Last Sunday, for the first time since scuba rotations, K3 and K4 went on a fun dive! We took the Cobia out to a site called the barge. Half of the group sat on the roof, with the sun warming us almost to sleep. When we finally arrived at our dive site, called the Barge, we went through our buddy checks, and then my group took the plunge. With the Cobia rearing up and down next to us, we slowly kicked our way to the mooring line, gave a thumbs-down/descend symbol to our buddies, and sank beneath the waves. The first sight of the barge was awe-inspiring. It looked like someone had just dropped a giant grey rectangle in the middle of the ocean and left it there for the reef to claim. Throughout the entire dive, though, the coolest thing that I saw wasn’t on the boat, but under it. When Peter gestured to the crevice under the barge, I initially had no idea what he was pointing at. But as my eyes slowly adjusted, the shape of a triangle head sporting an open mouth filled with jagged teeth came into focus. The eel stayed in the shadows, but I couldn’t help slowly drifting away from it.
I spent the rest of the dive peering into portholes that led only to blackness, looking at lionfish discretely blending into the surrounding coral, and watching the countless colorful fish always surrounding these reefs darting in and around each other. When we finally ascended into the rough water above, I didn’t want to leave. But with much calmer weather on the ride back, it felt so good to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Fall 1999 Island School alumna, Elizabeth Besser Novak sent us a photo of her son, Brigham, dressed up in his Halloween costume–a scuba diver! Only about 15 more years until he can apply to The Island School–and 10 more until he can be officially scuba certified!
Are you wearing an Island School-inspired costume this Halloween? Send a pic to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will share it on our blog!
Breaking the surface of the water, we pulled off our masks and cheered as loudly as we could. K1 and K2 had just received their SCUBA certification! For the past three days, the two groups have worked tirelessly to master all of the required skills to be eligible to graduate to PADI Open Water Divers. Congrats everyone, well, everyone in K1 and K2 that is!
While K1 and K2 were mastering their SCUBA skills, K3 and K4 had the pleasure of having their first class! After a fun filled morning of discussions, K3 and K4 had a first hand go at Querencia, an alone time for individuals to reflect on their experiences so far.
By evening time, K1, K2, K3 and K4 were finally united again to celebrate the 4th of July! Armed with cameras, we progressed to the Boy’s Dorm Beach to end the night with a BONDINGfire. Our Island School term warmly welcomed Camden Hills and Ocean Side schools who will joinging us on campus for the next ten days! After a very long photo-shoot, with many blinding flashes, we roasted marshmallows and set off fireworks. #USA
Calling it an early night, we all went to bed tired and excited for a new day!
8 o’clock never felt so good. Day Four was our first sleep-in of the term, although tons of students opted to run and continue to physically stretch themselves. As the sun grew hotter, K1 and K2 prepared to SCUBA dive and K3 and K4 were off on their down-island and kayak adventures. The five veteran divers were quick to get ready and were eager to embark on yet another thrill ride in the Saddle, while the rest of the novice divers worked diligently on their open-water skills, pushing towards their certification.
After another great day, a delicious dinner and dish-crew a capella, our first Natural History of Marine Ecology class rolled around. The classroom structure was unique and quickly began to teach us the importance of one of the three pillars of the Island School: Developing a Sense of Place. As soon as class commenced, the central theme of asking questions became evident, as Peter hysterically disagreed with all of our answers to his question, “Why do we teach you to breath underwater?” This encouraged us to keep thinking and come to a conclusion as a whole.
Each day continues to help us grow academically and physically, as we learn new and different techniques to enhance our learning experiences. We keep pushing our limits and impressing ourselves everyday by overcoming all of the challenging but compelling obstacles down here on South Eluethera. #FUNINTHESUN
You cannot forget the first time you look up from the ocean floor and see your bubbles rising quickly to meet the surface. Even though waves and currents affect the surface seen from land, from below, it is a humongous mass of water, which is unhindered by anything but its own ebb and flow. It is surely frightening to be so far removed from the air you are accustomed to breathing, but after a few deep breaths through your tank, you can calm down and start to realize how incredible it is that you are thirty feet underwater.
Today was the first day that we really focused on developing our sense of place here on Eleuthera. One of the “three pillars” here at the Island School is sense of place, and this week during orientation we are focusing on establishing that. Students were divided into K1, K2, K3, and K4 groups that would determine their schedules during orientation week, and throughout the whole week the final goal was to establish sense of place through land, sea surface, and under water. Each day, each group embarks on a different journey in hopes that they will familiarize themselves with the land and the people.
K1 and K2 would spend the next two days focusing solely on scuba diving certification, which aimed to familiarize the students with the ocean and the different species we will study in the coming weeks. To those who have never dived before, it is an incredible experience to view an entirely different world, to forget what land feels like, and to be able to stay underwater longer than you can hold your breath. All of the students, from those who have been already been certified, to those who have spend little time in water, let alone under it, have taken the challenges in stride and have had a great time getting to explore an unfamiliar place.
K3 embarked on their first down-island trip to visit different spots on South Eleuthera, stopping at different settlements to learn about each one along the way. On their journey, they visited a beach in Deep Creek where they snorkeled and saw a lot of fish and even a few sting rays, they walked through caves that were the home to hundreds of bats, they shopped at a local market, they jumped into “Ocean Hole” in Rock Sound, and they finished off their journey with a local favorite “Papaya cups” that was a delicious popsicle like treat made from fresh local papayas.
K4 set out on a journey to get to know the water from the surface, on a kayaking trip. They went all around Eleuthera, stopping at different beaches, and practicing new skills they would need for their longer kayaking trips in the future. One of the guides, Nick, helped the students build a fire on the beach and rumor has it some students managed to make quesadillas with the fire. All of the students are looking forward to the days to come during orientation.
To be intimate with the land, to have a sense of place, is to enclose it in the same moral universe we occupy, to include it in the meaning of the word community. In Marine Ecology class, summer students do just that, but underwater! Through detailed observation and inquiry, students foster a deeper understanding of how tropical marine ecosystems are arranged into a self-organized and complex hierarchy of patterns and processes. What follows is an example of a student’s field note written underwater, demonstrating a balance between ecological truths and the beauty of natural history writing.
Standing in proud and weathered sentry, a giant sea fan coral demands the attention of every eye that alights on Dive Site 3. In a scan of the primary producer residents of the rock, it would be an insult to the size and prominenceof the sea fan not to take note of it before any other coral. More than a foot in height, the sea fan flaunts a hand-like display of five this blue veins. From these veins, innumerable smaller veins branch and criss-cross like winding tributanes, creeping upwards and outwards the way frost slowly encrusts a window.
But upon a closer look, the net-like continuity of the sea fan’s face is broken by a conspicuous interloper: a flamingo tongue, hugging the sea fan’s fourth finger with a kind of suctioned urgency. Pearly and smooth with rows of small brown dots, the flamingo tongue appears at first to be a decorative bead to complement the sea fan’s splendor. However, a glimpse of the blackened, dead trail shaking behind the flamingo tongue alludes to a slightly more sinister purpose. An immediate question comes to mind concerning the nature of the relationship between the sea fan and its trespasser: Is the flamingo tongue’s presence one or parasitism, in which is eats away the polyps of its host for no beneficial exchange? Or does the sea fan glean some hidden benefit as thanks for sustaining its bead-like guest?
The search for additional relationships between coral and other organisms brought me to a second sea fan. This one, a wide-mesh sea fan, lounged off the side of the rock like a pine branch laden with thick needles. Here, too, a flamingo tongue took up residence, interrupting the fuzz of 8 fingered polyps that distinguished this sea fan as an ahermatypic coral.
Next, my attention was drawn to a large, stoic-looking coral, which thrust up from the rock like a cactus. Strong and brittle, this coral twined like an intricate sculpture shaped from driftwood bleached on a beach shore. An absence of polyps made me suspect it to be a hard coral, which usually retracts polyps until night has fallen. A search through a coral field book revealed that this piece of drift wood art may have been a staghorn coral, part of the branching and pillar group.
In visual dialogue with the elegance of the staghorn, several sea plums lent their careless delicacy to the rock face. Drooping like weeping willow trees, the sea plums did not deign to display their polyps even to an inch-close examination. This absence made me wonder if the sea plume is a hermatypic coral, with polyps retracted during the day, or whether the polyps are simply too small or too inconspicuous for viewing.
Other corals, however, were not as shy about displaying their polyps. One particular sea-whip coral, straight and gray-stemmed, hosted a blossoming of white polyps that perfectly resembled dandelion seeds. The polyps dotted the sea-whip so abundantly that it look as though one could pluck the coral, blow on it, and scatter the seeds to make a wish come true.
A careful tour around the face of the rock revealed a continue plethora of biodiversity. Spiraling elegantly, a rose coral appeared a bizarre juxtaposition of the most delicate flower and the specimen of some neurology medical lab. The tenuous folds of a brain coral resembled a labyrinth maze. Plump spheres of great star coral beaded the rock’s surface, and elliptical coral carpeted many areas in a patch work of pink polyps. Clusters of cup corals rose like white popcorn, lush flowers in a landscape of green.
The kayak trip was a great experience for all Island School students. We learned the basic kayak skills, such as what to do in a situation when the kayak tips over. The current was both with and against us at different points during the trip. We traveled from campus to Triangle Cut then through the Marina to Sunset Beach. At Sunset Beach, we began a lesson about the moon phases and how the position of the moon affects the tides. We enjoyed a short snorkel and swim at the beach. For lunch, we ate awesome PB&J tortilla wraps with great GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) on the side.
After lunch, we got back in our kayaks and made our way to No Name Harbor, where we explored the mangroves while fighting the current which tried to push us to shore! The wind began pushing us back to campus as we started our travel in our kayaks. Although we were tired and sore by the time we got back, it was a great day on the water. We finished up our kayak day by washing the kayaks and lifting them back under the boat house and we were free to explore the Cape for exploration time!
In addition to kayaking on the surface of the water and exploring the island on vans on the South Eleuthera Road Trip (SERT) this week, we began to develop a sense of place for South Eleuthera through SCUBA diving!
We took our first breath underwater and plunged deeper and deeper into the ocean. In order to be certified divers, most of us had to develop skills such as buddy breathing, buoyancy, and other basic skills. In addition to these requirements for certification, we had a great time taking in our surroundings. A couple of ways that we made the dives fun were break dancing in the water and doing handstands. While underwater, we also had the opportunity to see some really cool marine life such as: sting rays, battle stars, and many colorful fish.
Even though our orientation week has been really busy, we are learning a lot about where we are and we even found time to unwind on the Fourth of July to celebrate America’s independence. We roasted marshmallows on the bonfire and we made s’mores (which for some of us was a first!) out on Boys Dorm Beach. We laughed and sang songs that reminded us of home. We realized how close we had become in only a few days! We lit sparklers and hung out all together. We are getting even more excited for the Bahamian Independence Day celebration tonight in Governor’s Harbour!