School can be tedious at times, but this is not often the case at RSMAS. Just this March I traveled to the family island of Little Farmer’s Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas, for a nine-day course called Fieldwork in Coastal Culture. Our professor, Sarah Meltzoff, and Bahamian Young Marine Explorers Founder, Nikita Shiel-Rolle, led nine of us RSMAS students through a remarkable hands-on anthropology adventure.
We stayed in the homes of Bahamian families, which occupy close to half of all the homes on this small island with a population of around 60. Most every local, young and old, had a big and distinct personality, eager to meet and greet us. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to break into groups each day and interview the majority of Farmer’s Cay islanders, to discover their life histories and unique cultural.
My course group explored all aspects of local food and its impact on daily life and culture of the islanders. It was eye opening to experience the dichotomy between the modest local life of these Bahamians, compared with my past experiences of sailing between islands, spending time in Nassau, and vacationing at the mega-resort Atlantis. Surrounded by miles of ocean, most goods and food products, besides fresh seafood and very limited fruits, veggies and herbs, have to be imported to the island. All of the Farmer’s Cay islanders are dependant on a weekly mail boat to deliver pre-paid items; most stocks are in short supply. Nevertheless, this does not hinder the locals’ ability to cook incredible food! Among many other traditional dishes, we enjoyed the freshest cracked conch, conch fritters, conch ceviche, minced crawfish (lobster), and fried red snapper. Although I am not used to eating lots of fried foods, a week of delicious home cooked meals was definitely a plus for grad students.
In addition to conducting field interviews, we had the opportunity to explore other areas of the Exumas. One day we ventured through the 176-square miles of islands, cays, and spectacular marine life of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. In the park we cruised by islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry and Prince Karim, Aga Khan IV, before our first stop at Danger Reef. We hopped into 45 feet of water and were quickly joined by almost a dozen Bahamian Reef Sharks! They were very friendly and swam around with us for a while. Next we headed off to have lunch by the blowholes near the Park’s headquarters. These natural features sent exhilarating howls and gusts of air up through the ground. Wasting no time, we set off to other unique sites where we snorkeled and explored secret streams of mangrove nursery areas, which are naturally protected areas where juvenile marine creatures can grow and thrive in their early life. Finally, our adventure ended at Thunder Island, where we swam in and around the cave where James Bond’s “Thunderball” was filmed. By the end of the day we were ready to return home to our Bahamian families to unwind and share more stories.
Overall, the experience was one of a kind. On and off the island the scenery was spectacular. I have never seen more shades of blue ocean in one visual landscape; likewise, I have never seen more vivid stars in a clear night’s sky. The people we met and island we stayed on were beautiful inside and out, and just a little rough around the edges.
This blog post is part of a series of stories written by RSMAS graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2012 Scientific Communications (RSM 545) course.
Jennah B. Caster
RSMAS Marine Affairs and Policy, Marine Conservation
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