Students Studying at The Island School
Faculty members Zach Ross and Sarah Tierney took 10 students to The Island School in Northern Eleuthera, Bahamas, for a week of work and inquiry learning in the ocean landscape.
Day 7 by Zack Corr ’17 and Emma Culver ’18
Date: March 27, 2017 at 7:14:29 PM EDT
Location: 24.8321° N, 76.3318° W
Well you guessed it! Today was our final trek into this wonderful land we call Eleuthera. To start our morning we ventured to a far-away sandbar as the sun rose. Not only did the crew spend time snorkeling the surrounding areas collecting sand dollars, we used the sand (ooids) to scrub our skin!
All of us were so thrilled to go to beach day at Lighthouse Beach, which is 30 minutes from base camp. After chow time, Galen and Whitney drove us to the spot. However, we soon realized that we had to walk two miles across a treacherous rocky path with a Sahara like sun beaming its rays upon us. In addition to this exciting hike, we witnessed some very rare waterfowl species nearby. Once the beach was reached the sight was jaw dropping. This specific beach is ranked number 2 of all beaches in Eleuthera. The best part, no one besides our group settled there. Water as clear as a 1950s style baby blue car, and a gargantuan-sized cliff across the smooth sand. Everyone jumped in the water like a herd of wildebeest and splashed until they could splash no more. Furthermore, I played a game of football catch with Mr. Ross. He sure can pinpoint a football. After catch, we had lunch with the best fruit chips ever made and then hiked up the cliff. The sight was so perfect no photo could substitute it. At the end of the day we lit a campfire and told tales for ages. In conclusion the Island School provides an opportunity to test your limits and paint your path as a person.
Day 6 by Brooke Samora ’18 and Maura McDonald ‘18
Date: March 26, 2017 at 9:48:57 PM EDT
Location: 24.8314° N, 76.3299° W
Rather than the screams of the teachers telling us to wake up, we woke up to the beautiful sun shining into our tent. We finally had a sleep in! After breakfast we went over to a beach that was growing mangroves. We learned about the three different types of mangroves: red, black, and white. We could remember these names with the following rhythms: red red pointy head, black black salty back, and finally white white hold on tight. While snorkeling through these mangroves we saw multiple fish and even a LEMON SHARK!!! We also saw a lot of pufferfish. The trip to the mangroves was both educational and fun.
We continued our deep sea adventures by taking a boat out to the coral reefs. The boat ride was rough and windy but it made great fun as Tommy and Aaron got absolutely soaked by the salty waves. Once we reached our first destination we all geared up and hopped into the water. Lead by Galen, our fearless tour guide, we were able to locate all of the active reefs. All of the students were excited to use their GoPros and document all of the fish. We saw blue and purple coral and many fish including parrot fish and barracuda. We also saw a queen conk crawling on the ocean floor!! We were then brought to a second much deeper location. It intimidated many of the swimmers but Nora, Emma, Ana, Aidan, and, Zack were not scared of the deep sea and fearlessly swam around. We then took a windy boat ride back to the school.
We ended the adventurous day with a night wade. We walked out to the beach in front of our tents. All our flashlights were skimming the top of the water searching for bioluminescent in the night. In total we found needle fish and a green starfish. In the end we put them back into the ocean. We can’t wait for our last day here!
Day 5 by Maura McDonald ’18 and Aaron Avellar ‘18
Date: March 25, 2017 at 4:01:41 PM EDT
Location: 24.8311° N, 76.3308° W
We were woken up in a rush by our teachers. We continued to get ready in the dark and make our way out of our tents. As a group we walked to yoga in the boat house. As the rain fell on everyone else we were very Zen under the protection of the roof. After yoga we went to breakfast and ate our share of oatmeal and muffins. One of the activities we did was a scavenger hunt where we had to go around the campus looking for different things that we learned about on the tour such as the isopod and the invasive species. It was a lot of fun and we all really enjoyed ourselves. We later tallied up the points and it turned out that Ana and Patrick were victorious. with Aidan and Maura coming in second, and Aaron and Nora coming in third.
However, the highlight of the day was when we engaged with the invertebrates. We all went to the wet lab where there was a collection of sea creatures in a touch tank. A woman told us all about the life style of these spineless creatures. We learned that they have exoskeletons to protect them. However not all of their armor is as noticeable as lobsters. Did you know that sea slugs have a shell inside to protect them from harm? All of us were as amused as little kids in an aquarium. We held starfish until they clung to our hands. We witnessed slugs inking (on Ana), and Zack kissed a sea cucumber for good luck. But what are Brewster kids without a little bit of distracted fun? As we were observing our sea creatures the head scientist behind the land crab experiments was retrieving his cross from their holding cage. After engaging in an educational conversation with him he challenged our students to touch the crabs. Nora and Aaron were the only brave volunteers and it gave us all a good laugh to watch their reactions. Once our attention was focused back on the invertebrates, we decided to walk them back to the ocean. Each Bobcat picked up a sea creature and walked it to the beach so we could place it back into their original habitats. We are happy to say we now have a deep understanding for our shallow water friends;).
The day ended with a documentary, Racing Extinction. We treated ourselves to movie snacks as we watched the impact on fishing and eating creatures of the sea. Whether it was mana rays or sharks being hunted for their fins, what we kill has a great impact on the population size of each species. It was great to see how individuals like Yau Ming and Elon Musk, creating a bigger awareness in the world. Afterwards, Zack put us all to sleep with his late night journal-entry reading.
Day 4 by By Zach Corr ’17 and Patrick Zhao ‘17
Date: March 24, 2017 at 8:55:09 PM EDT
Location: 24.8322° N, 76.3318° W, Northern Eleuthera, Bahamas,
All of a sudden, Ms. Tierney woke us in an excited mood. One by one we minions awaited the arrival of our guides Whitney and Galen. They led us to a special spot named high rock because it is notorious for its high falloff. However, Galen led the charge and dove like an Olympic diver into the deep blue abyss that faced us. I consider myself an adventurous character in this movie we all call life, but at the same time I am always careful and aware of my surroundings. Soon after we had all dived in, we snorkeled and observed yellow stingrays. These bottom dwellers seem to act like loners.
After breakfast we went to a presentation on lionfish where we learned about the history and future of lionfish. Lionfish are invaders of the Bahamas, and they have no predators in the area. The expert presenter said right now the best way to solve the problem of the invasion is to eat them. I think us Chinese can contribute the most here, as fish is such a staple in our diets. Another scientist showed all the parts of a lionfish through dissection.
After lunch we witnessed a presentation by Bill, an intern, who discussed the problems with plastics and how they affect ocean life. We did a beach clean up and met “potstickers”, who are dogs that live in the neighborhood without an owner. Upon our arrival to campus, and in an effort toward sustainability, we also had sorted the trash, otherwise known as “resources,” into different bins.
As we come to the end of this opportunity of adventure at The Island School, I’ve come to see that the School presents teens and young adults an opportunity to test themselves physically and mentally, and a plus was getting to meet and work with students from other schools.
We finished the day with team-building exercises, like the human knot, and shared a lot of laughs.
Day 3 by Ana Gonzalez ’18 and Emma Culver ’18
Date: March 23, 2017 at 8:32:32 PM ED
Weather: 79°F Mostly Cloudy
Location: Northern Eleuthera, Bahamas,
We woke up all in a hurry to sing happy birthday to Tommy. After showering him with our love, we all got dressed and ready for water polo. While some of us decided to bite the bullet and get right into the crisp water, others took their time getting in, and we had an intense match of water polo.
Soon after a delicious breakfast, we split up into two groups: one with students going to hunt lion fish and the other to try and find and tag sharks.
The group including Aiden, Maura, Ana, Brooke, Zack, and chaperoned by Ms. Tierney headed off the island and searched for dark “patches”. These patches were structures of rock and coral where lion fish are usually found. We were with the head lion fish researchers from The Island School whose job is to catch the fish. We snorkeled and attempted to identify the lion fish and when we did, we alerted the leaders, equipped in scuba gear, and they dove down where they were. In the first patch, we managed to catch two out of the three lion fish. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any other the rest of our morning. We did spend time traveling from patch to patch around the open sea and got a chance to snorkel in coral reefs surrounded by marine life. We saw a blue tang surgeon fish, about a dozen angel fish, and even two young sting rays.
Meanwhile the group including Emma, Nora, Patrick, Aaron, and Tommy went looking for sharks and had a very exciting day. The crew boarded the “Mac Daddy”, a small fishing boat owned by The Island School with a well-respected sharkman named Owen and five Island School interns in hopes of catching a photo-worthy shark, and we did just that. After laying the lines full of bait and snorkeling for about 90 minutes in open ocean, the crew returned back to the lines with hope in heart that a sizable shark would be pulled.
Near the second buoy and after a couple small-sized sharks, Owen noticed a large pull on the rope as we pulled it in. As the shark got closer to the boat, it became apparent we were dealing with a very large hammerhead shark! After measurements were taken (it was 10.5 feet long!!!!) and tags were placed, the hammerhead was released back into the freedom of the ocean. However, the five lucky interns were able to jump in the water to capture pictures and videos on some of our GoPros. Even though us students weren’t allowed to jump in, much to our dismay, we were allowed to touch the shark. This shark was named one of the rarest to catch in the Bahamas by many of the crew, and Owen declared that over his 30 years of shark conservation efforts he had never caught a shark of that size or a hammerhead shark for that matter! This was for sure a great birthday present for Tommy!
After lunch we visited the aquaponics center. Here fish are harvested, lion fish are studied, and hundreds of plants are grown, which are cooked and served in the dining room. We were taught about the different stages of tilapia (the type of fish harvested) and how they are fed.
As a self-sustaining ecosystem, the scientists try not to let any waste, go to waste. They filter out the fish fecal matter and use it as fertilizer for the plants. Their plants on the other hand, are placed in Styrofoam and float over a pool of water where the roots grow freely. This system was called aquaculture. We helped plant seeds and harvest old lettuce. Later, we fed the chickens and ducks and even saw how coconuts are harvested and got to drink the incredible, sweet, ultra-hydrating water of the nut of the island of Eleuthera.
Day 2 by Tommy Meade ’18 and Aidan Rolfe ’20
Date: March 22, 2017 at 12:00:00 PM EDT
Weather: 81°F Mostly Sunny
Location: Northern Eleuthera, Bahamas
6:30 a.m. arrived with a run and swim. Freezing cold we ran and dove off the pier into the water. We swam to the other side of the cove, stretched, and ran to the next cove. We continued on this route until we reached the end and climbed up a wall out of the water. Indian sprints brought us to a cliff to jump off of. We followed the same route back.
Breakfast was pretty great. Blueberry pancakes with fresh fruit and ham. At 9:15 a.m. we loaded into the van to head to another part of the island. Our first stop was at a hole that was 600-feet deep and connected to the ocean. We jumped into the water and there were so many fish. We could see schools of fish from out of the water. On the way to the beach we stopped at a great bakery. The beach was very beautiful and everyone went in the water. Many of us went body surfing in the ocean and enjoyed the nice cool, clear blue water. After the beach we drove to a small gift shop where many of us got ice cream. The store had many cool clothes but was very expensive due to the fact that everything has to be imported to the island.
Next, we drove to a spot to possibly see wild horses and there was this tree whose branches grew down into three ground-like hanging roots. After that we drove to a spot that had a bat cave created from limestone erosion. These caves had large roots flowing down from openings in the roofs
For dinner we all feasted and then rushed to the office building where we attended a shark presentation. The presentation not only talked about shark evolution, anatomy, diet, and their importance in the ecosystems of the ocean, but it touched on our relationship with sharks and how the way we see sharks is more based on myths rather than facts. It shed light on the fact that humans harm far more sharks than sharks harm humans. Most of us were surprised by the fact that so many sharks are captured and killed in very inhumane forms to sell them for their valuable fins. What surprised some of us the most though, was how shark fin soup (a Chinese cuisine that uses shark fins) does not taste like anything and is mostly popular because of ancient beliefs.
After that we settled in for a warm night under the stars that were visible even from under our tent’s cover.
Day 1 by Nora O’Keefe ’18 and Brooke Samora ’18
Date: March 21, 2017 at 2:51:09 PM ED
Weather: 77°F Partly Cloudy
Location: The Island School, Northern Eleuthera, Bahamas,
Arrived at the airport at 7:30 with happy faces and bags packed for an 8-day adventure at the Island School in the Bahamas. The ride down to Nassau was quick and easy. It was very exciting to travel to a different country and use our passports. Once we arrived at the airport we had to travel on a little baby plane to get to the island where we are staying. The plane was small. Everyone had to crouch down the aisle to get in the seats that were single file lined on both sides. The turbulence was crazy but we could see everything. We were floating right above the clouds. When we looked down at the ocean we could see the different color of blues that represented different water depths.
Once we landed we grabbed our bags and met our tour guides Whitney and Gailan who took us to the Island School 40 minutes away. The cars that we drove in were fueled by biodiesel. They took us to our camp site – platform with tents with 12 cots in each tent. We also have a compost toilet! We take outdoor showers where we can look up and see all of the amazing stars!
The next morning, our first full day, we awoke at 6:30 for our swim test and snorkeling. When we got out of the water we saw 1 of the 11 manatees in the Bahamas. An aquaponics program contributes produce and fish for the dining hall. In addition to the food being healthy, it is produced in small portions so it’s not wasted and there are no leftovers. Each day some students have dish duty and have to organize and clean the dishes.
We also learned about the deep sea and the cool creatures that call it home. We dissected icopods – giant crustaceans that look similar to giant cockroaches found in the deep ocean.
Each day we have exploration time where we have about an hour or so and can explore the campus. The first day we went to the beach and did some more snorkeling and saw a sea cucumber. Then we sent the rest of the time laying out on the beach and working on our tans so we don’t stand out with our pale skin. A few boys played volleyball with other Island School students.
Then we had dinner, which was burger night! Followed by fish ID lesson, learning about characteristics like fins and patterns. Then we had team challenge where groups competed to identify different types of Caribbean fish.
We ended the first complete day of only one sun burn (Zack Corr) and outdoor showers under the stars!