I decided early on in my college career that I wanted to study abroad somewhere that would allow me to experience and learn things that I wouldn’t be able to as a tourist. Lucky for me, the spring semester program in Trinidad provided just that. I got to relax on beaches in Tobago, parade in the streets of Port of Spain’s for traditional mas’ and Carnival and dance the night away at Panorama and Soca concerts. Trinidad may be a small island, but it’s a place that has so much soul and even more to offer.
Spending my childhood in Florida really inspired my love for the planet and its unique environments, which persists today as I decided to major Conservation Biology. I had the privilege to receive my PADI Open Water diving certification and then put it into action in some of the most beautiful reefs in the world. Thanks to the Romeo-Gilbert fund, I was able to fulfill a long childhood dream of scuba diving and interacting with an aspect of the world that has enthralled me since I was a kid.
I set my sights on the reefs located in the strait between Trinidad and Tobago, which have strong currents that carry divers over the reefs with ease. Because these were my first dives ever, I felt anxious, but as soon as I slid into the gear and rolled backwards into the Caribbean water, everything came naturally. Ranging from large hawksbill sea turtles to colorful coral wrasses, this part of the Caribbean has an incredible range of marine life that is amazing to see in their natural habitats.
In addition to scuba diving, I also was able to explore various jungle habitats found in Trinidad. I came across a guided visit to the Mount Tamana cave system, which houses millions of bats of over 11 different species. We hiked up Mount Tamana late in the afternoon, and I knew we were near the cave because the humidity skyrocketed, and the dense smell of ammonia filled the air. We bypassed the cave to the peak of Mount Tamana that featured views of North, South, and Central Trinidad sprawling out around us. We eventually left the summit and returned to the cave, and by 5pm, hundreds of thousands of bats were filling the area around us. At one point, it was extremely difficult to move without accidentally bumping into a bat trying to find its dinner. This ambiance was topped off with a troop of red howler monkeys that stationed themselves in the canopy above us making their presence known with their incessant howling.
It is easy to get pulled into the doom-and-gloom that surrounds climate change and other human impacts on the environment, especially when you’re reading it from a textbook. However, my experiences in Trinidad and Tobago allowed me to appreciate the life that is on this planet and provided a renewed sense of motivation to continue studying and learning about our natural world.