“I came to the Bahamas with a sense of adventure,” he said. “I came to do something new, to explore the world like I’d never seen it. Even though the moment scared me, I knew that facing it was how I was going to learn about all the amazing things around me. I saw a sea turtle in an aquarium once, but seeing one a couple of inches away while swimming in the ocean was just mesmerizing. This trip was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Harbaugh was one of thirteen junior and senior students and four chaperones on the adventure, a trip made every other year by the Gobles High School Biology Club, under the leadership of teacher Bob Lisowski. The club travels to Gerace Research Station on San Salvador Island to visit local sites teeming with tropical life, especially the diverse coral reef ecosystems.
As biology students the club also explores a bat cave, an island full of marine lizards, a river, the ocean at night, and a beach where trash drifts on ocean currents to wreak havoc on nature. They even help count lionfish, an invasive species being studied by the professional biologists at Gerace.
For Lisowski the trip provides an opportunity for him to teach about the direct impact of human behavior on delicate coral systems.
“It really opens the eyes of students when they see how humans that live half the world away can impact a small place like San Salvador,” Lisowski said. “When students see the junk washed up on the beach comes from ships and even other continents, they are surprised. And they are glad to lend a hand to help clean up the trash. Coming to the Bahamas can really change a student’s life.”
But the students are more than just biologists on the trip. Lisowski makes sure they get to see the local places and the local people as well. Students attend a church service and a session at the local high school where they meet and get a chance to interact with Bahamian teens.
“Most of us have grown up going to school in Gobles with a limited sense of the world,” Harbaugh said. “But I’ve gained more interest in what’s out there in the world. I’ve learned that there’s a whole new world you can see if you are willing to go there and learn about it.”
Gobles High School students are eligible to attend the trip as juniors or seniors, and Lisowski provides opportunities for students to raise one-hundred percent of the funds through service work and fund raising. The next trip will take place in the spring of 2016.