Saturday, January 17, 2009

Donkeys, Mongeese, And Rats, Oh My!

The class woke up early this morning, jumped in the Deep Thinker (a fast catamaran), and headed across the Virgin Islands Channel to the British Virgin Islands. As the students explain,

We started the day with a trip to the British Virgin Islands ("BVI") to meet up with Susan Zaluski, who directs the recently-founded Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society. We were struck by how different Jost Van Dyke, one of the smaller, Western BVI, was from St. Thomas. It was much less densly inhabited, with very little noise, traffic, or pollution. Susan talked to us about the Preservation Society’s conservation goals, including controlling the mongoose, donkey, and goat populations, and educating the public about biodiversity and its preservation. We took a boat from Jost Van Dyke to Sandy Cay, a brand-new national park of the BVI, where we took a beautiful hike around this tiny tropical island, and learned about the Preservation Society’s efforts to balance the eccentric horticultural provisions of Laurance Rockefeller's will (for example, the invasive coconut palms must be fertilized once a year, and native termites must be exterminated with pesticide) and the mission of a National Park to preserve biodiversity and the natural beauty of the Cay. We also observed how the eradication of invasive, non-native, rats have allowed the native population of ground skinks to repopulate the Cay. After snorkeling around Sandy Cay, we took the Deep Thinker over to a nearby mangrove-aproned shoreline, where we were able to see starfish, sea urchins, the largest one cell organism, the Pearl of the Sea, octopi, and juvenile coral reef fish (who hide from larger predatory fish amongst the mangrove roots) up close. We were very fortunate to also observe a few Hawksbill or Green Sea Turtles (we're not sure which), who feed on the Turtle Grass found in the bay. We finished up the night with a delicious homemade dinner of Tacos!

Tomorrow we visit the Maclean Marine Laboratory, and then head offshore to a couple of small cays (islands) with thriving endangered Elkhorn and Staghorn coral. Watch for the class' report.


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