Twelve Northern Arizona University students are learning more about conservation biology in the CNMI as part of a pilot study-abroad program, which could pave the way for “mutual” internship opportunities.
Dr. Nashelly Meneses of Northern Arizona University's Center for International Education said their group arrived in mid-December and will be staying until the end of next month. The program is in partnership with the CNMI Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Fish & Wildlife.
“Most of our studies are going to be focused here on Saipan,” she said, adding that their group has also taken trips to the islands of Tinian and Rota.
Meneses noted that the “very unique” geographical location, culture, and natural resources of the Northern Marianas make the islands a great location for the study of conservation biology.
“It's like a natural laboratory where students can learn about different species and their conservation challenges,” she told Saipan Tribune.
Meneses said they were hoping to have only about six or seven participants but ended up getting 12.
“This is our first year and we accepted students from different levels,” she said. “It has been a little bit challenging because the students are at different levels. However, we were blessed with a really great cohort of students.”
According to Meneses, the 12 “young scientists” are learning about conservation biology on different species, including Mariana fruit bats, giant clams, and even medicinal plants.
One of the students, Monique Brown, said her work is focused on sea turtles and their beach preference, working alongside the sea turtle staff of DFW.
Brown agreed that the Commonwealth has a lot of potential for the study of biology. “I've never worked with a traditional culture before. The whole sea turtle being a cultural delicacy has really played in how to manage sea turtles. It's really interesting to learn that aspect,” said the graduating student.
During the duration of their stay, Meneses said they also have had the opportunity to get to know the Environmental and Natural Resources Organization or ENRO from the Northern Marianas College, and to attend the 2013 Marine Protected Areas Workshop last Jan. 29.
“It's incredible the amount of awareness and the willingness of people to conserve their natural resources,” she stated.
Meneses said they are grateful for the warm accommodation and overwhelming response afforded them by the people they have worked with throughout their stay.
“The sense of community that these islands have is something that these students were not exposed to. This is something that's not very common in the mainland,” said Meneses, adding that they plan to share the results of their study with the public before they leave.