For more than three decades the Lawrence University Marine Program (LUMP) has provided an in-depth, hands-on undergraduate experience in marine biology.  Offered on an alternating year basis, LUMP students participate in the Biology Marine Term, where students take all three of their courses as part of the Marine Term.  Using a two-week field study of a Caribbean Island as a focal point, the Marine Term includes studies of coral and fish biodiversity on reefs, and the design and execution of student small group projects on the behavior and ecology of reef organisms and ecosystems.  In combination with a course on microbiology and studies of local aquatic ecosystems, students investigate the similarities and differences between marine and freshwater environments, providing a strong foundation in the study of aquatic science.

Caribbean Reef Field Study

The Lawrence University Marine Program has studied reefs in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Cayman Islands over the years. However, LUMP has studied the reefs and island habitats of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands most extensively, beginning in 1980 (Click here to see a Map of the Caribbean ). Every other spring a small group of students and faculty (maximum of 16 students and 2 faculty) spend two weeks living and studying the diverse marine habitats of Grand Cayman. Prior to the trip, students spend two weeks learning about coral reef ecosystems, ecology, and human effects on reef environments. Students also must learn to reliably identify the major organisms they will encounter, so they are tested on their ability to identify over fifty reef fish, more than sixty reef invertebrates, and over 25 coral species (Visit the Reef Fish Image Gallery and the Reef Invertebrate Image Gallery). Additionally, students select a marine ecology project that is conducted with 3 or 4 other students while on the island. By the time they arrive on Grand Cayman, the students are ready to fully appreciate the complex reef environments of Grand Cayman, and collect some real data on coral reef ecology.

While on the island the group lives in rental houses or villas, using mini vans for transportation to the various shore diving sites around the island (Click here to see a Map of Grand Cayman). Students and faculty use SCUBA techniques to collect data on coral and fish diversity, typically at 8-10 different locations. At each site, dive buddy teams extend 10m long plastic chains above sections of the reef so that the faculty members can videotape transects of the coral. The group analyzes the video recordings after returning to Lawrence, providing the ecological data for the habitat analysis of the reefs (click here to see the LUMP Coral Diversity Data).

In addition to comparing coral abundance and diversity on the various reefs, students also collect data on reef fish diversity. We employ the techniques and pre-printed forms provided for this type of study by the  Reef Environmental Education Foundation, and then share our data with that organization after our trip.  Students are expected to prepare a formal report for the course which analyzes the coral, fish and other invertebrate data, compares the different habitats examined, and places the data into the context of factors possibly driving the observed patterns such as wave stress, run-off, shoreline development, fishing, and recreational diving pressure. The data are also used in the LUMP long-term study of changes in the reef environments of Grand Cayman over the past 30 years, providing a different time scale over which to consider the differences between each of the sites examined (click here to see hard coral coverage trends).

Student Designed Research

The collection of data for the habitat comparison usually occupies the first week of the trip.  During the second week, students focus on their small group projects.  Because any projects performed on the reefs of Grand Cayman require permission from the Caymanian government, there are some limits on the kinds of projects that our students undertake.  However, we have worked closely with the Department of the Environment and the Marine Conservation Board to provide a wide array of opportunities for our projects, and we provide the Caymanian government with the data from our habitat analyses as well as student projects.  Topics for projects are as diverse as our students' interests, and range from whole ecosystem reef analyses down to the behavior or ecology of a single species of fish (click here to see a list of past and perhaps future student designed research project topics).  We bring along all our own basic scientific equipment or construct necessary items as needed.  The emphasis is on creating an interesting question, developing a solid, testable hypothesis, and then executing a study to test the hypothesis.  Data collection occurs while on the island, but then students analyze data and do literature research after returning to Lawrence University.  Each group is expected to present their findings to the class in an oral presentation and to prepare a written report on their study.  The projects are often the most rewarding aspect of the Marine Term for the students, providing the whole class with a broader exposure to marine ecology topics, and enabling students to do marine science, not just read or hear about it.

The LUMP Legacy

After the challenges and achievements of the LUMP Marine Term, LUMPers often decide to continue on in the marine sciences.  Our former students have been extremely successful in pursuing their interests in the aquatic sciences. Many students decided to extend their studies by participating in the Boston University Marine Program, the Semester in Environmental Science, and the SEA Semester at Woods Hole, MA.  Alumni have pursued graduate degrees in the marine sciences at institutions such as Scripps Oceanographic Institute, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, SUNY-Stony Brook, Duke University, Oregon State University, Florida State University, University of California-Davis, and James Cook University, Australia.  A number have chosen other paths related to the marine environment and worked or have done internships at places like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Cornell University Biological Field Station, Newfound Harbor Marine Institute, and the Mote Marine Laboratory.  A measure of the LUMP success is that our alumni have a variety of options open to them based on their experiences here at Lawrence University, and they have succeeded, and continue to excel, in the very challenging fields of marine biology, oceanography, and aquatic sciences in general.