REEF Program

Every third year, approximately 100 Tabor students participate in the school’s unique Winter REEF (Research and Environmental Education Focus) program (formerly know as the Caribbean Studies Program). Groups of fifteen students at a time fly down to the Caribbean for one week and join with a team of Tabor faculty members and outside researchers to participate in scientific studies, as well as cultural and historical investigations. Using the SSV Tabor Boy as a floating laboratory and command station, the students have a unique opportunity to combine textbook study, hands-on investigation, and research techniques and skills into the fullest possible educational experience.

Tabor Academy’s SSV Tabor Boy creates for our students a natural extension of our School By the Sea – the School On the Sea. The primary purpose of the Tabor Academy REEF Program is to provide an exciting opportunity to learn in a uniquely stimulating environment. Throughout the fall term, students are guided by Tabor instructors as they prepare for an integrated study of coral reefs, Caribbean history, art, literature, music, artifacts, and economies.

Virgin Islands National Park, renowned throughout the world for its breathtaking beauty, covers approximately 3/5 of St. John and nearly all of Hassel Island in the Charlotte Amalie Harbor on St. Thomas. Within its borders lie protected bays of crystal blue-green waters teeming with coral reef life, white sandy beaches shaded by seagrape trees, coconut palms, and tropical forests providing habitat for over 800 species of plants. To these amazing natural resources, add relics from the Pre-Colombian Amerindian Civilization, remains of the Danish Colonial Sugar Plantations, and reminders of African Slavery and the Subsistence Culture that followed during the 100 years after Emancipation – all part of the rich cultural history of the Park and its island home.

Is Elkhorn Coral recovering in the national parks in Florida and the Caribbean? The US Geological Survey (USGS) is funding collaborative research on elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in three national parks: Virgin Islands National Park (St. John), Buck Island Reef National Monument (St. Croix) and Biscayne National Park (Florida). Scientists with the USGS, the National Park Service (NPS), and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) are mapping elkhorn stands using GPS technology and doing research on the stresses that could prevent recovery of this species, once the most important reef-building species in shallow water throughout the Caribbean. Elkhorn and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral are now being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act because of extensive declines (over 90% at some sites) from white band disease and storms in the last 15-25 years. Tabor students, through the REEF Program, are contributing data to these ongoing investigations.

A Unique Place to Study: The British Virgin islands, about 70 (mostly uninhabited) islands and cays, are one of a host of intriguing Caribbean destinations. Fought over for centuries, they were finally controlled by the British in the mid-1600s and later became an official British colony. Tourism is the major business, and the BVI are closely associated with the economy and culture of the USVI.

Virgin Gorda, the eastern-most of the BVI, is a popular tourist spot. It features markets and restaurants and caters to cruise ship passengers. It is also a prime study site for the geology of island formation. The Greater Antilles are an island group in the Caribbean Sea and include four major islands: Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles are a long chain of smaller islands that wrap around the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea and form a boundary with the Atlantic Ocean.

While the oldest rocks in the Virgin Islands began to form about 120 million years ago, the granite boulders of Virgin Gorda did not appear until the Tertiary Period, 70 million years ago. Molten rock found its way into the seabed of the Caribbean Plate and formed huge sections of granite. About 15 to 25 million years ago, faulting and uplifting of the sea floor exposed the granite boulders, many the size of large buildings. Since then the rocks have faulted and been worn by wave action to form the beautifully rounded and precariously balanced formations we see today.

Rainwater has been the greatest source of erosion. As it falls, rain reacts with the carbon dioxide in the air to form the weak acid, carbonic acid. Over millions of years, this steady erosion has created the fantastic caves and pools that fascinate visitors.

Summary: Studying on location in the US and British Virgin Islands, Tabor students discover the culture and celebrations of the inhabitants through their music, literature, history, and artifacts. The SSV Tabor Boy serves as home, classroom, and research platform as students spend ten days sailing and snorkeling the clear blue water of these beautiful islands. Tabor Academy works in close collaboration with local Virgin Island officials, researchers and educators to offer a comprehensive and up to date course of study for our students.