In May 2014 the second student excursion to the island of Samothraki took place. The course was designed as a two-week excursion with participating students and teachers from five European universities.
The objectives of the course were:
- expose students to a search for solutions for sustainability and development challenges in a local setting by applying socioecological thinking,
- be trained in a set of social science and natural science methods frequently used in socioecological research and contribute findings, and
- allow students the experience of a transdisciplinary research process by learning to interact with stakeholders in a foreign cultural environment (translation provided by locals as well as Greek students participating).
A group of 20 students from five universities (Lund University, Sweden, Galway University, Ireland, UAB Barcelona, Spain, University of the Aegean, Greece and University of Klagenfurt, Austria) and various subject areas were introduced to the following modules and practiced each of its methods:
- Focus group interviewing with local stakeholders (fishermen, farmers, local professionals, school- and kindergarten teachers and others). This module was be prepared and supported by a local anthropologist who facilitated the groups (in Greek) in front of the students, and a local English translator who simultaneously translated the discussion.
- Livestock counting and estimation of livestock densities in different area types by distance sampling. About 50 transects of 1km each were walked all over the island’s area. This way students did not only explore the landscapes of the island, train their abilities in observation, distance measurement and accounting, and apply the appropriate software to generate estimates, they also contributed the major finding that the number of animals has apparently decreased – an important conservation goal.
- Estimating vegetation cover in pasture areas and mapping signs of soil erosion and overgrazing. Ground cover is an important indicator for rangeland health and provides important information for the management of grasslands. Students measured the ground cover of 12 sites using a step-point method based on multiple 30m transect lines. Besides ground cover other visible signs of overgrazing (i.e. gully erosion, water flow patterns, and weed invasion) have been documented by taking geo-tagged pictures. The resulting data have been processed using GIS software and presented in form of a map that aims at providing vital information for management processes.
- Exploring the current social metabolism of the island in terms of material and energy flow analysis. Starting from public statistics (on population, the economy, tourist numbers and behaviour, and land use) that were be prepared by the staff in English, the students had to complete the datasets by interviews with locals (such as with farmers and a local cheese factory on the livestock cycle, with the public administration on construction activities, with the local gasoline station on fuel sales etc.) and by observation. Each group of students had to reconstruct at least one sector of the island’s economy in biophysical terms
- Using the rich archaeological evidence on the island to generate estimates of some socio-ecological features of the island in antiquity, such as: how many working hours were required to create a specific monument? Which assumptions of land and labour productivity would allow feeding the workers from the produce of the island?
Each module had been prepared by an experienced scientist who alternately trained and supervised each of the 5 groups of 4 students every day. Tutors included: Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Panos Petridis, Tamara Fetzel, Raffael Hickisch and Sheba Schilk (Institute of Social Ecology, AAU), Simron Singh (Univ. of Waterloo), Pernille Gooch (Lund University) and Henrike Rau (Galway University). On top of our program, four scientists from the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research informed us about their water quality measurements and took us along for a practical demonstration.
Both students and teachers were absolutely enthusiastic about the course, extremely hard working (everybody climbed several hundred meters up and down the mountains every day), and in the end very interesting research results were produced that will be used to inform the stakeholders on the island.