Bahamas, Uncategorized

Cape Eleuthera Institute – Week 2

This week went much more smoothly than last week.  With all of the orientations and introductions out of the way, we were free to get down to business doing what our respective jobs required.  For me, that meant getting down and dirty with the septic tank – and the stuff inside of it!  I am working with the Center for Sustainable Development on the campus’ wastewater treatment systems, including the gardens and the biodigester.  This past week we focused on the wastewater gardens, and needed to find information such as the flow rate into the septic tank, the effective volume of the tank, and the measurements around the tank to determine the room we have to work with for future developments.  To find the flow rate into the tank, we asked the students living in the dorms whose bathrooms feed into that tank to record how many times they flush the toilet over a span of 8 days.  We also made assumptions based on the number of people working in the 3 other buildings that feed into the tank to determine the total gallons per day flowing in.  To find the effective volume of the tank, we needed the depth of the inlet pipes, since there were supposed to be check valves so that the water level did not rise past them.  Dana and I dug holes around the tank to find them – it took us all day!  They were located much deeper than we had expected.  We also planted two banana trees in the wastewater gardens in order to improve the filtration of the liquid waste running through the gardens.  A downside to our project is that since we are only here for another month, we will not be able to see the work we put in be effective.  The banana plants are still small and will take months to take to the silty, gravel-ridden soil and begin to really thrive.  However, we are glad that the work we are doing will be appreciated for years to come!

On a non-work related note, yesterday was by far the most amazing and fun day I have had in my life.  Being someone who doesn’t travel very often and who is not generally adventurous, going on a down island trip throughout Eleuthera was a thrill and a completely new experience.  We started by visiting a tree on the island that is over 300 years old and that grows so extensively and intrusively that it overtakes everything growing beneath it.  The roots grow twisted and tall and (in what might be a negative way) suffocate all the other trees in it’s immediate vicinity.  The branches of the tree grow crooked and towards the sun until they begin to descend back towards the ground, eventually reentering the soil and becoming more roots.  It was a beautiful and shocking tree, and beneath it we found evidence that there are wild horses that roam the island and nest in the ecosystem that the tree creates.

On our way up the island, we stopped at a bakery where I bought the most delicious coconut danish I had ever eaten (which, to be fair, is not a very expansive collection of danishes).  We continued northward to an abandoned resort from the 1970’s, complete with remaining tile floors and an expansive pool.  Behind the resort was the most indescribable beach I have ever been to.  White sand that seemed to go on forever in either direction, crystal clear turquoise blue waters that matched the beach in size and intensity, and our group was completely alone.  I could have stayed forever on that beach, just watching the water crash with a calm but relentless kind of frustration and then slink back, discouraged.  I hope one day to return to that very beach, as it was the most sincere and peaceful I have ever felt.   After about an hour, we continued up the island to Gregory Town, where we stopped for lunch and ice cream (I got mango and it was delicious).  There was a small beach store we visited as well, and I treated myself to an Eleuthera t-shirt and a shot glass to add to my collection.  The group then traveled to “blue hole”, which was a large cliff that formed in a circle and had filled about halfway (25-30 feet) with water.  We all took turns flinging ourselves off the rocks and screaming with delight (or fear) as we hit the water below.  It took me about four minutes of pacing, as well as much encouragement from my more brave friends already in the water below to get me to finally commit to jumping.  And once I did, the second or two of freefall was an experience I won’t soon forget.  After swimming and floating with ease in the salty water and one more jump, the group decided to continue the tour further.

Our last stop before dinner was to Hatchet Bay Caves, a large expanse of caves with stunning rock formations and writing on the walls that dated back to 1882 (I wouldn’t believe it either if I didn’t it with my own eyes!)  We waded through ice-cold, waist-deep water to a room that had red-rock mud beneath the water that we played with in a way that made me feel like a little kid.  After one frightening reality-check regarding what it would be like to be lost in a cave in complete and total darkness, we emerged (mostly) unscathed and enlightened.  This weekend and the week it concluded have been a completely new experience for me and I am so grateful for the chance to have been here in this amazing place.  There is nowhere I would rather be as I sit reflecting on my experience thus far.  I can’t wait to see what next week has in store for me! #ACESAbroad


Bahamas, Uncategorized

Week Two in Paradise: aka Eleuthera, Bahamas


It’s funny; someone told me when I arrived at CEI that, “we operate in dog years.” What they meant was, though time here may seem short it feels much, much longer. Although I have only been on Eleuthera for 2 weeks now, I have already made so many memories, learned a ton, and gotten the chance to meet some truly incredible people. The more time I spend here, the more I understand why so much of the staff are people who are returning again instead of simply, first-timers who happened to get a job in the Bahamas. It’s a close-knit community in which everyone helps everyone in order to make the whole system run smoothly… kinda makes me wonder why people don’t try and live more like this at home.

Now that orientation and getting caught up to speed on the logistics of the job is over, I can really get into the work we are doing here. It was such a busy week in the field. We ended up going out nearly every day whether it was catching rays in the creek or setting a longline and waiting for sharks, there was never a dull moment. It is exhausting work but that just makes it all the more satisfying when things go in your favor. At CEI the method for catching rays feels more like exercise than it does like a job. The whole team will spread out in the creek systems searching for rays, waiting until someone finds one. Once they do, we basically circle it into a net so we can tag it, take its measurements and tissue samples, and gather a few other data points. It sounds simple on paper but let me tell you, chasing after a stingray that does not want to be caught is far from easy. This week we caught a young of the year (YOY) stingray, which as the name implies means the ray is less than a year old. It was awesome to think that in the future, we might be able to recapture this stingray in the creek and see just how much it has grown since the first time it was caught. It makes the science behind the work I’m doing seem very applicable and important. And who doesn’t want to do fulfilling work like that?

On Friday, I got the opportunity to attend a Lionfish filet. Some local fishermen came in and dropped off a ton of lionfish and the staff needed people’s help to de-spine these venomous fish and then filet them. It took me a few tries but once I got the hang of it, it was actually so much fun. I love how much ocean-awareness this establishment promotes. It makes sense considering these are some of the top Marine biologists and ecologists in the world but it’s nice to be around like-minded individuals. Lionfish are one of the most invasive species in the ocean and learning to incorporate them as a staple seafood choice is the next step towards making the problem a bit better. I had never had it before this trip and let me just say… it was DELICOUS! I highly recommend trying it if you ever see it on the menu.

On Saturday, I had one of the most jam-packed, adventure filled days ever! We decided to make a down island trip with me and about 20 or so other interns. We split into two vans and made a day of exploring all that this beautiful island had to offer. We started early in the morning; after a quick breakfast, we hopped in the vans and started making our way up the island. The first stop was to see a special fig tree that people believe is about 300 years old. It was massive and had an extensive roots system that outcompeted all other plants in the area. It was absolutely beautiful. Next, we went to a small bakery along the way. Bahamians have a thing for sweets and I gotta say, their doughnuts were made accordingly. It was just a bite of sugary heaven. And I do mean a bite cause that’s about how fast I ate it.

The next stop on the trip was at an old hotel that had peaked business-wise around the 70’s but apparently lost revenue as people started giving up on the difficult travel routes that involve getting to Eleuthera. As a result, the hotel is abandoned and the property is eerily deserted. We took full advantage of this perfect, resort beach that was completely empty. We swam, tanned, and relaxed for as long as we could before it was onto the next activity… lunch! The kitchen staff was nice enough to pack the interns peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so drove until we found a good spot. People who had been down island before planted us in one of the few spots where there was a gift shop on the island. So we ate lunch outside and then took turns filling the small store with loads of people, all ready to splurge. I’m sure the owners didn’t mind. There was also a small market there where some people got delicious homemade ice creams in all different flavors.

After lunch, we headed to the Northern-most point in our trip. A big blue-holed basin filled with ocean water that had seeped up from below the surface. It was about 30 feet deep and the only way to get in was to jump off a small cliff, maybe 15-20 feet, down into the deep blue water. It was so fun; I must have jumped about 4 times.

By this point, it was time to start slowly turning around and making our way back up the island. Along the way, we stopped to see the famous Glass Window Bridge. A small strip of skinny land that separated the turquoise Caribbean Sea from the darker blue Atlantic water. It was magnificent to see two seas that close together and see the differences between them; it was startling how light the Caribbean side was in comparison. As we started heading back up the island, we stopped at The Hatchet Bay Caves. A sight that people have been visiting for years and we got to go through them! Everyone carried flashlights and headlamps and we marched through the intricate tunnels that opened into huge caverns underground. We had to wade through waist-deep, chilling water to get all the way through but it was quite a sight to see. Stalagmite formations, bats, and plenty of graffiti-ed wall with names and dates going back all the way to the late 1800’s! Not everyday you see something like that.

Finally, we headed to dinner at a local beach club as we were all ravenous after a long day of adventure. We had a delicious meal by a pool which overlooked the ocean. By the time we got back to CEI, I was dead tired. I went straight to bed but it was a truly once-in-a-lifetime day. I am so grateful to be here having experiences such as these. I know I will surely remember them forever. Stay tuned for more excitement next week!

-Laura Azzarello-

Bahamas, Uncategorized

Isaak’s Bahamian CEI Internship Week 1

My first week at CEI has been filled with nothing but adventures! Be they the daily snorkel excursions to shipwrecks and down canals, meeting wonderful people, or learning the ins and outs of doing field work as a marine biologist, I’ve had an incredible, busy, exhausting week!

When we first arrived on the island of Eleuthera, we realized after a few minutes that our luggage was nowhere to be found. Apparently this was a fairly regular occasion, since the planes weren’t always big enough to carry all the bags. We were told our bags would probably come in the next morning. This was great! There was no need to worry about which outfit to wear or anything since we only had what we were wearing. After getting a quick tour of CEI and the connected Island School, we had our first dinner at CEI. After dinner, which was served cafeteria style, we settled in for the night.

The next morning, everyone’s bags arrived… except mine (It did arrive that afternoon though 🙂 ). Our first two days at CEI were filled orientation to what we were going to be doing for the next 6 weeks.

Later in the week, I finally got to go stingray catching with Owen O’Shea, the stingray researcher, and the other interns. This is a very involved and exhausting procedure. When a ray is spotted in the shallow waters that we are wading in, we slowly surround it and close in on it, trying to urge the ray into the large seine net. If the ray is coming towards you, you’re supposed to just hold your position, and it’ll turn around when it gets closer to you. Once the creature is in the seine net, someone goes in with a dip net to retrieve the animal. Once the animal is captured, it is measured and tagged and released. The measurements done depend on whether the animal has been tagged previously (less measurements are done on recaptures).

After a full day of ray catching on Thursday and a half day on Friday, we finally got to catch sharks on Saturday morning. This involved lining up 45 lines and hooks attached to a longer line in the ocean. After the lines are baited with tuna (that we had to gruesomely cut up), we go for a swim nearby while the lines soak for 90 minutes. We caught two nurse sharks, though one broke the line right as we got to it. For measurements, tagging, and tissue sampling, the shark is tied to the side of the boat at the bow and stern around its head and tail. After measurements were done, I got to release the shark’s tail. It was awesome!

Additionally, throughout the week I did a ton of snorkeling, seeing amazingly colorful fish, stingrays, and even sharks. It has been so nice to be in such a beautiful place especially since everyone I’m with has the same interests as me and is always up for adventure! I look forward to the weeks to come.


Bahamas, Uncategorized

Isaak Haberman CEI Week 2

After one week of being in the Bahamas working with the shark and stingray team, I really got the hang of how things went from day to day. This week, we spent a lot of time in the field, either catching rays or long lining for sharks, despite the fact that both research heads were out of town for a conference.

Every time I hunt for rays, I am always caught off-guard at how scary it is. Since the process of catching a ray is to simply surround it and herd it into a net, it is quite terrifying when the ray is coming straight for you and you aren’t allowed to move. You just have to trust that the ray will turn around as it approaches you, which it always does. Though we didn’t catch anything one day we went out (which was a first for the ray team), we did have some surprising discoveries. In a creek where only a certain species of whiptail ray had been caught in the past, we caught two southern stingrays (a juvenile and a fertile female), and likely saw a couple more. This challenges the hypothesis posed by the researcher here that whiptail rays use creeks as nursery and southerns use offshore sandbars.

We also went long lining for sharks one day. Though we didn’t catch anything, I learned how to haul the longline in after letting it soak, which involves removing gangions and putting the rope back in its box.

Even though the week was busy with field work, I also had time to start the process of becoming scuba certified. I’m currently working on the online learning portion of the class, but I got to go on my first scuba dive on a scuba deck a few feet deep in the ocean. It was so awesome! The sound and feeling of a burst of bubbles running up your face after taking a deep breath while staring face to face with a fish is like nothing I have ever experienced. I am really excited to continue diving.

Finally, one of the big things we did this week was a trip down to the other end of the island. We stopped at a beach that had ultra-fine sand and used to be part of a Club Med resort in the 1970s before it shut down. There we played football and frolicked around in the water for awhile. After that we ate lunch and got ice cream and gifts from a cute little gift shop before embarking on an adventure to a blue hole. The bottom of this hole has never been found and there is an exotic array of species within it including blind fish and lots of crabs and shrimp that we saw. The team spent a long time snorkeling in the refreshingly colder water of the hole and jumping in from above. We also went spelunking in a cave on the other end of the island. Here we saw lots of bats, stalactites and stalagmites, and signatures on the walls of people who had visited the cave as long ago as the late 1800s. At one point, we had to wade in waist deep water and tactfully avoid falling on the uneven surface of the cave. We also found red clay that we used to paint each others bodies. After a fun dinner where food was served to us in a swimming pool, we headed home. On our way home, a tire in one of the other vans popped. Thankfully, Christine and Dana, plus another intern, helped change the tire and got us home.

Sunday was spent recuperating, laying on the beach, watching soccer, and just hanging out. I cannot believe two weeks has already gone by in this magical place. Time is flying! 13438805_1159857690719189_8216285617209989953_n.jpg


Bahamas, Uncategorized

Center for Sustainable Development, Bahamas, Dana Brecklin, Week 2

It’s our second week in the Bahamas and it has been incredibly amazing! This past week, we spent a lot of time trouble shooting the problems with our systems and taking measurements to help us solve those problems.  After investigating the area around the septic tank and the septic tank itself (which feeds to the wastewater garden), we consulted with an engineer in the states about a new treatment we want to implement before waste is distributed into the garden.  Our skills from our ABE classes came in handy when we had to measure the grades in the area to help with our new designs.  We also planted some new plants in the wastewater gardens! After speaking with Joseph who works at CSD and has a lot of experience with plants in the area, we decided to prune back some of the old vegetation and add some new banana trees.  He’s incredibly excited to have them in the garden.  We also started plans for our work with the biodigester. There are many factors to consider and are excited to get the ball rolling on that project this week.  At the end of the week, there was an opportunity to learn how to fillet fish (which I had never done) and it was a really neat experience.  We were filleting lionfish, an invasive species in the area, and the kitchen used it for our Sunday night dinner.

This past weekend we went on our first down island trip.  We had a packed day, visiting places like Blue Hole, a bakery in Eleuthera (with the best donuts ever!), Hatchet Bay Caves, and Glass Window Bridge.  Glass Window Bridge is an incredibly narrow piece of land where you can see the deep blue water of the Atlantic on one side, and the beautiful turquoise of the Caribbean on the other.  The views were stunning! The day ended late with a flat tire on the van on the way home, but we were able to change it and we were back on our way.  It was a very successful trip and a great end to the week.

Glass window bridge