Erin Fowler is a 2nd Year Geography student at the University of Glasgow who has been a volunteer for the RSGS for several years and was the Sub-Editor of our Young Geographer magazine, published in 2017.

Since 1989, The University of Glasgow has been running annual summer expeditions to the island of Trinidad. These expeditions, along with many others, are facilitated by the University’s own Exploration Society. These expeditions are used to give students an opportunity to conduct research focused on, but not restricted to, the environmental and social sciences.

I have been given the opportunity to join this year’s Trinidad Expedition – a whole summer packed full of environmental research projects that encompass geography and zoology.

Trinidad is a part of the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago situated just north of the equator, in the tropics, providing an ideal climate for a diverse ecosystem to thrive in. Thus, it proves to be a very exciting place to conduct environmental research!

Trinidad’s geographical location also means that it is affected by various kinds of natural hazards as the area is geologically active and exposed to tropical storms. Local media outlets have expressed concern over these hazards as there is potential for a major earthquake to occur in the near future, and the severity of recent tropical storms has prompted the government to take action in tackling climate change.

With this in mind, the geographical project focuses specifically on natural hazards – particularly on the population’s own perception of them, including any mitigation plans that have been put in place. It also aims to understand the population’s different vulnerabilities to hazards by comparing data collected in coastal, inland, rural, and urban communities.

The zoology projects include research on Leatherback turtles, amphibians and bats. Marine turtles are good indicators of changing temperatures as they are sensitive to environmental variations that may occur within their coastal and marine habitats. Trinidad’s coast is the primary nesting site for 5 out of 7 turtle species globally, and so the island plays a crucial role in preserving the threatened species.

This expedition contains two separate Leatherback turtle projects focusing on the effect climate change has on nesting females. The first will investigate if climate change, particularly the increase in mean sea-surface temperature around the island, has caused the body mass of female turtles to decrease. The second aims to explore how climate changes may have affected the core temperatures of female Leatherbacks. A breeding female turtle’s core temperature influences the sex ratio of the eggs they carry. And higher temperatures produce more females, causing a gender imbalance. This could result in a decrease in marine turtle populations, further threatening a vulnerable species. The study will compare the data to that of the Hawksbill turtle to determine whether such environmental change affects both species in similar ways. Both projects will use data from previous year’s expeditions to compare results and develop a better sense of how the environment has changed through time.

University projects will also look at female stream frogs and the colour of their yellow throat to determine whether it plays a role in asserting their social status, and if the vibrancy of colour is an indicator of fitness. In addition, whilst in Trinidad, we will work with Trinibats – a non-profit organisation focused on bat conservation – to help collect data by catching and recording information relating to their health.

As a break from research, we will help with beach clean-ups to reduce plastic waste and take part in outreach programmes in schools to teach students about our research and the importance of conservation. If you would like to support our projects or simply keep up-to-date with our progress, please follow the links below.

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Erin and the Exploration Society team will be setting off on Thursday 7th June for 10 weeks.