The Island School 2018
Eleuthera Bahamas, May 2018 – As part of project period, 9 students (and faculty member Sarah Tierney) attended a session at The Island School in Eleuthera, Bahamas, for 8 days. The Island School exists to teach under the central tenet: how do we live well in a place? The weeklong curriculum was designed to develop a sense of place among attending students. This includes immersion experiences in the natural and cultural environment; modeling sustainability of individual lifestyles, larger communities, and the systems that support them; and creating an intentional community in which members are cognizant of their abilities, limitations, and effect on others.
In their own words the students share their experiences.
Day 1 – May 8, 2018
Today we departed Brewster at 4:30 a.m. for our Boston flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Starbucks kept up nourished during our travelers. The flights were very smooth from the United States of America to Nassau. Ms. Tierney made friends with the captain of the flight from Nassau to Eleuthera. Some people thought the flight was fun and others were terrified. It was a 14-person plane with propellers.
When we got here we got picked up by Casey and Charlotte, the island school staff. They told us about the potluck puppies. We sang country songs in the car and everyone was really impressed. We had orientation and gave up our phones.
Then we had dinner and it was delicious. We had salad, pork, plantains, and quinoa. It was scrumptious. Our housing is very nice. We have bunkbeds and a huge bathroom. We have a porch, and we are right on the beach!
Day 2 – the Beach
Early this morning at 6:30 our day started. We made our way to the boathouse with our leaders Casey and Charlotte to do a swim test. First we swam about 10 meters in the ocean for the first time on our trip and great congratulations as everyone passed with flying colors. Next, we were able to experiment with masks and flippers. This time around, we were able to see starfish, barracuda, and other marine life.
Once everyone learned how to take care of the equipment, we dried off back at the dorms and went to breakfast. Breakfast was impeccable! We ate scrambled eggs, cereal, bacon, bagels, and freshly cut oranges and grapefruit. Afterwards, we got ready for the second activity of the day.
The sustainability tour we ventured on demonstrated to us how the Island School survives off of their own produce as well as what types of research they do in order to better their methods. Somethings we learned about are their aquaponics. This is when the animal waste travels through a system that fertilizes a deep-water tank for vegetables such as lettuce to grow. Fun fact: 99 percent of the lettuce they eat at the island school comes from what they grow in their aquaponics system. Another interesting thing that we learned on this tour is how the Greek myth of Cassiopeia relates to how the upside down jelly fish received its name. We also learned the different styles they use to build their homes in order to make living easier such as convection chimney’s, windows, light paint colors, and the shapes of the buildings in order to better collect rain water. One last interesting thing that we experienced on the tour included one of the workers named Johnathan who cut down fresh coconut’s that we could drink from, Sapodillas, which are sweet local fruits, and tamarinds, which are local sour fruits.
During the afternoon, we were taken on a boat ride to the sandbar that was located 10 minutes away from the home base. With our masks and snorkels we ventured off into the water finding sand dollars, conch shells, Damsel fish, stingray’s and other small invertebrate shells. While enjoying the sun we learned about the special sand called ooids that the sand bar was made out of. This sand is special as it is made by the increased amount of water flow and currents. This is a type of sediment that is perfectly circular and is wanted by most beauty companies to make facial and body exfoliates. After hearing this, Chris covered his entire body in the ooids to exfoliate his face, arms, legs, back, and stomach.
Toward the end of the day we had exploratory time, which we spent with a bike ride to the local Marina where we saw sharks, stingrays and where we were able to see the beauty of the Bahamas and the local beach.
After dinner, Charlotte presented on how to identify certain types of fish such as Parrot, Grouper, Snapper, Angel, Surgeon, Damsel, Wrasses, and Basslet fish. We learned the parts of the body as well as certain characteristics such as stripes, bands and bars; lunate caudal fins, forked caudal fins and truncated caudal fins. Ending the night with some healthy competition Chris, Nicki, and Kelsie took the win home.
Ending the night with some journaling, reading, and getting ready for bed! Off to another adventure tomorrow.
Day 3 – Turtle Catch and Release
We had a 6:30 start this morning. We met Sam – the yoga instructor – then went to the boathouse to get yoga mats. We went to the upstairs area of the dining hall and did some rooftop yoga. We had breakfast of French toast, ham, and cereal at 8:15 and it was delicious.
We came back to the octagon, our homebase, and met the invertebrate’s lady. She was full of energy and explained all sorts of different invertebrates to us. We later went on a walk down the beach where we met Thomas – a future Brewster student – where we tried to find different invertebrates doing a beach wade. We found were sea urchins, star fish, sponges, coral, conk shells and crabs. We later walked back to our rooms to get ready for the sea turtle research that we were doing later that day. After getting ready we walked to the dining hall for lunch. Lunch was brisket and mashed potatoes with sides of salads, spaghetti, and tortillas.
After lunch we walked to the boat house where the main turtle researcher explained how we would be helping and the scientific questions she was trying to answer while during her studies here. We had a 45-minute boat ride to the area where we would catch and release sea turtles. Mary Hannah, Alec, and Chris went with the researchers on a smaller boat to catch a sea turtle. While they were catching sea turtles we snorkeled and found the blue hole which is 20 ft deep. One they returned with a turtle, they recorded specifics about the turtle like the measurements, weight, and any scars it had. This turtle had not already been tagged so they tagged it and released it. We were able to name it too! We decided to call it Brewster. They wanted to catch one more turtle so they took Ms. Teirney, Jacob, and Kelsey out and caught another. This turtle was a lot more stubborn and it was already tagged. They did the same thing with this turtle accept to record anything that had happened since the time they originally tagged it, like growth or any new scars. We also released this turtle and then it was time to motor back to the island.
We had some free time and then we went to dinner. Dinner was pretty good, it was chicken and sweet potato. There were the same sides again, like the pasta. After dinner we headed back to the octagon and met a guy named Brenden who is a shark researcher here who told us all about his research and adventures. We got to talk a lot about different sharks and ask him questions about his work with sharks.
Day 4 – Sea Cucumbers and Lionfish
Today we awoke at 6:30 and went to jump off the high rock. It is a cliff made out of limestone and is a tradition here at the Island School for evert student to jump! We jumped into the water from about 15 feet. Then we snorkeled and saw a spotted moray eel, great find Ms. Tierney! After our jump we went to breakfast and had fresh cornbread, eggs, and lots of fresh fruit.
We then went to the boathouse and separated into two teams, one team on one boat and the other team on the other boat. We went out to deep water, around 300-feet deep. We went to this massive underwater cave and strong current. There were three scuba divers who went to the bottom surveying the reef. We were snorkeling on the top counting different types of fish. There were a few sharks and a few really big groupers. Then we all got back on our two separate boats and went back to the Island School campus for lunch.
We headed back to the boathouse after lunch to be briefed on sea cucumbers and how to survey them in their natural habitats. We boarded the boats with the Reef Survey team. Once we got out a little offshore, we got in the water and hung on to a Manta tow, which was like a mini kneeboard that we were towed on so we could look for sea cucumbers. We had our mask, fins, and snorkel on and were looking in the water for the abundance of sea cucumbers.
During our Exploratory time we took bikes into town and got some snacks. We ate our snacks on a beautiful beach, a beach that looks like the one in those fancy Caribbean commercials. Once we were done with our ride to the marina we came back for dinner – super yummy burritos.
We then dissected lionfish and got to cut them open, learn about why they are an issue, and how they have no natural predators here. We learned a lot about how invasive they are for the ocean and how they are venomous but not poisonous. The lionfish have actually migrated all the way from Florida to Massachusetts. This is really bad because they are destroying underwater ecosystems as lionfish can survive from 7ppt to 35ppt salinity and can tolerate high and cold temperatures making them the perfect colonizer of other native species.
We then wrapped up our evening with fun card games and got to bed early for our big down island trip the next day.
Day 5 – Swimming With the Natives
Today was a very nice day, we started the day off early as usual but this time by playing games on the beach, which quickly became very competitive! We played a game called Nuke Em, which is somewhat like beach volleyball. We played a quick 10-round game and ended up having two different championship teams. Afterwards we headed on to breakfast. For today’s breakfast we ate pancakes, sausages, fruit, and cereal.
Our activity for the day included a nice road trip down island. Fun fact even though we traveled north, which is up from our initial point, it is called down island because of the way the current flows. Our first stop was to an old tree approximately 150 years old. This tree was an invasive species, which came down similar to vines and rooted itself in the soil, suffocating the original tree. We also looked for wild horses as there are some on the island in that area, but we may have been making too much noise and scared them off. Afterwards, we were brought to a local bakery that sold delicious glazed cinnamon buns, coconut pastries, and much more. This was truly an amazing experience and gave us the opportunity to understand the lifestyle of a Bahamian.
Next, we were brought to an old abandoned Club Med hotel. This had been deserted due to a hurricane that passed through the area. The beach at this hotel was one of the pink beaches in Eleuthera made from coral and other eroded sediments from the ocean floor. We took a nice walk on this beach and soon went in for a dip! While in the water we observed large patches of coral and the animals living in these areas such as major sergeant fish, surgeon fish, purple coral, and many other types of fish, crabs, and coral. After this leisurely swim, we ate delicious sandwiches, crisp apples, juicy oranges, and specialty chips. After taking photos, playing games, and soaking in the sun, we were on our way to another unknown location.
With a road trip filled with singing and music we approached our final destination for the day. At the ocean hole we learned that not one person has found the bottom of this sink hole, however, the ocean is able to enter this vicinity from the very bottom. While swimming in this ocean hole we saw butterfly fish, surgeon fish, crabs, snapper, grouper, and angel fish. This was a once in a lifetime experience as the fish were not bothered and barely reacted to our movements while swimming.
This long day filled with fun and education was concluded with a planet earth documentary about deep sea creatures and their habitats! On to tomorrow with more coral reef ecology, mangrove ecology, and a night wade!
Day 6 – Swimming With More Natives
After a long few days we got to have a sleep in! Today we woke up an hour later at 7:40. This surprisingly made us feel more tired as we were eating breakfast. After breakfast we drove down a few minutes and stopped at a beach area. We walked down the beach for about 15 minutes and ended up in a Mangrove Ecosystem. We first walked around in the water and learned about the different kinds of mangroves. There are four different kinds in the world and three of them were in this ecosystem. The four are the red mangrove, the black mangrove, the white mangrove, and the button mangroves. We saw the red, black, and white ones. We also learned about why mangroves are important. After talking about mangroves we snorkeled through a river canal and saw lots of fish. We saw grouper, tons of leopard puffer fish, lemon sharks, and a few other kinds. After snorkeling we sat in the water and talked about algae and why it is important.
We then drove back to campus for lunch. Lunch was interesting today. Sunday is left overs day. We had a combination of foods from the week. We had pizza, turkey, pancakes, sausage, meatballs, fruit, and other things. It wasn’t as bad a combination as it sounds; it was actually pretty awesome.
After a very filling lunch we headed to one of the classrooms to prepare for our next activity of the day. We learned a lot about coral reefs and their importance. We learned that coral reefs contribute 375 billion dollars to the US economy! Who knew! We also learned that “coral bleaching” is when the coral feels threatened and gets rid of its color. After learning so much about coral, it was time to go see some.
We took a very bumpy boat ride about 20 minutes from campus to a place called bamboo coral reef. We all hopped in the water ready to see the marine life. The coral was awesome, but the animals we saw were even cooler. We started off by seeing an octopus swimming on the ocean floor. It was changing colors for protection. Then, we saw a nurse shark. It was swimming underneath us. It was very friendly. The last animal we saw was an enormous manatee. It swam right up behind us and hung around with us. The manatee was so cool and it had fish swimming along with it. It swam very close to us and all around where we were swimming. It was an awesome experience! There are only 11 manatee in all of the Bahamas so it was an incredibly rare sighting. It also was pretty amazing having the manatee want to hang out with us. It kept checking us out and coming up for air. It was unbelievable.
After snorkeling, we headed back to campus where we got to call our moms to wish them a happy Mother’s Day. We then had a great dinner and then headed out for a night wade. We talked about what type of creatures we would see and then ended the night with harvesting a coconut! Trying to get a good night sleep tonight for our early morning run-swim tomorrow.
Day 7 – Bahamian Beauty
With an early start to the day we started off with a two-mile run-swim, running into the water, doing a small workout and then running into the next iteration of water. Some of these other small workouts included buddy sprints, push-ups, and abdomen exercises. Soon after we enjoyed a full breakfast with oranges and grapefruits.
Next, we visited the seventh best beach in the world, it was a beautiful landscape with many areas to explore. The walk to the beach was 45 minutes but it was worth it as we saw many locals land crab hunting. Right before our entry to the beach, we saw the original lighthouse that the beach was named after. It was really interesting as it was built with an old fashion architecture type and there were many carvings on the door. Once we got to the beach, some of us snorkeled and saw many parrot and surgeon fish. We were also given the opportunity to enjoy the Bahamian weather by reading and playing card games on the beach. Also there was an incredible view from the top of the cliffs that was fantastic and very aesthetic. We captured a lot of great and fun photos during this adventure.
Tonight, we had a well-earned dinner of chicken noodle soup, home made bread, and delicious salads. Afterwards we had a pretend bonfire in one of the conference rooms as we were unable to go outside due to heavy rainfall. This was still incredible as we played a game called high tide, low tide, and sea shell, which was our favorite part of the trip, some thing we were challenged by and something that we want to spread the message about. Along with this game we were given amazing chocolate chip cookies to put a closure to our trip.
Leaving the island school is bitter sweet because we are all excited to get back to the last few days at Brewster although we will really miss being here and living the Bahamian island lifestyle. We look forward to one last day at The Island School before we head to the airport. We will be heading out on the boat tomorrow for one more snorkel.