By Shu Hee (Sophie) Kim [slideshow]
As I arrived in Nassau Airport on July 6th, I remember finding refuge among the small group of other teens wearing olive green Earthwatch shirts. We were all a bit awkward at first – waiting quietly for the last few people to arrive and to fly to Rock Sound Airport. None of us really knew what to expect: all we knew was that the water was a special cerulean blue that can be found nowhere back home, and we were all just waiting for the chance to jump into the ocean sporting our newly bought snorkel, mask, and fins.
What we found at the Island School was something none of us expected. The sustainability of the Cape Eleuthera Island Research Institute seemed more efficient than the “top-notch green” movements that sweep through our hometowns every once in a while. The cooperation and camaraderie among the people on the island soon encouraged us to form our own friendships as well. We Earthwatch teens bonded over our mutual excitement for surveying patch reefs, for our particular fish groups (parrotfish, snappers, grunts, etc), wading through fierce currents in the mangroves, and suffering together the agony of bug bites running the lengths of our arms and legs.
We spent lots of time out in the brilliant blue patch reefs identifying different types of fish for research that studied juvenile nursery areas. However, as with many other things, it was the little things that really made the experience – I will never forget the fast and furious boat rides that threw the wind in our faces as we sat at the bow of the boat. I remember thinking, ‘This must be why dogs stick their heads out of car windows.’ Needless to say, those were magical moments. We also went out to the “4 th Hole” which is a site with extremely shallow reefs. There , we counted the number of bites of parrotfish within a certain time period to calculate their bite rate and how that changed according to their size.
We also surveyed a total of 5 mangrove sites, which provided data for research to see what kind of environments within each particular mangrove make for the most fertile fish nurseries. As we took depth measurement and flow velocities, we were in constant search for that one lemon shark that might swim by, or the group of needlefish that often skimmed across the surface of the water, or the nurse sharks and barracudas that captivated us with their odd shapes.
We as Earthwatch Expedition teens got to experience all that most people never get to in their lifetimes– the only regret I have is that my little brother and my parents didn’t get to see the Bahamas in this way for themselves. We experienced everything we could have asked for and more – the patch reefs and mangroves, of course, but also doing dish crew with other students and staff from the Island School, taking a tour of everything at the institute that makes it so self-sustainable, and the conversations at the dining hall with people from so many different paths of life. Earthwatch provided us an escape from the technological reality back home, and a chance to see the world while contributing to real science; the Eleuthera Island School gave us a way to form connections and friendships that will stay with us forever.