Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

“Sandy, Sandy, why-yi-yi-yi-yi. Oh Sandy”

What do you do when a hurricane knocks the power out for a while? Obviously you climb the highest point you can find and get blasted with sand, wind and water. We made our ascent up Mt. Bimini, a 131 ft high pile of sand that has been dredged from the channel, and triumphantly stood at the top. I know the height because our sense of adventure attracted a passerby with an iphone that had an app for that. Our group of thrill seekers (boredom makes you do crazy things) included Duncan and I, our German producer friend that got stranded on the island and Grant, a former Sharklab manager. I highly recommend eye protection if you attempt this. As I write this there is no doubt still sand stuck under my eyelids and in every orifice on my body. I could have erected a sand castle with the amount of sand that I washed out of my hair and ears alone.

We arrived at the top with wobbly legs and an exhilarating sense of accomplishment; a similar feeling I am sure to those that summit Kilimanjaro or Everest. Ha! We had 4 cameras and did our best to capture the moment as well as each other falling down and getting pelted with sand. The view was beautiful and we will definitely make the climb in better weather. Video will be posted soon.

For two days we watched as boats moved into the marina at the Bimini Sands, a great hurricane hole. We gathered water, food and candles in preparation for the expected power outage. We made a quick cross to the north island on Thursday for supplies before the ferry stopped running. Supplies included beer and wine. UI laughed when my dad said, “ don’t you get all your supplies and once you are ready start drinking?” Yes, there is some drinking involved. Activities are limited and the bar is a great place to gather and get the latest gossip, plus they have a generator. We had a producer friend on island and his flight was cancelled because the airport on Bimini, like most in the Bahamas was shut down. Duncan and I have been through a few hurricanes, but this was our friend’s first and our first as a couple. How romantic?

We geared up and ventured out a few times to check out the island. A lot of people were out doing the same thing and the bar was quite busy as we waited for Sandy to give us her best shot. Sideways rain and splattering clay made the ride home quite an adventure. Gusts of wind nearly stopped our trusty golf cart in her tracks. I do love having all the doors and windows open though, not having to use the air conditioner. We broke out the cameras to film and snap pictures of the waves crashing against various areas on the island. Spray flew in the air as 10 to 15 foot swells charged the shore.

Sandy strengthened from a tropical storm to a category 2 hurricane and then dropped again before hitting our little island home with gusts up to 65mph as a category 1. Coconuts flew, palm fronds were shredded and Australian pines disintegrated. Many a lawn chair and gutter met their demise. The power went off for a bit on Saturday, but we managed to hold onto for most of the day. It finally went off on Sunday, but was only out for 13 hours. The wind was still relentless after the heart of the storm had passed and switched directions. The sheltered side of the island is still getting pounded. The channel markers that sit almost a mile off shore are now rapidly approaching the beach about a half- mile south of their designated location. Mother nature is raw and wild. Amazing to witness when you are safe and have shelter.

When the power finally gave way for the day and seemed like it might be out for a while we broke out the gas camping stove and candles for a romantic dinner. Our producer had made a flight off island and the winds had receded a bit, but the power was shut down to do repairs. I cooked a lovely couscous with veggies and tomato sauce. It was certainly nothing gourmet, but fairly impressive considering the situation.
The world is getting back to normal as Bimini relaxes on a Sunday and Sandy moves towards the Eastern United States coastline. She has been dubbed, “Frankenstorm,” due to her expected Halloween arrival. Hurricanes are no joke, but I am glad we know we can deal with them on our little island. People came together to check on boats, houses and make sure everyone was okay. It is scary, but also exciting to watch the power of the ocean.

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

West Side Representing: A Sharky School Visit

The West End of Grand Bahama Island is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the island’s major city-Freeport. Stacks of empty conch shells line the streets and potcakes dart around looking for a meal. The golden hour light drips over tiny fishing boats that have put in thousands of hours at sea; remodeled with the ingenuity of survival. Visitors to the island often overlook this community because it is not a cruise ship port of call, nor does it have a casino or square lined with shops and restaurants. West End, however, is the gateway to one of my favorite places on the planet-Tiger Beach.

Like many exotic dive destinations, the regular visitors are not from the local communities, but like myself, they travel thousands of miles to witness the natural wonders that lay in wait below the surface. There is no other place like Tiger Beach on the planet and everyone should put it on their, ”bucket list,” whether you are a certified diver or not. In all of my visits to the island, which number in the dozens no doubt, I had yet to visit one of the local schools. Inspired by the recent visits I did at schools in Maine, I decided that this had to change. I set about organizing a day and a time for Duncan and I to talk to the kids at the West End Primary about sharks.

The Bahamas has established a Shark Sanctuary thanks to the tireless efforts of many people and organizations, but it is the children of the Bahamas that will help ensure that sharks are a part of the future of the islands. Tiger Beach is in their back yard and I wanted the opportunity to share with them this amazing place and let them know that each and everyone of them could and should pay it a visit.
As Duncan and I walked through the door we were greeted with a dozen smiling faces. A young man took my bags for me and everyone was bouncing in their chairs. As we got the computer set with fingers crossed that it would project, more kids filed into the room with their chairs. Here I am, standing in front of 45 kids that will make a difference. They are the voice for our oceans. My shark talks are very interactive because I want the kids to know they have a voice and begin using it. I encourage questions and do my best to get to everyone. We talked about sharks, what they are and what they do and then I spent some time talking about Tiger Beach. I finished the hour talking about what they can do to help sharks and why sharks are so important to the Bahamas.

A lot of these kids have probably watched as tourists head out on boats to explore the pristine waters that surround their island, but I emphasized that they can do that too.

This presentation was emotional for me because I saw so much strength in these kids despite a lot of hard ships they have no doubt faced. The school is small and the desks are not lined with ipads or iphones. Technology or not these kids have heart and that will make a difference. They have the capacity to love and fight for the survival of their oceans. Our oceans.

Thanks West End Primary! I look forward to our next visit!