Each summer, Sanibel Sea School's oldest campers gather their gear and board a tiny plane to Andros Island, Bahamas to participate in ongoing coral reef research. The beautiful but rustic Forfar Field Station becomes their home for a week while they monitor reef health, count invertebrates and fish, and explore the island in their free time. Below you will find a first-hand daily account of the experience straight from our research team!
July 25, 2015
Greetings from Andros Island! Our first day of adventure has been nothing but wonderful so far. We started our trip by traveling a short commute to the small airport in Fort Lauderdale. The airplane we took was small and seated about 18 people. The flight only took about 45 minutes.
The water we traveled over was ever changing into something more beautiful with every mile we went. The blue hues were the most brilliant color and were truly mesmerizing. The excitement only built up from there. We arrived at the Androsairport at the lovely hour of 10 a.m. We were welcomed by the blazing Bahamian sun and a wonderful girl named Carolyn from Forfar Field Station. We loaded our bags into the bus and climbed into taxis. That taxi ride was the most rigorous taxi ride that you could ever go on. The Bahamian dirt roads are peppered with potholes and driving over them is such an experience. Pulling into Forfar you see a statue of two hands shaking, I don’t know about anybody else but I saw this as a symbol of welcoming. Forfar is a wonderful place.
Our cabins are right on the beach and the view is magnificent. After eating lunch at the lodge, we prepared for our first excursion. We all grabbed our snorkel gear and headed out around the bend on the beach. The snorkel there kept getting more exciting, the current picked up and soon enough we were racing down the river, watching the artificial reef pass below us. Many of us saw small barracudas, stingrays, and a variety of fish. The hard part was swimming to the shoreline so we could get out and jump off of the bridge. The jump was absolutely thrilling and terrifying at the same time, it was so much fun to jump off and frantically swim back to the beach so the current wouldn’t take you down the river. It was such a great experience! We were served a wonderful dinner by the interns here and were given an orientation to our place of weekly residence. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we are looking forward to each day of adventure as we dive into this trip with every excursion we take.
-Emily and the SX3 Crew
July 26, 2015
Today was filled with eventful snorkeling and picnicking on Pigeon Key. We started the day off by entering the tongue of the ocean! We encountered a slightly disputed reef shark in approximately 6,600 deep water. Slightly after our mini photo shoot in the tongue of the ocean, we headed over by boat to the coral nursery, which was recently created by Forfar themselves! The corals were lined up like a clothesline on the bottom of about 30 feet deep water. As we were about to continue our snorkel a school of Atlantic spade fish eating the algae off of the corals and lines!
Leaving the spade fish, we traveled to Pigeon key and had a lovely picnic prior to a snorkel around the island. We encountered southern rays, cassiopeias (upside down jellyfish), flamingo tongues, porcupine fish, and several other creatures. We got the chance to head to Dave’s Patch Reef where we got the chance to see what we are going to be monitoring the biological components of coral reefs on Wednesday.
Our final snorkel of the day was at Blue Hole Key Blue Hole where we entered our first blue hole of the trip. We swam with bonefish, wrasse, grunts, spade fish, trigger fish, parrotfish, sting ray, and a whole lot more! We even ended the trip with a cuddle session with the sea hares. We got back tired and hungry but ended the day with a fish class that refreshed our minds on the colorful fish we saw before. Today was overall wonderful and we all cant wait until tomorrow!
-Olivia and the SX3 Team
July 27, 2015
Today started with a great dive at Standyard Reef. With a diverse hub of activity all around us, we all found something that captivated us. The next snorkel brought us to a shipwreck, where a nurse shark fled the scene at our arrival. With plenty of fire coral injuries! Lunch was eaten in full view of the ocean at a fellow Forfar station, with plenty of curious pets to greet us. After lunch, we prepared for our last dive. With plenty of coral and Barracuda in sight! Our snorkel lasted for hours. After we reluctantly departed from the ocean, we ended the day with a great dinner, prepared by the great staff. After which we learned more about the ocean in class, captivated by all the new revelations from the slide show. Ice cream was last on our to do list. We look forward to having a great day tomorrow as well.
July 28, 2015
Most of us began the day with a six AM wake to watch a beautiful pink sunrise, while others caught a couple more snoozing hours. Our lovely cooking staff ladies treated us at breakfast with fluffy pancakes to kick start our exciting day to come. The two boats took off a little later than usual with the Ms. Jenny being led by the Andros Rose; we were headed towards Rat Key Blue Hole, the blue hole everyone has been looking forward to exploring. Upon arrival, fins and masks were thrown on and bodies raced into the water. Rat Key’s cool water invited us to discover the immense amounts of colors and creatures it had to offer. While some played with the adorable lettuce sea slugs, others poked at cushions stars and spotted the vibrantly colored triggerfish. There were not as many stings distributed today as in the past days, but Fire Coral was still in sight for most of the swim. After we all reluctantly climbed aboard the boats, we headed towards Three Sister’s reef in search for the bigger creatures of the sea. Without disappointment, the first couple of kicks in the water led us to the nurse shark cruising along the sandy bottom. A few colorful fish later and a sea slug here and there, a sting ray made its way to our group and displayed its beauty by gliding along the bottom and around our group. Lunch was eaten on a log at Saddleback Key with clear skies ahead and lighting behind us.
The sandbar connecting Saddleback and the next sandy area wowed us with its length, even though few would explore in the lighting. Turtle reef was the last stop on the boat before heading back. Though there were no turtles to be found, some swam, snorkeled, and some practiced tricks and drives off the front of the boat and fun was had all around. The day didn’t stop when we were dry, yet followed with chicken curry and a lecture on the geology of the Bahamas. More knowledge was to be had when we learned of all the many Blue Holes on the island. Later the group went for ice cream and enjoyed the hospitality of the local shop owner and the delicious butter pecan and pistachio ice cream. We bid you a good night from the land of the fun and sun with full stomachs, sun kissed shoulders, and happy hearts.
July 30, 2015
Wednesday began as a more mellow and low-strung day. We traded our bathing suits for retail therapy in the beginning half of the day. We piled onto a bus much too small for our large crew and headed across the Androsian roads. We travelled to a very interesting place called Androsia. There we learned about the process of making batik and toured around their factory a little. Batik is a very interesting process, I learned, and is fairly straightforward, though I make no claims about my Batik-making abilities. They use wax and dyes to created large bolts of fabrics with Bahamian prints on them, such as conchs or sailboats. They use vibrant dyes that contrast well with the white of the patterns to create beautiful garments. We all purchased enough to uplift the Bahamian economy for sure. Not to mention many of us purchased for friends and family, so some of you at home could come to own something from Androsia. If I were you, I’d use it as an excuse to tell people you’d gone to the Bahamas. It might even work.
Any way, we then had a picnic lunch near the Fresh Creek Lighthouse, where we were told a story about a club and a voodoo curse, which I don’t think I have the eloquence to repeat back to you. After that we made a quick turnaround, hopped on the boat, and sped out to Dave’s patch reef, after much application of sunscreen, don’t worry. There we began our group research projects. Some of us counted sea grass blades in a 1/8 of a meter quadrant (me) and got stung by hydroids upon hydroids upon hydroids (also me). Others observed fish and recorded the species difference. Others yet recorded what algae lay beneath the transect tape at half meter intervals. Some recorded gorgonians (sea fans and whips), lionfish, invertebrates, coral, sponges, or coral disease. (Note: I’m almost positive I forgot some of the groups, however there are a lot to keep track of.) If our group wasn’t in the water, we napped or tanned on the boat. A lot of people also “fell” off the boat. I remained queen of he boat for quite some time.
After research finished, we headed back to base camp, rinsed off as much as possible, and settled in to write in our journals, identify anything we didn’t know, and expand our species lists before dinner. Dinner was a delicious rendition of chili, salad, cooked veggies, corn bread, and tapioca pudding. Our chef is an angel and the corn bread was delicious. I was very thankful for food.
After dinner, we had a bit of free time as we didn’t have a lecture. Then we prepared ourselves for the night dive. We headed back to Dave’s around 8 and snorkeled over the reef. We immediately, much to my delight, encountered an unfurled basket star. It was beautiful and I could’ve died happy. But we continued our snorkel and it got better so I’m glad I didn’t. We then discovered huge porcupine fish, which you could pet like an adorable dog. We also found two slipper lobsters, which we enjoyed stroking. Elly and I also found two separate squid. The first was a little larger than the second, but both were smaller than the length of my hand. The first inked and swam away rather quickly. The second one we surrounded with a six or seven person group and pointed our lights on it. It wasn’t very happy, and held up its tentacles in defense. We followed it for a long time. It then inked, shot directly at my chest and was gone, much to my sadness. However, for my first encounter with squid, I was incredibly happy. Then the people who had remained in the water, about a seven-person group, snorkeled slowly through the sea grass looking at the bioluminescence and blowing bubble rings. It was incredible. After we hopped on the boat, we returned to shore and showered for the first time that day, for some of us. Overall, it was a very successful dive, full of wonderful encounters. The day wrapped up with a luxuriously long sleep. Hopefully, Thursday will be just as fantastic.
July 31, 2015
For our Thursday adventure we changed things up a little and traded our normal transportation of a boat for two very warm buses. We learned from the previous day that one bus just wasn’t enough for our large crew of ambitious snorkelers. Right off the bat we had some delays by two of our male campers. After the two buses had left we received a call that two of our members had been left behind so one of our buses went back to retrieve our slower comrades. The other bus which I was on made a circle in the middle of Queens Highway, which is the main road in Andros, and started to do yoga lead by our trusty instructor Doc Bruce. As our yoga master he led us in a quite calming sun salute and continued doing this until the other came and meet back up with us.
Once we were all back in business we made our way to Coconut Grove for our snorkel. Along the way we all took a nice hour-long nap only to be woken by the loud banging of tree branches along the side of the bus on the narrow pathway that took us to our destination. A group of us, including me, decided we would follow Doc Bruce for our adventure and ended up in 50-60ft of water passing the reef we were meant to snorkel on. Though we didn’t realize that we had gone straight past the reef we saw some really amazing creatures and none of us regretted it. We saw a sea turtle and two spotted eagle rays and good for everyone no lionfish though Joey, one of the camp directors at Forfar, had a spear with him ready to strike. After that very exhausting excursion we made or way back to the buses and head to Conch Sound and ate a yummy lunch with a surprise purchase of frozen mangos from a local Bahamian that was selling them out of his pick up truck. When lunch was over we went and jump into Conch Sound blue hole. We didn’t find any buried treasure as some had hoped one member of our crew found a five-dollar bill when he dove down. After our quick dip we loaded back on the buses and made our way to Money Point for an invert treasure hunt. Some of our golden nuggets were sea cucumbers and a few cowries and sadly a dead octopus. Even though the octopus was dead it gave us a really amazing opportunity to examine every inch of the wonderful creature.
We then made a quick pit stop at the gas station giving us all a chance to go into the little quick mart store to buy some snacks to refuel our growing bodies. The next adventure was personally my favorite, Uncle Charles Blue Hole. The story is that Uncle went on a scuba dive into the blue hole trying to see how deep it was and ended up dying and legend has it that his body is still at the bottom with the regulator still in his mouth. We finished our night eating MRE (meals ready to eat) in a family style dinner. We grew closer as a group and overall had a great day! We love you all and will see you in two days.
-Grace R. (with help from Alex)