Thursday, August 18, 2011



Belize trip opens eyes on reefs for MCC group
By Evan Lips,
Updated: 08/13/2011 07:00:22 AM EDT

MCC professor John Savage combs over a section of coral reef in Belize during a recent 10-day mission aimed at inspecting the reefs' health. COURTESY PHOTO/JENNIFER BABCOCK

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.

BEDFORD -- Belize's maze of coral reefs are more than 2,000 miles away, but for a team of professors and students at Middlesex Community College, they're an indication that it's time we started treating Mother Earth a little bit better.

The health of the world's coral reefs, MCC chemistry professor John Savage said, are the planet's "canary in a coal mine."

In June, Savage and another professor took a group of 11 students to Belize's San Pedro Island as part of a 10-day research mission. The students' photos, notes and videos were then shared with Reef Check, a nonprofit organization that tracks the health of the world's coral reefs.

One of Savage's students, Jennifer Babcock, said she learned that human development to
A group of Middlesex Community College students and professors spent 10 days in Belize this summer researching the health of the country's coral reefs. Front row, from left, are students Kevin White, Mara Bacon, Yulay Camilo and Delaney Harrigan. Middle row, from left, are professor Paul Patev and students Brian Ferrazzani, Adam Degan, Jennifer Babcock, Ashley Katin and Joseph Assenza. Back row, left, are students Lorna Rutkauskas and Michael MacDonald and professor John Savage. COURTESY PHOTO

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.
bolster Belize's resort industry is hurting the country's reefs. The mangrove forests lining the coast act as a natural barrier, she said.

"When those forests are destroyed, everything then runs off into the ocean, hurting the reef system," she said.

Savage said the country's fishermen and environmentalists are all "on the same team" trying to prevent the coastline from being overdeveloped.

For Babcock, it was a life-changing experience. The 34-year-old mother said she will be transferring to UMass Lowell this January to pursue a master's degree in biological sciences.

"It opened up a world of opportunity for me," Babcock said about Savage's program.

Savage arrived at MCC in 2003 and said his experience landing
a faculty development grant at Roxbury Community College in 2001 played a big role in landing his present position. As a chemist, he developed a program to work with Reef Check.

"Normally, the paradigm is a dive shop might take a dive club to the reefs," he said. "But I thought what a great way to teach a course on reef ecology -- have the students SCUBA-certified and have them be the data collection team."

Participation in Savage's Belize program has steadily grown since the first trip drew four students in 2009. In 2010, that number grew to six and nearly doubled this year when 11 students signed up.

The Belize program cost students $750, which covered airfare, accommodations and dive costs. Savage said the program would have cost students a lot more without a National Science Foundation grant.

Babcock said she and her classmates were constantly blogging about their experiences "wherever we could find a wireless signal."

"The Belizeans we met were very encouraging when we told them what we were trying to do," she added.

To view the class's blog, visit

I found this interesting, as back in the late 1960´s I ran an annual MARINE BIOLOGY COURSE WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI over the ATOLLS and islands of our Great Barrier Reef. I had about 26 students on average for the course, ( 3 weeks ) and for years afterward, would casually meet somebody in Texas, who said they had been on the trip after greeting me with a cheerful and happy " Hi Cap´n Ray", to my surprise, as I didn´t remember them and they had grown up, got jobs with the State Parks Service, most of them and had families already. Those expeditions were held during the winter Xmas - January break, led by Professor Dr. Henry Hildebrand for 13 years, until the private University got bought out by the State of Texas and dropped the Marine Biology department. There is information on that period in Colonial history in our archives department I donated.
( 74 year old Cap´n Ray Auxillou )
**** ATOLL QUEEN, HOMEMADE WOOD PLANK, 34 foot, twin diesel motorsailer, built and run by Cap´n Ray Auxillou on Caye Caulker, on the beach by the house. Used to run around 26 University of Corpus Christi, marine biology students in 1969 and for around 13 years thereafter, each Xmas and January school vacation break, for 3 weeks. Camping on islands and Atolls offshore and along the Great Barrier Reef of Belize.
( Today for a camping charter around the Great Barrier Reef, I would recommend Charlie ( English/Belizean lady), of Ragamuffin, sailing trips, on Caye Caulker. She has 3 boats for this purpose. Or Tina Auxillou, on Caye Caulker as she is very experienced at this and a daughter of famous Cap´n Ray. Currently her husband concentrates on Blue Hole Scuba Driving trips, specializing on cross ocean trips to far away at Lighthouse Reef Atoll and scuba courses. )
Tina Auxillou on the right, her sister, Diane Auxillou on the left side and the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow in the center, on Caye Caulker, a Barrier Reef tourist island of 2000 people. No cars allowed. Tina spent a couple of years as Secretary to the Chilean Ambassador in Nairobi, Kenya and ran a tourist shop in Mombasa in a German resort on the beach. She also pioneered Youth Hostel tourism on Caye Caulker and in Belize in general for over a decade. Currently Tina is Project Manager and partner of a new resort development being built on Caye Caulker, while also building a new beachfront bar and restaurant, which she will personally own. Diane is more into real estate, sales, leases and development on Caye Caulker these days.

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