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Footage from day two of Tropical Ecology Field Trip to Puerto Rico. Click the gray triangle below to play:

Puerto Rico: Day 2 – March 17th, 2008

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Our First Day in Puerto Rico


Getting There:


Our quest to explore the tropical ecology of Puerto Rico began, appropriately enough, in the Ram Van. The Saturday morning that took us to JFK was cloudy, mild and a harbinger of spring. Some made their approach to the airport on their own, but our group check in was complete and uneventful, that is until Matt, Vince and I got through security and they asked, “Did you see that?”


The monitor brought the bad news that our 2:00 o’clock flight was delayed until 4:45. The incoming flight from Puerto Rico would actually be later than that. We waited patiently for our tardy aircraft with dreams of the tropics keeping us serene. When the announcement finally came that the wheels of the plane had hit the ground in New York we clapped. But delayed again on the tarmac for another hour after boarding, I heard one exasperated New Yorker (not in our group!) plan his revenge, “American Airlines better get a good look at me. They won’t be seeing me again for a long time.”


The late-night drive across the top of the Island was an easy well-lit, double lane affair and when we arrived at the Hotel Buen Café, our rooms were clean and comfortable. Our native informant and desk clerk told us that Palm Sunday service would start the next morning at 8am at the church 3 blocks away. The church was close, but the services were 7 and 9, and Matt only had a couple palm fronds to celebrate Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem.  


And thus the trip and the day began.


We would start with a tour of the caverns, then to the Arecibo Observatory on our way to La Parguera, where we would spend the next 4 days jumping off boats into Caribbean waters to see the coral reefs and the rich marine ecosystems of abundant red and black mangrove islands off the southwest coast.


The Caverns


The limestone geology of the island has created great sink holes, once caves before the roofs collapsed leaving vast holes that pock mark the island. The third largest underground river in the world constantly eats away at the porous stone. The sinkholes provide entrances to huge caverns that house 5 species of bats, that converge at times, we were told by our guild, in crowds of more than one million individuals. A reserved group, or just tired, none of us gasped or referenced images of wings caught flapping in long hair. It was obvious then that I was the only media studies professor in a group of true scientists, to which no such silly stereotypes about the natural world would occur. A long descending stairway delivered us to the cave entrance where jagged solidified minerals hung ominously at the entrance and water seeped from the rocks, the drips creating young stalagmites.    


But alas the caves were closed because of a terrible accident involving a stalactite that plunged last year from the cathedral-like ceiling and killed a visitor. Though not allowed in the cave, we all wore bright green hard hats through the park. Our erstwhile camera crew, Lindsay and Michael, would have to content themselves with images of the caves ominous entrance.


The Observatory


As we climbed the last hill on our approach to the observatory, the square white concrete power poles gave us a preview of what was to come. Around the next bend a huge, single white mast towered over the forest. From the top of it, a group of wires fanned downward, disappearing into the greenery.


It had our attention!


We didn’t see the full structure until we piled out of the little museum filled with competing informational videos chattering away in English and Spanish telling us everything from the birth and death of stars to the big bang.  On the observation deck (group picture time!) we looked down on a huge reflecting dish nestled into the sink hole, and as Guy told us, that was no accident. A perfectly chosen site shielded by the walls of this mountain bowl, offered an ideal setting. Two other white spires also carried cables that joined in the center to hold the weight of a receiver suspended above the parabolic reflector at mid-point. Designed to capture radio signals from the outer reaches of space, the massive rig had an other-worldly quality to it. Part of the SETI program, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, the movie based on Carl Sagan’s Contact was shot here. So apparently was Golden Eye, as one movie buff added. A suspended walkway leads from the top of the museum building to the pod so the star gazers from Cornel University can trod across it and keep an eye out for intelligent life in the universe.  


As we walked around the exit side of the building, the view offered a lush green mountainside to the right, and we heard the noisy clamor of tropical birds. The forest habitat was a striking contrast to the small hills we passed earlier on the way up. At first, this part of the island looked like it could have been a smaller version of the setting for The Painted Vail, a film shot amidst the dramatic, narrow mountains that rise abruptly out of the green valleys of remote rural China. There is a region with similar formations in Cuba, a short drive out of Old Havana. I had been disappointed last year when I missed seeing them because the few lodges and private homes that catered to visitors were booked. When we entered this countryside I believed I had a second chance.


But as we skirted along the edges of the meadow road that wound around the Haystack Hills, they quickly changed from the deep green of lush vegetation to the dusty brown of a denuded landscape. It took a minute to see the cows and realize they had munched off all the wild, oversized leaves, hanging vines and jagged-edged ferns. With the blue/green palms, bananas and bromeliads gone, the dry paths left by these “free-range” cattle wound around the hills like the terraced ripples of some abandoned rice fields. It was a dramatic illustration of the consequences of our appetite for eating animals.


The day had been long, sometimes sleepy, and accented by getting lost several times, but It turned out to be a good way to see the unexpected, twisted and hidden parts of the island. (Though our navigator, Jake, always seemed to know where we were.) Megan had acquired a mysterious cough from the airplane that would require an emergency stop for lozenges. The fast food did not satisfy, but the enormous quantity of fruit that Kevin bought from a roadside vendor left us happily peeling small bananas all day. When word came from the other 2 vehicles that they wanted to head straight down to the coast, we had a different idea and convinced the others that we needed to stop at a beach. Lost once again on the way, as Kevin made a three point turn to reverse direction, he called out the window optimistically, “Almost There!” Continuing along a road where the water was tantalizing close, and itching to get our feet in the sand, the howls from the back of the car to pull over and park anywhere got louder and more desperate. We called the lead vehicle and told then we were stopping anywhere, but the warming came in dramatic terms – these waves will break your body!


Los Jobos


The small popular swimming cove of Los Jobos was crowded beyond description, vehicles parked in every corner of the sand lot, music blared from different speakers and the ice-cream truck never moved and never stopped playing the muzak that continued on an endless loop at incredible volume. It was a fun place.


We enjoyed our 50 minutes of swimming and relaxation. A couple hours later after crossing over the tail end of the cordillera, the mountain spine of the island, we approached La Parguera. We looked forward to dinner and wondered what adventures the place would offer. This day would be remembered by: “peel me a banana,” “almost there!” and, “these waves will break your body!”


Robin Andersen

March 18. 2008



Caves (1)

Caves (2)

Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory

La Parguera

La Parguera

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Footage from the first day of Tropocal Ecology Field Trip to Pruerto Rico. Click the gray triangle below to play:    Download  

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The Faculty Technology Center is partnering with the Biology Department to document this year’s Tropical Ecology field trip to Puerto Rico, March 15th-22nd 2008. The goal is provide a record of the species and other natural phenomena the students encounter for later analysis, as well as documenting some of the activities the class engages in. As part of the project, we will be uploading a video podcast every night with some of the highlights from the day’s encounters. If you are interested in following the students’ progress, watch this space, or use the direct link at  

You can also subscribe using your rss or podcast reader at feed://

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This is episode 3 of the ITAC podcast, a recording of the second part of Richard Sweeney’s keynote address to our Annual Technology Conference on May 22nd.

Mr. Sweeney is University Librarian at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and spoke about the challenges of teaching incoming tech-savvy “millennial” students. The first part of the Keynote, Mr. Sweeney’s actual address, can be viewed in Episode 2.

In this episode, Mr. Sweeney interviews a panel of Fordham’s own millennials about their experiences with technology in the classroom and out, at Fordham and elsewhere, and about their general consumer habits, life outlook, and learning styles.


As always, you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS.

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This is episode 2 of the ITAC podcast, a recording of Richard Sweeney’s keynote address to our Annual Technology Conference on May 22nd. Mr. Sweeney is University Librarian at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and spoke about the challenges of teaching incoming tech-savvy “millennial” students. Many of the slides for Mr. Sweeney’s presentation can be found here.


As always, you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS.

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ITAC now has a podcast! You can subscribe to the feed here.

Our inaugural podcast is a recording of one of the talks from our Annual Technology Conference on May 22nd:

Keeping it Together: Bringing Information and the Internet to You With Syndication, Social Bookmarks, and Other Web 2.0 Tricks.


If You’ve already seen Karl Fisch’s “Did You Know?/Shift Happens,” feel free to fast forward through the fist few minutes.

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