Topography and Landscape
The island of Eleuthera is one of the larger “Out” Islands of the Bahamas. It is located between Grand Bahama and Abacos to the North, and Cat Island to the South. Eleuthera is approximately 110 miles in length (oriented roughly North-South) and an average of about 2 miles wide. The present islands are between 10,000 and 50,000 years old. The topography consists mainly of low, rounded limestone hills, and the elevation of the island rises to about 100 feet, allowing unexpected scenic views. The island rocks are made primarily of calcium carbonate sand and are very easily eroded. Weathering cuts into the cliffs, and produces a rough, karst topography with caves, sinkholes and cenotes. Several zones or successional states of vegetation exist across the island, in part associated with past lumbering and agricultural practices by humans. The island is relatively arid, although paradoxically, it is buffeted by periodic hurricane seasons. The combination of factors has produced a low scrub-jungle in central portions of the island, while the most exposed portions of the cliffs and coast are relatively barren of soil and vegetation. The island is surrounded by coral reefs and pink sand beaches. It is impressively scenic. Primary towns on the Island each seem to retain their local culture and language fairly well. Some primary settlements, from North to South, include: Spanish Wells, Dunmore Town, Current, Gregory Town, Alice Town, James Cistern, Governor’s Harbor, Tarpum Bay, Windermere, Rock Sound, and Greencastle.
Atlantic vs. Bahama Banks
Surrounding the island of Eleuthera are two bodies of water that are significantly different from each other. First, the shallower Bahama Banks to the west of the island consist of shallow calm waters and protected reefs and bottom ripple features. When looking at the top of the water there are little to no formations of waves making the water very calm and still. The bottom of the Bahama is smooth and gets deeper gradually from the island, but overall it stays fairly shallow allowing for the formation of coral reefs habitats and fish and vertebrate diversity. The pink sand beaches of Western shore are quiet and calm, and are haven to octopi and visiting beachcombers and shell collectors.
The Atlantic Ocean, to the East, consists of rougher waters which are not as clear as waters as the western side. The beaches here are also of pink and white carbonate sand, although their beach structure is quite different; the Atlantic beaches are considerably wider with larger gradation of mobile sand and dunes. These are interspersed with rocky points and cave-filled ridges. The surf and wave energy levels are higher, and more ocean-like on this side, and the sound of the waves is different to the ear. A noticeable difference of the Atlantic side of the island is the large amount and varied content of the beach flotsam—from glass bottles and nautical floats to exotic wood and salvageable lumber. The bottom of the Atlantic Ocean starts off shallow near the shore and then forms surge channels where it drops off to sixty five feet of water in some areas. The Ocean basin drops off to far deeper depths beyond the island, and from an airplane, the deeper Atlantic waters have a deeper, darker blue color. The fish life in the Atlantic seems to be more abundant then on the Bahama Banks side, perhaps due to nutrient upwelling from the deeper ocean.
It is interesting to note that there is approximately a two hour difference in the tidal cycle between the Atlantic and Bahama side of the island, as the tidal flow finds its way around the edges of the island (and through Current Cut).
Geological history/ formation of island
The island of Eleuthera is located to the eastern edge of the Bahama Banks, adjacent to the deeper waters of the Atlantic. Its geologic history is one of carbonate platform carbonate sands, of sea level changes, and one of karst and cave formation.
The Bahama is a portion of flooded shallow craton, or continental land lying between the tip of Florida and the large island of Cuba. It, and portions of the Caribbean, are the closest thing that we have in the Americas to the ancient shallow seas which once covered much of the continental interior of North America. Like those ancient seas, the Bahama Sea is warm, tropical, quiet, and has relatively little clastic (land) sediment washing into it. Because of this, the system produces carbonate or limestone (calcium carbonate = Ca CO3) in the form of shell material, coral, lime mud and coral sand, foraminifera, and oolites.
The water tends to be very clear and shallow in many places, allowing for the formation of coral reef habitats and amazing fish and invertebrate diversity.
Like cratonic seas through history, however, the Bahama is susceptible on the geological time scale to sea level changes. When sea level goes up (such as due to periods of global warming and polar melting), the Bahama becomes deeper; when sea level goes down (for example, during ice ages), then large expanses of the shallow sea bottom are exposed as land. In addition to sea level change, there is also a component of geologic or tectonic lifting or warping that also occurs, which also works at times to uplift the sea bottom.
At times during the Pleistocene Ice ages, much of what is now shallow sea was actually dry land, composed of dry wind-blown sand dunes, and often with a covering of forests. (For a similar habitat today, you might think of the low-lying coastal pinelands of New Jersey).
During these time periods, the high dunes which form the rock of Eleuthera and other Bahama islands were piled up by the wind along the outer edge of the shallow shelf or bank platform, next to the deeper Atlantic Ocean. You may observe the individual dune layers preserved in the cliff rocks near to James Cistern, Eleuthera. At times when precipitation was high, the due tops were stabilized by forest growth, whose roots held the dunes in place, and allowed a reddish soil layer to form over the rounded dune-hills. Eventually drier times would remobilize the dunes, and the soil layers were buried and preserved. Both the reddish “paleo-soils” and their associated root casts (as rounded casts in the sand-rock) can be seen in the cliffs today.
Caves across the island were formed by the dissolution of carbonate sands. They appear to have formed in a combination of two different mechanisms. The first includes the traditional downflow of surface water, creating karst sinkhole terrain. The caves here have been formed in large part during past periods of lower sea level; with sea level rise, the caves have been flooded, and presently lie both above and below the water table. The lowest level of caves contains salt water. Floating above this, in both caves and cenotes, is a relatively thin layer of surface fresh water (which makes the island inhabitable). Above this level is the zone of air-filled cave, or open sinkhole.
The downdrip of carbonate-bearing surface water produces cave formations in air-filled portions of the cave. The caves contain stalactites (which hang from the ceiling) and stalagmites (which are built up from the floor). The stalactites are hollow at the middle, forming a ‘soda-straw’ structure. The stalactites are also often hollow, where water pools in a dish-shaped middle, producing dripstone around the edges—thus, portions of the stalagmitic floor sound hollow when tapped. When these two rock forms connect they are called pillars. The downdrip of water also carries iron oxides in places, reminding us that the iron-rich paleosoil layers in the old dunes are more resistant to erosion and dissolution, and so make sound cave roofs over many portions of these caves.
The second method of cave modification occurs with the constant flushing of tidal seawater into and out of the caves below sea level, washing out and hollowing the rock beneath the ground. Along the coast, this continuing erosion produces swim-throughs and water caverns.
The James Point Cave complex explored by the Eleutheran Adventurers curriculum has been known by humans since pre-Columbian times. Burials and artifacts are found in caves of this local group. From the pirate and shipping years of the 1500s onward, shafts were sunk into the rock in places where fresh water could be obtained (hence, for example the place-name of “Spanish Wells”).
When entering this cave, one might be surprised by the amount of graffiti present, both modern and historic. A brief study of the graffiti shows names and dates extending back to the Plantations period of the 1790s, and representing specific plantation and slave family names traditional to the island history. More modern painted graffiti ranges from name-and-dates to more vulgar artwork, which has led to a discussion of sandblasting and/or cleaning specific pieces of graffiti to help preserve and enhance the ‘authenticity’ or at least natural state of the cave.
The caves are home to numbers of bats, which may be flying or hanging from the roof.
The central portion of the cave contains a large group of pillars which have been labeled “the Ghost Organ” because of the way that the stalactites hang from the ceiling in rows. When one touches the rock or bangs on it softly, the hollow pole makes different tones, sounding a lot like a note being played.
In the lower level of the cave is a waist-deep wading area which one can walk through to reach “the mud room” at the back of the cave. The ‘mud room’ contains low banks of reddish clay. The water, which may have originally been covered with a lens of fresh water, is now seawater; there is a tidal flux in the cave, with the sea visibly seeping in and out at the level of the ‘mud room.’ The seep is expected to lag behind the surface tidal cycle. The water in the cave remains somewhat cooler than one is used to swimming in on the Eleutheran reefs.
The cave used by the Institute is exited via a rope ladder within one of the hand-dug square shafts into the cave, presumably cut for a water source. The exit from the cave is a square, well-like shaft only five or six feet in diameter. On the walk back from the cave students see walls of rocks built by the plantation slaves to clear fields. There are also various plants and insects, including a 3 ½ foot termite’s nest presently along the path.
As stated previously, the islands of the Bahamas are only approximately 50.000 years old. Many of the calcium carbonate, windblown (Aeolian) sand dunes were piled up along the eastern side of the Island. Where the waves of the Atlantic have cut the fossilized dunes, high cliffs of 40 to 60 or more feet are produced. During times of storms and hurricanes, 60+foot wave fronts still crash over these high cliffs.
Wind-formed dunes contain individual crossbeds of sand, which can be seen as lenses and “s” shaped layers in the rock face. When dune formation would stop, plants and soil layers developed—these are preserved and visible here as the iron-rich layers between the lobes of fossil sand dunes. An interesting point to be mentioned here is that in similar-aged dunes of Andros Island, there are fine layers of reddish quartz sand to be found in the dune facies. According to scientific analysis, these wind-blown quartz grains are identical to certain quartz sands found in the Sahara Desert. It appears that the dust-carrying winds during the ice ages deposited Saharan sands onto the Bahaman Islands.
On the exposed cliff tops, the weathered sandstone is rough and looks very much as one might expect of a lava field. The rock is dark, sharp, and is rough on shoes—or the skin. With little or no soil or vegetation evident, and no evident water source, these cliffs add a chilling comprehension of the concept of a “desert island.” It is noted here that the stories such as Robinson Crusoe or Castaway deal with people who luckily found islands which they were able to adapt to, and survive. The people who were washed to uninhabitable island habitats similar to the cliffs here—simply died, and had no story to be imagined or preserved.
Among the rough divots of the surface here, sand was found to be the primary (and only) soil. The cliffs are a fine example of ‘first-successional” habitat, and a good place to discuss the implications of adaptation to the local environment. Vegetation on the cliffs is sparse and tough. It can be stated that when faced with a harsh, new habitat, any plant or animal population has three choices: 1) it can simply die—it is always relatively easy to become extinct. 2) It can possibly remain the same, and exist in some small protected portion of “refugee” (it is valid to point out here that places further from the cliff-tops, where some protection is afforded, the plants grow taller and are more diverse), or 3) They can adapt. They sometimes can change, and/or be selected for traits which might allow them to survive. This happens on several scales.
There appear to be only about three main species of plants found surviving on the cliff tops. Salt spray, hurricanes and harsh sunlight make the plants living on the cliffs extremely short and hardy. Most are succulent in nature, able to hold water in their stems and leaves. All are very contorted, and most are ‘hunkered down’ in the small surface divots, holding onto their own small pocket of sand. Some of these tiny bonsai-like 2 to 3-inch trees may be as old as 100 to 200 years. The root systems of the vegetation are shallow, but thick and wide, grasping onto tough rock and sand. It is interesting to note that the sand beneath the root-masses of these tiny trees is often damp when everything else around is very arid. The plants are capable of affecting a micro-habitat even on this scale. The vegetation on the cliffs grows taller as it is farther from the cliff-edge.
The three species of plants on the cliff tops are a short type of natural bonsai of a red purslane, a fuzzy kalanchoe, and a waxy-leafed kalanchoe. We found one individual of a fourth species here, located in a small shady refugia pocket—but there was only one small individual (and it looked like it would have rather been someplace else entirely!)
Fauna on the cliffs was also sparse. Spiders were most widely found, with small webs built in between the rock crevices. Also, land snails (periwinkles?) are also found attached to the rocks. They wait for periodic rainwater. This location is an interesting place to also briefly discuss what was faced by the first plants and animals climbing out onto land back in the Silurian, some 400 million years ago. Coming onto land was a daunting process. According to the fossil record, it was the scorpions that we see as the first true animal land-dwellers. Still, scorpions are themselves predators, and one then must ask, if they were out on land, then what else was there that they were eating?
In the same way that the cliffs are an epitome of the terrestrial “desert Island,” so the salt ponds are an equivalent marine “Desert Island.”
The salt ponds contain little vegetation or animal life: mostly blue green algae (cyanobacteria) and thick succulent, salt-tolerant plants and vines growing sparsely around the edges. The salt ponds are isolated pools of ocean water, often filled from the sea during storm surges, and left for the water to evaporate in the sun, leaving a super-saturated salt solution behind. The shores sparkle with tiny cubic salt crystals, and in some places, a layer of salt covers the shallow water like ice. There is little water movement by wind or current in the shallow, brown pools; they are very warm, and in places where covered by solid salt, the water beneath is very hot to the touch. The blue green algae in the water produce Geosmin, an earthy-smelling compound, and sulphur compounds that produce strange odors as well.
The salt encrusts the surrounding red mud, giving it a thin salt shell, and paper thin layers of newly precipitated limestone which are very delicate and brittle. The soil is damp and copper-colored. There is no shade, and the surrounding area has dead vegetation from where the salt concentration has changed through time. Sea purslane appears to be the most readily adaptable plant here. Further away from the salt pond margins, euryhaline (“salt-loving”) plants occur, including several purple flowering types. In general, though, this is a barren and desert-like area that has very little life and a high salt content.
The particular salt pond observed appears to have some salinity gradient eastward toward the sea—the surrounding dead zone was considerably smaller, and there were birds present and apparently feeding at the eastern extreme. It is possible that there is actually a direct, full-time link to the sea in this location, either on the surface, or as seepage. If this is the case, then it is possible that seepage and evaporation work together to make this pond a continuous evaporate basin.
(It is worth noting here that it was large evaporate basins very similar to these during the Silurian Age which produced the extensive fossil salt deposits of upstate New York and Michigan.)
During the 19th Century the island of Eleuthera was razed for its natural resources such as jungle trees and hardwood. The original landscape was somewhat cooler, shaded, moist, and contained numerous species of jungle trees and plants. When the plants were cut down, the native species had two options: to die off, or to hide. The refugia, or species of plants that hid is sheltered places, can be found in sinkholes. Sinkholes on the island of Eleuthera are numerous and varied. They range in diameter from approximately one foot to larger than fifteen feet across. The vegetation and soil components also vary. Sinkholes are also commonly known as “Banana Holes” among the Bahamas Islands because banana trees often indicate the presence of a sink hole. Banana trees grow tall within the sinkholes because they require nutrient-rich soil and high water content. The sinkholes contain both. Crucial habitat is provided within the sinkholes for banana spiders, small indigenous spiders, mosquitoes, hornets, snakes, centipedes, frogs, and crabs. The sinkholes provide a protected habitat because of their sheltering properties. Wind and salt spray do not reach the depths of the sinkholes, shade is provided for more delicate flora, and they are remote enough so that human habitation does not often disturb them.
A common species of tree that grow near the sinkholes is the Fig tree, or Ficus aurea, Ficus perfeste, and Ficus citrifolia. The fig tree has long tubular roots that curve over the precipice of the sinkhole, follow the rock line, and down into the water source located below the surface of the sinkhole. The sheltered habitat also provides for fern growth that is not seen anywhere else on the island. Small delicate ferns grow on the surface of the sinkhole walls and cling precariously with fragile root systems. There are no flowering plants in the sinkholes except for the banana trees.
The sinkholes that we investigated were located near Turtle Bay. Sunlight is a determining factor in the amount of vegetation found in a sinkhole. Some sinkholes are very narrow and deep, with little sunlight and have little to no vegetation. Other sinkholes are wide and shallow, they have access to a lot of sunlight and few ferns are found in them. There is a delicate balance between the sunlight and shade among the sinkholes.
Cenotes (Water-filled Sinkholes)
The cenote, or water-filled sinkhole used as an example by the Institute is one near to the village of James Cistern, and was used until relatively recently as a local source of fresh water. This cenote is perhaps 100 feet in diameter, and could be up to 90 feet deep. It has relatively sheer limestone walls, and the water table reaches to within about 10 feet of the surface. There is a thick layer of phytoplankton (algae) that grows on top, this living in a freshwater lens. Underneath the layer of fresh water is a thin mixed layer of brackish water separating the fresh from the deeper salt water table. When this site was used as a water source, a small pipe was laid into the upper layer, and fresh water was carefully “sipped” off. The pipe and water station, although abandoned, still exist, and can be observed. This site points out well the fragility and vulnerability of civilization on an island with limited fresh water resources.
The wet sinkholes are most likely the remnants of dry caves were eroded by the currents of the ocean. The water levels eventually rose and the dry caves filled with water. Many sinkholes on the island contain native artifacts, both historic and relatively modern. In various locations in Central and South America, cenote diving is a significant business. Many of the cenotes connect directly with the sea.
The island of Eleuthera has at least eight distinct zones of plant communities. A curricular example that demonstrates all eight zones is the hike used by the Institute from Queen’s highway to Turtle Hole Cove.
Zone 1: [Legume Scrub] This zone is the most prevalent on the island of Eleuthera. It is found along the highway and in central rocky portions of the island. Much vegetation represented in this zone is legumes, most or all of which are capable of serving as nitrogen fixers (that is, they have root nodules which contain particular symbiotic or mutualistic blue-green algae which can fix nitrogen into compounds that the plants and soil can utilize directly). The vegetation is harsh, brittle, and most species have thorns or some kind of armored protection. It is interesting that these species evolved this kind of defense. This suggests that some kind of defense is an advantageous adaptation. Some of the species included in this zone are tamarisk, gumbo limbo, mimosa, acacia, horseflesh, and wild tamarind. There is little shade provided in this zone; flora is robust and can tolerate direct sunlight. Leaf litter produces a thin soil over rock. Even with the gumbo-limbo, there is more bush and few trees in this zone. Groundcover is patchy and herbaceous, including vines and meadow flowers. This leguminous zone appears to be a successional stage, somewhat akin to a “disturbed edge” or second-growth flora. In places it gives way to zone 2 flora.
Zone 2: [Shade Forest] The second zone of plants forms more dense patches in central and more remote areas. These flora require (and produce) more shade. The taller branches of zone 2 provides shaded habitat for more diverse and delicate species. Little or no sea spray reaches this zone; hence the species appear less salt tolerant. Many species here have large waxy leaves that retain a lot of moisture. A noticeable factor in the waxy-leafed species is their color. The less amount of sunlight, the lighter in color they become. Since shade is a strong determining factor in plant growth in these portions of the island, orchids and air plants, including tilandsia, grow as epiphytes (growing on branches of other trees and bushes) in this second zone. Air plants and orchids are limited by a requirement for air moisture and therefore are stratified in this zone. Smaller air plants are found higher up, approximately three feet off the ground and occasionally higher. They range in size from two inches, to six inches. Large air plants, some as large as 2 ½ feet wide, are found either on or very near the ground. The soil composition in the shade forest zone is reddish sandy loam, but this is clearly augmented with significant amounts of organic debris, and has a reasonably well defined “A” (organic) horizon in most places. The soil here retains water rather well in the shade.
Zone 3: [Sea Grape Zone] The third zone on the island is marked very definitively by large sea grape plants. Along the hike to Turtle Cove, it is possible to determine how close one is to the ocean edge by the appearance of sea grape. This zone has salt tolerant plants since it is so close to the ocean. The soil is sandy and nutrient poor in most places. Along with sea grape, sea lettuce and West Indian Almond grow in the Sea Grape Zone zone. The Sea Grape Zone is susceptible to ocean spray and hurricane conditions. The vegetation must be tough and resistant to harsh conditions. This zone occurs next to Salt Meadow in most areas.
Zone 4: [Salt Meadow] The Salt Meadow Zone is found right next to the sea grapes. It is marked by the presence of sedges and salt tolerant grasses, including sea oats. The vegetation grows in sandy soil and does not have very deep root systems. Small anoles and hermit crabs live within the shady areas of the dense grass.
Zone 5: [Interior Rock Meadows] Zone 5 is a very unique zone because it is composed of small rocky meadows within the dense growth of Zone 2. Zone 5 is brought about because of open areas with rocky soil and lots of sunlight. These zones are easily identifiable because of the amount of sunlight. They are protected because of their location within Zone 2; therefore they do not receive large amounts of salt spray. Plants within Zone 5 are tough, but there are many flowering species. They are most likely pollinated by small bees including the common honey bee, and various butterflies and moths. Because of the amount of sunlight, most plants in this zone have developed some kind of water-preserving method. One obvious example is the large finger cacti that grow along the edges of this zone. These cacti can have been observed to grow at least 10 feet high. Century Plants are also very common in this zone. They grow to be extremely large with a diameter of at least 8 feet. Another species of plant that grows in this zone is Frangipani. This flowering plant grows very tall with small flowers that have a strong sweet odor. An interesting species of bush grows in this zone. The stalk of the plant is brown and brittle dry; however it contains small flowers that are similar in appearance to baby’s breath.
Zone 6: The [Sinkhole Refugia] are found all over the island in small pockets, associated with the features described above. This zone contains refugia vegetation that grows in very specific conditions. Sinkholes can be as deep as 90 feet or as shallow as 1 foot. The substrate of the usual sinkhole is marked by very black, nutrient rich dirt. Banana trees, ferns, and fig trees provide excellent habitat for banana spiders and mosquitoes. Below the sinkhole is usually a water table that the large species of trees draw water from. Many sinkholes contain as many as five different species of ferns and palmettos. The sinkholes are shaded, protected from sea spray, and usually damp with retained moisture that is excellent for the fern populations. It is noted that the very deep, small diameter sinkholes are sometimes densely lined with small ferns. We suggest that these particular holes actually intersect the water table at dept, and are therefore particularly constant and humid. It is also noted that the sinkhole bottoms contain significant amounts of fungal mycelium; it would be an interesting research angle to explore these relict fungal components.
Zone 7: [Australian Pinelands] Zone 7 is associated with small stands of Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia ), brought originally to Eleuthera by the British as a quick-growing, wood-producing tree. Australian pine is a deciduous tree with a soft, wispy, pine-like appearance that can grow to 100 feet or more in height (although in Eleuthera, 15 to 25 feet is much more the norm). The Australian pine looks very much like a pine tree because of its small, round, cone-like fruits and its branchlets of scale-like leaves that look like pine needles. Its flowers are tiny, brown and wind-pollinated. The fruit is a nutlet about ½ inch in diameter that contains winged seeds. Australian pine produces relatively dense shade, and blankets the ground beneath with a duff of leaves and fruits, suppressing many local plants. The clumps of trees seem to grow best on the sandy dunes, and apparently do not mind a certain amount of salt spray. It turns out that Australian pine is itself a nitrogen-fixer, by way of blue-green algae in root nodules (like the legumes), and so it is good at colonizing nutrient-poor sandy areas.
The breakdown of the “needles” occurs largely by way of fungal growth (this can be seen in the leaf litter as white fuzzy coverings), producing a rich dark soil. This may not be entirely advantageous, however, since there is some evidence that the leaf litter may contain chemicals produced by the tree which inhibit the growth of other plants. If the dark Casuarina soil is used for planting, it should be mixed and diluted with other organic soils.
The advantageous traits of the Australian pine is that they can quickly provide crucial shade, and when they are grown together in large populations, they provide shelter from hurricanes. The roots of the individual trees are neither deep nor excessive, so individual trees standing alone are easily overturned in storms—in groups or thickets, however, the mass of trees works together to withstand high winds.
Zone 8: [Palm and Palmetto Groves] Zone 8 is primarily a human-induced set of palm and cabbage palmetto groves. In the area of James Cistern, the palmettos are sparse, and far-and-few-between. The palms are primarily associated with specific plantings, such as within the town, or at the Institute. The palms produce shade, as well as fruit and leaves for use and produce. An exploration of the coconut palm is a useful part of the present Institute curriculum. Many of the students are not aware of either coconut milk, or coconut meat (or ‘jelly’ in less ripe coconuts). In addition, however, some discussion of palm as fiber for weaving or other local uses could be explored. The planting of coconut palms might be considered as an ecological improvement initiative on the island. The individual trees may be snapped off during force hurricanes. But once again, it is likely to be observed that thicker groupings of palms together help to withstand and protect each other, as well as dwellings and buildings.
A reef is essentially a build-up of light-and-nutrient-seeking coral whose growth is counteracted by the wave energetics of the sea. Thus, different energy levels located geographically across a reef tend to produce different diagnostic zones, each with its own distinctive forms and coral types. The reef zones are basically delineated by physical parameters of waves, water depth, and light. There are three main types of reef zones in the Bahamas.
Elkhorn Coral, a stout, heavily branched coral such as can withstand strong wave action, is often observed in water that is zero to fifteen feet deep
Staghorn Coral, which has more delicate branches, lives in water about fifteen to forty-five feet deep.
Mound Coral such as Mountainous Star Coral grows from forty-five feet to about one-hundred feet, where the water is the most calm. These three separate zones provide habitats for different kinds of fish, algae, etc. which are indigenous to their preferred zone.
Bryozoans are a phyla of small, sessile, aquatic animals that reproduce by budding. They form moss like or branching colonies on rocks, reefs, and shells. Complete reefs of Bryozoans are rarely found in modern settings (Holland in the Netherlands, Andrew’s Island in the Bahamas, South Africa and a few reefs in Australia). More often, they are encrusting, or infilling forms that help to hold the larger coral materials of modern reefs together. They are cavity dwellers and live under rocks and ledges which protect them from predators such as sea spiders. One species of Bryozoan can be used against Leukemia. Until recently (largely through the work and publications of excellent scientists such as Dr. Roger Cuffey of Penn State), it was assumed that Bryozoans did not exist on most reefs. With recent work, such as Dr. Cuffey’s, it appears that bryozoans are important and ubiquitous components of reefs. This includes nontraditional reefs such as World War II destroyers and Japanese aircraft, as well as Civil War iron-clads such as the Monitor. Currently, Bryozoans on reefs such as the ones in Eleuthera are being researched.
Artificial reefs can be made by sinking something solid and large, such as a boat, into a part of the ocean which provides the necessary requirements for a reef to grow; fairly calm, warm water with little to no pollution. If larvae are present, coral and Bryozoans should begin to grow on the solid structure. Reefs are important because they provide habitats for many diverse organisms. Thus, the more artificial reefs that are made, the more habitats are made to support such diversity.
Alabaster Bay (Checkout Dive)
Alabaster Bay is the first dive in the curriculum, the initial area that we used to practice our skills and learn the essentials of snorkeling. The area was one of smooth bright water of shallow depth, and the presence of pink and white sand under the surface. The area was found on the western, Bahama side of the island and the water was calm and clear. Some of the first specimens we saw were star, brain, and fire coral, moon and comb jellyfish, Featherduster worms, Christmas tree worm, sand dollars, small barracuda and large sea cucumbers. There were not a lot of fish in schools, but rather more individual fish, such as angelfish, in the warm shallow waters.
The ground area around this bay was where we took our first short cliff walk. This was where we saw the first examples of floral succession.
Alabaster Bay Outer Wall: Naval Receiving Dock
Near to Alabaster Bay there is an abandoned naval receiving base for Eleuthera. The dock is relatively gone, and there are no remains of any type of naval activity. The water was extremely rough due to the tide change and the fact that the water was crashing against the high rocks. This was located on the Bahama side of the island, almost on the point. There were thousands of schooling fish that swam around us in very shallow water, very close to land. The fish’s actions were all in sync with the direction of the water and the change of our body movements in the water. The Institute Curriculum refers to this phenomenal location as “the river of fish.” There were mostly schools of minnows and sardines. There were many sea anemones as well as bright purple elk coral, although throughout the rest of the dive, there was a limited amount of coral. The majority of the ocean floor close to the dock was sandy and covered in naval debris, creating a small-scale artificial reef. There was a small barracuda close to the receiving dock. There was a hound fish inches from the surface as well. There was a small spotted eagle ray along with a remora, and there was a turtle there as well. There was a lot of sea life here. There was a dive-through along the way and a cliff hanging over the water. The swim through ranged from 10-15 feet.
James Cistern Beach
James Cistern Beach is located on the western, Bahama side of Eleuthera. The Bahama provides calmer water and less wind than the Atlantic side, making the beach an ideal place for tourists. Also, the short distance to the town of James Cistern, the small bar, Cocodimama, and the large amount of shells sometimes occurring on the beach could contribute to tourism, although it appears to serve the local community primarily. This beach contains a lot of rocks and shells and some sea glass. Conchs, Turkey Wings and Tulip shells are, by far, the most abundant on this beach. The tulip shells are normally found in clumps near each other indicating that the sparse amount of reef provides good habitat for Octopi. Numerous species of Grunts and Minnows were found in about one foot deep water. Fish such as Hound Fish, Barracudas, and Grouper prey upon these smaller fish.
Outpost Eleuthera Reef
This reef was directly off of the shore by the Institute, on the Atlantic. There were areas of sandy bottom and areas of rocky coral bottom. The topography of this reef is varied. The deepest depths were about 20 to 30 feet deep. Among the fish we saw were-
|Bonded butterfly fish||Redband parrotfish||Giant Anemone|
|Blue angelfish||Stoplight parrotfish||Feather fan|
|Adult and juvenile blue tang||Pincess parrotfish||Elk Horn Coral|
|French Grunt juvenile||Various yellow and blue sea fans||Brain coral|
|Queen Parrotfish||Black ball sponge||Grouper|
|Long-spined urchin||Sea egg||White scroll alga|
Often reef sharks are seen during high tide and after sunset. Large parts of the reef are exposed during low tides.
Naked German Beach
This was an area of white sandy beaches with depths up to 30 feet deep and lots of plant and area life. This area was hard to put gear on due to the fact that the water quickly went from knee to neck deep water nearly immediately. There was a very large variety of coral including a huge Elk Horn Coral. Several people successfully completed and 30 foot dive. Some of the plants and animals we saw were porcupinefish, Remora, Bandedbutterfly fish, surgeonfish, blue tang, large lobster, blue angelfish, redfin parrotfish, redtail butterfly fish, white spotted filefish, smooth trunk fish, French grunt juvenile and yellowtail snapper.
Turtle Hole (reef)
The Turtle Hole reef is on the Atlantic side of the island. To enter the water, there are several sandy beaches surrounded by the carbonate sandstone formations. Once in the water one can view large areas of coral and sandy bottoms spread out over the area. The dive was separated into two dives, the first one we snorkeled out to the open waters and around the coral areas. On the second dive, we went back into the cave area, explored very shallow waters and ventured into watery caves. Once we were deep into the caves, we found an area of dry beach, covered with shells of varying sizes. The cave was roughly six feet across and was surrounded by a shell of sandy limestone about eight to ten feet deep. Once inside, a snorkeler can choose to climb out of the cave from the bottom, or they can choose to swim back in the direction they came.
Some of the animals we saw on the initial dive included the following
|Mahogany snapper||Small barracuda||Parrot fish|
|Yellow tail snapper||Young hound fish||Angelfish|
|Grouper||Squirrel fish||Blue tang|
|Pufferfish||School master||Rocky beauty|
|Fairy Basset||Spanish lobster|
|Various crabs||Sea urchins|
Ship Wreck Cove
The shipwreck beach was on the Atlantic side of the island, and was most easily entered to the north of the ship, from a sandy beach area. The tide here fluctuates greatly and the any equipment left behind had to be stored near the edge of the dunes to prevent the tides from sweeping it away. Once in the water about half of the ship wreck could be viewed, including the engine, portions of the hull and the bow. This was the hardest current we had fought other than the tides and currents at the current cut dive sight. The amount of fish and coral in the area directly surrounding the ship was limited, but slightly to the south there were large coral formations that had to be navigated around and through to complete the dive.
Among the animals we viewed from the dive were
|A giant live helmet conch||Blue tang|
Current Cut is located at the northern tip of Eleuthera; it is approximately a one-hour drive from the Eleutheran Adventures Marine Institute. Current Cut is a channel whose waters have been carving an inlet out of the soft island rock. Like their namesake, the currents that run along the north end of the island are cutting and swift. The phenomena that created Current Cut is the threading of the Atlantic Ocean through the channel, causing the currents to be extremely powerful. The tide plays a significant factor at Current Cut. Every six hours, when the tide changes, the direction of the currents change as well. The currents flow east to west, and then switch west to east. Snorkeling at Current Cut is certainly an adventure because a diver has very little control over the direction in which he swims. Even experienced swimmers have difficulty because of the force of the currents. The sea floor of the channel is breathtaking from a diver’s perspective. Nearest to the rocky shore is an underwater cliff that drops 10 to 15 feet. A second cliff, further out from the shore, has a drop of 65 feet; causing a stair step appearance to the underwater topography. The cliffs are good habitat for a variety of creatures. Divers spotted octopus, crabs, starfish, eels, and barracuda. The large predacious species indicate a healthy food chain. South from the tip of the island on the coast is an abandoned boat dock. Along the sandy bottom underneath the boat dock, sand dollars and conch shells are found in numerous quantities. The boat dock leads to an abandoned fishing hut. Hurricanes and poor management lead to numerous abandoned structures all over the island. A small island called Current Island lies north of Eleuthera, across from the Current Cut Bay, and was most likely separated from the mainland by the powerful currents. This island is largely uninhabited; however the Current Pride Ferry crosses the channel regularly to transport people and goods.
The following reef life list from our trip is included as representative. It is by no means exhaustive in nature, but sets the stage for future inventory efforts:
|Venus Wine glass||Scroll alga|
|Fire Sponge||Starfish||Queen conch|
|Tulip snail||Banded Tube Dwelling Anemone||large lobster|
|Spanish Lobster||Cleaner Shrimp||Star, brain, and fire coral|
|Moon and comb jellyfish||Featherduster worms||Christmas tree worm|
|Sand dollars||Sea Urchins||Sea Biscuits|
|Sea cucumbers||Yellow and blue sea fans||Black ball sponge|
|Long- spined urchin||Sea egg White|
|Squirrelfish||Queen Parrotfish||Stoplight parrotfish|
|Rock Beauty||Dog Snapper||Houndfish|
|Puffer fish||Filefish||Queen Triggerfish|
|Spotted goatfish||Nassau Grouper||Sergeant majors|
|Hogfish||Porkfish||Four-eye Butterfly fish|
|Blue Chromis||Remora||Banded butterfly fish|
|Surgeonfish||Blue tang||Blue angelfish|
|Redfin parrotfish||Redtail butterfly fish||White spotted filefish|
|Smooth trunk fish||French grunt juvenile||Yellowtail snapper|
|Southern stingray||Spotted Eagle ray|
Pre- Columbian/ Arawaks
When Columbus came to Eleuthera in 1492, he found a group of people known as the Arawaks. These people were mainly farmers and fishermen. We have physical evidence in their skeletal remains that they had features very like the Central and South American mainland cultures. It is also interesting to note that they practiced head-binding of infants, producing skulls with sloped foreheads. They were peaceful people who were only occasionally troubled by a more regional Caribbean group known as the Caribs. The Caribs, unlike the Arawaks seem to have been cannibalistic and war-like in nature.
We have evidence that the Arawaks had regional trade, although their metal use seems to have been limited to small gold items for ornament. It was this small and moderate use of gold by the island natives that initiated the European lust for gold that wreaked such havoc on all of the New World cultures of the time. From the time of Columbus onward, Europeans came and took the locals as slaves. The native peoples are said to have been entirely depopulated from Eleuthera before the 1500s. (It is possible, however, and has been suggested that some of them survived due to facial features that are found today in parts of the population.)
Once the Spanish began to prospect the mainland for gold, silver, and other resources, they, as quickly began to load such wealth into ships, and sail it back to Europe. But shipping was a dangerous business at best. The seas were not only full of reefs and storms, but also full of pirates.
The traditional “Pieces of Eight” were gold coinage that was hand struck for transport, and pieces could be clipped off from the central body of the coin. Many of these transport coins were struck with the form of the Spanish Cross. The gold and silver varieties of these still wash up on the island beaches during storms, or are found in archaeological sites and flower-bed digs. If one could not find their own fortune on the land, one might well be able to steal the ready-made fortune of gold and silver bars, or other materials from someone else’s ship. By the 1500s, and well into the 1600s, pirates were a constant and significant threat, both along the Bahama Banks, and as the proverbial “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
In Europe, the nobility of all the countries had pirate problems of their own, and there was always a fine line between the careers of the pirates and those of the King-and Queen warranted pirate-hunters. One could never quite tell which side many of the mercenary opportunists might find themselves. Often the pirate ships were well accoutremented with iron cannon and 8-pound shot from Europe.
Pirating was itself the most dangerous of professions; the average lifespan of a pirate, once becoming one, was 2 to 5 years. The life was tough and treacherous. The nobility of thieves was thin; the back-stabbing in this case was often literal. Many of the pirates who stole treasure soon had it stolen from them; if pirates hid their treasure on Eleuthera or any of the islands, most often they never lived to come back for it. It was a life for bold savage captains, and adolescent (street-gang) crews who had no sense of mortality. And if you were caught by the European Law—you were hanged. Or worse.
In 1648 the first group of true white settlers since the Columbus landing came to Eleuthera. These Puritans called themselves the “Eleutheran Adventurers” (obviously taking their name from our own Institute): they traveled from Bermuda to settle the island. Although they hoped leaving England would free them of religious persecution, they ran into similar problems in Bermuda, and decided to pack up and leave from there. Due to their agricultural background Eleuthera’s not-very-fertile landscape presented a difficult challenge. The Eleutheran Adventurers provided some of the oldest traceable European bloodlines existing still today on the island. (It might be pointed out that inbreeding within small populations causes certain “founder’s effects”—which manifest as physical traits specific to a small, closed population.)
In the 1790s the second group of whites since the Columbus landing came to Eleuthera shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War. This group of people who happened to be British Loyalists traveled from South Carolina to settle the island. Due to their support for England and the outcome of the war the British Government offered them land in the Bahaman islands. The loyalists assumed governmental positions, and with the help of the slaves they brought along, began setting up plantations throughout the island. Unfortunately, the carbonate sands of Eleuthera were considerably less fertile than various Caribbean islands further to the south.
Because of the loyalists entrepreneurial nature and the limited opportunity the island had to offer the loyalists had to develop very creative business schemes to make money. One of the first ways they made money was by cutting down all the tropical hardwood (mahogany, teak) to sell to as lumber. Much of this found its way to New England, and we are told that a considerable portion of the fine wood of Harvard College in Massachusetts came from Eleuthera. This deforestation dramatically changed to islands climate creating a much more desert-like environment.
The loyalists then tried growing cotton, which was successful for a short period of time but ultimately failed. Sea sponges developed their next market, but due to their limited source did not sustain a consistent income. Eventually the loyalist ran out of ways to make money and decided to leave the island. They left their slaves behind. The slaves broke down the loyalist plantations, and used the materials to build their own villages. These villages known as James Cistern, Current, and Governors Harbor exist today on Eleuthera.
James Cistern Village
James Cistern is a local island town consisting of small, relatively hurricane-proof homes, along the western, Bahamian side of the island, at James Cistern Beach. Visible businesses within the town include the school, library/gas station, convenience store, variety store, tiny local beauty shops, local produce and straw works stands, at least one outdoor food establishment, and a large number of churches of various types. There is a strong sense of community in this town, and throughout the island.
There were three classrooms at the local, public school in James Cistern. Although the children wore uniforms, the school was a very relaxed environment; all of the windows and doors were open due to the heat, and the children were often outside. The children of Eleuthera have the option of attending public or private school. According to the locals, public schools have a good curriculum. However, many of the locals feel that the education at the more expensive private school is superior to that of a public education. The curriculum at the public schools in Eleuthera, although similar to that of the curriculum in the states, is somewhat more laid back. For instance, they are taught reading, writing, and arithmetic but begin school at nine a.m. School is mandatory on the island, and most attend until the ages of 16 or 17. After high school, most people do not attend college because there are no colleges on the island. One would have to travel to Nassau or the states to receive a college education, and many cannot afford to do this.
Jim Jordan and the staff of the Marine Institute have recently begun raising money for a library to be built in a small building next to the school in James Cistern. The Institute has encouraged many of the locals to donate money and to volunteer in the building of the library. Finding volunteers, however, has been difficult for him because it is difficult for the locals to find paying jobs. The curriculum encourages high school and college students visiting the Eleutheran Adventurers Program from the United States to potentially take part in the Library Project in various ways. The visiting students donate books to the library, interact with the local school students, participate in reading programs, or to act as a financial base. (Roanoke College of Virginia, for example, is developing a library project support initiative through the Chaplain’s office and local Community Affairs.) The Marine Institute hopes that the library will not only increase the knowledge of the locals, but also foster the sense of community in Eleuthera by providing a common gathering place.
The standard American lines in Eleuthera are 110 volts at 60 cycles per second. At the power generating building, the grass was freshly cut, and there were lots of wires. The building was very American, very non- Bahamian. There are two stations on the island that work together, both running large diesel generators, with all diesel being imported from the mainland. This is neither particularly sustainable nor efficient, and not many people on the island have electricity. There are only a dozen power lines from the power grid to houses on the island. People who live “off” of the power grid could potentially have 9-12 volt appliances and solar wind, or tidal current for electrical generation. LED stands for light emitting diodes. They use no filaments, and use micro currants to glow, and are extremely bright. Luxian LED lighting can light an entire house for $100 or less (referencing numbers of the Light-the World Foundation of Canada, which would be potentially willing and interested in developing an Eleutheran prototype solid-state lighting project.)
It costs $1.50 to make an off-island phone call on Eleuthera. The exorbitant price is only one example of the isolation of living on an island. Because of this seclusion, a rich island culture and heritage developed on Eleuthera. Many local customs and beliefs are unique to the island. One such custom is the highway system. Because the Bahamas are a third world country, most islands do not have a very good system of roads. The roads on Eleuthera are concrete and do not have any lines demarcating the middle of the road. An interesting custom of driving on the left side of the road came from the English influences that originally colonized the island. Drunk driving is not unusual, and because there are no lines on the road, driving in the middle of the road at high speeds is customary.
Intra-island travel is not easily done with personal vehicles on Eleuthera. It is extremely expensive to import a car and there are no car dealerships on the island. Instead, those wealthy enough to afford a car usually buy some sort of pick up truck and give rides to hitch-hikers on their way to work. This mode of transportation is so crucial to the local economy, that when seat belt laws were passed, hitch hiking was taken under consideration. Seat belts are now only required for passengers in the front and passenger seats of pick up trucks, and are not required for passengers riding in the bed of the truck. Taboos have even been created with hitchhiking. Haitians live on the Eleuthera and are somewhat considered have poor personal hygiene. They will not be picked up when asking for a ride unless the driver has room in the bed of his truck.
One of the most fascinating facts about Eleutherans is that many of them are afraid of the water that surrounds their island. The myths that were perpetuated during slave times about sharks and sea monsters still prevail today. Most Bahamians cannot swim and refuse, or have no resources to learn. Drownings are commonplace. A horrific occurrence of an entire class of schoolchildren drowning in the ocean during a field trip happened only a few months before our arrival. Those who can swim are uneducated in reef preservation and do no hesitate to remove valuable endangered species at will.
Healthcare on the island is not very extensive or up-to-date. If medical attention is needed outside the most mundane treatments, a trip to the United States is necessary. There is one ambulance on the island; but it is ill-equipped and it is common for patients to die because of lack of treatment on the way to the hospital. Many people also apparently die while waiting at the airport for the plane ride to the United States. The town of General Harbor has a small and quaint medical facility. There is one doctor who is foreign and was trained in England. There are also Russian-trained medical personnel who are members of the island community.
Antibiotics are available for $5.00 a prescription along with other common over-the counter medication. A doctor’s visit costs $30.00. The “hospital” does a lot of business because it is the only one within 5 towns. A small non-profit clinic is available, but it does not have a doctor available. The “hospital” is also used a local gathering place.
One local woman was there visiting her friend who worked at the hospital. She sat in the corner and talked with every patient in the waiting room. As she conversed, her nimble fingers wove a 17-strand grass band that she would later sew into a hat or a basket to sell. She told us that her mother taught her this skill and does not have to sew bands of woven straw; rather she weaves them already into the shape of a hat. This skill is quickly dying on the island.
Many pamphlets were available with valuable information. The interesting point was the topics. The pamphlets were about birth control for men. A cultural aspect in the Bahamas is men’s view of children. Children prove to be a point of manhood, or manliness. The greater number of children, the greater the status held by a man. However, children are not necessarily had by married couples. Illegitimacy and mistresses are a way of life for many married couples.
By way of example of recreational resources, we visited one local bar/ hotel/ restaurant. It was called “Cocodimama.” It was owned by an Italian couple not originally native to the island. They offered snorkeling, windsurfing, volleyball, bike rental, golf, fishing, and kayaking. Another significant form of recreation for tourists would be the students attending Jim’s school for ecology. He specifically helps students study the ecology of Eleuthera by teaching them to kayak, snorkel, and swim. The Rainbow Bay Inn was another place in James Cistern where tourists could stay. Club Med (located elsewhere on the island) closed due to the hurricane; it still has not been rebuilt. The locals could not afford to buy it, build it back up, or run it, suggesting the economic limits of that particular type of high-end tourism on this island. Lenny Kravitz has a home on Eleuthera. It is located at the northern end of the island. In all, Eleuthera is considerably less affected by the more negative aspects of commercial tourism.
The local people have all types of sports, primarily for boys and girls. We saw (but did not attend) a few softball games going on while we were there. We were told that they also offered baseball, football, basketball, and track. There is some swimming and some snorkeling. Most of the locals, however, do not know how to do either. Those who do know how to swim are viewed as superior. It is potentially a good tool for making money for the local individual who has the skill.
Volunteerism is not as fundamental a portion of Bahamian culture as it is in the United States. Through the works and influence of outside interests, such as the Jordan’s and hurricane relief volunteers, the idea of volunteer involvement is becoming more accepted... For the first time locals have begun to come together for the betterment of the island community to create or to take part in programs such as civic planting of parks, the library project, and similar initiatives. It is likely that the churches are, or should be, a foundation for additional service programs, although we did not see this first-hand during our visit.
History of the Marine Institute
Jim and Sally Jordan’s Eleuthera Marine Institute, and its Eleutheran Adventurers Curriculum has been in place just outside of James Cistern for approximately 11 years.
It has focused largely on the reef features surrounding the island, and has proven to be a constructive and positive force in the local region, its ecosystem, and its economic system. The site of the Marine Institute is approximately 3 acres at Outpost Eleuthera, on the sand dunes of the Atlantic side of the island. The Jordans have continued to terraform the sandy site to a diverse local ecosystem and teaching center. The several buildings of the Institute are extremely well-built, stylish, and aesthetic. The sculpted style of the architecture is a result of both of the Jordan’s efforts: Jim is a gifted builder (both of buildings and of furniture), and Sally is an equally gifted artist.
The main house and the other buildings Jim Jordan wanted to be resistant to hurricanes and other severe weather. Jim observed that most of the Loyalist era (1790) houses that were still standing were built of stone and concrete. He copied and enlarged the design to make a more habitable institute for visitors. There is a two foot wide concrete footing defining the shape of the house. While the concrete was setting Jim arranged two foot by eight foot plywood panels. They were placed around the perimeter and filled with local rocks and poured concrete to the top on the two foot height then allowed it to set. Next the forms were removed, reset and filled. It took to days for every two feet in height until the ceiling level was reached. The ceiling took longer because of the time to build the scaffolding and haul rocks and cement in five gallon pails. The whole stone and cement process including the septic and twelve by twelve by twenty-four feet cistern hook took about forty-five days. This was just the house and the boy’s dorm. The whole process took about seven months with the project starting in October and having students arrive in June.
PART 3 -- Suggested Strategies Pertinent to Eleutheran Adventurers Curriculum
The protection of the reef features is an extremely important factor in Eleuthera since there are currently few or no laws protecting them. First there would be a need to hire different people to patrol the designated reefs to control people from destroying them by erosion and depletion of the coral and other sea life. This patrolling should be initiated locally, producing more job opportunities specifically for the Eleutheran people, which seem desperately needed. The requisite for causing this to occur locally is primarily to create enough of a local knowledge base about the reef so that the local people themselves begin to understand the reefs, their importance, and the human role in perpetuating them. For example the reefs are potentially a prime form of future tourism on the island. When people come to study the reefs this would bring in money for the island. Also this habitat in Eleuthera’s oceans is rare and starting to become one of the increasingly few for people to study these reefs. It is important to preserve biologically diverse areas in the world.
Potential for Artificial Reefs
While in Eleuthera it is evident that reefs are being depleted and action needs to be made to reverse the damage. A way that has been proved to not only induce reef building but work efficiently is known as artificial reefs.
Traveling through the island large amounts of waste piled up on the side of the road, including cars is extremely apparent. Slowly it seems to be taking over the landscape. Since the trash is such a problem on the island, a trash collection could be implemented taking these cars and other sources of steel and place them at the bottom of the ocean attaching to other reefs. Slowly life appears over time. Artificial reefs create stability for sea life in the ocean, especially at the bottom. Larvae can eventually settle on these objects and make a protective habitat. Fish will begin to overproduce and spread out for island fishing, the economy might boom with more fish. Reefs are an important asset that shows a part of the environment that is capable to withstand a destructive force and flourish. The destructive forces are the waves and the ocean. Reefs in general are becoming increasingly rare in this world and it is something we need to be able to study.
Artificial reefs will aid in preserving and maintaining floral and faunal stocks, as well as potential for creating a controlled research “laboratory” in which to explore the colonization of such reefs. It has been recognized that different material textures can significantly affect the rate of artificial reef recruitment (and that bare metal surfaces may not colonize quickly). Specific research considering the optimal textures and materials for colonization might be recommended.
To ensure that the reefs, artificial or natural, are being protected, significant enforcement measures are necessary in Eleuthera. First of all there is a need to get the local residents on the island involved. Patrolling the ocean waters will help, but local authorities also need to enforce laws by setting standardized high fines or jail time for those who break these laws. Such laws and policies must be set to paper, and made available for understanding. The people themselves must become clearly the stakeholders themselves. This is not an easy transition.
Most importantly educating the children on the island about these reefs will be greatly beneficial to the waters. If children learn and understand why destruction of these reefs will impoverish their island and their culture, they will obey and enforce the laws and pass on their understanding of the reefs to others in the future. Peer pressure of respecting the reef and cherishing it will spread like an epidemic on the island. The children are, in more ways than one, the future of Eleuthera.
Use of Reefs for Study/ Tourism
Eleuthran reefs can be used as a form of reef study and tourism. This is a place for outsiders to look at the reefs and learn their importance to the oceans and the world. And an understanding (and stake in) this portion of the local economy must be available to the local population. Environmentally benign tourism can potentially bring in significant amounts of money. Because of the rarity of these reefs, people all over the world could soon come to Eleuthera to see them before they vanish. (Erosion of reefs due to human interactions by reef divers will eventually need to be considered if this becomes the case.)
If the reefs of Eleuthera were to flourish then the fish (as well as lobsters and conch) will also tend to overproduce. This creates a great source for the economy. Also, since there is a high diversity of animals, corals, and plants, these waters are a prime location for studies done by marine biologists. The more people can know about these reefs the more they will want to save them and watch them grow again.
Tourism itself, even at low levels is tricky business, especially for local populations, and if tourism is likely to be a portion of the equation, then some educational training of how to best handle it (based on existing models elsewhere) will be advantageous. It will allow the local townspeople to make enlightened decisions about their own fate, instead of being thrust into it relatively unawares.
It would be optimal for both local and national government to be convinced to protect a swath of the most important reefs (and their adjacent coastline) specifically as an Eleutheran reef refuge. In our opinion, the coastal region adjacent to the Marine Institute, and including the Eleutheran Outpost reef, Turtle cove (the local sea turtle habitat), and the cave-sites would be a most likely priority, although a representative swath of western-side Bahaman reef, such as Alabaster Bay and the old Navy dock (or its equivalent) could also be important. It might make great sense to have the local inhabitants, once understanding the value of the reefs in their own culture and history, to nominally work on this eventuality. It might also make sense to begin to communicate with the UN Man-in-the-Biosphere program as to directions, support for, and directions in which to develop such strategic reserve(s).
Both refugia and local human farming methods for conch should be of highest priority, as the conch is both a staple, and a traditional symbol of this Island’s culture.
At present, the human use of the terrestrial ecosystems is not unduly heavy: present practices of land clearing, farming, building, and other usage is certainly less than at various times in the past. The developing terrestrial succession on the island is a result of its own micro-history, including humans—and in fact the island as a successional study probably well worth pursuing in an academic research context.
It is worth considering at this point, while land use pressures are still relatively low, which portions of local ecosystem should be preserved, managed, or otherwise fostered as important features of the island’s future history. Areas of not only the reefs, but also of the cliffs, salt ponds, sinkholes/cenotes, and floral zones should be considered at this point. A written strategic plan for preservation and land use should eventually be built up. Again, the local population should be involved on some level with such discussions, although student groups from the marine institute could potentially create major ongoing impetus for direction and content through time. Several of the local ecosystems discussed in this report should be considered as priority holdings (and eventually treasures, or at least as irreplaceable physical collateral) of the local culture.
It is interesting to note that the Man-in-the-Biosphere approach taken across the world specifically includes native culture and local population in its definition of local ecosystem, and seeks to provide funding and improve quality of life in such context without dismantling traditional human activities in the region.
One area of cultural and regional education worth considering specifically is that of soil building. Good soil is a cultural commodity, and is in limited supply across Eleuthera. Much of the original soil is long-gone, due to many historic factors. Culturally, there has not been a strategic general knowledge by the local citizens of how to stabilize, hold, or improve the sandy and/or rocky soil of the island. It is interesting to us that the site of the Institute has actually grown into a significant case-study of what soil-making and site terra-forming can accomplish over even just a decade.
If the education of soil-building were to be transferred in a wider way to the local population, we believe that it would transform the planting habits and community quality of life in a very positive way. We believe that this change (and community-strengthening) may already be underway, associated with the Institute curriculum, but that it could, in that context, be greatly expanded upon.
The soil building steps utilized in our recent Roanoke College pilot planting bed were as follows:
A sense of camaraderie and companionship, of investment, was produced as well as a successful bed planting. It is noted here that a relatively wide variety of high-quality tropical plants (such as citrus for example) are capable of surviving and thriving within the local community landscaping, if soil building and the value of shade were institutionalized into the local culture. We would point out that the locals already have a well-developed sense of gardening and landscaping aesthetics upon which to build.
Sense of Place
Areas like Eleuthera are special because they are unique. The value of these little islands, especially Eleuthera is extremely high because there are no other places on the planet like them; they are a prototypical example of “Island Biogeography.” They are diverse and rich. They have been affected by adaptation to unique situations and environment through history. Every microhabitat has its own history that separates it from other microhabitats. There are five main points to be considered in developing a cultural sense of place. 1. Know who you are, and what you want to be. 2. Know your resources. 3. Know what you cannot afford to lose. 4. Always be suspicious of ‘outside interests’, they do not often have your best interests in mind. 5. Always strive to develop a sense of place. The education of these particular “values” in the local culture of Eleuthera may be considered as tantamount to teaching cultural survival.
We suggest that a teaching slide or PowerPoint presentation (parallel to the Appalachian Sense of Place lecture shown during our visit) could and should be developed in association with the Institute, for use in their own curriculum, as well as made available for use in the local James Cistern community. This would include Sense of Place information, as well as soil-building information, and a view of the best community efforts of James Cistern. We believe that visual teaching would be most powerful in this context, especially if used with a light and careful hand. We would expect that one or more native Bahamians could use and present the Sense of Place slide presentation (perhaps in conjunction with library-building activities), with the effect of producing a strong sense of pride and community camaraderie. It would be worth the experiment.
Marine Institute Curriculum as relevant to James Cistern:
The goal of Eco-Tourism here presently is to have the students that come to the Eleutheran Adventurers Marine Biology Institute play a more active and involved role in the local Bahaman community in a safe constructive way during their stay. They may be able to do this by going to town events, such as going to a town meeting or a church service. This would allow them to see what the people of Eleuthera find important, hold values in, and how their community interacts with the government and how they govern themselves. The students could pitch in with soil-building and planting efforts within the town, or, with locals pick an area on the island in which they could pick up trash to help with keeping the island attractive. The locals should probably be allowed to interact more directly with the groups than only seeing them riding through on the Institute trucks. Along with these things, students could begin to plant gardens on local properties. This would not only make the island more attractive as well as the person’s personal property, it would help to get the process of making good soil out into the community. Since that knowledge would be out there, the garden making wouldn’t have to stop when the students went home.
It might be advantageous for certain of the institute evening lectures or afternoon events to take place at the local school or library building. It might be equally useful for those particular lectures or events to be considered open, free of charge to the citizens of James Cistern. Curriculum slide shows of this sort would certainly include “Sense of Place” but also potentially the introduction to “What lives in the coral reefs” and “Why the coral reefs are important” slides. Eventually, terrestrial ecosystem content might be added.
We note that the local hair-braiding workshop was well appreciated by our group members—and it has been commented on that there are additional workshops which could be provided as part of the Institute Curriculum by local individuals on an additional-fee basis. This would serve to both underscore those cultural skills locally, as well as adding to the local economy on small scale. The additional workshops that come to mind to our group would be such things as straw-weaving, shell mosaic, beach glass mosaic, bread making (this deemed very high potential by our group), local gardening and storytelling.
In the same way, having met Andrew at the Institute, and being aware that he has joined with the group curriculum—we wonder if it would not be in the best interests of the Institute to accept (on a pro-bono basis) specific local students to join with many of the visiting groups to work through the week-long curriculum. This would serve to tighten both the bond and the understanding of the local citizens with the Institute. It would also allow the visiting students to interact with at least one of the local people on some peer basis.
Local Adult Education:
The purpose of adult education is to have the adults change some of their habits and ways of thinking. The idea of instituting swimming programs for adults to help them either learn how to swim or to learn more about the water, like currents and how to get out of them, would be useful so that more of the locals can enjoy the natural beauty around them. If a technical school was in place, it could be both for children and adults to learn more about specific areas. People could make crafts to sell to the tourists, woodworking and about how to use power tools to build and fix things around their homes, and about how to make soil to beautify their homes and surrounding habitats in the community. This center could also offer classes in various areas to somewhat further the education of adults. There could be classes on how to manage their finances better and about the benefits of insurance.
This is admittedly a long and slow process—but over time is likely to be useful. Our group discussed the possibility of the Institute periodically inviting a gallery-owner from the states and moderating an eventual flow of local art materials from the island.
One additional idea generated in the course of this project was the potential for the Institute and the James Cistern Library Board to create a small local magazine or newsletter, combining prose, poetry and news materials generated by the Institute, the local school, and the local community. (Developing some portion of material for the newsletter could easily be a portion of the curriculum, as would be spending one night for each weekly group, potentially with members of the Library group, to edit and lay out the content, on computer, to produce an issue that would be, in large part “theirs”) The newsletter would likely be in 8 ½ x 11” format, and printed on color paper in single-colored ink.
It would begin as approximately 2 double-side sheets, stapled, and being distributed in all likelihood, every two weeks. It would be formulary in nature, with a specified look and format. The cost of paper and printing could, in all likelihood be carried by Roanoke College or its equivalent, while the distribution (there would be no cost to the readership) would be up to the local citizens via the Institute. The newsletter/paper would act specifically as an archive, local learning tool, and PR tool. We would suggest that, if kept going over several seasons, that the content could then be very easily collected into an Eleutheran Anthology to be published in hardcover. A solid book product is of excellent usefulness and credibility in cultural context.
Material Recycling and Dump:
A significant problem on Eleuthera seems to be that there is a limited space in which people can dump their trash. This means that dumps fill up quickly and when the dump is full, people use the side of the road of places off the road to dump their trash. In order to begin getting people aware of what the trash is doing to the environment and their island; they need to institute education programs for adults and children. If the kids get into the habit of picking up trash and recycling, the island will be better off in the future.
People in the Bahamas also burn any of the trash that doesn’t biodegrade. This puts all types of pollutants into the air which are bad for the environment. An easy way to fix at least part of this problem would be to use a new type of Styrofoam called Earth Shell. It doesn’t cost more than Styrofoam and when you break it to let oxygen in; it disappears in about a week leaving nothing behind. This could be very beneficial because of the Styrofoam used by various bar-b-que’s as well as restaurant establishments.
One area that needs improvement on the island would be recycling. Recycling would help eliminate a good majority of the trash by keeping it in the active material stream. People could crush their aluminum cans and other aluminum material to be melted down and reused. A solution to all the old cars lying around the island might to have them all collected and crushed. Then they could either be put into the ocean to make artificial reefs or sold to steel mills to be reused. The only thing that is needed is the money to install these types of programs. Another way to get trash off the island would be to enlist the boats that come over with they food. They leave the island empty and if instead they could take some of the trash the island has produced with them, it would help the island with their trash problem. Recycling works best, however, when locally produced trash manages to find local re-use markets. In this way, the waste materials are recognized as raw material. It will be a challenge to find such local uses for many of the materials presently discarded on the island.
We would choose to close this report with the following quote:
“Never Doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
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