Tabor students are in the Bahamas at the Gerace Research Center in San Salvador for the last week of the year working on the coral nursery they began last spring. In March 2019, we constructed two coral trees: pvc pipes connected to look like branches of a tree where we hung coral fragments of Elkhorn and Staghorn coral we found on the seafloor while snorkeling. It is our hope that the fragments will remain alive and grow large enough so that we can attach them to the seafloor and grow out, restoring areas of damaged reef in the Bahamas. We will maintain and multiply our coral trees over two weeks each year, in December and in March, and hope to "plant" our first new reef restoration in a year or two. Unfortunately, strong storms are our enemy in this effort as we discovered one of our two trees from 2019 destroyed when we arrived. Read on to learn about the efforts of the December team who arrived for a week of field research on December 28.
We have successfully arrived in Nassau at the comfortable hour of 11:30 PM. Our students immediately jumped into the hotel pool for a refreshing dip. We will begin early tomorrow with breakfast and then off to San Salvador Island.
We arrived in San Salvador a little late due to delays. We are learning that 'island time' is 'island time'. We went for a dip in the aquamarine tropical waters, had a nice dinner, and spent the evening setting up our lab, going over the mission goals, and playing mad gab for a while.
Weather is tough. Downpours, heavy wind, and large waves are the challenge today. We were able to go for a swim at the point it is believed that Columbus landed on this island. Between rain squalls, we have been able to go to the grocery store for provisions and prepare for the first snorkel excursion. We finished the day successfully locating the first Tabor coral tree intact and with coral on it. Tomorrow we will dive on the tree to check the viability of the Elkhorn Coral.
SUCCESS!!!! Today was our first boat day. We dove on a reef near Cockburn town to begin our search for Staghorn Coral. We then went to Grotto beach with the dive boat to investigate the original coral tree. Ms. Mitchell and I were in SCUBA gear while the rest of the class gathered at the coral tree. The coral on the tree was ALIVE and healthy. We searched for additional fragments of Elkhorn, but could not find any. We have been dealing with 25 mph winds coming across the island which has made snorkeling a challenge. We have stayed in the lee of the island so far and have been sheltered from the strongest wind. We finished the afternoon with a dive on a seagrass bed that let us up and close to several sea turtles.
Today we took the dive boat to the northern reef that supported a lot of live Elkhorn and Staghorn coral. The wind is beginning to lessen but the wave action is still a little energetic. We were able to find fragments of both coral types. Tomorrow we will put the fragments of Elkhorn on the Grotto coral tree and hopefully plant two trees on Wednesday and put the Staghorn fragments on those.
Today we are heading to the north end of the island. This is where we found healthy Elkhorn and Staghorn coral on our previous trip. The hope is that we can find a location to set our two new coral trees. The trip was a little rough with high seas, but the students managed to get into the water and to find healthy fragments of Staghorn coral. The winds prevented us from finding a good location to set our two trees. We celebrated the arrival of the New Year with a cookout on the beach near the Center. We toasted with some sparkling, non-alcoholic champagne
We began the New Year by hanging 8 healthy Elkhorn fragments on the Grotto Beach coral tree. This was pretty exciting as it was the first step for many of the students in actual coral recovery. We then headed south to the southeast tip of the island which is called Pidgeon Creek. This is the mouth to a large estuary with Mangroves and tidal flats. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling and exploring the different habitats.
This was the biggest and most important day of the trip. This was the last day on the boat. The wind had died down and the visibility was fantastic. We voyaged up to the north of the island called Graham's Harbor. We were able to survey the area we wanted to set the two trees and found a fantastic spot to set them. The students worked as a team to haul all the anchoring and tree structures across the fringe reef to the deep location. It took several swims across the reef but the team found success setting the trees and hanging Staghorn fragments on one of the trees. It was a moment of exhilaration to look back at two new Tabor Academy coral trees as we swam back to the boat.
We began this day with a grocery run as our snacks and drinks were getting scarce. Field Research requires fuel for the scientists! We then hiked to the highest point on San Salvador and visited the island's lighthouse. In the afternoon, we went spelunking in the sea caves. We returned to the Research Center to begin to pack up for our flight home tomorrow.
It has been a great trip and we are looking forward to our return in March to continue our efforts to restore the coral reefs in this area, one fragment tree at a time!