Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Forced Family Fun

Sorry its been practically a month..things have gotten very busy here with school work and projects. Here are some pictures from when my family came!

During my week off I was accompanied in Bonaire by my family!! They stayed in a resort about a half a mile up the road from me. We had no real plan of meeting up so on Thursday morning a caught a ride with one of my friends down to their resort on his moped. After frantically waving to Jack after hopping of the moped and him not recognizing me at all I joined them all for breakfast on the beach…okay he wasn’t expecting me and I just cut my hair. The rest of that day was spent renting mopeds, going to the grocery store, snorkeling and
swimming and figuring out a plan for the rest of the week. We ate dinner at a delicious Argentinean steak house that I had passed several times but was of course waiting for the fam!

The next day we took our mopeds on a ride to the south side of the island. We stopped at the Donkey Sanctuary along the way! Donkeys were one of the first animals brought to the island as a work animal. Today they are everywhere (including one digging in the dumpster next to my house that I scared away tonight). The volunteers at the sanctuary bring in sick, hurt and abandoned donkeys from around the island, nurse them back to health if they need in and then they live in a huge pasture and get fed everyday along with spending the day grazing on the little edible vegetation.

Nick fed them some of our apples..they loved it, and they loved him too!
We then ventured down to Sorrobon the windsurfing capital of the world! Some of my friends decided to go windsurfing that afternoon so we watched them try it out while we ate lunch on the beach. We had plans to go snorkeling so we decided that Nick and I would try the following day.

One of the interns at my school works on a sailboat that does snorkeling around Klein Bonaire, the small marine protected island to the west. We went on a sunset sail that include free drinks and snacks like fresh pineapple and rum punch! We also got to jump of a do a snorkel while floating along the cost and the boat picked up a few hundred meters down. We saw lots of fun fish and about 5 turtles too!!

On Saturday we went back to Sorrobon to windsurf. Nick and I may have found our hidden talents! It was pretty difficult, I was sore the next day, but definitely doable and very fun!


After snorkeling with Nick and hardly being able to get him out of the water/ always losing him because he was free diving down to see the fish and corals closer, I decided that scuba diving was a must! He took a quick class and then we went out with one of the dive masters from the shop I always dive out of. It was a really cool dive we saw a lionfish, a frog fish-an ugly squished face thing, and an octopus! Unfortunately we never got a picture together in our gear..

We ended the weekend with another lovely night out! It was really great to have them here J

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Night dives, Landfills and Carnival!

On Valentine's Day we we for a dive at night! We have been out snorkeling and swimming in the dark but diving in the dark is so different and so neat! I'll do my best to describe it: pretty much floating in the dark. You can't really see anything except for where your flash light is pointing or where some one Else's points. The only thing that I saw at night that I didn't see during the day were tarpons. They are very large sliver fish that hunt at night. They have adapted to divers being in at night and even use people to their advantage. When we shine our lights on fish it often blinds or really confuses them. Tarpons use this time to attack and eat them. So these very large, 4-5 ft long, fat, fish have no problem swimming close to people and sometimes even bumping into people to make us shine our lights. Needless to say they're pretty scary! We didn't see any other new fish or organisms but everything acts different at night. So parrot fish, which we see all the time, make mucus packets around them to hide from predators. Also the coral feed at night so they stick out little wavy like tentacles to catch zooxanthelle and things in the water to eat. So they look really different!

On Friday we took a field trip for our 'Culture and Environmental History of Bonaire' class. We went to a waste water treatment plant and a landfill. The waste water treatment plant is the first one on the island. Before this they would just dump sewage water and everything in fields and in the woods..which seeps into the ground and the ocean. aka gross...The landfill made everyone either want to cry or actually cry. Typically waste and trash is put in a hole in the ground that has a liner in it so the trash doesn't cause too much harm to the environment. Here there are just piles. Its separated by appliances-washing machines, ovens, refrigerators etc. but gas isn't taken out of these so things can spontaneously cumbust anytime- rubbish, wood and trees like branches, rubber-tires- and glass. The only thing that is recycled on the island is glass..but its really just put into one big pile separate from the trash. This was so sad to see. And there were goats everywhere eating the trash and stuff. It was also terrible to think about the iguanas and goats that feed on this trash and on the plants that are growing in sewage water and then people eat them..yuck!

The past few days the island has been celebrating Carnival. I had no idea what to expect so its been really fun seeing so much cultural activities going on and all the Bonairians out to celebrate. On Sunday there was a parade in town. Local businesses and groups made floats and there was lots of dancing! I was surprised to see the age dynamics. Most of the people in the parade were a bit older..everyone was drinking and dancing and singing and it was so fun.
Monday began our week break. Most people started diving for their independent research projects. It was the first time we dove by our selves....well not alone we always have a buddy but it was just the two of us no teachers or groups or anything. It was funn
Tuesday was the best day yet. A few of us began by shopping in town and the rest of the day was spent at the beach. There aren't a lot of sandy beaches around here. Everything is rock and dead coral. On Tuesday we found a little tiny patch were about 7 of us can sit..the others sat in the water and we kind of rotated. Its been really fun having time to just relax out side.
Tuesday night was the last night of Carnival..the same parade from Sunday went around town again late at night...everyone was just way more drunk this time and everyyyyone was dancing in the street not just the parade people. The parade ended at a soccer stadium, for the culmination of the holiday the burn a big doll, its called a MoMo. Theres some traditional stories, none which I cant remember sorry. But I'm pretty sure the whole island was there. It was really cool! The doll was filled with fireworks which was also fun!
Today was another day in the sun. We all sat on the dock and made hemp bracelets!
Also I got a hair cut...about to my shoulders!
Family comes tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So many sea turtles!!!

Last Thursday we did our deepest dive yet. We went to 30 m, about 100 feet. The dive site was called Hilma Hooker which is the name of the 200 ft sunken ship there. The ship was purposely sunk about 30 years ago. As the story goes, the ship was having some rudder troubles off the cost of Bonaire. When the ocean officials went out to help they wouldn't accept it. After a week of floating around a few miles out the Bonairian officials went back out and demanded some sort of paper work as to what they were carrying and where they were going. The people on the boat couldn't produce any valid paper work so the Bonairians conducted a search. They pulled it into shore, went aboard and found 25,000 lbs of marijuana. After weeks of no one claiming the boat they decided to sink it. It has now turned into a beautiful dive site!

First we descended to the bottom and sat in the sand to do some underwater activities. We brought with us a few things..we brought a color wheel to see what happens at such a depth where light hardly reaches. This deep down you cannot see the color red, it just looks like black or dark brown. We also brought a tennis ball which was completely flat from the pressure by the time we got to the bottom. We brought a water bottle with just a little bit of water in it to show the effects of pressure too. Also we brought an egg. When we cracked the egg the pressure is so great that it holds the yolk together so you can bounce it around and play with it a little bit. When we held the top of the water bottle near the egg it sucked it right in. Then we squeezed it back out and the yolk was still intact. Since CIEE has been there so many times and have done this trick, or maybe other people too, the fish know! As soon as we sat on the bottom a few Yellow Tail Snappers started surrounding us. They were coming up and swimming into our hands and arms. Right after we squeezed the egg out of the water bottle and big snapper came and gobbled it right up! I couldn't help but laugh and smile I thought it was really funny!!

After that we swam around the boat. It was really cool to see all of the corals and sponges that have colonized there. There were tons of fish too!! We weren't able to actually penetrate the site (go in the boat) but there is a very large area where they sored cargo and the doors have been taken off so we could go in there a bit. It was a very cool dive! We didn't stay down for very long so it is definitely somewhere I would like to go back to for another dive! I think it was one of the best dives so far as far as the health of the reef goes. A lot of the sites we've been to have been covered in algae, a sign of few herbivores, and a large percent of the coral is dead. Maybe its because its so deep and not a lot of tourists dive there, I'm not sure.

The three animals I was most excited to see before coming here were donkeys, flamingos and sea turtles. Within a week I've seen them all! On Saturday about 5 of us were going for a casual snorkel at Yellow Sub, the place that is just a block away were we dive everyday, and we had a great sea turtle sighting!!! This was my first once although some people had already see one or two. It was down on the reef about 25 ft deep when  we first sighted it. It was pretty camouflaged so I had a hard time seeing it at first. We watched it for a few minuets and then it started to swim..we all followed. It swam to the surface very very slowly and then hung out there just breathing and looking around for about 10 minutes. We were all positioned in a half circle around it watching in awe. It was pretty big, probably 3 ft long and soo pretty! It finally swam back down and out of our sight. It was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen!

On Sunday we decided to go for a very long swim. There is a small island off the western side of Bonaire called Klien Boanire. In the fall during 'Regatta Week' one activity is to swim there. That was our activity of the day. A group of 8 of us put on our wet suits (for buoyancy, which was definitely the best idea ever) and grabbed out snorkels, masks and booties. When we got to the dock we told one of the dive instructors at Yellow Sub that we were going to swim to Klein. For some reason he thought it was a terrible idea; he said we wouldn't make it half way we would be way to tired and they way back we would end up half way down the island because of wind and current. He told us that if he had to come pick us up each one of us owed him a case of beer. I don't think the boys really listened and all the girls thought he was underestimating what kind of shape we were in. So, off we went. We swam for about 30 minutes, looking at nothing. We could always see where we started from and where we ended but it was weird being out in the middle just looking at the darkness of the water, no bottom. Finally out of no where popped up the reef crest, not only was it so relieving to know that we made it but it was so beautiful! I know I just said Hilma Hooker was the best diving I had seen but this part of Klien Bonaire actually was! The water got shallow very quickly so soon we were right on top of so many corals and soft coral gargonian (bush looking plants) and sponges and tons and tons of fish! It was awesome. We carefully swam all the way to shore, there was so much coral and living things that we had to keep swimming/floating until we were in about 2 ft of water. We weaved out way between coral and fish until it was okay to walk the remainder of the way. When all 8 of us were up on the beach we were so proud of ourselves! The swim really wasn't too bad at all. And we decided it was well worth it because of everything we saw once we got there! We sat on the beach for a while then went back in for about 30 minutes of snorkeling. It was great because everything was so close because it was so shallow. At Yellow Sub we do a lot of free diving (holding your breathe and going down) when we aren't scuba diving so we can be closer to everything. This just gets really tiring and annoying after awhile so it was great to be so close to everything. Within the 30 minutes we saw about 10 sea turtles. Some were small, others quite large. some were swimming along very peacefully and others were hiding under coral and gargonians and we didn't realize we were practically right on top of them. Around 5ish we decided to head back. It took us another 35-45 minutes so we estamated that we swam about 1 1/4 miles in all. I don't think its something I would do every single weekend but definitely a few more times before I go home, it was all so worth it because of that beautiful snorkeling!!

Tonight we are going on a night dive at 8pm!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Island Tour! via photos for you

I know its been a while since my last post, my apologies-just think, this way I have lots of fun things to tell you about!

Last week we started to learn how to do fish surveys underwater. We basically lay out a measuring tape and swim along it and count every fish we see can record the species. We submit our data to an or organization- Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reefs Assessment (AGRRA). They look at the status of coral reefs and how they are (hopefully) improving over time. This may sound easy but is quite difficult to swim, count and remember all the different fish names at once-no to mention no hit any other divers or the reef. We went to two new dive sites called 18 Palms and Andrea 2. The dive sites here all have fairly strange names. For example we saw one this weekend with a big rock stair case down to the water called 1000 steps..it only had 72 steps. We thought maybe with all of our gear on it felt like 1000 steps? Although I am getting very comfortable with the dive site we go to pretty much every day, called Yellow Sub right in my back yard, its nice to see new ones too. They all look so different, with different coral cover,s different fish densities and different amounts of disease and algae growth.

Friday night was one of the girls birthday here. We did some exploring downtown and found a great bar to dance at! It was a fun, pretty late, night out. When we got back a few of us went swimming. Here, in the waster there are very tiny organisms called bioluminscents. You can't see them except for at night when you wave your arms and feet in the water they light up like neon dots! Its so cool!! Not much is known about them since the are so small and simple but they are really cool-imagine tiny fireflies underwater!

On Sunday we took a tour around the island! We started with the south side, came back home for lunch and then went to the north. Here my attempt at a virtual tour for you:

This is a building site that lost funding and has been shut down. This is a very common thing to happen in Bonaire. The government is trying to expand the population here; however there is no concern for then environment when building. They create all of these sites, clear the property, build with cement and don't look at what the environmental impacts are. Kind of sad :(

Salt mines! Huge piles of salt that we drove by, and they said these piles get much much larger sometimes. A conveyor belt runs from here, over the road to the other side where ships can come and dock and pick up salt.

Slave huts built during the last 20 years of slavery on the island. Before this the slaves had no where to live-no one knows how they did it in such a harsh environment, so hot, dry and no fresh water.

So tiny!

Kite surfing is very popular here.

Washed up sea fans on a beach.

A pretty beach with few waves. Not much sad around here all of the beaches are covered in dead washed up pieces of coral.

Catie, Juli, Me, Ashley and pretty water!

A "beach" on the most southern wart of the island. This is the first place the wind and current hit Bonaire and it splits both ways around the island. This results in very large waves, lots of wind and tons of trash! There was so much plastic in all forms here. It was really sad to see all the garbage.
In the background you cane sort of see a wind turbine. This was the first one built in Bonaire and it was a test to see if it was a good idea. They decided that this would be a very practical way to generate energy. They put in 12 turbines in another part of the island and this generates all of the electricity for the island! I though this was great because in the U.S wind farms contain hundreds of turbines for little energy.

Washed up dead coral-with a plastic bottle.

We arrived at Lac Bay, "The Place". Windsurfing capital of the world.

There were so many windsurfers out! This is an ideal place especially for beginners. For as far as you can see the water is shallow and sandy so if you fall off its not deep and very easy to get back on. We all want to give it a try after seeing little kids racing around! I think my brother Nick would be awesome at it!

Boat turned into a bar!

Dive site called 1000 Steps. Int the upper left you can sort of see some cave type structures in the rock. This is from when the water level was this high and crashing against the rock.

Pretty background!

So many lizard and iguanas here!

And abandoned marine biology lab. This lab lost funding about 20 years ago. The building are all still standing. Kind of sad to see something so great for Bonaire to shut down because a loss of money.

These tiles are made of dead washed up Acropora Cervicornis  "Satghorn" coral. they cut it up into circles. A really cool way to make use of all of the rubble.

The "Tourist Tree"-fat sunburned and healing

We stopped at a new local bar-pretty much in the middle of no where. There was living music and dancing, so fun!

A great way to point out the bathroom!

The last spot was a place where we could look over the whole island. We could see all of the cost and big building near our house too! It was amazing to think we went around the whole country in one day!

The island tour was a great way to learn about the history and culture on Bonaire. Such a valuable experience.

On Monday I got my first sunburn :( sorry Mom...We went on a bird watching tour around Lac Bay. We went with a guide named Jerry who knew so much about birds and plants. It was pretty interesting but lasted a very long time. The best part was seeing flamingos! They are so pretty and funny looking at the same time. I learned that flamingos are actually gray until they are about 2 years old they get their color from what they eat. So zoos are having a problem with their flamingos turning gray unless they keep them on their natural diets.

Well off to work on the beginning stages of my independent research project. I think I'm going to look at the progress of artificial structures-like sunken tires, engines, mooring block and reefs that were made last semester. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Octopus sighting!!

On Saturday we went diving off of a boat. We motored out to Klein Bonaire, a small island that is marine sanctuary and is completly protected by the marine park. This was a very new experience for many of us; we had to get all of our gear on during the ride and once we got there we grabbed a mooring and did the backwards roll technique into the water-this consits of sitting on the edge ad pretty much falling backwards. It was pretty windy and fairly choppy so it was pretty difficult to swim on the surface but once we we underwater it was perfect. The visibility wasn't so good at the beginning but in improved as the dive went on (everyone says that the rainy season does that to the water so it should improve all around over the next few weeks). At Klein I got to see a lot of new things that we haven't seen at our other site we've been going to. We also went deeper than we have before! We were at 54 feet for 55 minutes, but the time goes by so fast. I saw a lot of new fish and tons of new kinds of coral. The purpose of going to this particular site off the island was to learn about diseases and algae and we definitely found a lot of that. Its kind of sad to see the bad shape that some of the reefs are in. There was a lot of dead coral and even some bleaching which is caused by stress from climate changes.Although it was sad to see it was definitely a learning experience!

Sunday was our first day off! It was so nice to be able to relax and sleep in. We all took a trip to the grocery store to buy breakfast food and snacks. Then we spent the rest of the day swimming and snorkeling, laying in the sun, and doing a little homework once it was past tanning time. I saw an octopus for the first time!! It was just a little guy but still really cool. He was all curled up on the bottom and looked like a rock until he swam and all his legs were out, it was really neat!

Monday-back to class. We started our morning off by walking into town to join a group of nature activists in a silent protest/march. The government here is trying to put in 5 new piers to allow for more shipping. A lot of large boats stop here for fuel and to get loaded up with goods from around this area (not only Bonaire) before they head over seas. The problem with the piers is that they're going to go right on top of coral reefs- not only is this terrible of the animals but also tourism is the largest industry here so depleting the wildlife will eventually decrease their tourism economy. These are both things the government is apparently overlooking. So anyway we joined a group of about 50 people, surprisingly most of them were over 40. Some were tourists but mostly residents. There were very few young people besides us students and there were few local Bonairians which I also found surprising. I enjoyed learning about some current events going on here and being part of something important like that.

This week we're finishing up some rescue courses and emergency first response courses. By the end we'll be CPR certified and be able to rescue divers from the bottom and the surface. We're also starting to talk about our independent research projects-more to come on that!

Off to the water and the sun!! :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

5 Dives Deep

So we've been here 5 days and we all have 5 dives under our belts; on Wednesday we did 3 dives alone. For our class we have a list of about 40 fish we need to be able to identify. We all got a laminated sheets that we can bring underwater with us. I started learning the fish on Monday and by Wednesday's first dive I was able to recognize almost every fish I saw! The interns that live with us, who are also teaching assistants for our classes, help us come up with fun ways to remember the fish names. For example, a juvenile Princess Parrot fish is brown with white stripes, it looks exactly like a juvenile Stripped Parrotfish but 'Princesses don't have snotty noses', the striped ones have a little bit of yellow on its nose. Or, there is a fish called a Rock Hind, it is yellow with 'a black rock on its hiney!'. During the last dive yesterday we had an underwater quiz. Our instructor pointed to a fish and we had to write down what kind it was. We use "underwater slates" which is a piece of white plastic and we write with special pencils. I think that was the best quiz I've ever taken!

Throughout the week we are slowly being introduced to all of our classes and going over sylubus' and expectations. I will be taking:
-Advanced Scuba
-Marine Ecology Field Research Methods
-Coral Reef Ecology
-Tropical Marine Ecology Conservation
-Culture and History of Bonaire
-Independent Research
Its kind of overwhelming to hear about all the classes but they all sound very interesting so far so hopefully that will be motivation enough to keep me excited! Also, each one has field trips involved almost every week, new dive sites, trips to different locations around the island and interesting labs involved. In our culture class we are learning Papiamento, that is the main language here along with Dutch and English. Its a lot like Spanish.

I haven't taken too many picturesyet because its been rainy. Hopefully that will be ending this week and I'll get some up here soon!

Here is one from the CIEE Bonaire Facebook page of me after a dive this week!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

24 Hours Later..

Friday I woke up in Maine, Saturday I woke up in Atlanta and today I woke up in Bonaire.
I arrived around 5pm yesterday. 7 of the other students had already arrived in the early morning. They had a day of exploring and swimming. The other 6 had delayed and even cancelled flights.
I was able to unpack and just hangout until dinner..which was deliciously catered by our cook. After dinner we played trivia and then we walked into town to a very cool bar on a dock. We were all exhausted from traveling so we all only got one drink...we call them baby beers because they're 9 ounces and very cute, they only cost $3.
Today we're still waiting for some kids to get here, I think we'll go snorkeling and spend some time in the sun (don't worry mom I'll wear sunscreen).

Here are a few pictures of my new home for the next 104 days!

My house

My room


Our 10ft wall with barbbed wire and glass bottles on top. My room is throught that archway.

Our kitchen/living room

And another sitting area

Off to the beach :)