Mangrove Biology-Geology Explorations / Coral Reef Biology Snorkel Team

Field Biology & Field Geology in the Mayan Tropical Coastal Ecosystems (Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve), Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Maya TORCH 2004 Expedition Updates

Application Forms

Required Personal Clothing & Gear

Reference List

National Science Teaching Standards

To Pay Share of Cost by Credit Card

Yucatan Peninsula Map & Location of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Travel Recommendations

Session 1: Monday, June 30-Tuesday, July 7, 2004.

Participant Share of Cost (SOC): $1000 plus airfare to Cancun, Mexico rendezvous. (Partial need-based fellowship may be available).

The Environmental Learning Institute provides course transport from the Cancun rendezvous to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico, on-course travel, food, cooking equipment, lodging, protected area fees, course reader and all scientific and research equipment.

†The Share of Cost (SOC) does not include airfare from the participantís home to and from Cancun, registration for credit, personal clothing, personal equipment expenses, personal expenses or optional travel.

Semi-deciduous tropical forest explorations


Option 1. 4 graduate-level relicensure hour credits available through Colorado School of Mines (additional $150). Registration for this credit is done at the completion of the course with payment by credit card or check.

Option 2. 2 sciences graduate credits available through New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology ($360). Registration for this credit must be completed prior to the course. NMIT registration materials available at The NMIT contact is Marisa Wolfe, 505-835-5470,

Biosphere Staff Naturalist at Mayan Site


Session 1: 3:00 PM, June 30, Cancun Airport.


Session 1: 7 AM, July 7, Cancun Airport

Anna Gahl Cole & David Vaughan

1. Faculty:

David Scott Silverberg, Ph.D., 520 731-3374,

Environmental Learning Institute
5710 South Freeman Road #4
Tucson, AZ 85747

Gonzalo Merediz, Program Coordinator, Amigos de Sian Kaan, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

David Vaughan, M.Sc.

Anna Gahl Cole, M.Sc.

Sam Meacham, Conservation Cave/Cenote Exploration Geographer




2. Brief Description:
The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is composed of coral reefs, barrier beaches, lagoons, salt marshes and tropical forests. In this TORCH we will explore through authentic inquiry-based learning-research activities the incredible coral reefs, beaches, lagoons, forests and wetlands of Mexico's Mayan Coast. Our work is done in cooperation with Amigos de Sian Ka'an, a non-profit organization that has been instrumental in the protection and management of the protected area. Described by Jacques Cousteau as one of the most magnificent reefs on earth, we will use snorkels for our exploration. In addition, we will explore and investigate the remarkably diverse coastal tropical forests. There are also visits to the Coba Mayan ruins and the cinotes (freshwater underground rivers) throughout the area. A group of 12 intermediate-secondary level science teachers will be selected to study coastal ecosystems in the Mayan Coast, Mexico through hands-on explorations.

Teachers will:

  • Learn about the climate, flora, fauna, and geology of Mayan coastal ecosystems.
  • Become familiar with global and local threats to these ecosystems.
  • Learn the Grinnel system of field journaling.
  • Learn a variety of field research techniques that can be applied in the classroom as well as in the field with their students.
  • Experience inquiry-based learning first-hand and develop inquiry-based lessons for their own classrooms.
  • Co-design and co-implement a Participatory Action Research project (with geological and biological components) serving the interests of the local community.
  • Be encouraged to establish long-term professional connections with each other and local experts.
  • Participate in professional forums on inquiry-based science, alternative assessment, and constructivist pedagogy in the science classroom.
  • Contribute to the creation of a world wide web site that will illustrate the philosophy, pedagogy and experiences of the workshop.

Palapa classroom with powerpoint / Cooperativo water taxi to offshore coral reef

3. Site description:
oThe 9 days of the institute will be spent traveling to and from and staying in the Mayan Coast, Mexico.
oDays 1-2 the group will fly to Cancun, Mexica and then caravan to the Sian Ka'an Biospehere Reserve, Quintana Roo, Mexico. We stay a night south of Tulum. Study visits at the Coba Mayan ruins and a study snorkel in the cinotes (underground freshwater rivers).
oDays 3-7 the group will stay five days studying in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Investigations by snorkel of the magnificent coral reef, barrier beaches, lagoons, salt water marsh and tropical forests.
oDay 8-9 the group will drive back to Cancun and then fly home.

4. Levels of teacher-participants: We invite intermediate- to secondary-level pre-service, in-service, education undergrad and graduate student, science education professors (teacher of teachers) and science education professionals (e.g. science education coordinators, university, park, museum and outdoor center affiliated).

Snorkel Beach Camp

5. Structure of workshop:

We will travel South along the Yucatan Peninsula's Mayan Coast into the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. For those eight days, participants will attend content lectures and guided hikes and snorkels and undertake field studies in coastal, wetland and forest ecosystems. Our days are filled with field work. Our evenings include lively text-based discussions of inquiry-based learning, expeditionary learning, team development models, global environmental change.

Tulum Maya Site / Coatimundi / Snorkel Team Practicing for Coral Reef Survey

6. Content Knowledge Topics: Field Geology and Field Biology in the Context of Natural Ecosystems and Ecological Concepts

This course provides a field geology and field biology overview of the Mayan Coast, Quintana Roo, Mexico natural tropical coastal ecosystems: what they are; how they work; and how they evolve and adapt to change. Ecosystem structure and function, as well as ecosystem development and dynamic equilibrium are integrated into a central theme of sustainability from a local and global perspective. Particular emphasis will be given to the ecology of Quintana Roo's Caribbean Coast , the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere interactions and exchanges within the coastal zone and tropical biomes are introduced as related to issues of local and global environmental change. The philosophy, pedagogy and learning activities of the course employ a standards- and inquiry-based approach.

Mangrove Biology & Geology Snorkel Float

Learning Activity Topics Include:

Environmental History of Mexico

Mexico's Protected Areas and Communities


Tectonic, Geologic and Physical Geographic Development of the Yucatan Peninsula

Watersheds and Coastal Environmental Change


Physical Oceanography of the Coastal Zone

Coastal Processes


Ecosystem Studies of Coral Reef, Barrier Beach, Lagoon, Mangrove, Salt Water Marsh and Tropical Forests include:

Ecosystem Structure and Function


Habitat Fragmentation and Degradation


Global Coral Reef Assessment

Cenote Biology & Geology Snorkel

7. Curriculum materials:
Each participant will receive a binder in which to put all course handouts. Included will be readings on global change and current environmental issues in coastal ecosystems, both global and local. Maps and field guides for each field site as well as descriptions of common field techniques and their applications will also be included. In addition, teachers will receive handouts regarding pedagogy, such as ways in which inquiry based learning may be implemented in the classroom. Each participant will receive a Project WET curriculum guide and a copy of Project Estuary.

8. Field Equipment: Our field lab includes several notebook computers, TI-89 graphing calculators, a full set of Vernier calculator and computer-based laboratory probes and standard geological and biological survey equipment. A digital projector, external portable CD-RW, portable printer, dreamweaver and fireworks web design software, compasses, underwater writing tablets, barometers, digital cameras, mini-DV camcorders, 35 mm SLR, dissecting microscope, GPS units.

Dissecting microscopes / Notebook computer data compilation

9. Food and Lodging: We will be cooking in our field camp and occassionally eating out in simple local restaurants. Participants will be asked to help the camp manager with cooking and cleaning chores in rotation. We will be occassionally lodging in simple lodges and sleeping in beds in shared rooms. Participants will sleep in sleeping bags on sleeping pads in tents, as well as shared rooms in a simple lodge.

10. Physical Fitness Requirements: The Maya Coast TORCH course involves hiking, dayhiking with a 20 pound daypack, hiking on trails and off-trails, traveling in a van for several hours on sometimes curvy coastal roads, †traveling in a motorboat on a choppy water surface, snorkeling for several hours a day.† Participants will sleep in sleeping bags on sleeping pads in tents, as well as shared rooms in a simple lodge.

Heading home after a full coral reef survey snorkel day