Alligators, Sharks & Manatees: Students Explore the Everglades

January 30, 2019

So Florida group

From left, Ava Zigmand ’20; Rosalee Walter ’20; Kaitlin Gevry ’19; Jordan Teixeira ’18; Dr. Daniel Shustack’s 11-year-old daughter, Lydia; and Connor Duval ’19.

S Florida gatorOn an environmental studies class trip to the Everglades and South Florida over the winter break, Rosalee Walter ’20 of Williamstown, Mass., was walking through muddy water in Everglades National Park when she noticed a 10-foot alligator sunning himself at the entrance of the cypress dome she and her classmates were exploring.

A female alligator lives in the center of the wetland, and her protective mate was watching carefully as the class went in for a closer look at the trees, ferns, orchids, as well as a barred owl nest and other species.

“Although I was cautious about any gator in the water, I wasn’t afraid at all,” Walter recalled. “I had never been that close to an alligator before, and this male seemed extremely relaxed with eight people very close to him.”

“This nine-day field trip gives students a great opportunity to learn about the environment of south Florida in an immersive and multi-sensory way,” explained Dr. Daniel Shustack, associate professor of environmental studies. “I really try to design experiences where students are learning through engaging in physical activity such as walking and wading through various habitats, or swimming and paddling.”

S Florida kayakingA highlight for Kaitlin Gevry ’19 of Dudley, Mass., was a species report she gave to the class. “The manatees were directly in front of us,” she said. However, “The most exciting part of the course was swimming with a six-foot nurse shark. Being able to see all the different ecosystems was a learning experience unlike any other in my academic career.”

Jordan Teixeira ’18 of Taunton, Mass., agreed. “This trip was the last class of my undergraduate experience, and it was the best way to end my time at MCLA.

“It was an incredible adventure,” Teixeira said of the time the students spent in various national and state parks. He encourages other MCLA students to participate. “It is unlike any other experience.”