Smile and Say—Coral!

Last month a group of students from the University of Rhode Island took an advanced diving and underwater photography course at BIOS. Alexa Farraj took this photograph of a flamingo tongue snail at Cathedral, a popular dive site at the east end of the island known for its high concentration of marine life. Fighting a large surge, she located the animal between 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) deep and used her SeaLife 2000 camera to capture the image.

Many of the qualities that make Bermuda an attractive tourist destination—clear ocean water, a dazzling array of marine life, and temperate winters—also make it an ideal location for SCUBA training classes.

For five days in March, a group from the University of Rhode Island (URI) visited BIOS as part of the school’s “Advanced Diving and Underwater Photography” course. URI is a long-standing partner of BIOS, with 8 to 12 students taking part in the fall semester program at the Institute each year, which includes classes in tropical marine invertebrates, coral reef ecology, tropical marine biology research, and research diving methods.

Ten students, most with majors in marine science or aquaculture and fisheries science, participated in this year’s course, which gave students experience in advanced diving techniques such as nitrox (using air mixtures that contain higher proportions of oxygen), night diving, deep diving, underwater navigation, and underwater photography. During their time underwater, students learn about the equipment, techniques, and procedures required to take underwater photographs, including camera settings, scene composition, light considerations, and how to photograph both still and moving life subjects. Upon completing the 3-credit course, students were awarded an advanced adventure diving certification through Scuba Diving International, a worldwide training and certification agency.

A photograph taken by student diver Madison Thornhill off Windsor Beach, Bermuda—located at the southeast end of the island between Tucker’s Town and Cooper’s Island—focuses on capturing the natural colors of Bermuda’s corals. In this image, she centered the shot on a sea rod (or sea whip) and used angles and a second diver to create depth.

Alexandra Moen, assistant dive safety officer at URI, participated in the BIOS fall semester program as an undergraduate in 2012 and was excited to return as a course instructor. “The numerous opportunities and positive experiences that I had as an undergraduate at BIOS are what led me to suggesting it as a destination for a field-based course,” she said. “BIOS provides a unique learning environment with students, professors, and visiting scientists all interacting and utilizing the various resources.”

Anya Hanson, URI’s dive safety officer and the course’s co-instructor, felt the local scientific expertise and infrastructure at BIOS was ideal for a visiting group. From a logistics perspective, she also appreciated the direct and easy access to the local marine environment from BIOS’s location in Ferry Reach, on the east end of the island. Over the course of five days the students had the opportunity to visit North Rock, Crescent Reef, Hog Reef, Cathedral, and the Pelanion—an iron freighter that wrecked in 1939 on the reefs off of what is now the Bermuda International Airport.

The course offered Madison Thornhill, 21, a junior majoring in marine biology, a number of firsts: her first dive off a boat, her first night dive, and her first deep dive. “It was an amazing experience for me to dive in such clear water, as I’m used to the silty New England waters,” she said. “I was looking forward to this trip for months and it did not disappoint. We did three dives to acclimate to the waters, spending the first day on the north side of the island and the following days on the south side of the island, and each place was just as beautiful as the next.”

Alexa Farraj, 20, also a junior majoring in marine biology, spoke highly of her experience at BIOS. “My favorite part about BIOS, by far, was the people,” she said. “It was amazing to talk to the visiting professors and the faculty and staff that live and work there year-round. I enjoyed the lectures introducing us to the different marine life in Bermuda; learning the names of what I saw really helped me enjoy the experience that much more.”