn explained. “The coral must be planted and nursed back to health before being placed back in its natural environment. Once the coral multiplies, it can be broken off into pieces and put back on the reef.” Rahn said that process involves collecting five types of coral in the five square miles of nursery and securing it to tree-like frames made from PVC pipe so the healing process will not be disrupted by sediment.
The Samford group works with Saba Marine Park Center volunteers to regularly clean algae from the frames and coral, and to monitor and document the project. Sea Saba Dive Center and the island’s See & Learn organization originated the idea of the nursery, and also are partners in the work. In fact, many in the small island community of 2,000 are excited about the project. “The people always come out to support our students’ presentations,” Rahn said. Some Samford parents have joined in as well, learning about the work and diving with their students.
Rahn hopes to further develop the Saba coral nursery project by raising awareness of the need, seeking sponsorships for the individual frames in the nursery and recruiting more volunteers from Samford. She has discussed a trip for Samford employees and is exploring the possibility of opening the January course to students from other schools.
Olivia Odom is a journalism and mass communication major and a news and feature writer in the Division of Marketing and Communication.