There’s a new assignment in town this Summer Term, and it’s called a journal entry! Students are being asked to regularly reflect on activities and experiences they have had throughout the day or week. These assignments allow our students to connect information across multiple disciplines, from where our food comes from on an island, to the effects of tourism and development on the surrounding ecosystems and communities. To give you a taste of what these reflections consist of we have included excerpts from two recent journals from Claire Miles and Tommy Robertshaw. Claire just returned from a South Eleuthera Road Trip, where she and 12 other students toured the Rock Sound caves and ocean hole, watched the creation of conch salad from shell to plate, and talked with local Bahamians in Deep Creek settlement. Tommy’s reflection delves into the interconnectedness of local ecosystems and tourism and development after spending the night at Palm Island beach on his two-day kayak trip. Both of these journal entries are excellent examples of the depth of reflection we hope to see in these assignments. Enjoy!
“…Along with the general negative economic trend in the world, Eleuthera is facing a problem with a declining tourism industry, an industry that much of the Bahamas depends on. This makes me wonder, what are people on these islands doing to make up for the revenue that is lost in the declining tourism industry? Are they relying more on fishing and exportation of tropical seafood such as conch? Or are they even able to close the gap that the weakening economy has opened? There is also the future to consider; the Bahamas’ reliance on importation to supply all of its inhabitants and tourists might prove to be too ambitious if the worldwide economy continues to worsen. If businesses can no longer afford to buy goods from other countries, they can close down, contributing to an economic downward spiral.
During another part of the SERT, we visited Avian’s, a place that specializes in conch dishes. While we watched the process of creating a conch salad, we also learned a lot about how the business receives the food that they use in their recipes. Out of all the ingredients, including onion, green pepper, tomato, conch, orange, and lime, only the conch and some of the peppers weren’t imported products. The restaurant also makes about thirty to fifty conch salads a day, in addition to all of their other menu items. I assume then, that even with efforts to grow their own ingredients, there’s just not enough land available to service the large demand on the island. In order to keep the economy going, importing goods is necessary. It is a step in the right direction to use the local conch and local-grown vegetables, but it would be absurd to think that everyone could survive off of just seafood and sparse fruit and vegetables. Importing foods is also necessary to prevent over fishing or over harvesting of local goods, and to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. I’m interested to know how many people on Eleuthera practice things like composting, which could help them grow crops, and the effect that island-wide composting could have on the community. If businesses, restaurants, and most residences made efforts to create their own soil, would it offset the need to import produce? Would product prices go down, or would they stay the same, as in the case of the local pineapples in the supermarket? Would switching to compost have any downsides to a business? Is it a plan that would even have enough of an impact on the community? It’s not easy to supply a whole community of islands with hundreds of necessities that can’t be found locally, and I know that importing goods is necessary, but hopefully in the future the islands can make efforts to reduce the amount of food that they need to import. This could ideally lead to lower prices in the markets, and easier lives for the people.”
Tourism today is defined by the pursuit of luxury. Eco-tourism ventures are on the increase, but they certainly don’t constitute the majority of the industry. In our Harkness discussion of Lopez’s Rediscovery of North America, my group grappled with a difficult scenario. We imagined a workingman or woman, one struggling through seventy-hour weeks. One who wants, after working hard, to be pampered on a luxurious vacation. We asked ourselves, “Are we in the right to deny that person his or her pampering (even in the name of conservation)?”
Our kayak trip was one far removed from any semblance of luxury, but throughout the journey I felt more closely connected to my environment than I ever have. We were “roughing it,” no doubt. Semi-erect tents, pernicious no-see-ums, and hesitant trips to “Dookey Point” connected us to our surroundings in a uniquely intimate way. That’s the idea, in the end, isn’t it? To live “intimately with the land, knowing it as you would a person.” It’s what Lopez tells us, at any rate. Resident EMR, Nick Lanza, seconds the notion, repeating periodically throughout the trip: “We are creatures of the earth!”
Following from that idea of connection, we explored the theme of “Leave No Trace.” It’s a philosophy with the mission to leave a place better than you found it. Hence, when gorp fell on the sand, it was quickly eaten; when we left our fire, we dispersed the extra wood; when trash from previous visitors was found, it was carried back to be disposed of. We left no trace of our having camped where we did. The beach was surely better for it.
Along our journey, we saw traces of human interaction with the land and ecosystem (not all so harmless). We honed our paddling skills in a man-made cut. How much have that and other man-made harbors around the school interrupted natural eco-systems? Might they threaten mangroves, and thus diminish transition habitat for juvenile marine life and hasten beach erosion?
Even conservation can leave traces. As we worked with CEI to tag juvenile lemon sharks, we observed as the sharks were caught and processed, leaving yellow-fin mojarra casualties, tags, clipped dorsal fins, and microchips in our paths.
Seeing the spectrum of human interaction with a place, from “Leave no Trace,” to potentially harmful man-made harbors, to the necessary traces left by conservation, I kept returning to the question: “How does one live well in a place?” I’m not sure of the answer. Maybe one, clear answer doesn’t even exist. But I think it lies (especially as far as tourism goes) in finding a middle-ground between the pampered workman on vacation and a dedicated “Leave no trace philosophy.” A system of loving the environment, being intimate with it, but enjoying it at the same time.