Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sharks Bring The Community Together in Bimini

On Wednesday October 17, students from the Louise McDonald High School on North Bimini got the chance to get up close and personal with some pretty “fin,” tastic animals.
Bimini is home to the world-renowned Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab), founded by Dr. Samuel Gruber in 1990, and a diverse population of sharks in the waters that surround these, ”Islands in the Stream.” Just over a year ago a 243,244 square mile Shark Sanctuary was established in the Bahamas and it is crucial for this next generation to know what is in their own backyard and why it is worth protecting.

Grant Johnston and Katie Grudecki, Co-Directors of the Bimini Sands Activity Center, joined the staff and volunteers at the Sharklab to create a day of science and hands on experience for the local students. Activities included a presentation about the indigenous Bimini boa and ocean critters, snorkeling and a mock tagging workup of a juvenile shark.

Although sharks were the focal point of the day, there was also an emphasis on terrestrial and marine conservation issues. Katie and Grant spent time introducing the students to the Bimini boa, a rare snake found only on the two islands of Bimini. Habitat destruction that impacts the ocean has also affected these animals. It is important to understand the system as a whole and realize that everything is connected.

Lab managers Lindsey Biermann, Michael Timm and TJ Ostendorf took groups by boat out to the Sharklab pens were they got to snorkel with Southern stingrays, juvenile lemon sharks and juvenile nurse sharks. The pens are used for research and provide the perfect space for kids to get to know sharks. This was definitely the most exciting activity with lots of laughter echoing over the water.

Sharklab director Dr. Tristan Guttridge and lab manager Jill Brooks explained the life history traits of sharks and demonstrated shark tagging and workup. Students were able to learn about sharks and some of the ways they are studied. This was a great forum for questions and there was no shortage of excitement at this station, especially with the opportunity to hold a juvenile nurse shark. . The kids were a bit timid at first, but their massive smiles overshadowed any fears or doubts they had. Having a connection with something that small, and dare I say, “cute,” is a great way to break the stereotypes that surround sharks.

"Everyone at the shark lab was thrilled to be able teach local school students about our research and showcase Bimini's marine and terrestrial fauna and flora. The students were enthusiastic, engaging and fun to work with making it a rewarding experience for the shark lab team! We hope to have many more open days in the future,” Dr Guttridge had to say about the day.

For many of the students, this was their first opportunity to see a shark up close with the highlight for most being the chance to actually hold a shark. Sharks are vital for the islands of the Bahamas and it is necessary for children and the community to understand the importance of their place in the ocean ecosystem. It is amazing thing to see local businesses, the Sharklab and the community come together on behalf of sharks, the oceans and the island.

"Bimini Sands is always excited to participate in community projects, and it was great working with the BBFS team on this one. The students were so enthusiastic and eager to learn which made the day quite rewarding for all of us involved, ” Katie Grudecki said as she described the day.

I was fortunate enough to get to photograph one of the stations and the smiles on the students' faces were amazing. I love that energy and excitement that kids cannot possibly hide. They laughed, giggled and asked some great questions as Tristan and Jill showed them the baby sharks. Having the small sharks available for these kind of events is so important. Seeing a small shark that is cute can crush a lot of the man-eater and monster stereotypes that surround sharks. Really an awesome day and I can't wait for the next one!

The Bimini Biological Field Station will be offering more open days to the community in the future and if you are visiting the island make sure you book your lab tour! For more information about the Sharklab and the work that is being done there, check out. Sharklab

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