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Academics, adventure and service in Honduras during Evangel University marine biology trip

Published on Jul 11, 2018 by Paul K. Logsdon

A group of students from Evangel University recently snorkeled and SCUBA dove in some of the clearest and most biologically diverse tropical seas on Earth.

The occasion was the annual Marine Biology Field Trip, and this year the 34 students, faculty and staff from Evangel ventured to Roatan Island, Honduras.

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Courtney Hepola from Springfield, Missouri; Natalie Tomey from Wilmington, Illinois; and Hannah Wycuff from Everton, Missouri. // PHOTO: Provided (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

“Our students recorded observations about marine ecosystems, performed a reef cleanup as an exercise in environmental stewardship and community service, and were involved in ministry projects at a local church,” said Dr. Michael Tenneson, chair of the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences and professor of biology.

“The marine biology trips are popular, because they are a combination of academics, adventure and service,” he said.

Academic exploration

Excellent snorkeling was available right off the beach, and the coral reef was a quick 10-minute snorkel swim away, according to Tenneson.

“A snorkel trip into the mangrove swamps yielded observation of many interesting species, including handling a small octopus,” he said. “Two species of sea turtles, several types of stingrays, and innumerable brightly colored tropical fish and invertebrates were observed.”

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EU students examine a baby octopus while snorkeling in Roatan Island, Honduras. // PHOTO BY: Mallory Johnson (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Not every student on the trip was a science major, but each one came away with a deep appreciation for the experience.

“I’m a journalism major, not a science major, so every element of the experience was new to me,” said senior Mallory Johnson, social media manager for The Lance, Evangel’s campus newspaper.

As a part of their studies, students journaled their daily experiences and were required to research and answer a series of questions each day.

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Senior Mallory Johnson from Cherry Valley, Arkansas, enjoys the company of one of the free-roaming white-faced capuchin monkeys in Gumbalimba Park, Honduras. // PHOTO: Provided (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

“It’s one thing to study organisms and learn all the things in class during the semester, but it’s a completely and amazingly different thing to actually see them, recognize them, and understand them in real life application after the class,” said Johnson.

Students captured and examined some aquatic fish-eating snakes. They were also treated to handling free-ranging Macaws and white-faced capuchin monkeys, while toucans and other exotic tropical animals were observed in the tropical forest.

As a result of contacts made on this trip, Tenneson hopes to develop collaborative research projects with the Roatan Marine Park and Gumbalimba Park, involving coral reef protection, terrestrial ecology and ecotourism.

Ministry opportunities

On the evening of their arrival, the group took buses to Outreach Ministries Evangelical Church in Coxen Hole, pastored by the Rev. Marco Galindo. The student team partnered with church musicians to lead worship for the evening youth service, which was televised throughout Honduras.

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An expert from the Roatan Marine Park in Honduras talks to a group of EU students about coral reef protection. // PHOTO: Provided (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Students again helped the church musicians lead worship for the Sunday morning church service, and Dr. Tenneson spoke on the topic, “Can Science and Faith Work Together?” This service was also televised throughout Honduras.

According to Tenneson, Pastor Galindo is a prominent businessman on the island, and he has a strong commitment to meeting the needs of his community. His church provides free meals, shaves, and haircuts to the poor in the area.

On the next Evangel trip, the pastor wants Dr. Tenneson to teach a series on Faith and Science to other local pastors.

Dr. Tenneson has been a member of Evangel’s faculty since 1987. He holds a Ph.D. in science education from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

At EU, he mentors students who are preparing for careers in medical fields.

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A dive shop in Roatan Island, Honduras, lets people know what to expect on their next adventure. // PHOTO BY: Mallory Johnson (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

He also serves as a sponsor of two of the University’s most popular academic adventures — the marine biology trips and the yearly medical mission trips to Central America, Asia or Africa.

Mallory Johnson summarized her experience with Tenneson’s class.

“I’ve had to learn how, as a journalist, to ask questions and get the truth,” she said. “As I asked more questions in journaling our field experience and examining amazing creations, I found that the truth of the beauty and wonder of the world leads straight back to the Truth — God, His word, His love and His power.”

For more information about the adventures and opportunities in the Department of Natural & Applied Sciences, contact Dr. Tenneson at or call (417) 865-2811 ext. 8313.