An Eventful Summer for Professor Cigliano
The last couple of months have been a whirlwind for John Cigliano, Ph.D., director of biodiversity and conservation biology at Cedar Crest. A week ago, he returned from his annual summer research trek to Belize, where he studies the resident conch population and conservation strategies with fellow Cedar Crest biology professor Richard Kliman, Ph.D. The professors have submitted a paper for publication titled, “Pre-enforcement population assessment of shallow-water queen conch (Strombus gigas) aggregations in the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, Belize.”
In late June, he attended and took part in a project to conserve the resources of the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of South America, at the request of the Galapagos National Park Service. Those in attendance included some of the most internationally recognized conservation biologists in the world.
“The Galapagos National Park wants to increase the effectiveness of the monitoring of biodiversity. Monitoring is necessary to discover trends: is biodiversity increasing, decreasing or stable? Is species X increasing, decreasing or stable? What is causing the trend? The answers are needed for management,” said Cigliano. “I was chosen because of my work with Earthwatch. My role was to assist in the development of a monitoring program for the marine reserve.”
Cigliano arrived in the Galapagos Islands hours after the death of “Lonesome George,” the last known surviving Pinta Island Tortoise. The professor had “met” George on previous trips to the islands and witnessing the extinction of a species proved emotional.
“Being there at the time of an extinction and being somewhat involved in the aftermath, was quite disturbing. Even though I have spent my professional life in conservation, I had never personally experienced an extinction. Few have,” he said. "What made it even more distressing and disturbing was that my wife and children had seen George when we were in the Galapagos, so they were affected as well. This only made me more committed to conservation.”
Back in May, Cigliano went with students in his “Natural History and Culture of the North Rupununi region of the Amazon Basin” course to the South American country of Guyana. The goal of the course was to introduce students to the natural history, culture and conservation of the Amazon rainforest. During the course, the students visited two sites: The Rewa Ecolodge and the Surama Ecolodge, both of which are maintained by separate Makushi Amerindian tribes.
Rewa is a remote site, deep in the rainforest, and one of the most pristine sites Cigliano said he has every visited. While at Rewa, the class hiked the forest and spent time on the Rewa River. They fished and went night spotting—using flashlights to find nocturnal animals from their eye shine. They also visited the Mukushi village to learn about culture, and how the Makushi use the forest for food, building materials and medicine.
The Surama Ecolodge is in the savanna. There, the class went on hikes and river trips, visited the village, attended a cultural event, met with a shaman who did a healing ritual for us, and learned how to process cassava, which is used to make everything from bread to alcoholic drinks. They also learned about traditional medicine. Throughout the experience, the class discussed the conservation issues of the Amazon Basin. Other highlights of the trip included seeing a Harpy Eagle, the largest bird of prey in the Amazon and a three-toed sloth, and catching baby black caimans.