Hello blog-readers! Check out a couple more stellar blogs from our Summer Term students. These responses are again referencing the recent two-day kayak trips and SCUBA certification courses the students have been completing during their orientation this past week. Today also marks the beginning of our summer academic rotations, in which students will spend a week in each of the three themes of the summer: Food, Ecology, and Tourism/Development. Keep an eye out for more journal entries as students delve into these themes while contemplating the central question of “How do we live well in a place?” [slideshow]
Starting yesterday, as part of our orientation week, we began SCUBA diving in the Eleuthera Saddle, and today in the Tunnel Rock. At Tunnel Rock, we saw all kinds of neat critters including a school of horse-eyed jacks and a peacock flounder. It was almost overwhelming and unexpected to see so much diverse and interesting aquatic life. I think that this was in part because from even a few feet above the water, none of this life can be seen. Instead, all that can be seen is blue water and it gives the illusion that there is nothing below but more blue water. Because of this, humans tend to assume that there is no life in these waters. In addition, many times humans are not capable of fully sympathizing until they themselves can relate to the situation. Thus, I think that it is difficult for humans to care about or realize how they can harm this life that they cannot even see. However, SCUBA diving allows humans to be able to be in touch with aquatic life by being able to see and interact with plants and animals that you otherwise cannot see.
Nevertheless, SCUBA diving is not only an expensive endeavor, but also, many people do not have the privilege to experience it. How can we illustrate the importance of protecting aquatic life to those who have not been able to SCUBA dive and see this life at such a different angle or at any angle at all?
During these past two days, I realized that SCUBAdiving takes a lot of time, equipment, and commitment, among other things; especially since the human body is not meant to be underwater. In particular, time is something that is fairly limited during the summer term with a mere six weeks. So why were we going through all of this trouble to see some fish and coral at such an extent by scuba diving? Couldn’t we save all of this time by snorkeling or just learning about these different kinds of aquatic life in a classroom? I think that the answer to this is because simply learning in a classroom doesn’t allow you to learn to care about the life that exists underwater because you cannot see it first- hand. Although snorkeling allows you see first-hand, it is different than SCUBA diving because with snorkeling you are observing from above. When you SCUBA dive, you can see the aquatic life at a different level, something that cannot be conveyed in a classroom or through snorkeling.
On the boat today Jason told us about how even the oil on our fingers can harm coral and cause it to disintegrate. Quite literally in this way, humans can cause so much damage with even the slightest touch. In a presentation done by Tegan and Jasmine earlier this evening, I learned that even sharks are vulnerable and need to be protected. Almost 70 million sharks are subjected to a process called ‘finning’ and 100 million are killed throughout the year. Similarly, people constantly throw trash and waste into the ocean, not recognizing the effect that they have and all the reefs, fish, etc. that they are harming. Maybe people will think twice about their actions once they SCUBA dive and are able to interact intimately with aquatic life and realize the consequences of these actions.
After kayaking and snorkeling near the coastal areas of south Eleuthera, I discovered a wide variety of different ecosystems, habitats, and organisms. Especially populous were marine organisms, which I saw on patch reefs, near mangrove trees, in algae beds, and in tide pools. I was truly amazed by the vast variety of marine life and the sheer number of marine creatures present. A few of my favorite experiences included swimming with a school of pacific blue tang, having a close encounter with a large barracuda, snorkeling off high rock, and snorkeling near our camp site at Fourth Hole. All of these fish were located on patch reefs close to shore and possessed bright vibrant colors, which differs sharply with some of the other marine ecosystems I’ve seen. On Nantucket for example, most of the intertidal zone is characterized by large sandy or rocky areas, with relatively low densities of marine life, aside from the occasional crab or flounder.
The differences in marine life between The Bahamas and Nantucket are mostly caused by the vast difference in water temperature between the two, but I believe other factors may be involved as well, especially those related to tourism and development. In Nantucket for example, heavy erosion caused by high beach traffic has caused many beaches to recede, leaving behind bare sandy ocean bottom. I’ve also seen pollution and litter in the water first hand, especially near the harbors. These influences have had a large effect on the marine environments on Nantucket, and may have caused the loss of biodiversity in its intertidal zones. It’s possible that before it became a large tourist destination, Nantucket’s coastal zones contained a much wider variety of marine life.
Just as tourism and development has played an important role on Nantucket, it has also played a large role in the ecosystems of South Eleuthera. The dredging of coastline to clear room for beachfront has destroyed large areas of valuable mangrove trees near the shoreline, which provide a nursery for juvenile fish like barracuda and sharks. Without these protective nurseries, suitable places for fish to grow up are dwindling, and with them, the fish populations. The removal of the mangrove trees has also created higher rates of erosion, since their roots stabilize the surrounding sandy areas, and has contributed to the destruction of the patch reefs which surround south Eleuthera. During our kayak trip, the negative effects of dredging were made evident by the large cuts we explored, which showed how many mangroves had been destroyed, and how many potential nurseries for baby fish had been lost.
Though slightly more subtle, tourism has also played a role in the altering of South Eleuthera. Activities like shark and fish feeding throughout the Bahamas have greatly altered the ecosystem, adding a food source for those organisms involved, and disrupting the delicate balance of marine life. Elsewhere, overfishing has greatly depleted certain fish populations, especially groupers and sharks. Without these large organisms, their prey have been allowed to multiply uncontrollably, creating havoc for the ecosystem. Litter and pollution created by tourism has also caused problems in the Bahamas, which I noticed on the beach where we camped (there were plastic bottles, bags, and jugs everywhere). In general, where humans and animals have met, problems have resulted.
After considering the kayak trip, and the effects of tourism and development on South Eleuthera, I had two major questions: (1) Why would developers and tourists chose to act in a way so detrimental to the environment? And (2) how could we develop and travel in a more sustainable fashion? The first thing I considered in answering the question number one was cost effectiveness. Sustainable building techniques are usually more expensive than traditional ones and therefore become a more attractive option to construction companies. A lack of knowledge or a lack of interest may also play a role; developers who are unaware of the consequences of their building techniques or who simply don’t care about habitat destruction are far more likely to build in more negative ways than those who are aware. The potential profit of an environmentally unfriendly build might also provide a motive, as made evident by the large areas of beachfront created by the dredging of mangroves. Money also provides a motive for unsustainable tourism. For example, many tourist companies have found large markets for spear fishing or shark feeding, and don’t necessarily consider the environment when facilitating these activities.
So how can we do better? I believe the first step in this process is education. The more people who are educated about the environment and the consequences their actions have on it, the more people will feel obligated to become involved and begin making changes. Also, if people are taught about the eventual financial benefits of green building, they might reconsider their original plans. I believe that pressing the issue is also a good idea i.e. staging protests, sending letters to Congress, etc. Once a sustainable approach is adopted, conservative building (i.e. taking up as little land and disrupting as little of the environment as possible) and building with the environment (using the heat of the sun to heat water, etc.) could greatly help in preserving the planet’s ecosystems.
On our kayaking trip, we learned about a camping practice known as “leave no trace.” The goal of this policy was to leave nothing behind and to change the place we stayed in as little as possible. I believe that a similar approach should be taken with tourism and development. In order to live and travel well in a place, one should attempt to disrupt the land as little as possible. Lopez hints at this in his essay The Rediscovery of North America where he states that rather than disturbing the natural environment, one should learn to observe the land, and to include it as a member of one’s own community. Through this process, the land will be taken care of, and the environment will be preserved. In this vein, developers and tourist companies should encourage building practices that preserve the environment rather than destroy it, and support interactions with animals that are passive, rather than active. In this way, the effects on the ecosystem by tourism and development will be made relatively negligible, and will allow those participating to live and travel well.
In order to play my own role in keeping our ecosystems in good condition, I will do my best to make my footprint on the environment as little as possible. Already, I’m very happy to say that I’m attending one of the greenest schools in the country (Sidwell has one of the only platinum leed certified buildings in the US), and hope that I can conserve at home to support the environment as well. While traveling, I will try my best to “leave no trace,” by making my influence as little as possible wherever I go. To improve development practices, I will (hopefully) become active as an environmentalist later in life, and will strive to make a home that’s as sustainable as possible, as well as pushing others to do the same. All of these actions will help me live well and travel well wherever I go.