Sea Cucumbers in Zanzibar
How did you live your study?
I’m a biology major with a marine biology concentration, and I’m passionate about coastal ecology and sustainability. I chose a program that aligned perfectly with those interests, and also with my desire to immerse myself in a different culture—the program theme was coastal ecology and natural resource management in Zanzibar, Tanzania.
I lived my study by spending a semester learning how issues I care about play out in the real world.
My coursework included field surveys on coral reefs and in seagrass beds, and also in the local human communities. I saw and learned about humans’ complex roles in coastal ecosystems. I learned about ecological issues from professors, park rangers, and others who see and experience them every day.
How did your time abroad impact your beliefs or interests?
My time abroad changed the way I see my field, and how I see the world, in so many ways.
It showed me how complicated natural resource management really is, and made me more aware of and interested in the human aspects of ecology and sustainability. It made me more interested in looking at my field from an international perspective. It challenged how I think of tourism and ecotourism and led me to think critically about tourism’s ecological and social impacts, both positive and negative. It complicated, in a good way, how I think about development organizations and international aid.
It challenged stereotypes about Africa and also about Islam, that are generally held by people in Western countries, and it made me want to learn so much more about Islamic cultures, and other cultures in general.
What research projects were you able to participate in while abroad? My coursework during the semester included several short, small-group research projects, including surveys of mangroves, monkey populations, and reef fish.
Then, for the last month of the program, I did an independent research project on sea cucumber farming. This practice has begun globally in response to the overharvesting of wild populations, but these farms are new to Zanzibar. My project involved measuring the sea cucumber population and size distribution at two farms, and interviewing fishers and other community members to learn about the role of sea cucumbers in the community.
I shared my results with the farmer in hopes that he can use the information. I also wrote a project report that will hopefully help sea cucumber farming to spread in Zanzibar, benefiting sea cucumbers as well as the people that could earn income from farming them.