By Darryl E. Owens
As a scuba diving and scuba ecology instructor, Alex Rhodes has developed a fondness for the beauty land dwellers often don’t see.
Beauty such as coral reefs, which stand out among the world’s most eclectic ecosystems.
So, when the senior anthrozoology major decided to take a shot presenting at the prestigious Anthrozoology as International Practice student conference at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom the choice of topic was clear. And when he learned that his presentation, “The Effects of Tourism on Coral Reefs,” was selected as the only undergraduate presentation out of 10 U.S. lecturers, Rhodes was thrilled.
“I was excited because I had never presented at a conference before,” he said. “However, it did not shock me that my topic on coral reefs was chosen because it is a critical subject that is not discussed much worldwide. Nevertheless, I was unsure if my topic fit the AIP message; luckily, I was wrong, and it was accepted.”
Not that Beacon senior instructor Bryan Cushing was surprised.
“Alex is one of kind,” said Cushing, assistant chair of anthrozoology. “He is a dedicated & hardworking student. He is always willing to assist his classmates and he is a great example to other students at Beacon. His work speaks for itself, it was not surprising to him selected to present at the conference.”
Beacon anthrozoology professors encouraged Rhodes to submit his research abstract for the competition. Several weeks later, he received the good news.
“Choosing my topic was easy because I am very passionate about coral reefs,” he said. “I researched my topic and even went scuba diving to investigate coral reefs more to help create the abstract. “
As the conference was held at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Rhodes presented remotely.
“It is very important in informing the world about how we need to care for coral reefs — a vital species to our oceans,” he said. “Coral reefs contain around 25% of our ocean’s biodiversity, which is the largest grouping of marine life in our entire ocean. They provide protection, food, and shelter and act as a breeding ground for a variety of marine life.”
Despite their outsized importance, coral reefs are at risk.
“Sadly, they are dying out due to climate change and human impact due to people still believing that they are not living organisms,” he said. “Coral reefs are very much living organisms. Unfortunately, no one talks much about them, and they are being pushed to the side in favor of fluffer animals like large mammals and domestic animals. I wanted to be the person who represented them at the conference and bring the issues that are affecting them out into the limelight. It was a highlight for me to be the one selected to talk about my cause to save the coral reefs.”
He felt his presentation went well. Rhodes particularly enjoyed the interaction with scholars.
“During the question-and-answer session, we were able to talk amongst each other and share our views and thoughts on each other’s research,” he said. “It was inspiring to speak to scholars in other anthrozoology fields, learn more about their work studies, and make connections for future references.”
Yet, the roots of that enriching experience were firmly planted at Beacon, Rhodes said.
“Professor [Bryan] Cushing and Professor [Dani] Mitchell … were amazing help,” Rhodes said. “They both supported me, gave me the courage to not back out, and assisted in looking over my presentation report and notes, giving feedback on my work, and giving me advice on presenting at the conference ….”