CHP ICST 2009 Curaçao

ICST Overview

Course Description

GEOL 390 Coral Reef Biocomplexity


Professor Bruce Fouke (Illinois Geology, Microbiology, and Institute for Genomic Biology)


Course Description

One of the foremost challenges of the 21st Century is the need to protect and preserve the natural environment while simultaneously appreciating the history and dynamics of human cultural and economic development. Adequate monitoring and accurate prediction of feedback responses between human activity and the environment is vital to successfully achieving a sustainable society. This course is a new highly integrative cutting-edge field course that explores the intersection of the environmental and social sciences. The course will be held on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles. Students will learn the principles of the course through the combination of lectures and field research on the island. Among other field research approaches, they will learn basic land (mountainous hiking) and water (swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA for those who are certified) skills to evaluate key types of data necessary to study the intertwined geological, oceanographic and cultural island state like Curaçao, where marine eco-tourism is a primary economic driver and marine research represents a key to future sustainability.

Coral Reef Biocomplexity will investigate how coral reef biology, geology, ecology, and oceanography are intimately connected with human history and activities on the island. Revolutionary new understandings of the relationship between humans, life on earth, and the environment (called Biocomplexity) have resulted from and driven significant advancements in DNA biotechnology. Biocomplexity studies are now yielding revolutionary benefits for society that range from the discovery of powerful human medicines to identifying sustainable energy resources and understanding how key ecosystems respond to rapid global warming. The course will approach a broad spectrum of expansive scientific and cultural environmental issues facing our planet, and give students experience in SCUBA-based research techniques required to answer these questions. The course is geared for students of all majors, including the natural sciences. The course will also include an outreach project in which students will work with private and governmental organizations on Curaçao to clean portions of the Marine Underwater Park as well as contribute to educational outreach programs.

Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, is a unique natural laboratory in which to study coral reef ecosystem response to global climate change. The course is based out of the Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity Institute (Carmabi) described at The course will include exploration of the land-based ecosystems and cultural development of Curaçao in the cool of the mornings, and exploration of the water-based coral reef ecosystems in the afternoons when the island warms up.

SCUBA is optional. If you wish to become certified before the course begins, special packages for SCUBA certification are now available through: Brad Knop, Midwest SCUBA, Ph: (217) 352-3118, Email:, Web:

Why Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles?

The island of Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, was chosen as the site for the course for the following reasons:

  1. The University of Illinois has a long and productive history of research and education success on Curaçao through Professor Fouke's long-running research and teaching activities and collaborations on the island.

  1. Curaçao faces significant challenges in the wake of independence, but it also has substantial assets via a well-developed infrastructure, stable political and economic institutions, established universities, potential oil and gas resources, and a rich marine and terrestrial environment.

  1. Curaçao's long-term economic future is inextricably linked with careful management of its environmental assets. This creates a uniquely well-suited field laboratory setting in which to focus long-term biocomplexity and sustainable economic development research and teaching that has direct tangible impacts on society and the environment.

  1. These specific consequence-based aspects of Curaçao include: i) oil refinery remediation; ii) oil and gas exploration and development of an Curaçao-based oil and gas industry; iii) health and safety monitoring of drinking water quality; iv) coral reef disease prevention and reef preservation; v) sustainable eco-tourism; vi) biotechnology, bioprospecting and related entrepreneurship; vii) land management, urban planning, and environmental stewardship issues associated with military facilities.

University of Illinois Faculty

Bruce W. Fouke is a specialist in integrated research and teaching in the earth, environmental, and microbiological sciences. He has 22 years of research and teaching experience on Curaçao, which started with the completion his PhD. dissertation research on the geological and biological history of the island. This has since resulted in the publication of a book and multiple scientific publications about the coral reefs of Curaçao. He has specific expertise in building, funding, and sustaining initiatives that combine DNA biotechnology with geology, microbiology, physics, and chemistry to address a broad range of critical questions regarding the environment, energy, and human health. These projects currently include work in Curaçao, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Italy, and Yellowstone National Park, and are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the American Chemical Society, and a consortium of international oil companies. He has a state-of-the-art 5,000 sq. ft laboratory dedicated to these projects in the newly opened $75 million Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois campus (on the web More information about Bruce Fouke's research and teaching program are available at: (1) Geology website:; and (2) Microbiology Website:

Course Requirements and Content

GEOL 390: Participating Illinois students will learn to approach a broad spectrum of expansive scientific, cultural, and economic issues surrounding a core set of working first principles in the field of environmental sustainability. Thus the course will be of interest and utility for students from all Colleges across the University of Illinois campus. Course requirements include: (1) a physical from a certified medical doctor specifically attesting suitability for SCUBA diving; and (2) the ability to be physically active in near-shore terrestrial and marine environments (i.e. hike, swim, and snorkel for extended periods of time). The class will include learning how to snorkel and/or SCUBA dive to conduct underwater research, and participation in interactive team-based research activities and presentations.

The course will carefully follow the guidelines for research and teaching SCUBA diving defined by the American Association of Underwater Sciences (AAUS; and will be formally approved by the Illinois Diving Safety Board. As mandated by the AAUS and the Illinois Illinois Diving Safety Board, one day of non-SCUBA snorkeling will follow each three consecutive days of SCUBA diving.