Last year, we helped support RSGS volunteer Erin Fowler on a geographical research trip to Trinidad with the University of Glasgow Exploration Society. This is how she got on…
Trinidad is comprised of a diverse range of landscapes, from beautiful coastlines and wetlands with mangrove forests, to the great mountains of the Northern Range which are covered in lush green jungle. Nestled in these mountains is a tropical research station that is popular with scientists from all over the world – and this is where I stayed with a team of 14 students from Scotland to conduct three months of environmental research.
The grounds of our base boasted several species of bird, bat, frog and snake, whilst the jungle beyond was home to howler monkeys and the elusive ocelot. It was the perfect place for geography and zoology students! Over seven months of planning, research and fundraising had led us here to carry out studies on sea turtles, bats, frogs, and the local population’s perception of natural disasters.
Some of the team and I were studying sea turtles, specifically the leatherback turtle – and during the trip, a few lucky students were invited to visit the turtle hatchery that featured on the BBC’s Blue Planet II. Trinidad’s coast is an important location for female turtles as, in the summer, they come up to lay their eggs in the sandy bays. The students investigated how climate change is affecting this endangered species – one study focused on body mass and the other on egg temperature. The fieldwork for this research was, at times, challenging because long-sleeved tops, trousers and welly boots had to be worn when walking up and down the beach as protection from mosquito and snake bites. However, it was always extremely rewarding as it allowed us to get close to these beautiful animals, especially the hatchlings that appeared near the end of the nesting season.
As a group, we also set out to help a local bat conservation group add to their database of species, recording basic information including gender, age, forearm size and the number of parasites on the bat’s body. We did this in the jungle and within an urban area in order to compare data and to learn more about the impact of urbanisation on bats. Contrary to what you might believe, the bats were very fun to work with and this project became a personal favourite of mine! Both the turtle and bat projects were conducted in the evening, often until 1 or 2am, which seemed to be a popular time for the biting insects to come out…
Finally, the main human geography project involved conducting questionnaires and interviews in locations all over Trinidad to illustrate the general public’s awareness and perception of natural disasters. This proved interesting as we experienced many small earthquakes during our stay, and witnessed some of the flooding that Trinidad is often prone to during the rainy season. The locations for this research varied extensively, from bustling cities like Port of Spain to smaller rural towns in the south of the island.
Aside from the data collection, we also visited a local school where we created a series of workshops and lesson plans about our projects. The idea was to inform and inspire the children to learn more about some of the species native to Trinidad and the geography of their wonderful country.
Despite our busy schedule, we were able to fit in at least one day off per week, giving us time to relax and explore. We ventured into the jungle in search of waterfalls and baked on the beach in the Caribbean heat. This was always followed by an evening trip to a nearby town to find some tasty street food. We quickly fell in love with doubles (chickpea curry wrapped in fried flat bread) and roti filled with curry and pumpkin.
It was a truly amazing experience and I am grateful for the support I received from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in helping me carry out this inspiring geographical research expedition!