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Discoveries!

We worked for 4 days upon our return to Hollins to synthesize our experience and analyze our data.  We had 10 research projects carried out over our 10 days on island and each student(s) summarized their data and developed a large research poster summarizing their data which they will present at the Hollins Science Seminar in April.  We were very pleased with the quality of their research and their willingness to throw themselves headlong into all the experiences that the wonderful island of St. John provided.  I think everyone was quite sad that our adventures have come to an end – and several of the students are hoping to return next year for the January 2014 Caribbean Ecology course which we are busy planning!  There is so much more to learn and so many more boundaries to push!

Profs CF

What happened with the TRASH?

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As a service project, in both 2012 and 2013 we cleaned up 4 beaches on St. John (Waterlemon, Little Lameshur, Big Lameshur, and North Haulover).  We classified the trash as either marine or land in origin.  We were hoping there would be less trash this year which was true only on Little Lameshur….on the other three we removed more.  In total we picked up 6961 trash items (6363 marine in origin and 598 land in origin) which collectively weighed more than 146 lbs!  Thirty pounds more than last year!  We were so happy to have left the island a bit better than we found it – wouldn’t it be great if everyone could do just a little bit!

Dani and Sarah’s Stingray Project

you go girls

Dani and I conducted our research on Stingrays, specifically their response to an approaching diver when accompanied by a companion fish and when alone. Companion fish may associate with stingrays for protection against predators or increased foraging success (ex- Barjack). We found that stingrays without a companion fish were more responsive. In regards to water depth, those rays without a companion fish responded from a shorter distance in shallow waters (less than 5m). We collected data from a total of 18 stingrays, 12 of which responded. Response was measured as any action/behavior that resulted from the divers approach. Of the 18 observed stingrays, 8 were with a companion fish and 10 were without.

 We had such a wonderful time in St. John and are very thankful for Renee, Dr. Wilson, Joe Sweeney, the VIERS staff, and our classmates! Without them this experience would not have been possible. We enjoyed every minute of our time spent in St. John, therefore it was extremely difficult to leave. However, our memories will last a lifetime and for that we are thankful! We cannot wait for next year!!!! :) St. John 2014 here we come!

 

Tori and Reagan Sanddiver Project

Tori and Regan snorkeling

The objective of our project was to compare response distances of Sand Divers. Sand Divers are primarily vulnerable to predators from above since they reside on the sea floor. As such, we were interested to see how Sand Divers would respond to a potential approaching predator from the front and from directly above. We compared the average distance (+SE) to response when approaching from above and front.  There was a trend towards a closer response in frontal approach than the above approach (t-test: two-sample assuming unequal variances: t= 1.345, P= .095). We also compared the average distance (+SE) to respond by small, medium and large size classes of Sand Divers. There were no significant differences noted (ANOVA post hoc test: P=.434).  

 Thoughts from Tori:  I would like to thank our amazing professors, Renee Godard and Morgan Wilson for giving our class the chance to explore the world in a new way. The VIERS staff had generous hospitality for us daily and went out of their way to make our experiences unforgettable. This trip made us gain a new appreciation for the marine ecology of the Caribbean and left us with ambition to help preserve the environment for the future. A special thanks to our classmates as well as everyone we met along our journey; our memories made in St. John will never be forgotten.

Thoughts from Regan:  St. John has to be the most exquisite place I have ever been, from the jagged mountains to the crystal blue ocean. I am so thankful for the opportunity to travel to the Caribbean and experience amazing, new things with such a wonderful group of people. I made some wonderful friends and always want to remember VIERS and the lessons learned not only about myself, but about others and the world as a whole. My appreciation for the environment and the natural world has been increased and I want the majority of the land to be kept in wilderness so that all the creatures that inhabit the land and waters can survive. I realized that humans need to be more considerate and respectful of the land on which they inhabit. The memories made down on the island will never be forgotten. I loved watching the world wake up as the brilliant, pink sun crept up over the horizon line and waking up to the sound of the conch shell. I hope to be able to travel back again and hopefully share this magical place with others.

Mary Ellen and Amber’s Study on Tourist Patterns

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With a smile on our faces and clipboards in our hands, Amber and I interviewed 99 tourists on St. John. Before the trip, we created a 9 question survey that asked basic demographic questions (age, accommodations on island, number of times on island, etc…) about the tourist as well as assessed their understanding of the island’s history and environmental issues. Almost everybody we approached agreed to take the survey; only 4 people turned us down. Overall, people were friendly and we got the opportunity to talk with a lot of interesting, funny (and sometimes, very bold) people.  Back in the states, we analyzed our data and found that 96% of tourists interviewed were Caucasian with an average age of 44. Most people were aware of the lionfish and most planned to return to the island. There was a tendency for those staying on the East side of the island to have more knowledge about environmental and historical issues – but it was only a trend.  More data would be good!  We plan on doing further analysis of the data during the spring! 

 Thoughts from Mary Ellen:  Thank you so much to my parents for their love and support. Thank you Renee Godard, Morgan Wilson, Joe Sweeney, and VIERS. St. John would have never be possible, fun, or fabulous without you!  This trip to St. John was an amazing adventure and a life-changing experience. I never thought that I could learn so much about our world, its nonhuman inhabitants, a beautiful island, and the environment in a mere 10 days. I found in myself a passion for hiking and snorkeling, and I discovered my one true love…the smooth trunkfish!!!

Amber interviewing

Thoughts from Amber:  I had a great time with this project! It was exciting getting to know so many people – I made quite a few friends on the island through the survey. The whole experience on St John was fabulous! I loved the research project and exploring the island. But, my favorite part of the trip by far was snorkeling: swimming with and observing the vast diversity of marine life was an experience I will cherish forever.  I’m so grateful to Renee and Wilson for creating this class and for all of their heart-felt efforts into making this ten-day journey an incredible learning experience. I would also like to thank the VIERS staff for their unsurpassed ability to make us feel at home & feed us one wonderful meal after another. Of course, I would not have been able to be apart of this class without the aid of the Hobbie Trust Fund and the Claudia Belk Family – thank you to everyone that made this journey possible!

 

Molly’s Project on Sergeant Majors

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My project was on patterns of light phase and dark phase Sergeant Majors.  Sergeant Majors have two color phases: a light phase (gray body with upper third of its body yellow & 5 black bands) and the dark phase (blue/purple body color).  The dark phase occurs in reproductive males who guard their eggs in the rocks. I found that in Coral Reefs and Colonized Pavement there were significantly more light phase Sergeant Majors than dark phase Sergeant Majors.  Also, fewer Sergeant Majors were found in the grass beds and sand.  I found that light phase Sergeant Majors are more often found swimming in the open, while dark phase Sergeant Majors are more often found in the rocks.   More studies with larger sample sizes would be needed.   This trip was so much fun and such an amazing experience!

Mya’s Project on Coral Health and Habitat

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For my research project I looked at the relationship between coral health and habitats (mangroves, colonized pavement and reef) among brain and boulder coral species. Coral was assessed along 25 m transects in various locations within these habitats, then classified in one of 5 sizes (XS=<14cm; S= 14-24 cm, M=24-34 cm; L=34-50cm; XL >50cm) in addition the percentage of coral that was healthy was estimated. Through this assessment I found that coral in mangroves was healthier than coral in colonized pavement, may be due to coral adapting to warmer shallower water and the shading provided by trees. Brain and boulder coral was in good health overall but further work needs to be done to clarify these patterns. Lastly, very large boulder and brain coral was less healthy than smaller sized coral.  This trip was absolutely wonderful and full of excitement and new experiences. I loved every minute being on the Island of St. John!

Kristin’s analysis of Marine Biodiversity

Kristen

This year, my research focused on comparing surveys of fish species and relative abundance taken this year to those taken last year to see if any differences could be determined. I thought that these surveys might indicate which species and habitats were being most affected by lionfish and climate change. My results showed that mangroves had shown the greatest decline in species diversity and abundance, with 54% of the species surveyed having declined in their abundance since last year. In coral reefs, 41.2% of the species had declined in abundance, and colonized bedrock and grass beds both had 21% of their total species showing decline. The types of species that were becoming scarcer was interesting too, with fish that feed on algae declining more than any other feeding category. This is worrying, since algae can smother and kill coral if left unchecked.
My experience this year was so much different than my experience last year, I feel like I saw many more species because I knew what to look for. Since I knew what to expect, I didn’t get overwhelmed on this trip, and I was able to absorb a lot more than last year. This was an amazing trip, and I had so much fun.  I would like to thank the Hobbie Grant Fund and the Janet MacDonald Fund for making it possible for me to go on this amazing trip, and Renee Godard and Dr. Wilson for organizing this class!

Maddy’s Project on Termites

hey there

I was interested to see the impact of tunnel damage at locations near and more distant from termite mounds.  I had anticipated that termites would repair tunnels nearer the nest than further away.  Because we were often in the water, I wasn’t able to monitor repair rates as closely as I would have liked to so my data was somewhat inconclusive . Coming back to Virginia was a shock both physically and mentally, it is amazing how much I adjusted to Saint John and Viers in only 11 days! But as usual we wasted no time in getting to work. We spent three days working on our posters which was where I got a bit of creative leeway with the way the poster looked. It felt good to finish it but it made me realize that the trip was officially over. We sat and watched a slide show of the best of photos and relived our time on the Island. I loved this trip so much that I am already putting together a plan to fund my return next January. I have been dreaming about snorkeling ever since I left!

Hannah and Kristi – 2 projects together (Blue-headed wrasse and squirrelfish)

big sis, little sis

From Hannah (lil sis) -My project was comparing behavior patterns between Longspine Squirrelfish, Blackbar  Soldierfish, and other species of squirrelfish. 67% of the squirrelfish identified were Longspine Squirrelfish, 15% were Blackbar Soldierfish, and the last eleven percent were other species of squirrelfish. Longspine Squirrelfish were usually found to be out in the open and alone and the other more common species, Blackbar Soldierfish, tended to be in a group and in hiding. For my fist year this was a huge learning experience for me!

I would like to thank Renee and Wilson for letting me join the group down to St. John this year.  Also, I would like to thank my parents, Clint and Kathy, for allowing me to have this amazing learning experience! I would not have been able to have this experience without you two! Love you guys so much!

From Kristie (big sis):  My project was on the abundance patterns of Bluehead Wrasses (BHW) in marine habitats of colonized pavement, coral reefs, and mangrove habitats and compare reproductive ratio of total Bluehead Wrasse biomass. I found Bluehead Wrasse initial and juvenile phases made up larger proportions of BHW biomass in all three habitats. As proportions of BHW initial and juvenile phases increases, BHW terminal phase increased and the percent of reproductive terminal, transitional, and initial phases (57%) were higher than non-reproductive (juveniles), (43%) out of total BHW biomass. This project was just as much fun as last years project!

I would like to give Renee and Wilson a big thank you for allowing me to return for a second time and for allowing Hannah to also have the same amazing experience.  Also a huge thank you to my parents, Clint and Kathy, for allowing me to have this amazing experience a second time but also allowing Hannah and I to have the experience together! I would not have been able to have this experience a second time without you two! Love you guys so much!

There and Back Again

On Monday we journeyed back stateside from our beautiful island home.  A few of us took one last run up the hill of doom and swam one last time in Little Lameshur as the sky turned from gray to pink.  Hard to believe it was our last sunrise!  With bags packed with stinky damp clothes, each having gained 3-4 pounds of water weight we loaded up the truck and took one last group picture at VIERS.

Group Parting Shot

Our group picture includes everyone: our 8 Hollins students on the trip for the first time (Dani, Mary Ellen,  Maddie,  Molly, Amber, Mya, Regan, Tori), our 3 returning Hollins students (Sarah, Kristie, Kristin), Hannah (Kristi’s younger sister), Caleb (on his 4th trip), instructors/drivers/pencil sharpeners (Renee, Morgan, Joe), Asya (student last year – now VIERS volunteer), and Lindsey (our VIERS California researcher who joined us hiking and found many hidden treasures for us on our snorkels and became an integral part of our group)!  What an amazing group to work with – they pushed their boundaries, embraced new and challenging experiences, embedded energy and laughter into our days, and stayed within the “Turtle” – our full value contract.

Volunteers say goodby

The Viers staff sang “Happy Trails” to us as we loaded up in our Jeeps.  I do believe that many of our students do hope to “meet them again next year.”  Our returning trio have all said they learned more their 2nd time on island than on their first – it is a place where the ecosystem, the biodiversity, and the human story and connections offer instruction for a lifetime!

Jamming with band in Cruz Bay

We had a few hours in Cruz Bay before we caught the ferry for St. Thomas.  Many of the students shopped for souvenirs while a few of us jammed with a small group of musicians that were playing in the square in celebration of MLK day.  We were happy our experience in Cruz Bay was limited.

Roads in St. Thomas

Back on St. Thomas we taxied back to the airport – taking in the our last ride on the “wrong side” of the road – seeing the beautiful wall art and the vastness of the 3 cruise ships that were in port.  The experience of those on the cruise ships is so vastly different from our own – perhaps the only commonality is the blue of the ocean.  Everyone was so glad to recognize the value of our experiences and hopes that they will travel in the future with knowledge of the history and biology of the landscapes and countries they visit.

Cruise ships in St. Thomas

Once at the airport we went through customs, which seems strange as we technically never left the United States.  Several other flights were leaving at the same time so it was a bit of a mob scene and took us quite a bit of time to get through.  In fact as the last of our group left customs and the dreaded scanners, they were calling us to board the plane!  No time for lunch which was hard for those of us that were used to eating 2 or 3 lunches a day!

Sunset from plane

Though not the same as setting on the ocean, we did see yet one more beautiful sunset as we began our descent into Charlotte.

sad faces in airport

We had time for dinner in the Charlotte airport and then waited with tired and sad faces for the plane to take us back to Greensboro and the final leg of travel back to Roanoke in the turtle van driven by Jon Guy Owens.  A fitting conclusion to this long long day of travel as we were in the “Turtle” both literally and figuratively.  The 20 degree air was a shock to our sandaled feet and sun-drenched brains….everyone longed for those blue seas, the sound of coqui frogs, and Bruce the deer munching on mangoes outside our cabins.

Today everyone will hopefully catch up on sleep and wash away the damp saltiness from our well worn clothes.  But the memories of our many experiences (we packed 3 weeks into 10 days) will last a lifetime!

wash

We will meet again on Wednesday to begin to digest our data and develop our research posters.  For those of you still reading this blog please visit us again and we will let  you know what we learned from our studies!

Until then…..

“Dani, can you come braid my hair?”

Today started off at 3:30 AM for our second Sunrise Hike.  Luckily, the sky was clear and the stars were out shining above our heads like beacons in the night.   Since our feet were familiar with the path, we had an easier time hiking and no ended up hiking with a flashlight.  The hike is 1.4 miles and it took us approximately 10 minutes less than the Sunrise Hike on Friday.  Some of the spots were so dark that we believe that Renee was on her hands and knees, but the hike was very successful.  During the hike the sky was illuminated with the stars, which gave us the ability to see up to nine shooting stars.  Also were able to see many satellites and space junk.  When the sun began to rise we noticed a faint unfamiliar object in the distance.  We really thought it was a raft.  Later with the help of Captain Morgan’s good binoculars we were able to see that it was a sailboat with people on it.  After sitting on top of Ram’s Head for an hour and fifteen minutes this is the gorgeous view that we saw when the sun began to rise.

Sunrise

Here is another view of our sunrise through a cactus.

sunrise through cactus

During our entire hike and time on Ram’s Head we were supposed to remain silent. However, watching the sunrise was such a fun bonding experience we couldn’t resist chit-chatting with each other.  By the look of this picture you can tell how we all were feeling bright and early after the most beautiful sunrise ever! Right after the picture we scurried down mountain so that we could come back to VIERS to eat breakfast.  Even though it wasn’t Donkey Diner, the VIERS volunteers are absolutely fantastic because they kept food warm for us.

group for 2nd sunrise

When we arrive in the kitchen each morning for breakfast Randy Fish updates us on our daily water consumption. Their goal is that each person uses no more than 14 gallons of water each day.  This morning we broke the record by only using 12.1 gallons per person, which means that we got a special dessert for dinner (Freshly baked cherry pie!)!!! GO HOLLINS AND BARD COLLEGE!!!! :)

water consumption

After breakfast we all gathered at Little Lameshur to pick up trash.  We picked up 253 items weighing  10 pounds and 11 ounces. There was less trash than last year.  (We just were informed that it will be 25 degrees when we return to Roanoke tomorrow! YUCK!!! )  Following out hot, tiring trash pickup some of us were eager to get in the water.  We headed out to Little Lameshur and snorkeled for a while to collect more data for our research projects.  We all were able to swim over and see a juvenile spotted drum (See picture below).  Renee was so filled with spontaneous joy that she did a cartwheel on the beach.  A cartwheel, handstand, and flipping contest ensued.  Dani did 17 cartwheels in a row, whereas Caleb was not so successful.  With all this fun it was time to head to VIERS for lunch.  For lunch, the fantastic VIERS volunteers cooked delicious chicken enchiladas with rice and beans and various toppings for lunch.  The enchiladas were so ginormous that everyone was in a food coma and passed out after lunch.

Last day at camp

Spotted drum in Little Lameshur

Spotted drum Juvenile

When Mama Renee called all here chickadees to wake up (ugghh), we got ready and hiked up to Yawzi Point.  This year there was a lot more new growth of elkhorn and staghorn coral which was beautiful and a sign that the coral reef is coming back to life there.  It was an amazing sight to see life coming back! Everyone snorkeled for about 2 hours. During this time we saw many species of fish including spotted and smooth trunkfish, honeycomb cowfish, a 5-foot long barracuda and a 6-foot long nurse shark (which was amazing to follow).  During our stay here at VIERS we met Lindsey who is staying here to do sediment research for six months.  She has joined us in many of our adventures here, including today at Yawzi.  She is quite amazing at spotting and identifying many things including swim through tunnels.

Snorkel spot for Yawzi

Here is one of the species we saw ( A Hawksbill Turtle!).

Hawksbill on Yawzi

Here is the tunnel that was at least 15 feet deep that Lindsey and Asya led Sarah and Hannah through, but Wilson, Renee, Maddie, Mya also swam through the tunnel!!! Ourselves (Kristie and Molly),  Kristin, and Caleb attempted but didn’t quite make it through!  This makes a great goal for all of us next year!!

This is Maddie entering the tunnel.

swimming through cave

Hannah in tunnel

This is Hannah exiting the tunnel.

This is some of our group during our last group snorkel at Yawzi Point!

snorkel on yawzi

Some of us headed over to Great Lameshur to finish collecting data or to get in one last snorkel.  We saw another nurse shark, green sea turtle, and an octopus!! Unfortunately some of us were getting cold and had to end of last snorkel.  Everyone was able to head back and grab a hot shower before cracker and cheese and chocolate meeting, pretty much right before dinner.  Dinner was quite yummy as usual.  Afterwards some broke out in ping pong, the ring game, dance, blogging (us!) and a line for Dani to french braid everyones’ hair. The braiding line occurs on a daily basis before and after swimming. She really could make some mula out of it! I think she hears, “Dani, can you come braid my hair at least 10 times a day!!!!  Upcoming activities for this evening includes a campfire, sing-along, and a walk down to the dock to gaze at the stars.  Overall this has been the most amazing learning experience and we all have had so much fun that some of us are funned out ( But not really). We are sad to leave and return to the cold, but we look forward to our adventures to come with Mama Renee and Captain Morgan!!!  :D

Signing off – Kristie (The Freckle Queen, says Caleb (the little brother that I never had……) and Molly (Sea turtle fanatic, says Caleb)

Where is the Baobob Tree?

Baobob

Baobob Tree

After a much needed rest from our longest day on the island we awoke to search for the Baobob tree. It is the only known sacred and magical Baobob tree left on St John. We were all excited to discover the African jewel tucked away in the lush, overgrown forest. We were told that another lies a short distance away, however we were unsuccessful in finding the second one. A couple of us went to Maho Bay to survey tourist and the rest of the group ventured on to Cathrineburg for our second lunch.

Group shot at Baobob

The schoolmasters and the juveniles with the Baobob Tree

Jumping in Catherineburg

The sun was hot and everyone was ready for a nice lunch in the shade. We ate together in the old windmill on the plantation property. The sugar cane plantation, started by a Dutch family in 1718 was used until demands declined in 1896. Afterwards most of the land was used for raising livestock until 1915 when all operations stopped. It was kept restored and used as a small farm by an American in the 1940s but is no longer in production.

Our next stop for the day, voted unanimously by the group, was Pelican Rock, named for its feathery residents. We snorkeled through the magical world beneath the rocks, full of waving sea fans, soft colorful coral and impressive fish. Collectively we discovered numerous Trumpetfish, Honeycomb Cowfish, Spotted Trunckfish, and a baby Octopus. We were all blown away by  these rare treasures of the sea.

pelican rock

under pelican rock

hunting for eels

A tiny baby eel was discovered at the shore line. We all wondered why it was so close to the shore but we left him in his chosen space.

chickens

An abundance of chickens greeted us while we sat drying on the shore. We fed Chad, Angela, Lucy, Molly and Anthony remainders of our lunch claiming them as part of our family.

After another fabulous dinner at VIERS  (as always) some of us enjoyed playing games around camp and hopefully we’re off to bed early to be up for another sunrise hike tomorrow. We all are looking forward to wrapping up our individual research projects and enjoying our last day on St John.

-Mya and Amber

A Sunrise, a Snorkel, and a Song!

At 3:45 a.m. the alarms went off – it was time to watch the world wake up! With no moon, no stars, and no flashlights, we stumbled as carefully as we could along the 1 mile trail and up to Ramshead Point. After an hour and a half of moving in at times total darkness, simply trusting our feet to be our eyes, we finally reached the top.  There we sat down in silences and waited for Mr. Sun to make an appearance! It was quite windy and very quiet, and a spiritual experience for many. We tried to sit as silently as possible, trying to avoid “monkey mind” and to only think of the space and the experience. The slowness of the change in the atmosphere from dark to light was subtle in a very magical way.

It was so cloudy that we saw no stars, but to our surprise, the cloudiness worked to our advantage! We were able to look directly at the sun, which lifted from the sea as a bright orange ball rising up slowly on the horizon. The surrounding clouds were tinted a beautiful shade of pink.

First sunrise

Sun rises

Then it hits the clouds

Sun in the clouds

Group picture on Rams Head

Sun rise buddies

We trekked back across Blue Cobble Stone beach listening to the sounds of the pebbles being rocked back and forth by the gentle surf. We made our merry past Salt Pond to Drunk bay where tourists go to leave their mark in the form of coral sculptures lining the shore and rocky cliff faces of this east facing beach. We left our mark by spelling out Hollins with pieces of coral, with the hope that we can return to it intact the following J-term. As we wandered the beach we grew hungrier and our thoughts quickly drifted towards giant stacks of chocolate chip pancakes!! Donkey Donkey Donkey we chanted on the way to the traditional Diner. It lived up to our expectations though we had to wait for an hour before we saw food – but we all left happy and well fed.

Rocks on blue cobble

Drunk Bay wildness

Group on Drunk Bay

Donkey Diner

Group shot Donkey Diner

Finally we got to snorkeling at Salt Pond Bay, where we saw a small reef shark, a juvenile angel fish,  many turtles, and a spotted eagle ray. Although it was a sandy beach rather than a cobble stone beach, many of us enjoyed the rays on the sandy beach as we reflected on the abundant diversity of the life in the sea at our feet.

Green Sea Turtle

We finished our day with a magical presentation by Ital, a native Saint Johnian who dedicates himself to the traditions of the island such as music, dance, art, and medicinal plants and herbs. We all had a great time learning how to play and dance to African drums, sing songs, use natural healing powers of the islands, and live life to the fullest. Ital told us that we need to dedicate ourselves to the preservation of our world and to be responsible for it. It was a fantastic way to end the night and another spectacular day.  Another day awaits us – to bed for a bit longer tonight!

Ital

 

Ital Drumming

Group picture with Ital

 

Group picture with Bard College students that share the station with us.

Signing off – The Dancing Queens (Mary Ellen and Maddie)

Do Good Did Good! :)

Cresting the hill of doom

The morning started with a run to the top of a killer hill, but the beautiful view made it worth all the pain! Maya, Renee, Sarah, Caleb, and Morgan all braved the early morning to run and watched the sunrise while swimming in Little Lameshur. The day was bound to be a success after such a gorgeous morning!

Cinnamon Bay was our first stop for today’s activities. We hiked a nature trail around the Cinnamon Bay Sugar Mill ruins, and learned all about the process of sugar cane production. In preparation for our trip to St. John, we all spent time reading and familiarizing ourselves with the island’s slave history. Seeing the ruins in person made the whole experience more meaningful.

partial group shot Cinnamon Bay

Next we were off to Maho Bay, an eco-friendly resort that is unfortunately closing in May. We spent time walking around the resort (after indulging in some delicious ice cream!), and exploring the way in which the resort reduces its impacts on the environment.

Afterwards we visited another Sugar Mill, the Annaberg ruins, which was established in 1718. At these ruins, cane was crushed by a windmill and plow horses. Slaves were forced to work between 18-20 hours a day during harvest season and endured many hardships. We were fortunate enough to make a new friend while touring, named Charles “Do Good”. As a native of St. John, he was kind enough to share his knowledge of the many species of plants inhabiting this island. He  offered us fresh coconut, sugar cane, and bananas, as well as teaching us how the natives rely on and use many plant materials for everyday life.

Charles do good - Annaberg volunteer

Tour guides for day

First lunch was consumed before we headed off to snorkel Waterlemon Key. This particular snorkel spot had an array of marine life and a swift current to match. Everyone handled the choppy waters with ease. Many were able to collect data for their independent research projects, and the majestic view was enjoyed by all!

Waterlemon

A snorkel in “Octopus Garden” was our next destination. It was by far the favorite snorkel for most people in our group, due to the elegant sea fans that sway back and forth with every passing wave.

Sea fan in octopus garden

After a long day it was time for a delicious meal. We were treated to dinner at Shipwreck, a local restaurant in Coral Bay that offered fresh seafood. Some of the favorite dishes included grouper, shrimp scampi, and clam chowder. During the course of the meal, most could be found deep in a serious staring contest. Hannah and Caleb were the champions. Regan and I failed miserably…lets just say Regan cannot go a minute without smiling! :)

Thanks for reading our blog,

Tigggggggger and Knox :)

To the edge of the moon, and beyond!

Reef bay hike sunrise swim

This morning, a few of us awoke to another spectacular run up the hill of doom, and back down to watch the sun break over the mountains. Breakfast awoke the rest of us to the smell of fresh eggs, bacon, toast and fruit. Unlike the day before where we meandered in the morning, we packed up our lunches and hit the road towards Coral Bay. We rode past large herds of sheep and beautiful roosters as we made our way up the twisty roads to our destination.

Our car’s stopped at the Reef  Bay Trail, which takes travelers down to the Reef Bay as well as the Reef Bay Plantation and Sugar Mill. The trail dropped us 937 feet in a little over 2 miles through beautiful old growth forests. Here we saw Kapok trees and Sandbox trees. The Sandbox tree, or “Monkey No Climb” tree, is notoriously prickly with sharp spines protruding from its bark.

Reef bay group pic by kapok tree

Professors at sandbox

Throughout our journey down, we came across scattered ruins dated back to the plantation era on the island. The trail led us past slave quarters and the remains of sugar mills. It was sobering to realize to realize that the ruins we came across were constructed and maintained by people who had been severed from their homes and enslaved in the foreign environment of St. John.

Besides the ruins of old plantations, we experienced a magic held within the tranquil pool of the petroglyphs. These petroglyphs are the only record of the Taino people who inhabited the island before the Europeans. In planning, we had decided to sketch some of the petroglyphs and analyze them as a group. However, we arrived to find the National Park Service surveying the petroglyphs. Staying out of their way, we sat down at the base of the pool and began to eat our 1st lunch. Shortly afterwards, one of the rangers came over to tell us about his theories on the meanings of the petroglyphs and the rituals of the Taino people (who had no written history…just saying).

As the sun grew hot and beat down on us, we continued our walk down to Reef Bay until we reached the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. Here was where the slaves brought the harvested sugar cane to be crushed and boiled down to crude sugar called muscovado. Although no humans live there anymore, many bats have taken up residence in the rafters of the mill. One other thing we noticed was the bathrooms just off to the right. Supposedly they were created after Ladybird Johnson visited and was upset at the lack of proper toilet facilities. Although she donated money to have them installed, she would be very upset at their current condition (the last time they were cleaned was when they were installed…yuck!)

After a drastic change from lush forests to dry scrub-forest, we reached our destination at Reef Bay. It was a time for some to relax, and others collected data in the tranquil grassbeds. Many stones were skipped and even more shrieks of joy were heard upon sighting the reef squids and other interesting fish in the water.

Reef bay pic with HOllins in background

The day drew on unfortunately, and our tired group trudged slowly back to VIERS along the Lameshur Bay Trail. The climb was slow through dry scrub-forests and shade was no where to be found. Our water bottles went from full to almost empty in less than a mile. Even though it was hot, we stumbled upon some amazing views of Reef Bay which enlightened us on how far we had already come up the mountain. And soon enough, we plunged back down the same mountain and once again the biome changed dramatically. After many rocks and roots, Little and Great Lameshur came into our sights similar to a picture taken in a travel magazine. The water blazed blue and the sun warmed the pebble and sand beaches.

While our professors were out retrieving the Jeeps, we were able to take some time off (well, some of us). Some napped the hours away, while others snorkeled and tanned on the beach. It was a very odd feeling, because most of us actually MISSED moving and being active.

Later in the evening, the VIERS staff once again cooked us up a scrumptious dinner which we devoured almost instantly. However this was not the end of our busy day. As the sun sank behind the clouds, we were offered an optional night snorkel at Blue Cobblestone, a beach we visited previously in the week. Almost all opted to go, and we even picked up a few VIERS volunteers along the way. With the sound of the crickets and frogs, our group walked slowly to the beach, unloaded our gear and dived into the silent waters. Lights of red and green were scattered throughout the bay, and were very similar to a misshapen Christmas tree. We saw an octopus and many fish that were unknown even to the veterans.

After the waters were clear of the lights, we sat in silence and stared up at the seemingly infinite sky. Shooting stars were seen glimmering in the moonlight, and we were all staring in awe at their wonder. The moon was spectacular and shone its light on the pebbly beach.

Moon

Once again, we hiked back to Salt Pond without the use of  artificial light, and somehow through many stumbles and near disasters we made it back safely to our cars. Today may have been one of our busiest days, but in the end we all learned something new and experienced moments we will cherish for a lifetime. We cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

Caleb and Kristin signing off

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