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1223 miles, but a world away…

Friday, June 15th, 2012

On Thursday, our last full day on San Salvador, students took their final and then returned to Grotto Beach for a final relaxing afternoon before packing up and heading home.  Our trip down the island was delayed by a passing thunderstorm, but once we got to the beach, it was beautiful if overcast.  Everyone had a great time playing in the huge waves or simply resting on the beach, and nobody got sunburned!

In the evening, students shared progress reports from their research, with promises of more to come in the fall. We all packed up and got ready for the long trip home, and there was one final movie night of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Friday morning began with our last pancake breakfast (boy, we’ll miss those!) and a glorious sunrise that was greeted by many students on the old Coast Guard lookout post on North Point. 

Getting ready to head out from the GRC

After loading our gear on the truck for one last ride, we took one more group photo at the GRC and began the long trip home.  While waiting to check in to the San Sal airport, many students went across the street to Wendy’s (not that Wendy’s!) for an ice cream cone snack. The plane ride to Nassau was beautiful, with great views of the Exumas, Eleuthra, and Cat Island on the way over each of them.  We did have some turbulence just as we crossed onto the island of New Providence, but landed fine and got all our luggage this time!  After a long walk from the domestic terminal to the newly remodeled international terminal, we checked in at US Airways and got ready for the next wait… Customs and Immigration. 

Finally! Lunch in Nassau after the looong wait at Customs. And patriotic too!

After a very long line, we got cleared into the US and finally made it upstairs for a quick lunch (at 3:30 pm, after breakfast at 7:30!) before the flight to Charlotte.  From there, it was time for a quick dinner and then on to Columbus.


 As we neared Columbus, the voices got more and more excited, with cheers of O-H I-O! and loud speculation on where they would be getting their first fast food meal.  A huge cheer went up when the flight took us directly over the Horseshoe as we came in for landing.  Little did we know what awaited us on the far side of security–a giant banner welcoming us all home with names of all the students and block prints of sea turtles, palm trees, and dragonflies (they probably couldn’t find one for no-seeums!).  Thanks so much to Aly Saba’s parents for creating the banner and sharing it with all of us!

Students were greeted by a welcome home banner at the Columbus airport

It was a great trip.  Our time on San Salvador got off to a rough start with no luggage, but working through the difficulties together bonded the group.  Students pushed their comfort zones and did things they never thought they could–from swimming with sharks to swimming over the wall, going up in a lighthouse or down in a cave.  They learned as much about themselves as they did about the ocean.  We are proud of them and thank their parents for entrusting them to us for three weeks, and we hope that they enjoyed the trip as much as we did!

‘Til 2014, Bahamas out!


Swimming with Sharks!

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

The Bonefish Bay researchers after their last day!

Hey there friends and family, its Allie, Christen, and Sara here! This morning we started off with a breakfast of eggs and muffins. At breakfast we said goodbye to our new friends from Gettysburg, but we were excited to see the weather looked nice for our rescheduled trip to Gaulin Reef.  This trip was taken in two groups.  In the morning all research groups working in the intertidal zones (hermit crab and brittle star groups) went out to get their last day of data and clean up all our equipment.  While some groups finished their work JW joined Gracie, Matt, and Andrea for a game of beach soccer.

A beautiful shot from Gaulin reef

The coral health, Christmas Tree Worm, and Chiton groups all took a short boat ride to the reef.  Some people were excited about our first boat trip and others were apprehensive about possibility of sea sickness.  However, once everyone got in the water all worries went away at the amazing site underneath.  The reef consisted of many types of corals including Elkhorn coral, which was a new sight to us. This first group described the reef to the second group as looking like a scene from our favorite movie, Finding Nemo. They were also excited to see a very large spiny lobster!

The large spiny lobster!

Both groups joined back together for a fabulous lunch of hamburgers and french fries, preferred much more than the usual pasta based meals.  After lunch, the group that first went to the reef enjoyed a much appreciated afternoon off to catch up on sleep or to study for the final coming up tomorrow morning.  The rest of us enjoyed our trip to Gaulin reef in the afternoon. We enjoyed the nice boat ride and were excited to see if what the morning group said was true.  We were very happy to find out it was.  We even got to see a small reef shark and a larger nurse shark.  Everyone was surprised at their initial reaction to hearing someone yell out “SHARK!” Rather than being scared and swimming away, we hurried to the site and were thoroughly interested to see a shark up close for the first time.  Everyone took turns diving under the water to get closer looks at the shark. Luckily, he was more scared of us than we were of him, and he hid under a large opening under the coral.  Matt and Ben eventually came over to the group talking about their favorite find of the day, a 5-6 foot Barracuda!

Yes, it's blurry, but this was our first up close shark sighting!

On the boat ride home, everyone was in awe of what we had just seen.  Many people described it as “magical,” or “the most amazing thing we had ever seen.”  We made it out of the water just in time, though, as the boat was being chased by a large rain storm. We got back to shore and on the truck just in time for a short, rainy ride back.  Luckily the thunder and lightning did not start until everyone was safely back at the GRC.  We all showered and spent time relaxing before a dinner of pork, mashed potatoes, corn, vegetable lasagna, and salad.

Instead of a regular class lecture, we had an exam review session.  We all spent the night studying for our final! Wish us luck tomorrow and we’ll be home to our families within the next 48 hours!

by Allie Perry ’15, Christen Nagy ’15, and Sara Fitch ’15

T -72 hours

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Hey guys this is Ben and Matt here to fill you in on the day’s activities. The day started off with a French toast breakfast and sausage. Then the group split up to do their research, some groups went to Bonefish while others went to Singers Point and Telephone Pole Reef. The groups are in a rush to collect as much data as possible before we leave.

Students talking to Club Med Vacationers about their research

It’s been tough as the weather has been less than ideal for our research, strong currents and weird tides have been making it hard to get the data that we all desire. However we are staying positive and with the help of KR, JW and the always positive Dr. Phillips we are making good headway.  After a good morning of data collection we headed back to the GRC for some lunch and then……..waiting. As we said before the weather has been less than ideal so or plans for the day were pretty much up in the air.  We then decided one final trip to town to see the straw lady would be helpful and a nice way to spend the afternoon, so that’s what we did. About half the group went while the other half stayed to work on data analysis and to study for the final on Thursday.

Nothing beats a nice ride in the rain!

Once we got back we were all sitting around waiting in anxious anticipation for our dinner. However this was no ordinary dinner, we were being treated tonight to home cooked island food at the Short Stop. When the time rolled around we all pilled in the truck and drove to the Short Stop for some conch fritters, fresh fish, conch strips, chicken, rice, mac ‘n ‘cheese and cole slaw. Needless to say we all cleaned our plates and were very satisfied with a fantastic dinner. Once dinner was done the card games began, students played a few games of euchre and uno. After a while the group called it a night and took a nice walk back to the GRC and enjoyed the beautiful night sky.

Students enjoying a feast at the Short Stop


by Ben Dotson ’14 and Matt Schramm ’14

The Final Countdown

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Hello friends, families and followers! This is Dani and Hannah reporting on behalf of the GRC adventurers. Today was a very exciting day, and a great start to our final week here on San Salvador. We began our day slightly earlier than normal, loading up on the truck bright and early so we could circumnavigate the island on our way to the tidal pools of Blackwood Bay. Along the way, we made a quick stop along the Pigeon Creek Estuary in order to view the different types of mangroves and the post-Revolutionary War era plantation ruins. Once we reached our destination we took a quick hike through the mangroves and surrounding vegetation and arrived at a vast expanse of crystal blue, knee-high water that we proceeded to explore for the next couple of hours. Some of the group decided to stick to the rocky intertidal areas, and a brave group of adventurers trekked into the waters, where they were greeted by a 5-foot Nurse Shark!

Juvenile Queen Conchs were plentiful at Blackwood Bay

Personally, it was a very exhilarating experience being in the same water as a shark that was almost as long as we are tall. But have no fear parents, Nurse Sharks are friendly and tend to favor the taste of molluscs and crustaceans over a stray group of students.

We wrapped up our morning as the tide began to rise, and we all loaded back up on the truck and headed to Monument Beach for a picnic lunch. After we filled our bellies and made a quick stop in Cockburn Town, we headed off up the road to a new site, Sue Point Reef. We arrived to find the water a little rougher than anticipated, but the adventurers were not discouraged and headed out into the surf to either conduct research or explore the reef.

This little guy gave us a show, and even stopped to pose for a few pictures ;-)

This being our first time ever snorkeling this site, not even KR, JW or Dr. Phillips knew what to expect. But to our surprise and delight, the coral health research group happened upon a Hawksbill Sea Turtle! This was personally the highlight of our (Dani and Hannah) trip so far, especially since the turtle was not the least bit camera-shy!

Today provided us with a great opportunity to apply all of our identification skills that we have learned through both class and previous field experiences. We were able to test our knowledge with all of the molluscs, algae, corals, arthropods, fish and other organisms seen at both sites. This opportunity was greatly appreciated because although many of us are beginning to shift our thoughts towards heading home to our loved ones, we must remain focused and prepare for our final exam that is taking place Thursday morning. This trip has taught us all very valuable lessons. Whether it’s dealing with adversity or differentiating between a Blue Striped or French Grunt, we all have learned at least one thing that we will remember for the years to come.

Students explore the underside of a rock with JW at Blackwood Bay

As this day comes to a close, we would like to inform our families that we are all having a great time here at the GRC, but are all anxious to return home and share our experiences with you. We appreciate all of your blog comments and emails, and we will see you soon!

by Dani Wert ’14 and Hannah Hupp ‘14