While other students relaxed at home for winter break, two students from the University of Rhode Island spent their Winter J Term thousands of miles away in Senegal to study mangrove tree restoration.

The program was offered for the first time this year, and was organized by Professor Brice Loose from the university’s Graduate School of Oceanography. The course allowed Marissa Wolfe, a marine affairs major, and Colleen McCarthy, an environmental science major, to spend over a week in Senegal learning about local environmental issues and mangrove forest restoration. The students worked to understand the process of regrowing destroyed mangrove forests, and more specifically to “find out why some are thriving” and why others aren’t through “comparative measurements.”  

Wolfe said that she initially chose to take the course over J-Term because she “wanted to go on a J Term trip someplace I wouldn’t have chosen to go on my own.” During the trip, the two students took samples of salinity, pH and oxygen levels in the Sine-Saloum delta to examine existing efforts to restore mangrove habitats. Additionally, they learned about projects for sustainable aquaculture and fisheries, and worked throughout the trip with students from Cheihk Anta Diop University (UCAD) in Dakar, Senegal.

For Wolfe, that collaborative work was her favorite part of the trip. “The students we met and traveled with . . . [gave us] an insider’s look into their life in Senegal,” she said. Throughout the trip, experiences like these “a great cultural experience,” according to Wolfe. These experiences, such as seeing the differences in the campus and buildings at UCAD as compared to URI, made the trip enlightening in respect to cultural diversity as well. In terms of her interests in marine affairs, as well as environmental issues more broadly, Wolfe said the trip to Senegal really encouraged her to “think globally” and look at the “bigger picture — not just short-term solutions.”

URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography plans to offer the course again next J Term, and Wolfe herself strongly recommends it to other students. She stressed that the trip was enjoyable and beneficial not only because of the work they did, but also because “the country of Senegal was amazing.” Wolfe said that she “went to Senegal . . . not knowing what to expect,” but the experience she got was “totally unique” and nothing she could have ever imagined. For more information about the J Term course, you can contact Professor Brice Loose at the GSO at bloose@uri.edu or 401-874-6676.