Wellington School students will be able to swim with stingrays and come face to face with lionfish on a diving trip in the Caribbean this week.
Eleven of the 17 students enrolled in a new marine biology class at Wellington were set to leave Saturday, Feb. 1, to spend six days at Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.
Jeff Terwin, Head of Upper School and the instructor for the marine biology course, said the students were excited to escape winter in Ohio for a trip that he called hands-on learning at its best.
And the 80-plus degree temperatures don't hurt, either.
"You can watch a thousand nature shows (on television), but until you are a few feet from a gorgeous parrotfish feeding on a reef, while a shiny barracuda hangs motionless in the water a few feet away, you can't truly understand the ecological wonder of a coral reef," he said.
Terwin, who has a doctorate degree in marine biology, said an important part of the class curriculum revolves around "building an awareness of the beauty and fragility of ocean systems and an understanding that human actions can have a significant impact on these amazing ecosystems."
Students making the trip are seniors Donnette Cox, Will Edwards, Natalie Morse, Amelia Palmer, Anne Postle, Robert Schumm, David Swaddling, Mallory Tannous and Becca Vrabel and juniors Henry Bacha and Kate Miller.
Wellington English teacher Kelly Zavotka is making the trip as well.
Dive instructors on the trip are Gordy Jablonka and Clyde Woodburn, who provided scuba lessons to the students at Aquatic Adventures Ohio in Hilliard.
The cost of the trip for each participant is $2,700, but it is all-inclusive, including airfare, scuba certification, use of dive gear and dive instruction, resort accommodations and meals, at least eight dives and sightseeing trips.
The students will become certified scuba divers. After they are certified, they will dive in Stingray City, an area at Grand Cayman where stingrays are plentiful.
"The stingrays have become somewhat domesticated and very comfortable being in, on and around people," Terwin said. "Visitors to the area can snorkel on a shallow sand bar or scuba dive in a deeper region to get up close and personal, including offering the stingrays a bit of squid for a snack."
He said the most common stingrays at Stingray City are Southern stingrays, which can get up to five feet wide.
The students could barely wait to start their travels.
Edwards was "excited to spend five days having a sweet experience with some of my best friends."
"I'm looking forward to many things on the trip -- the tropical weather, scuba diving in some of the best locations in the world and learning on the beach," he said.
Morse and Palmer hope to follow some sea turtles.
"I like learning about sea turtles and their environments," Morse said. "It's really great to have an opportunity at Wellington to create a service learning project focused on a topic I truly care about and then share my insight with everyone else."
"I am most excited to scuba dive in the coral reefs and to finally obtain my scuba certification," Palmer said. "I find everything about the Wellington marine biology class fascinating, but I enjoy the discussions and hands-on activities the most."
Terwin said the Grand Cayman area has "a spectacular climate, generally calm water with great visibility and some of the best reef ecosystems in the world."
"There is a wonderful level of biodiversity of fish and coral, but also some great opportunities to encounter sea turtles, sharks, moray eels and rays," he said. "The island and the surrounding waters are safe and there are plenty of great places to stay."
Each evening, the students will have "Island School," he said.
"It will include lectures and learning activities focused on Grand Cayman history and ecology, fish biology and impacts in marine systems," Terwin said.
Terwin's research background is in coastal ecology and invasive species.
"There is a great, or terrible, example I can highlight in the Caribbean where lionfish have been introduced and are having a significant impact on the coral reef ecosystems," he said. "Will Edwards studied lionfish as a part of his service project and he will now be able to swim among them and see their impact firsthand. It doesn't get much better than that."
Terwin said getting students to see the potential impact of invasive species and other concerns firsthand is "an important step in shaping a perspective of environmental awareness and respect."