Sunday, December 18, 2016

Life After Adventure...

Hi folks, 

Yesterday, as we flew over Cleveland, we were greeted by a long awaited blanket of snow and weather much colder than what we had gotten used to on the island. Leaving Eleuthera and coming home (to two feet of snow!) was bitter-sweet as were all excited to see our families and tell them about what we had the privilege to experience in the Bahamas, but we knew we'd miss the people and the place. I think I speak for all of us when I say the hands-on experiences we were granted on this trip gave us a new depth of intellect we didn't realize we could attain and couldn't fathom before we left. At the dinner table last night, we all got to impress our parents with extensive knowledge of tropical fish species, mangrove ecosystems, turtle catching, and stingray biology. Even though we are no longer at the Island School, we are now in the habit of seizing the day and making the most out of every 24 hours (run-swim, anyone?). 

This experience was very eye-opening. Before going to the Bahamas we had not been nearly as conscious about our impact on this planet. We were taking long, hot showers (sometimes multiple times a day!), relying on others to clean our dishes, and even being wasteful with food. Now that we are back in Cleveland, we are forcing habits from the Island School with things like taking Navy showers (30 second showers where you turn the water off when you’re lathering up), never keeping any water running, and being more conscious about recycling, packaging, and what we actually "throw away." Getting up at 6:00 AM every day and going to bed at 10:00 PM made the days feel long and the weeks feel short; this is a habit we intend to closely follow in the days moving forward as it makes us feel like we've squeezed every ounce out of the day while still taking care of ourselves and getting healthy sleep. 

We are enjoying getting to indulge in the Christmas spirit and are already hopeful for the chance of a snow day come January. We are all excited to visit with our families, decorate our Christmas trees, light our Menorahs, and enjoy some well-deserved relaxation time after a whirlwind senior fall. While we do have to deal with slippery roads and sitting in a freezing car waiting for it to warm-up, we are grateful for the lack of bothersome bugs and are tenderly nursing our remaining sunburns (and showing off our suntans!). We complained about the immense amounts of sand in our dorms at the time, but we must admit that we miss the sand between our toes. After an epic adventure full of memories to share, we are all very happy to be back in The Land (and watch our Cavs win!). 

A huge thank you goes out to Mrs. Becker and Mr. Daly for making sure we got home safe, and staying impressively organized in the process.  And to our parents, for affording us this great journey. THANK YOU!

Happy Holidays to all!
Michael & Helen 

Bahamian Farewells and Endless Long Lines!

Hi everyone, 

The harsh tone of phone alarms woke us up at 4am on Friday morning. The waning gibbous moon was above us in the sky and the wind was blowing in from the sea as we took off our sheets and threw them into our sand-filled suitcases. We walked to the Dining Hall in the dark one last time and had our final bowls of cornflakes and Chex, with soy milk of course. We threw the luggage in the back of the vans and hopped onto the “laminated” seats and rode quietly through the gravelly streets of Eleuthera. Many of us slept or had headphones on, but the ride was different from most of the ones we had taken on the trip already; instead of looking forward to a new adventure or coming back from one, we were leaving all of the adventures behind and ending our experience. We arrived at the small airport in Rock Sound around 5:30 AM and began our day of waiting in lines. Sitting in the uncomfortable chairs that didn’t offer enough legroom across the rows, we had some final conversations with our Island School guides. When it was finally time to board the small plane to Nassau, we all didn’t take much time to walk through the “lax” security checkpoint that consisted of a metal detector and a security officer. We waved our final goodbyes to Stan, Whit, and Kaché and walked out to the new-looking Bahamasair prop plane that sat on the runway waiting for us. Along with some of the researchers we studied rays and turtles with, our class and other people affiliated with the Island School filled up most of the small plane along with some locals who were traveling to Nassau. 

The short 20-minute flight over the Exuma Sound was very beautiful; the sun rose over the layered clouds and bright blue waters. We flew past the tall pink buildings of the Atlantis resort in Nassau and came down to a landing quickly. As soon as we walked in the airport doors, we immediately pulled out our phones and frantically tried to connect to the wifi to check the status of our college admissions and social media. Congratulations, compliments, and hugs went around. News from the past two weeks was read aloud and Snapchat stories were posted with temperature filters and Nassau geotags. However, we still had to get through customs, so Mr. Daly and Mrs. Becker had to get our attention away from our now-functioning smartphones to the more important task of getting home. The teachers shepherded us through long security lines and customs, reminding us to not pull out our phones and to say that we hadn’t been at any farms or were bringing back any produce. Interestingly, there is a small piece of American territory in the Nassau airport just for the customs because so many Americans go to the Bahamas. Once through, we ate some fast food and waited for our flight out of the tropical country. Finally, we boarded and said goodbye to the warm air and bright blue-green waters of the Lucayan Sea. 

On the flight, many slept to catch up on the couple hours we had missed getting up very early. Overall, the flight went well. Upon arriving at the Atlanta airport, we felt like kids in a candy store as on our walk to our gate, we passed dozens of American food stops that we had been dreaming about for the previous weeks. Our layover in Atlanta was what you would call “tight,” but Mrs. Becker and Mr. Daly graciously granted us half an hour to purchase snacks (more than a few students opted for frozen yogurt and smoothies). Soon enough, we boarded our homeward bound flight to Cleveland (or as a couple students chanted as we boarded the plane, “the Land” or the “home of champions”). The flight went by quickly; it was about an hour shorter than the flight from Nassau to Atlanta. When we were able to see land through the dark gray clouds, many of us vocalized our excitement at the white plains below. Snow! We were almost home! After landing, we exited the plane and were greeted by a welcoming gust of frigid air of our homeland. Inside, we stopped for a quick, bittersweet final count-off and bathroom break, then a group hug with our amazing teachers who had made this whole trip possible. We hustled to baggage claim, where we were greeted by parents, loved ones, and coats that many had brought for us. Hugs and happy reunions ensued, as did goodbyes to friends. Yet, many of these included phrases like “see you soon” or “we have to hang out over break,” as many of us that did not know each other as well before had grown closer during the trip.

We made our way out through the automatic doors to a dark, snowy Cleveland evening. Some of us were happier to see snow than others, but a warm mood brought on by reunions presided despite the cold air. One by one, we were picked up as parents drove up to where we were gathered and helped us load our suitcases into their cars. We would make it home just in time for dinner!

-Dalia & Matt

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Our Last Bahamian Day!

Hi everyone!
We woke up today both saddened and excited—it was our final full day here in Eleuthera, yet we’d be heading to what Stan promised to be “the most beautiful beach in the world”. Before leaving, we fit in a quick soccer rematch at the marina (team Angelina vs. team Helen). Though both teams accidentally kicked the ball into their own goals on multiple occasions, the Helen's pulled off a second victory.

Caroline is ready to defend against Devlin on the pitch!

After the game, we began the long process of packing, and later headed to breakfast to enjoy cereal, bagels, and sweet potato bread. Finally, it was time to drive to Lighthouse Beach! On the way, we picked up Stan’s dog Jesse (a Bahamian “potcake” who was once a stray). Once we reached the beach, there was a 2.5-mile trek to the water. Some chose to withstand the beating sun and run the distance, while most walked.

Stan's dog Jesse looking out over the most beautiful beach in the world!

Upon cresting the final hill and getting our first glimpse of Lighthouse Beach, we were astounded. Crystal blue water crashed over the pink-sanded shores, and a few dozen feet from the sand rested multiple coral reefs teeming with fishes. To the right were huge limestone cliffs that we later climbed to take pictures and enjoy the breathtaking view.

The squad at the top of the cliffs!

For hours, we roamed the beach and coral reefs. Some snorkeled among barracuda and parrotfish, some helped to build our “Sandman” in honor of the Gates Mills snow day today, some read books on the shore, and some played Frisbee or walked down the beach with Jesse. There was a general aura of reflection and bittersweet emotions. Our relaxing day by the water brought back memories of the past 10 days, brought us closer together as a ‘family’, and helped us wrap up the trip.

Snorkeling the Lighthouse Beach reefs!

Our Snow Day 'Sandman!'

At about 3:00, we walked (or ran) back to the vans for our drive home. Once we returned, we initiated our “deep clean”: we swept and mopped our dorms and bathrooms, finished up personal packing, and washed the showers. We rewarded our hard work with a delicious dinner of rice, lionfish, and chickpeas.

After dinner, it was finally time for our long-awaited Secret Santa gift exchange! Under our casuarina tree lay handmade gifts carefully wrapped in sustainable wrapping paper (aka leaves, dorito bags, t-shirts, or whatever else we could find on the beach). Everyone was delighted to open personalized and creative packages, ranging from Aryeh’s hula skirt to Stan’s decorated conch shell to Michael’s painted sea biscuit.

Secret Santa gift exchange success!

Finally, we congregated around a campfire (below an incredible starlit sky and a red moon) to share our happiest memories of the trip and roast marshmallows with chocolate chip cookies. As the day came to a close, we found ourselves grateful for the incredible journey we’d finished, and inspired by what we had learned and experienced. We hope for safe travels tomorrow and are excited to reunite with family and friends.

Until then,

Ellen and Sarah

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Snorkeling, Plastics, and Sandbar!

Hello everyone!              

We began the day with a 4-mile bike (or run—for a few people) around "the loop," which consisted of a rocky path through the bush that used to be a resort. Some who chose to run did not realize how intense it would be, but felt a profound sense of achievement afterwards. Everyone ate a breakfast of oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs with gusto after this physical feat.

Next, we split into two groups: one group snorkeled at Fourth Hole, a gorgeous coral reef, and the other visited the CSD (Center for Sustainable Development). The snorkeling group was introduced to coral ecology and the amazing diversity in this environment. Only 1% of the ocean floor, they learned, is covered by coral reefs, but 25% of marine life resides here. After diving deeper into the science of coral reefs, they hopped into the “land boat” (aka the van) and drove off to the reef. As they snorkeled, they were blown away by parrotfish, beaugregories, barracudas, blue-head wrasses and yellow rays (to name a few). Some students snorkeled for the entire hour and a half, but others left the water to warm up on the beach. Everyone, however, had a great time; two students, Seysha and Aryeh, even described the experience as the coolest thing they had ever done in their lives.

Check out this close-up of some Brain Coral at 4th Hole!

The CSD group explored various sustainable projects around the Island School. First they learned about the process of making bio-char, which turns wood and coconut husks into charcoal that can be put back into the soil, burned, or even eaten (some of us tried it). Next they learned about turning plastic into a fuel by a process called pyrolysis. The CSD is beginning with small-scale experiments, but aims to expand this project in the future. Finally, they learned about the CSD’s bio-digester, which uses anaerobic decomposition to turn human waste into valuable fertilizer. Many of the students felt inspired by what they had seen and began wondering why these practices are not more widely used.

Nick and Matt build a fire to start the bio-char making process!
This is the pyrolysis set-up that converts plastic pieces into usable diesel-like fuel that you can see collecting in the little glass jar!

After a delicious burger lunch, we reconvened, went to the Island School Souvenir Store, and took a trip to an ooid sandbar. Not knowing what an ooid sandbar was, we were shocked to see a majestic, isolated sand island in the middle of the sea (it looked like a scene in Pirates of the Caribbean). We learned that ooids are calcium carbonate precipitation around fecal pellets and were surprised by their immense quantity. We snorkeled around the sandbar and found many live conchs, sand dollars, and other treasures. Many of us chose to play in the sand as well.

Walking along the sandbar!
Upon our return, we had our final exploration time, during which many of us put the finishing touches on our secret Santa gifts. Then we reconvened for a mouth-watering Indian dinner and set out on our next adventure: night wading! We snorkeled off the shore with diving torches to light up the water as we observed nocturnal marine life. We saw many shrimp, over 15 aplysias, and were fortunate enough to see an octopus!

A daytime aplysia! In case you forgot what they look like... 
The full moon was a perfect setting for our night wade!

Thus ended a long day of non-stop adventure. Off to an ETB (early to bed) to prepare for an action-packed last day.


Aryeh and Ellen 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

SCUBA Diving Day!

Good evening everyone,

We woke up at 6:30 as usual, a little tired, but looking forward to an awesome day! Our morning exercise wasn’t as physical as it was mental; Anna, a certified (and epic) scuba instructor, taught us the basics of scuba diving. The majority of the lesson was in the form of an instructional video (featuring stellar music and fashion from an earlier decade) and then we headed out to the boathouse to get out gear together. Excited and a little nervous about what was to come, we prepared for the day by eating a wonderful meal consisting of poached eggs, corned beef, grits, cereal, and grapefruit.  

Learning all about scuba "gadgetry," as Anna calls scuba diving gear, like these handsome Buoyancy Control Devices (BCDs)!

After breakfast, we split into two groups in order to maximize the time we could spend diving. While one group headed out to The Saddle to dive, the other group had the incredible opportunity to investigate a deep sea creature that is believed to date back to prehistoric times. But before we talk about the creature, let’s introduce Mackeller ‘Mackey’ Violich. She is a graduate student at Florida State University who has already discovered two new deep sea species. Over the past two years, she has been studying deep sea life off of the coast of Eleuthera using high-tech cameras including the Medusa, an impressive instrument able to work under 2000 meters of water (which was also used on the Discovery Channel!). She gave each non-diving group a detailed presentation about deep sea life, her experience, and also explained to us how little we actually know about 98% of the oceans (the percentage that is considered "deep sea"). She then allowed us the chance to help her on her thesis. Now back to the creatures- isopods! We helped Mackey dissect a bunch of isopod specimens she collected this fall in traps. The goal was to determine their sex, measure them (width, tail length, carapace length, and total length), weigh them, and then remove their stomachs to analyze the contents searching for plastic consumption. It was a pretty sick (literally and metaphorically) experience.

An example of the isopods we analyzed today (Photo Credit: CEI). 
Editor's note: More photos coming soon when I figure out how to get them off my phone... The camera spent the day at the dive site!

While one group studied and dissected the deep sea creatures, the other group was out scuba diving! We practiced the basics we saw in the video, like specific hand signals, breathing through the regulator, clearing water from our masks, and reviewed the #1 important rule: NEVER STOP BREATHING! While small groups of 2-4 students were reviewing their skills, the other students got the chance to snorkel around the area and see cool sea life including seven Caribbean Reef Sharks, many types of fish, and a sea turtle! And the diving experience itself was SO cool. Many peers commented on how crazy it felt to be able to breathe under water. It was a pretty surreal experience that was described by Angelina as, “the best experience of my life.”

We all did it! Safe and sound and smiling!

A Caribbean Reef Shark that many of us saw! (Her name is Bellatrix...)

A Queen Triggerfish that many of us saw, too!

By the time everyone got back, we were all very tired from our long day. Instead of resting, many people chose to work on their gifts for our holiday gift exchange on Thursday night. We have decorated our 'invasive' Christmas tree with 'recycled' ornaments and have all been charged with making a homemade gift for a secret member of our group. People were all over the place hollowing out coconuts, scouring the beach for shells, and weaving leafs together. It really demonstrated how much our group has bonded throughout the trip because people were putting so much effort into their gifts and having so much fun doing so. Later, after dinner, we finished the day with a lesson on NAMO, or Nocturnal Adaptations of Marine Organisms. This was in prep for our night wade tomorrow so we can hopefully see some of these organisms in action! Woo hoo!

Seysha and Evan 

Monday, December 12, 2016


Hi everyone, 

The 6:30 wake-up call came early this morning. We all hopped on bikes and pedaled off to the notorious "High Rock." After an almost two-mile bike ride we came to the end of the road (much like the end of the sidewalk but less mysterious), and there it was. High Rock. We all rushed to the edge and were immediately concerned by the apparent boulders below. Our fears were quelled when we were shown the correct jumping form by Stan. The technique wasn’t too hard to master, but finding the courage to fling yourself into the ocean was a totally different story. Everyone faced the mighty jump with gusto and enthusiasm. After sapphire blue hole the other day this jump was a lot more manageable, for some.

Peering over the edge of High Rock, ready to take the plunge!

Devlin's cannonball off of High Rock!

After a quick breakfast, everyone hurried to the boathouse for what was sure to be one of our most exciting days yet – we were going "turtling," which means trying to catch sea turtles! The turtle team joined us on the boats, and soon we were off across the open sea. The ride to Starved Creek (which is much more lively than the name suggests) was long and rather rough, but our arrival was met with many smiles. After a quick explanation of the turtle capturing method, called “rodeo”, the first small boat was sent off. The little boat contained two turtle researchers and five students. The sea turtle would be run down by the boat, and when it began to tire and slow, a student would dive in and swim after it. The goal was to catch up to the turtle and lift it out of the water as it was coming up for a breath. Many chases and boat swaps later, we had five sea turtles on board. The researchers demonstrated how they take the measurements necessary for their studies, and everyone who wanted to got to hold a turtle!

 Olivia the turtle researcher showing us the first turtle we captured and how they tag turtles. 

This is how we kept (all 5!) turtles safely on the boat; upside down in a life jacket! 
This calmed them down and also made sure we didn't release and immediately recapture the same turtle. 

Green Sea Turtle close-up!

All 5 Green Sea Turtles resting on deck!

Check out those of us who wanted to hold the turtles! 

On our way back in, we had one of those incredible Island School moments. As we were pulling into the docks we had to be super careful because the local manatee was paying a visit. The manatee was putting on a special show for us; it kept coming up to breathe and splashed Mrs. Becker and Whitney in the face with its exhale. We spent some time just watching the manatee do its thing. After we had our fill of the manatee we had some free time. Most of us used our free time to get clean and shiny for our big night out on the town; some of us even put on a clean shirt! We made our way to intern presentations before we went out for dinner. The presentations were given by Cape Eleuthera Institute interns who have spent the last couple of months focusing on a specific project. They were all super impressive and it was exciting to see them share their work. After the presentations we went to Sharil’s. Sharil’s is an amazing little restaurant right off campus. We had everything from fried chicken and fried lionfish (what a fun and delicious way of taking care of a such an invasive species) to mac and cheese, sweet corn, and ribs. The feast was devoured in under 15 minutes interspersed with talk of the day, and what a legend Helen is for both catching a turtle and breaking an apple in half with her bare hands. The day lasted forever in the best way possible. We are starting to realize how little time we have left and are both savoring every sunset and counting down the dish crews until we are back in the 216.

The view of the manatee from the edge of the dock!

Dinner at Sharil's!

Don’t miss us too much!

~Annie and Angelina

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lionfish & Conchs & Sharks, Oh My!

Good night everyone!

Today we woke up at 6:00am and got pumped for an early morning soccer game. We biked our way down to the marina and set up the field with our helmets. We broke up in to two teams which would later be known as the Helen’s and the Angelina’s. It was a rough match with minor scrapes but tons of fun. The Helen’s won the match with a last minute goal by Devlin.

Go Hawks!

After soccer, we went to breakfast and enjoyed many bowls of cereal. With our stomachs full we settled into the Octagon and listened to a presentation on invasive species, specifically the Lionfish. We learned that they are venomous but not poisonous. This means that they are safe to eat but not safe to touch their fin spines. We then traveled to the Wet Lab and got the opportunity to dissect multiple Lionfish. We learned about their anatomy and physiology, touched their inflated swim bladders, and even got to cut open their stomachs! We found a variety of prey in their tummies, including many small (almost whole!) fish and a handful of crabs. After the dissection, we had a great lunch of eggs, potatoes, pizza, bacon, and bread. On Sundays, the kitchen staff gets time off so we had a variety of leftovers from the week. Yum!

Mr. Daly explains the evolution of a fish's gape!  

Team Gal Scientists show us their first major incision!

After lunch we broke up into the Helen’s and the Angelina’s and went out to continue a five-year Hawken Queen Conch survey. Eating Queen Conch is a staple in the Bahamian diet and culture and their populations have drastically declined over the years. We reviewed all of our knowledge about conchs that we learned back in Gates Mills, and then hit the vans to visit two sites to survey the conch populations to measure the effects of the Conch fishery here. We formed transect lines and walked down both Sunrise and Sunset beach (transect lines are a fancy way of combing the area with a large group of people). Each group did a site and then traded so we could have two sets of data for the same site. We only found three live Conch overall, which was very sad because most of them are dead. In addition, the ones we found were juveniles. 

The Helen's transect line!

However, we did also spot our first octopus of the trip, plus a giant hermit crab and an osprey flying overhead. After that we went back to the marina to get some snacks and to chum the waters for Bull Sharks/Nurse Sharks using the lionfish carcasses from the morning! We were lucky to attract multiple sharks, including two big Bull Sharks. Then the group split up and had an hour of free time. Some went to watch the sunset at Sunset beach and others went back to hang out at campus.

This Giant Hermit Crab was cool and also a little scary! Check out those claws!

This large female Bull Shark came up to the surface to eat one of our Lionfish...
Don't worry moms and dads, we were watching from the dock!

After dinner we came back to watch a presentation on sea turtles! We learned how we are going to help the sea turtle research team capture turtles tomorrow and we are very excited about it! We will be helping them remove flipper tags by catching as many as we can in the so-called "Turtle Rodeo." More on that tomorrow night! Tonight we are having our first ETB, or early-to-bed! Many of us are started to tire out so we are going to try and take advantage of some extra sleep. The days here are very long because as Stan puts it, we are not here for very long so we need to "milk the day for everything it's worth!" Many mornings after exercise we can't believe how much we've already accomplished before 8am. It makes a lot of us feel lazy compared to our lives at home, and we hope to bring some of this energy home with us! 
The sunset we watched from Sunset Beach!

Until next time,
Nick & Devlin