University of Toronto
Tropical Marine Biology


Prof. D.D.Williams

Students who wish to take the course in January, 2009 should contact
Prof. Williams ASAP to ensure a place.

Course Outline & Schedule

Registration and deposit*required no later than mid August (hand in to Room S-549).  Course enrolment is limited to 15 (including 5 places for students from other Ontario universities), on a first come, first served basis (providing that the student has the prerequisite courses and permission of the instructor). Please note that as this course is always oversubscribed it is never too early to sign up - students may begin signing up a year in advance.
If you are unsuccessful, your name will be placed on a waiting list to replace students who may drop out.

* The deposit is non-refundable (make sure that you have read, understood, and filled in a Refund Policy Form) - as it is required to assure [i] a discount airfare - the fare set is dependent on having a certain minimum number of students participate; and [ii] to reserve your room at the Bellairs Research Institute.
Airfare cancellation insurance (in the case of sickness, only) is provided in the course fee.
[N.B., read the conditions set out in the cancellation insurance brochure that will be sent to you].

The balance of the course cost will be due at the first lecture in January. This includes accommodation, all meals (except Sunday night supper), and Bellairs fees. Certified cheques should be made payable to:

"Marine Biology University of Toronto".

Additional costs are limited to taxi fares to and from the Grantley Adams Airport (about $8.00 US each, one way, based on a shared taxi), occasional bus fares to fieldwork sites, and personal spending - the Barbadian $ is pegged to the U.S. $ with $1.00 B'dos = 50¢ US.
A valid passport is required.

Overall Timetable

This is an example of the schedule for a previous year. It is intended only as a guide.

Fieldwork Timetable

[Note: the exact scheduling of fieldwork events will likely change because of weather and tides - you will be given an updated timetable at the appropriate time; meals are at approximately 8:00 am, noon and 6:00 pm. If you have any special dietary requirements (e.g., vegetarian) make this known during the organisational meeting]

Return flight to Toronto; departs at approx. 9:20 p.m. and arrives in Toronto at approx. 1:35 a.m. (on the Sunday).  Must be at the airport approximately 2 hours before departure.
[* Advice from students who have taken the course in previous years: don't put your projects aside once you return to Toronto. Get them finished while the material and experience is fresh in your minds. This will help you in avoiding last minute heavy workloads from your on-campus courses.

Evaluation for course grade
Individual project outline   5%
Individual project report 50%
Group projects report  35%
"participation" + seminar 10%

Text books:  (available through the UTSC Bookstore)

Marine Biology: An Ecological Approach  by J.W. Nybakken 1997. Addison Wesley Longman Press. 481 pp.

A Field Guide to Southeastern and Caribbean Seashores  Kaplan, E.H. 1988.
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 289 pp.

Also it is highly recommended  that you consult the following:

Field & Laboratory Methods for General Ecology  Brower, Zar & von Ende. (3rd Edition), 1990.  W.C. Brown Pub. Co., Dubuque, Iowa. 237 pp.

Laboratory & Field Manual of Ecology  Brewer & McCann, 1982. Saunders, N.Y. 270 pp.

A Field Guide to Coral reefs of the Caribbean and Florida Kaplan, E.H. 1982.
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 425 pp.

Any basic statistics book to familiarise yourselves with means and standard deviation, simple correlations and regressions, Chi-square and t-tests as you may need some of these techniques to analyse your data [see also the notes at the back of this manual].

You also may find the CD "Coral Reefs" useful, as it is an interactive guide to the biology of reef ecosystems. There is a particularly good picture gallery of corals, fishes, and other reef-dwelling animals.
You can get more information and download a Demo Version by clicking here

Useful Field Guides (A limited number of copies will be supplied for your use. You may sign them out.)

Reef Coral Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas  Humann, P. 1993. New World Publications, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida. 239 pp.

Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas  Humann, P. 1993. New World Publications, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida. 267 pp.

Reef Creature Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas  Humann, P. 1993. New World Publications, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida. 320 pp.

Marine Plants of the Caribbean: A Field Guide from Florida to Brazil   Scullion, D. et al. 1989. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 263 pp.

Marine Fauna and Flora of Bermuda: A Systematic Guide to the Identification of Marine Organisms  Sterrer, W. (ed) 1986. John Wiley & Sons, N.Y. 742 pp.

Group Work

There are three main parts to the group work, each involving study of a major marine habitat:  Rocky shore, Oceanic plankton and Coral reef.  A summary of the field and laboratory protocols is given below along with expectations from students.  Each student is required to hand in a report on the first two habitats.

(1)     Rocky shore

Field work (location - River Bay, located on the north-east coast of Barbados): follow the instructions outlined for the "General Information on Procedure" and the Rocky Intertidal Zone sections of this lab book. Collect a few live, representative plants and animals of each species/type for laboratory work.
Lab work:  identify your field-collected species with the aid of Kaplan ("A Field Guide to Southeastern and Caribbean Seashores") and the other field guides provided. Observe details of the structure of both the plants and animals and make appropriate drawings and notes.  Study the behaviour (movement, feeding, etc.) of the different animal species. Answer the questions posed in the lab book. Class data will be pooled prior to individual analysis - but you are also expected to have made good field notes from your own transects. Pay particular attention to how much, or how little, variation there is among transects.

(2)     Oceanic plankton

Field work (location - off shore):  we shall collect samples of plankton during both daytime and evening offshore tows. We shall attempt to keep this material alive for later study.  Preliminary identification of any larger plankters.
Lab work: each student should take a subsample of the live material and identify and draw the major taxonomic groups present, using the keys. Percent composition (by numbers) of each group should be determined in order to discern the relative abundance of the different types. It will probably be necessary to kill the animals (by adding ethanol) so that you can make accurate counts. However, you should spend some time observing the animals, particularly their movement and response to light, before you dispatch them. Class data will be pooled prior to individual analysis.

(3)     Coral reef

Field work (location - Bellairs' Reef, just in front of the Institute):  in association with this exercise there will be a lecture on the coral reefs of Barbados and a chance to examine and identify some dried coral skeletons. This will help to familiarise you with the major species likely to be encountered on the reef.  To gain maximum benefit from this trip it is highly recommended that you bring with you a diving mask and snorkel. Those students who have Scuba certification will have the opportunity to dive (in pairs only).  Water temperatures in February are around 25°C (75°F). As you explore the reef, attempt to estimate the relative proportions of the major coral types present, noting any patterns in distribution with depth and water movement. Note the presence of other invertebrate inhabitants of the reef, and also the distribution of associated fish species. Make sure that you can identify fire coral (Millepora spp.) before you venture too close to the reef!  Try to avoid touching living coral as a matter of principle, as the polyps are easily damaged.
Lab work:  examine, identify and draw the dead and living coral specimens provided. If there is living coral available, observe the behaviour of individual polyps (particularly their reaction to water movement and light) and look for small invertebrates (< 0.5 cm) living on and between the polyps and coral skeletons.

Some Notes on Barbadian Reefs:

There are 3 main reef types in Barbados, Fringing reefs, Patch reefs and Bank/Barrier reefs.

Fringing reefs grow out from the shoreline. In Barbados, they take the form of regularly-spaced, hand-shaped growths separated by sand beaches - the reason for this is unknown.
Barrier reefs start as fringing reefs growing out from land. However, due to either a rise in sea level or subsidence of the land, they become disconnected from the shore. Continued growth of the reef adds to its mass and eventually it may break the surface of the water some distance from shore.
Bank reefslook the same as barrier reefs but their origin is different. Although they begin as fringing reefs, they become separated from land by erosion of the shore due to a rise in sea level. Bank reefs typically occur in deeper water (~ 20 m). If the reef breaks the surface or impedes boats, the reef is called a Bank-Barrier reef. In Barbados, bank reefs skirt the western and southern shores at a distance of about 1 km. Growing in the protected water between the bank and fringing reefs, there are Patch reefs. These typically occur in depth of around 15 m and are dominated by soft corals.

Individual Projects

 Even though you will be working on your project in pairs, you are required to submit individually-written project reports (due after we return).

 When assigned your project, you will be given some key references together with information on procedure, the best location to do your study, a list of questions which you should address in your report, and other necessities.
 You are expected to read up on your project (seek out other references, plan your sampling programme, etc.) before leaving Toronto. A large share of the project organisation, procedure and analysis is your responsibility, but your instructors will be available before and during the trip for consultation.
 Ideally, your project should be set up such that you have a series of questions that you intend to answer, or a central hypothesis that you intend to test, through collection of data in the field. Create a time budget with a series of milestones that will force you to organise your time effectively, and will enable you to monitor your progress. If you want your project to address issues other than (or in addition to) those given in the project description, check with me.
 Don't be alarmed if some of your ideas turn out to be impracticable, perhaps due to weather or other, local circumstances - this is one of the consequences of attempting to study organisms in the field. However, don't be complacent, either. Learn from the experience, re-think your objectives, in consultation with your instructors, and quickly resume your project.

Project Titles*

Students should work in pairs in the field and laboratory, but are required to submit individually -written project reports.

(1) Comparison of the vertical zonation of marine animals and plants on exposed and sheltered rocky shores, from the low to high tide marks.

(2) Study of the diurnal variations in physico-chemical conditions within intertidal rockpools and their effects on rockpool floras and faunas.

(3) Analysis of the physical factors that control the distribution of corals on fringing reefs.

(4) Behavioural and population ecology of a common reef fish, the red-lipped blenny (Ophioblennius atlanticus).

(5) Investigation of microhabitat partitioning in subtidal fish populations.

(6) Analysis of the environmental factors controlling populations of the black-spined sea urchin, Diadema  antillarum.

(7) Effects of eutrophication on the distribution and abundance of reef organisms.

(8) Investigation of the distribution patterns and different growth forms of Millepora  (Fire Coral).

(9) Comparative ecology and behaviour of littoral crab species.

*  Be prepared to get wet in the course of carrying out most of these projects. Projects 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 require that you be reasonably good swimmers - you may also want to bring a thin wet suit top, as you may get cold after several hours in the water, even if it is 78°F! As crabs tend to have crepuscular activity patterns, Project 9 will involve evening and early morning fieldwork.

Personal Safety Information

While every effort is made by the university to ensure you personal safety, the very nature of a field course requires that each individual student take responsibility for his/her own actions in a rational manner. This applies especially when in the water. Be particularly careful on the east coast of the island where the waves, currents and undertow are very strong.

Seek advice from the instructors if you have any doubts, or if you feel uncomfortable with anything that you may be asked to do in the course of carrying out your project work.

When in the field and the main group splits up always work in pairs, making sure that you check frequently on your partner's whereabouts.

If your project takes you off the Bellairs property, make sure that you inform the instructors where you are going, when you are going, and when you are likely to return.

Students wishing to use Scuba for their projects must bring all their own gear, as only tanks will be supplied at Bellairs. Divers must used the approved buddy system and must provide Prof. Williams with proof of their certification by a recognised Scuba organisation (e.g., NAUI or PADI) before they enter the water.

It is recommended that you bring with you a small first aid kit, so that you can deal with any minor cuts or abrasions that you may get while climbing around the study sites. A strong sunscreen is highly recommended - even on an overcast day. Students with severe allergies must carry the appropriate antidote kits.

Any accidents or mishaps should be reported immediately.


 The West Indian archipelago consists of some 20 major islands (together with many smaller ones) stretching in an arc from the Gulf of Florida to the northeastern coast of Venezuela. The islands vary in size, with Jamaica, Haiti/Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rica being the largest. On the east the archipelago is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west is the Gulf of Mexico, and to the southwest is the Caribbean Sea. The southernmost group of islands in the chain, which includes Barbados, are known as the Windward Islands. The latter together with the islands from Dominica north to Puerto Rico (known as the Leeward Islands) form part of the Lesser Antilles.
 Barbados has a population of 254,000 of friendly, literate people. The history of the island goes back, officially, to 1625 when the British landed at Jamestown (later renamed Holetown) on the sheltered west coast. However, the island is included, under the name "Baruodo", in the Map of the World created in 1554 by the cartographer Michaelis Tramezini, and the possibility exists that it was known as early as 1518. Although the British never relinquished the island, by the 18th Century they were heavily outnumbered by slaves of African descent. The last garrison withdrew in 1905, and in 1966 the island became a fully independent nation within the Commonwealth. Today, the chief industries are tourism, sugar cane, light manufacturing, and offshore financial services. The climate ranges from 24°C to 30°C, year round, and 10-12 km/ hr trade winds blow constantly.
 Barbados is the most windward of the Caribbean islands and is somewhat separated from the rest, lying about 125 km east of St. Vincent. The island is roughly triangular in shape and covers an area of approximately 400 km2. It has a flat and gently rolling topography although, in the north, the land rises to 340 m. Most of the island is covered by Pleistocene reef-limestone which rises as a series of wave-cut terraces, slopes and scarps. On the eastern side of the island the limestone has become fractured to expose an underlying oceanic formation of sedimentary rocks. Much of the coastline consists of sandy beaches, especially to the west, but steep limestone cliffs (to 30 m) occur on the northern and southeastern shores. Extensive erosion has taken place on the east coast which exhibits sand and boulder beaches, massive limestone boulders and limestone cliffs.
 Coral reefs encircle the island but are more extensive on the west coast where the reefs are actively growing. The latter are of the fringing type and form crescent-shaped bands fronting headlands; the dominant reef-building coral is the massive Montastea annularis (small star coral) Individual reefs are separated by shallow bays which have sand or rubble bottoms. Fringing reefs grow on hard, near-shore substrates. They extend seawards into deeper water but only where the hard surfaces necessary for the settlement of larval forms are present. A variety of coral types is present, scattered over the substrate surface from the low tide mark downwards - as corals cannot withstand exposure to air. Coral abundance often increases with depth, until light becomes a limiting factor. At depths of 3 to 6 m, fringing reefs frequently shelve steeply into sand. Isolated boulders of coral may be found growing out from the edge of the main reef. These are known as patch reefs and typically these become less common with increasing distance.
 The reefs along the eastern and northern coasts of Barbados comprise dead coral rock which supports only secondary growths of coral. The southern coast has extensive rubble banks of calcareous rock offshore but these support only widely-scattered patches of coral. Some 33 species of hard corals are found around Barbados. A characteristic feature of Barbadian reefs is a wide band of almost flat reef-rock surface situated between the shore and the zones of actively growing coral. This band ranges in width from 10 to 70 m and is bounded on its inner (landward) side by sand beach. The outer edge is marked by an increasing irregularity of the bottom and by the appearance of the encrusting brain coral Diploria clivosa and the colonial anemone Palythoa mammillosa (sea mat). - see Lewis (1960) for further details.
 Barbadian tides are of the mixed, semidiurnal type, that is there are two high tides and two low tides each day. Although there is no marked inequality between successive high or low tides, there is a slight difference in amplitude. There is however an inequality in the duration of each tidal cycle such that, occasionally, there are not two complete cycles in a 24 hour period. The diurnal tidal range is of the order of 1 m. Sea surface temperature ranges between 25 and 28°C. This is maintained due to Barbados' proximity to both the north and south equatorial currents (see map).

For enrolment in this course, contact:

Prof. D.D.Williams
[Room: S-549]