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Biology 295: Philippine Tropical Organisms and Ecosystems

Anticipated dates of travel: 21 days from early January to shortly before class begins

This course fulfills the requirements for the MultiOrganismal (MO) areas of the Biology major/minor, as well as a Cultural Diversity (D) requirement for all students. For Asian Studies Students, this core course counts for the GE natural science elective (E) as well.

Course Overview
Over a third of the earth’s terrestrial surface is located in the tropics, with a wide range of different environments.  Among the different tropical countries, the Philippines is unique because it is geologically comprised of five different tectonic plates and microplates, creating an archipelago of 7,108 islands that has several different types of ecosystems in close proximity to one another.  This unique geological composition enabled the evolution of some of the most biologically diverse collection of species on the planet; this is especially true for the marine ecosystems.  This course will focus on field observations and study of the physical factors, the flora and fauna, the interrelationships that exist in different tropical ecosystems, and the interaction between the environment and the cultural minorities that inhabit these regions.  The course involves a three week trip to the Philippines over Intersession.  Local trips in the Philippines will focus on tropical rainforests, coral reefs, mangroves, and sites of recent and old volcanic activity.

What are the course prerequisites for taking this course?

Biology 142, or instructor approval

This course is designed for Sophomore level or higher Biology/ Biochem/ Neuroscience/Biomath/Biophysics majors.  I will make exceptions for those who have Bio 110/111.

How much will the course cost?

In addition to tuition for 3 credits of an Intersession course, the trip will entail an additional $3000 to $3500, which will cover:

  1. round trip airfare from Avoca/JFK/Newark to Manila
  2. all local transit within the Philippines (car/boat/plane)
  3. all local accommodations in the Philippines
  4. all course-related activities (except optional ones like scuba diving)
  5. almost all of your meals (but I will also give you spending money so you can have money for some meals/drinks)

Final costs will depend on enrollment, final itinerary, and other factors.  I will make it a point to plan the trip such that the costs do not exceed $3000.

Are there any physical requirements for participants?

Students must be able to swim, be physically fit enough to hike for several hours, have no fear of flying or ocean travel, and be able to tolerate insects and other tropical creatures

Will we be doing any actual classes while in the Philippines?

Yes.  We will have a textbook (Tropical Ecosystems and Ecological Concepts.
Author: Patrick L. Osborne).  We will have lectures and written essay exams.

How about terrorism threats in the Philippines?  Will I be in any danger?

The state department website often issues travel advisories against foreign countries, and I can see why you would be concerned.  It does make it sound like the Philippines is a dangerous war zone.  I don't blame you for being scared.
Let me assure you that it is not as bad as it sounds.  If, for example, you look carefully, you will see that the last "attacks" were in 2005.  What it does not show is that these attacks were planned as a government destabilization move by members of the government itself!  It's Philippine politics - it's a bit complicated. Most other “terrorist” attacks are really cleverly-disguised kidnapping-for-ransom activity, usually aimed at people who are known to be wealthy.
Remember, I don't want to get attacked either, and I will take all the necessary precautions to keep you all safe.  Our travel plans will be restricted to areas that I know are safe from terrorism activity.  Many of the sites we will visit are pretty cosmopolitan, or used to tourists.  I don't know what "image" you have of the Philippines, but it's nothing like what you may have seen in a movie.  In fact, it's reasonably modern.
 And as far as guaranteeing that nothing will happen to you, well, there's no possible way to do that.  But looking at the state of things in the world now, I would be more scared of traveling to places in Europe (the sites of the most recent fatal terrorist attacks) than I would be of traveling to the Philppines. 

What is the flight to the Philippines like?

Typically, the flights look like:

  1. Cathay Pacific – Departs JFK airport at about 9 am for a 16 hour leg to Hong Kong.  You will have a two hour layover in Hong Kong, then a 2 hour flight to Manila.  You arrive at 6 pm the following calendar day.
    The return trip follows the reverse route and leaves Manila at 6 am and arrives at JFK at 1 pm on the same calendar day.
  2. Delta Airlines – Departs Avoca at 12 pm for Detroit, followed by a a 14 hour flight to Nagoya (Japan) and a 4 hour flight to Manila.   You arrive in Manila at 11 pm on the following calendar day.
    The return trip follows the reverse route and leaves Manila at 6 am and arrives at Avoca at 3 pm on the same calendar day.

The flights are indeed long.  But you will have plenty to do on the airplane.

What will we do when we are in the Philippines?

I try to design the trip so that the participants engage in a variety of activities.  I try to make sure that we visit the following ecosystems:

Coral Reefs – drop-offs                       Coral Reefs – lagoons and bays
Islands and tidal pools                         Seagrass
Open Ocean                                          Mangroves

Jungle                                                  Mature rainforest
Rivers and lakes                                  volcanoes

Where do we stay when we are in the Philippines?

I book you in local hotels. They won't be 5-star, but they won't be roach motels either. In Manila, you will be in a "business-type" hotel (which means: room, bathroom, but no pool or spa...). When travelling outside Manila, I will book you in tourist-class resorts. On some islands, there won't be 24-hour electricity, but you will be on the beach, so who cares!

What will we eat when we are in the Philippines?

As part of your Cultural Diversity experience, you will be eating mostly Filipino food.  Filipino food is an ethnic mix of Chinese, Spanish, American, and Southeast Asian cuisine.  Rice is the staple.  For more information, check out the numerous websites on Filipino cuisine, such as: