This was our second year going to the Caribbean with Renee and we can say without a doubt that it gets better every year. This year Shiloh and I looked at sea urchins and their effect on coral health. We looked to see if there was a corelation between the number of sea urchins and the overall health of the coral.  Our findings did not turn out to be significant but we did learn a lot. One of the issues that could have affected our data (hindsite is always 20/20) is that sea urchins are more active and widely dispersed during the night. So it would help to either collect during the night or only count the sea urchins that are active during the day. Maybe someone next year can look into this study again. Unfortunatly for Shiloh and I this was our last year because in May we graduate. We would both like to say a special thanks to Renee and Morgan for making our last J-term a memorable one.

~ Cassidy and Shiloh

Since the introduction of the agave weevil to St. John in 2000, the invertebrate pest has decimated the native century plant (Agave missionum) population. Our objective was to determine the pattern between century plant health, size, and location on the island. Using a transect method, we located century plants in four locations (two on the north side of the island and two on the south side) and classified them by size and health. Given the high percentage of healthy XL agaves in northern shrublands, some resistance to agave weevil may be present in the St. John population.  This conjecture is supported by the large percentage of healthy XS agaves. Further research is needed to gain a clear picture of the pattern of century plant health, habitat type, size and agave weevil presence on St. John

~Asya and Suzanne

My project examined patterns of biodiversity in 4 different marine habitats (Reef, Colonized Bedrock, Seagrass Beds, and Mangroves) by recording every fish species and their relative abundance for ten minutes at ten different sites (three coral reef, three colonized bedrock, two mangrove habitats and two seagrass beds).  This study found that of the four habitats surveyed, coral reefs have the most biodiversity by far, with an average species count of 23.6, and seagrass beds have the least biodiversity, with an average of 7.5 species seen in 10 minutes. Colonized Bedrock and Mangroves both had an average of 17 species seen.
The trip was an incredible experience, and I hope to be able to go again next year! ~Kristin Bell

Fish species such as the Bar jack are commonly found in association with stingrays, and may take advantage of feeding opportunities and protection from predators.  The companion fish may influence the stingray’s response to an approaching predator. As such, we predicted that Southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) with an companion fish would react to the approach of a diver sooner then if there was no companion fish. We collected response data on Stingrays with (N=6) and without (N=7) a companion fish by approaching from the front, back, and side. Surprisingly, we found that stingrays responded more frequently (P=0.003) without a companion fish.  In addition, stingrays responded to approaching divers from a greater distance when swimming alone than with a companion fish (P=0.0641). Stingrays without a fish responded to approaching divers at a greater distance in shallow water while stingrays with a fish responded to divers at a greater distance in deeper waters.  Our data showed interesting trends in behavior but further research and data collection of more Stingrays is needed to reach a more definite conclusion.

~Sarah and Becca

My project was on the abundance patterns of Bluehead Wrasses (BHW) on Coral Outcrops. I found BHW make up a larger proportion of the fish biomass on coral outcrops sampled.  Over 50% of all fish on outcrops were BHWs with highest percentage on Fire coral (86%) and the lowest on Brain Coral (58%).  Terminal BHW account for 20% or less of all BHW on coral outcrops.  As initial and juvenile phase BHWs can act as cleaner fish, these heads may serve as cleaning outposts.  More study of feeding behavior of BHWs on coral heads is needed.  This project was so much fun!!! Next year I hope to return to St. John ando carry out a more indepth study on bluehead wrasses. I am so full of excitement already!!

I give a huge thank you to Renee and Wilson for making this trip so successful and possible forHollims students to go on.

Also a huge thank you to my parents, Clint and Kathy, for making such an amazing trip possible! I could not have this experience without you two!Love you guys so much!

~Kristina Sprenkle

Parrotfish (Scaridae) play an important role in keeping coral reefs healthy by consuming dead or dying coral and providing coral with places to regrow by scraping algae off rocks with their parrot-like beaks. My research objective was to  determine if there was a relationship between the percent coral cover in a habitat and the density of parrotfish found there. As such, I hypothesized that parrotfish populations would be most dense in habitats that contained coral colonized bedrock. I surveyed eight locations on St. John, USVI and took four samples at each site, estimating the percent coral cover and counting the number of parrotfish within a ten foot radius at each site. A Spearman Rank correlation indicated a significant, positive relationship between coral density and parrotfish density (P=0.029). Thus, it is likely that parrotfish are attracted to areas of coral colonized bedrock rather than areas of strictly coral reef and their presence may therefore positively affect coral health. Further research in more locations could be done to provide further evidence for this correlation.

Well, now that my research is out of the way…our trip to St. John was undoubtedly one of THE best experiences of my life. I learned more in ten days than I ever have in months of classes and I made some down-right amazing friends.

To Renee and Morgan, thank you both so, so much for helping to make this possible for me. I don’t think I could ask for better or more understanding professors. You both made this such a wonderful experience and I thank you for opening this door for me.

I would also like to extend my most sincere gratitude towards the Hobbie Grant Fund and to Ms. Claudia Belk for providing me with the funds necessary to make this trip possible for me. There is no way that I would have been able to go on this trip without your generous contributions. This was a life-changing experience for me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

A HUGE “thank you” needs to be said to VIERS (Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station) and all of the staff and volunteers there for being so welcoming and helpful while we stayed at their facilities and for supporting us as we conducted our research. We all felt absolutely spoiled rotten while there, you guys are the best!

Finally, I would like to thank my family for supporting me through this entire process. I know that we had all pretty much just put the idea of  this trip in the beacks of our minds, but the impossible happened and now I have an unforgettable experience to tell you all about. Thank you guys, I love you all so much.

~Caitlin

Caribbean termites (Nasutitermes acajutlae) are important to the terrestrial ecosystems of St. John because they decompose dead wood and make nutrients available to plants. They can also build nests up to 7 ft tall and 4 feet wide! For my research project, I wanted to see if there was any difference in density and nest placement in moist and dry habitats.  I counted a total of 119 termite nests (48 in dry and 71 in moist) and recorded their relative height in relation to their nesting tree (eg: 0% ground level, 100% top of the tree). I found that nests in moist forests were significantly higher up their host trees than those in dry forests. Most likely this is due to the fact that trees are bigger in moist forests, and thus can structurally support nests higher up. I also found that Caribbean termites seem to prefer dry forests over moist forests. This could be due to a difference in resources. Perhaps there is more dead material for termites to consume in dry forests.

    Dry or moist, St. John is a beautiful island, and I hope to return again someday. I especially enjoyed meeting people at VIERS which is near impossible at a hotel where everyone wants their privacy. Everyone at VIERS was friendly, kind, and a joy to be around. The VIERS volunteers and staff took such good care of us. I even got one of them to juggle with me! Thank you VIERS!    On that note, big thank yous to Renee Godard and Morgan Wilson who proved they are not only good teachers, but also good surgeons (they pulled a cactus out of my foot). A Thank you to Claudia Belk and the Hobbie trust fund for making it a lot easier for me to go on this trip, a thank you to my family, and finally thanks to all the other women who accompanied me, particularly Caitlin who helped me with my termites. You are all so amazing!

Randi

Studies on the effects of introduced species on an ecosystem show negative results. On the island of St. John these species include: donkeys, cattle, cats, dogs, goats, sheep, white-tailed deer, and mongoose. In my survey of the environment each non-native mammalian species was recorded with respect to habitat (dry forest, moist forest or VIERS field station). Population densities within the forest habitats were estimated using total mileage calculated through out our trip.  Populations within VIERS were estimated per day. Mongoose were particularly popular at camp while donkeys, goats, and sheep were more abundant in dry forest havitats. Overall, introduced species populations were far mroe likely to be seen in dry forest. This might be explained by several initiatives founded by the Virgin Islands National Park (VINP) to reduce populatins of invasive species within park boundaries.

 J-term went by so fast.. I’m ready to be back on island time!!
~Jessie
 
It has been an amazing J-term and from all of us we would like to thank everyone who followed our blog. We send out a huge thank you for the folks at Viers who took such great care of us and also Tom from the Sadie Sea, who gave us an awsome trip on the boat. And finally a humongous thank you to Renee and Morgan, this trip would not have happened (or have been as eventful and funny) without.
 
Until next year, remember, “at the beach life doesn’t move hour to hour, but by mood to moment”.
 
~St. John travellers 2012 
 
Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 17, 2012

Heading Back – 1-16-12

Several of us emerged from slumber in the dark for our last sunrise run and swim.  The changing colors of the sky and the gentle sound of the waves on sand were bittersweet as we knew it would be a long time before we were back in “our” bay and “our” island again.

We walked back down the slippery muddy road to join the rest of our crew for our last breakfast prepared by the wonderful VIERS staff.  They made the field station feel like home, they kept us well fed despite our crazy hours, and they were always interested in our adventures and ready to give good advice on trails and sites.  They had become part of our family in our short 10 days on island.

We packed our bags and said our goodbyes and left VIERS with a  lovely rendition of “Happy Trails to You” sung to us by the volunteers.  Many of us were already plotting when “we would see VIERS and St John again.”

We stopped for one last picture at the VIERS sign – Renee stopped right by a huge puddle – making her passengers take a giant leap to avoid muddy legs and shoes – all were successful!

We drove back over the island to return our rental cars – definitely dirtier but certainly no worse for the wear.  And if cars can be happy ours certainly had to be because they had spent the last 10 days in laughter and song and had avoided the Centerline buses and taxis which often took up both sides of the road.

While the touristy side of Cruz Bay was more chaotic than we wanted, we did have the chance to buy sovenirs and look at the wildlife which included a green iguana eating toast and chickens running around the town center with overprotective mothers guarding their 2-4 week old chicks while juveniles skulked in the corners looking for handouts.

Though most tourists were unaware (note none of us considered ourselves tourists) several of us watched as a wonderful scene unfolded.  A native St. Johnian entered the square with a small bag and newspaper.  He walked over to a coconut shell and poured a bit of water in it and then went over 10 feet or so to sit on a block seat.  Immediately, the largest rooster in the square came over and drank the water.  After his cooling beverage, the rooster then approached the bearded samaritan and stared at him and crowed several times.  The man nodded and the rooster bowed his head and then went off to follow the hens.  The man then pulled out his newspaper and read in the cool shade.  It is wonderful to think that like the sun rising he comes to the square every morning to give water to the chickens and receive their thanks!

Our day ended with a beautiful sunset on the flight home.  Weary, elated, and full of our experiences we arrived in Roanoke at 9 p.m.  Indeed this has been an incredible trip.  Stay tuned to learn more about our research projects and findings!

 

 

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 15, 2012

Day 11 – Life is Good

The morning started early for some of us (Caitlin, Sarah, Jessie, Sprenkles, Shiloh, Morgan, Renee and Caleb) as we shifted from sleep to awake in the dark.  Our sojourn to Salt Pond at 4:15 was graced with the silvery light of a half moon.  We arrived at the parking lot with two volunteers (Sandy and Neal) to head out for our 2nd night hike to Ram’s Head to watch the sunrise.  Up and down over wobbly stones and around cacti our path wove through the dry landscape with only the sounds of crashing waves and wind in the thistles filling the air.  Perched like meercat sentinels we watched the eastern horizon for that first hint of light.  The Southern Cross hung in the sky reminding us of our proximity to the equator.  A few shooting stars gathered our wishes and then first light came – that daily miracle we were waiting for and it was worth the wait.  Rain clouds over the British Virgin Islands picked up the sun’s first rays tinged first with pink then radiating pinks and yellows so vibrant we were left without words to describe the event.

 

We pulled ourselves away from Rams Head to begin  our journey back.  Of course a rainbow was perched above Blue Cobblestone to bring us back.  And under the arch of the rainbow Sarah found a golden warbler – the bird Morgan has been looking for all week.  There is indeed gold under the rainbow!

 

And as an added treat 4 donkeys greeted us as we walked past Salt Pond to Drunk Bay.  Caitlin, Jessie and Kristi made particularly good friends with this bachelor herd!

What a great morning we have had.  The VIERS staff were kind enough to save breakfast for us – so we munched on french toast, sipped our juice and reflected on an impossibly beautiful morning.  We head to Cinnamon Bay for a trail, ruins and a snorkel.  A cold shower will get us ready for our night out in Cruz Bay with reggae music.  I doubt we blog later tonight – perhaps we won’t catch back up until we are back in Roanoke.  Everyone is sad about leaving!  What a FANTASTIC GROUP of Hollins women we have traveled with!  I would take them anywhere!

 

Our morning started out with a run, a swim, and a beautiful sunrise on Little Lameshur.  The number of students joining us on the run has dropped significantly – only Sarah Knox and Caleb were up at 6:15 for our morning exercise.  We will miss those runs and swims!  After a grand breakfast served by the wonderful volunteers at VIERS we headed out in search of the Baobob tree.  Introduced from Africa, this tree has special spiritual significance – if you drink its sap you are protected by crocodiles but if you eat its flowers you would be shredded by lions.  Given this reputation we just had to find one and there is only one to find on the island of St. John.  Down the L’Esperance Trail.    Straight down on Fish Bay Gut we found the first set of ruins from the L’Esperance Estate.  They were neat but we needed to find the ruins of the Seiban Estate where the baobob could be found and that was another mile down the trail.  After dodging jack spaniard wasps we took what we thought was the first trail on the right – the one that should have taken us to the Seiban Estate and the Baobob  Tree.  But it went down and down the gut….no baobob tree no estate so back up the hill we went…. and had our first of three lunches while trying to figure out where to go.  Jesse Sheperd decided she knew where to go and lo and behold she found the estate and the tree!  It was worth the journey – magnificent!

With baobob accounted for we headed back up the trail and had our elevensies lunch at the trailhead – we are eating at least twice the calories we normally do and everyone seems to be loosing weight!  We had a stop at Cathrineburg Estate with its most excellent restored windmill for grinding sugar cane.  The thick walls provided a cool spot to chill before we headed out to snorkel Waterlemon – our favorite.

After finding the last 3 parking spots in the Annaberg lot, we headed down the trail happy to see it free of trash from our clean-up last Monday.  We stopped halfway to Waterlemon to snorkel in the octopus garden pictured above.

Unfortunately our first fish was spotted by Kristi and it was a LARGE LIONFISH – 12 inches – of reproductive age.  Not good news for the native fish of these waters!  Everyone Loved this spot with its sea fans, small coral heads, diverse fish populations, and sea turtles.  Incredibly beautiful.  After 45 minutes everyone was chilled and headed to the rocky shore to find a spot of sunshine and our one o’clock lunch….

We decided to hike up to the first Moravian church (ruins) built in 1756 and the Great House of Annaberg which are perched above Waterlemon Key.  The view was MAGNIFICENT!  We snapped hundreds of pictures like the one above – to hold the place in our memories as no picture can do justice to this place.  We decided that our next J-Term course here will involve an afternoon hike with dinner at the ruins to watch the sunset and then a night hike back along the bay!  Everyone seemed pretty excited about the next J-term.

We snorkeled in WAterlemon, found some stingrays for Becca and Sarah’s research project, found century plants for Asya and Suzanne’s project and Kristen got a bit more reef data for hers.  Tired and happy we made the mile long walk back to the cars and were ecstatic to find the water had returned to VIERS and we could have showers after a day of no water and no showers last night.

Great dinner, research meeting, a vigorous game of Apples to Apples and figuring out which fish we saw occupied our evening.  Becca and Shiloh were so tired that Renee and Morgan finished this blog tonight.  About half the class will wake up at 4:15 tomorrow a.m. to hike one more time out on Rams Head to watch the sunrise.  The rest of the students will sleep in to 7:00 and enjoy the morning at VIERS.  Tomorrow we leave after lunch for Cinnamon Bay and then an evening in Cruz Bay for dinner out and the sweet music of Inner Visions (local reggae band).

 

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 14, 2012

THE EAST END

Back late from another night snorkel – folks are too tired to blog so more tomorrow enjoy pictures in the meantime.  We cleaned our last beach and pulled 61 lbs of trash from Haulover.  All of it marine debris – the mess we have made of our oceans was so apparent!

Today we decided to give back to the islands and collect data by picking up trash from Haulover Bay on the North side. It was 61 pound of trash-everything from plastic straws to shoes to an iPod nano- it’s incredible what washed up on this beach! While we were cleaning, there was a ten minute downpour where the wind picked up and we all took shelter under the trees and sea grapes, and then it went back to being sunny and hot.

After picking up all of our trash, we went to South Haulover and snorkeled. While getting into the water, Kristie and Cassidy were attempting front flips, which went ever so well…. No one was injured, which was lucky considering it was Friday the 13th.  We were expecting to see a coral reef that was talked about in the guide book, but when we got there we found out that been mostly bleached, leaving it an environment of colonized bedrock. It was a rough day with periodic rain showers, so we didn’t head out as far as we would have liked, and North Haulover was too rough to snorkel at all. After our snorkeling, we were all starving, so we headed to Vie’s Snack Shack, where most of our group had their second lunch of conch fritters and johnny cakes. There were tons of banana quits in the tree above us, hoping to scavenge crumbs, and one pooped on Suzanne’s shoulder, making us all shield our food in case of further issues.

We also got to snorkel in the Princess Bay mangrove forest, as you can see from the above picture looking through the mangrove roots out into the seagrass bed. We got to see two stingrays here, and many smaller barracuda, as well as juveniles of many different species. One of the coolest things we saw here was an upside down jellyfish, which was bigger than expected and incredible!

On our way back from second lunch at Vie’s, some of our group stopped at Salt Pond Bay to snorkel, where we saw a spotted eagle ray! We also got to see a green sea turtle that was tearing up a sponge to eat, and several different species of fish trying to scavenge pieces of flying sponge. When we got out we laid on the beach and got dry for the first time in several days, and when we got back we found out that the water pump had broken at VIERS, so we had to pass on the showers. A few of us went down to the docks at night, and another group went out to a night snorkel- when we were on the dock, everyone in the group got to see at least one shooting star, and we saw some phosphorescent algae that looked like underwater fireflies- all in all it was an amazing day!

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 13, 2012

“It’s 3 a.m., who wants to go climb a mountain?!” :D

12 January 2012

From Caitlin and Cassidy:

Today started off in the dark…the DARK dark. We all woke up at 3:30am and John ( a wonderful volunteer here at VIERS) had gotten up at 3:00am (2:00am est) and made us all a “kick-ass” breakfast. We had cereal, bagels, yogurt, and ham and cheese English muffins. As you can tell, we have been treated very well down here. Then, at 4am, we sleepily shuffled into the cars and headed out of camp. We drove up to Salt Pond (about a five minute drive from VIERS) and parked. Then, in total silence, we hiked 2 miles to the top of Ram’s Head, guided only by moonlight. Ram’s Head ends with a cliff face that drops sharply off and into the ocean below. There we each sat, at 4:45 in the morning, and listened to the waves crashing and the wind blowing and, in the case of some, our iPods. We sat in silence and enjoyed nature’s beauty (and a short nap). The moon was beautiful and the stars were shining brightly. We could see for miles and miles on end. At about 6:30 the sun rise began. It started off with a gorgeous shade of pink. It the transformed into a rich orange intermixed with pink and blue. As the sun started to break the horizon, the whole landscape was bathed in rich,warm light and we could actually see the sun moving higher into the sky.  The entire experience was one filled with beauty and silent awe…and, as can be seen by the picture below, the view wasn’t bad either.

After the mystifying experience on top of Ram’s Head, we hiked over to Drunk Bay, a tourist favorite. Drunk Bay is a rock beach full of coral rubble and smooth stones. The water is very choppy, however, so it isn’t really a place to snorkel, but it IS a place where you can let your artistic juices flow. The beach is covered in figures made from coral rubble that others before us had left behind…potentially while intoxicated, from the look of some of the statues. We left our own touches on the beach and then went and looked at the location where HOLLINS had been written with coral  last year…and, to our amazement and surprise, it was still there! After visiting “HOLLINS”, we went back to building our figures. Caleb built a huge tower, which he builds every year, Caitlin constructed a horse our of coral, and Morgan  built a dinosaur skeleton. For anyone who knows Morgan, you know that it was anatomically correct. Jessie used pieces of coconut shell and a large limb to make it look like she was walking over shark infested waters. We then constructed a new “HOLLINS” to show how much fun we had setting aside are scientific side, except for Morgan, and letting our artistic side shine a little bit.

After our fun on Drunk Bay, we piled back into the cars and drove over to a little place called Donkey Diner, which has won multiple awards for having the best breakfast food on any of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We now understand why. The food we ate at the Donkey Diner was superb (most of us ordered chocolate chip pancakes…) and we left the little restaurant feeling like we were going to implode from the amount of food we consumed.

We then headed back to VIERS. Once we had rested up from our long (and I mean LONG) morning, we went and collected trash along the beaches of both Little Lameshur and Great Lameshur. The total amount of trash we collected will be in the next post…we have one more trash collection, but the amount of trash thus far has been a bit staggering. After our collection, some of us headed out to snorkel in Great Lameshur. Great Lameshur is a good-sized reef with gorgeous views and thousands upon thousands of fish. Plus, it is just a short walk from VIERS which makes it a great place to head for an afternoon snorkel. While there, we saw TONS of amazing creatures, including a handsome Spotted Moray eel. Below is a picture that Renee took when it came out to see who was outside it’s door. We also saw a HUGE Great Barracuda having a late lunch on a huge feast of fish.

Later that evening, we joined up with the group from CUNY and filed into the VIERS pavilion for a presentation from the amazingly talented and native-born Ital Anthony. He greeted us warmly, introducing himself, and then began his talk. He first familiarized us with some of the plants of St. John  and how the locals (as well as their ancestors) used them for a broad range of activities, from tea-making to healing urinary tract infections. He then passed out samples of a locally made cultural drink produced by the combining of several different plants and spices. It was DELICIOUS.

The second part of his lecture focused on the cultural arts and crafts that are hand-made on St. John as well as the dying culture of the island itself. He showed us many different objects he had made himself, from lively music sticks (a big hit with the crowd) to little wooden purses to beautiful paintings done on the seed pods of the Shak-Shak tree. He spoke of how the rich culture of St. John is being buried under the tourist trade and how the traditional art of basket-weaving is being quickly forgotten. The more he spoke, the higher the interest level among us rose.

Then came the “audience involvement” portion. Ital pulled out several music sticks and tambourines and passed them out among us before sitting down at his own drum. He began to beat the drum and sing and the more he played the more we all got involved, shaking our instruments, jumping up and dancing, laughing with each other, and volunteering for everything that he requested student (or professor) help for. The energy in the room was so positive and so uplifting, we could not help but dance! Ital even put us through confidence-building activities, such as making us sing “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar” and making us yell in response when accused. By the end of the presentation, the whole room was alive with music and singing and dancing. Both groups had become one as we enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated life. We can easily say that it was the most fun we have had thus far on this trip…and that’s saying something. The presentation ended with a group-wide singing of “Lean On Me”, during which we all joined hands and sang as loud as we could muster. We all broke out into peals of applause and laughter as Ital stood up and thanked us, smiling from ear to ear. We then all made a point to purchase something of his to help support him and his quest to reestablish the culture of St. John. Needless to say, the night was full of fun, laughs, and bonding. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thank you, Ital. You have brought us so much closer.

Well, that wraps up our day, and I would say it has been the best day we have had on St. John so far. We can’t wait for tomorrow and the adventures we have in store for us! So, until then, Hollins out.

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 12, 2012

Well Ding Dang Doodle!

Well Ding Dang Doodle the day started with Wilson, Sarah and Shiloh going on a morning run and swim to enjoy the beautiful sunrise! A delicious breakfast was quickly eaten (they spoil us here), and then we packed for our hike to Reef Bay Trail. Cars were packed and we were off! While traveling to the trail Renee made a pit stop to tell Suzanne to turn on an Aretha Franklin Freedom song (clearly this is important enough to cause a minor back-up)…and then further down the road we encountered an extremely slow driver whom we named Reginald T. Slowbottom. Renee was very anxious, but only beeped the horn once, while Caleb yelled from the back seat to pass him! Wilson was just aggravated, while Suzanne kept smiling. Distractions are common, therefore we missed our turn (thanks Renee). After some side-road-chat we finally reached our destination!

The hike began with Kristie and Sarah setting the hiking mood. The first mile and a half were an easy down-hill hike, with many unique common plants (and one VERY SCARY spider, which Kristie and I despised). Along the way we walked through many ruins, such as: Josie Gut, Par Estate Village and Anna Marsh’s House. All the while you can hear Wilson’s bird call coming from the back of the pack, this so called Spishing sound (its weird). The biggest and best preserved ruin we saw was the Reef Bay Sugar Mill, which was home to many (cute) Fruit Bats.

We then detoured to the Petroglyph Trail, which had a 40 foot waterfall (more like a trickle). The Petroglyphs were…well how can I put this…alien-like. They are supposedly a religious symbol of the ancient Taino people who once inhabited St. John. Some of the Petroglyphs portray a bat nose of human faces , which was important to the Taino people. While enjoying the Petroglyphs we indulged in lunch (we take multiple lunch breaks a day).

From there we hiked down to Reef Bay to enjoy a relaxing swim or sunbathe (and a second lunch). Kristen found a Spotted Eagle Ray while snorkeling and her excitement was very fulfilling. Randi spotted an Agave missionum, “Century Plant” with a influoresence four Wilson’s high (for those of you who don’t know his height, thats about 24 ft high). We sadly left Reef Bay and started the hot, steep trek back to VIERS. Along the way Randi counted about 80 termite mounds (for her research project). Much sweat was developed on the way back to camp. All in all we hiked a total of about 5.1 miles from the very beginning all the way back to VIERS.

Once “home” some partaked in a game of soccer juggling turned volleyball. Things got a little wild and intense…Wilson, Renee and Suzanne left to pick up the vehicles back at the Reef Bay trailhead. In the meantime, Sarah, Kristie, Caleb, Shiloh, Jesse, and Caitlin moved the volleyball game to the road. Our tribal sides took over and we smeared war paint (mud) on our faces and put leaves in our hair (yes, its was fun and not childish). Wilson arrived first and was met by the Gfoup Tribe to his surprise. All he could do was shake his head and pretend that he didn’t know us…Suzanne and Renee showed up shortly after and were also pleasantly surprised at our tribal stance. Renee was particularly amused and could not stop laughing (see picture below because we really were cool looking)!

Dinner was once again delicious! Another group here at VIERS from New York was kind enough to allow us to tag along on their bat catching by mist nets. They caught one and it was really cool to be that up close and personal with such a mysterious creature! The night ended with everyone packing and going to bed early for our 3:30am wake-up call for a moonlight hike to Rams Head!

-Sarah and Kristie, your tour guides who accept donations and welcome business ;)

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 10, 2012

The View from the End of the World

(insert dramatic background drumming)

Our 7 o’clock day started at the bay, with pancakes and mudding galore! After breakfast, we piled into the cars and headed to our first hiking trail of the trip…Ram’s Head! Perhaps the name Ram’s head better describes the goats that created the winding narrow path to the summit. Along the way we passed Salt Pond Bay (whose beach was still clear of invasive vegetation from last years hard working class) ; we can’t wait to snorkel here on Friday!! Through the trees we could spot the pond it was named for. Our path led us past every variation of spiked plant you could imagine (Renee mentioned there are about 200 different species of vegetation on St. John) including poison ivy on steroids and the cutest little Turks head cacti.

Hold on to your hats everybody, we’re almost there!! This is us in the “saddle” of the Ram’s Head trail, granted the breeze was absolutely refreshing after a hot trek but boy was it ever blowing….could have taken off with the rest of the birds flying under us along the cliffs. As is our nature (being shark chasing, boat jumping CRAZIES) we took the shortcut to the point which tended to be steeper, rockier, but in our minds, more straight forward in our race to the top of the world.

One by one we stormed the point peering recklessly over the edge onto the crystal waters… okay more like trudged the last third of a mile to the peak in which we flopped onto the nearest rock and indulged in some CHOCOLATE (again, Thanks Renee!). Still the view was amazing with Booby Rock to the west and the white caps of Drunk Bay and the neighboring cliffs to the east.  If you squint and turn your head 90 degrees to the right (feel free to try this at home) you could just make out the island of St. Croix which is the largest of the US Virgin Islands; a whopping 48 miles long. Unfortunately the sun was getting hotter and it was time to begin our decent but not before we honored our missing comrade…owling for LIZ <3 ( I may need you to remind me of the proper technique…)

All this talk of heat, it was time to go for a swim!  Making our way down the trail we could make out the click-clacking of waves over the rocks.  Soon after the trail opened up to Blue Cobblestone Beach, named for the rounded blue stones and coral  as far as the eye could see, there was a mad scramble past the cobblestone figures (one of which I believe was happy to see us…) clothes flying every which way in the rush to jump into our wetsuits and get in the water.

Renee insisted on us hovering around the shore to fully appreciate the rain maker effect of the water churning the cobblestones; it truly is a beautiful sound.  From there we dispersed in search of any marine life we could find. This included cowfish, a stingray, and two different species of moray eel. And what better way to end a “relaxing” day then at the spa? Most of us lounged on the hot rocks while Randi entertained the masses by juggling coral…yes CORAL. Sadly this had to end and we began the hot journey back to the parking lot so we could head back to VIERS for lunch. Good thing it was worth it, they spoil us! Mmm… chocolate chip cookies!! From then on our schedule was on island time with the majority of us napping on any available surface area.

Around 2ish (okay maybe 3ish) a smaller  group headed to Yawzi Point for some late afternoon snorkeling. We sludged  down the road to the VIERS dock… no one ever tells you how awkward it is to climb down a ladder in fins. A few belly flops and one or two graceful dives later we braved the current to explore the caverns of Yawzi.  Not to far into our snorkel we came across 17 Caribbean Reef Squid swimming neatly in a line. We took turns diving down for pictures, which happened to startle the squid into an electric blue shade before they returned back to their patterned brown phase.  Most of the other reef surrounding the point was dead but that didn’t stop us from seeing BIG fish. This included two angelfish and a 5 ft. barracuda (don’t worry we’re all professionals now…).

This message has been brought to you by Asya and Jessie. Hollins OUT!

 

ONE MORE THING….NIGHT SNORKELING!

 

Needing to fill every single moment with something spectacular we ventured out in the dark down the muddy road to Lameshur Bay.  The peekaboo moon provided nearly no light and Wilson insisted we walk without our flashlights – slippery but doable.  Voices were loud, lots of squeaks as a bunch of nervous Hollins women backed into the ocean with small underwater flashlights to find their way.  But we found comfort in the bobbing of the glow stick snorkel tips on the surface of the water – we knew we weren’t alone.  Everybody found something exciting – simply the being in this strange dark world filled with tiny neon shrimp and minuscule fish.  The best finds were an white-spotted octopus in the grassbeds and 4 Caribbean spiny lobsters on Poopy Rock which had Nearly NO fish.   We walked back under the peekaboo moon to cold showers and cute frogs!  Life is good.

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 10, 2012

“Mongoose Ate My Sandwich, Mon!”

From Caitlin and Suzanne: Well.

There is not a word in the English dictionary to properly describe our experiences today. The closest we can come is maybe….surreal?

We started our day with an equation. We completed our mark-recapture study of the hermit crabs at VIERS, using an equation from the 1880’s to estimate population size. Astoundingly, there are, according to our data, 1,753 hermit crabs populating the front quad of VIERS. Wow!

Today was our tour day, so Suzanne showed us around the stunning Annaberg Ruins, shedding some light on the history of the plantation, and Caitlin told us about Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay (which a little spit of land smack dab in the middle of the Bay…it used to be the “field of honor” for settling disputes in the 1800’s).  While we hiked our way from the ruins to the bay, we started our community service on St. John and picked up every little piece of trash we could find, separating it out into land trash and marine trash. By the end of the day, we had collected a total of TWENTY-ONE POUNDS of garbage! That’s a lot of trash for a 0.8 mile hike… Once we reached Leinster Bay, we got in the water and started our first snorkel of the day around Waterlemon Cay. It was definitely one of the most beautiful sites we have snorkeled so far. There were so many different fish species and some LARGE parrotfish! We saw our first flounder (he was sneaky, trying to blend into the sand and all…) and half of us saw a Spotted Eagle Ray for the first time (Suzanne saw it, but unfortunately, Caitlin was not in that half…”I WILL see one before I leave!” she says!) There were also  two huge and very beautiful Grey Angelfish that a few of the group got to see and some of the girls got some great pictures of them. There were two stingrays spotted as well, foraging for meals on the ocean floor. All in all, Waterlemon proved to be a stunning and very successful snorkel! But, the highlight of the day came when we snorkeled in the Bay for the second time. We FINALLY saw our first shark! Every single one of us took off after beautiful five-foot lemon shark, but after about 10 minutes, only two of us were still keeping up the chase: Sarah and Caitlin. We now have jokes being made about us for that… During this snorkel, we also saw a HUGE green sea turtle. He was about three and a half feet long and two feet wide and he had two remoras attached to his shell (those hitchhikers…). He settled on the ocean floor for a while to rest. Most of the group moved off a few yards, but Caitlin stayed suspended over him. When he came up to breathe, he surfaced a foot away from her…three times. She squealed she was so excited. The rest of the snorkel was calm and beautiful, filled with schools of silver sides being preyed upon by bar jacks, barracudas, and houndfish (it may not sound beautiful, watching fish be eaten by other fish, but it was…don’t judge).  There was one other snorkel site that we visited, but only Renee, Morgan, and a few of the girls went in. Apparently, the rest of us missed out because when they all came back out they were all talking about how breathtaking it was…guess the rest of us will have to wait ’til Saturday. One the way back to VIERS, we stopped off at a little place called Skinny Legs (before heading to the grocery) to get some souvenirs. It’s a relaxed, festive little bar and grill (which also happened to sell things) with nice people and plenty of creatures running around…like donkeys….and small dogs. Whatever, I think we’re used to seeing donkeys everywhere at this point! Dinner was lovely tonight, the VIERS volunteers served us some delicious pasta and lasagna with salad and pineapple upside-down cake. Thank you, VIERS!! You are all the best! We can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us, but we have no doubt that it will be nothing short of amazing. So, until then, Hollins out! 

Posted by: stjohn2011 | January 9, 2012

Full Day of Fun on the Sadie Sea – small gfoup om dock!

This morning, for some, started at 6 with a morning run and swim. Renee, Wilson, Caleb, Kristie, Sarah, and Randi swam out to Poopy Rock in Little Lameshure Bay and back and watched the sunrise. Wilson startled and was startled by a Southern stingray, again. An attempt was made to take pictures of a group shot with everyone jumping on the beach, but it failed miserably, and eventually everyone gave up and came back for breakfast, but Wilson got left behind at the beach, and when “No man left behind” was mentioned Renee said to leave him.

Luckily, no tarantulas were seen on the paths today. The lovely VIERS staff made us French toast for breakfast, and we packed our lunches before heading out to the dock at Yawze Point to meet our charter boat, the Sadie Sea. We ran out of time to do our recapture of the land crabs, so they escaped being captured again, at least until tomorrow morning.

            We walked down to the dock to await the Sadie Sea, with Wilson and Kristie already having taken their Dramamine, although Wilson’s didn’t seem to be fully successful. We boarded the Sadie Sea and headed to Booby Rock, which had choppy and deep water, and made everyone’s hearts race a bit. Today we had to get into swimming buddies, and make sure to stick with our buddies because we were swimming in more difficult areas. At Booby Rock, some of us got to see a Green Sea Turtle, but it was swimming fast and deep, and did not stop or pose for pictures. We then headed to Flannigan’s Island via a very bumpy boat ride, where we got to see some of the best rocks and reefs of the trip thus far. While not as rough as Booby Rock, it was still a bit turbulent, especially near the rocks (more about that in a minute). There were so many fish that it was difficult to see what you were actually looking at, because the sheer volume was so distracting, and we got to see lots of species that we hadn’t seen before, including a Queen Triggerfish and three cuttlefish.  Shiloh and Kristin saw a Great Barracuda that was about two feet long, and they went to go get the rest of the group to come see. However, after getting the group, the barracuda was nowhere to be seen, until Shiloh turned around and found it right behind her. Our group got spread out because we were so focused on the fish that we forgot to pay attention to each other, and it took some prodding from Wilson to get people moving. To get back to the Sadie Sea, we had to pass through one of two channels between rocks. The first group went through a channel (we were led by Shiloh) and while it was narrow enough that we had to go through one at a time, the current kind of sucked you through so it wasn’t that difficult. The other group went through a channel that was wider but very shallow, and all the rocks were covered in fire coral, which made it very nerve-racking since the wave action pulled people back, making it impossible to go forward, and pushing you closer to the fire coral.

            Our next stop was the Glove in Hurricane Hole, which is the bay that everyone anchors their boat in during hurricane season since the bay is so protected. This area was mangrove lined, and incredibly calm and still. We had to take off our flippers for this swim, since the water was so shallow that any flippers would have stirred up the sediment. The mangroves act as a nursery for juvenile fish, so we got to see lots of juvenile fish of many different species, as well as a few bigger fish lurking in the roots, like a very large Porcupinefish.  And Kristi got to see her favorites – the trunkfish, like the smooth trunkfish swimming here.

Only ten people were allowed in the water at a time, and it seemed to be a very fragile ecosystem, one that we were all afraid to disturb. It was also found out that it is nearly impossible to swim while laughing, as Kristie and Cassidy discovered when Kristie accidentally kicked Cassidy several times while swimming, and then Cassidy, while trying to swim, backhanded Kristie and knocked the snorkel right out of her mouth, making them both dissolve into laughter.

            After we all re-boarded the Sadie Sea and ate our lunches, we stopped at Le Duck, where we got to see trumpet fishes in their hunting camouflaged state. The ecosystem at Le Duck was mainly rocky, with a few patches of coral. We then headed to Tektite, which is a rocky point near VIERS that used to be home to the aquanaut program. All that’s left of the aquanaut program is a few concrete pilings left from the buildings, since after the program was closed the National Parks service reclaimed the land and restored it to its natural state. Here there were lots of fire corals and larger parrotfish that were lurking in the depths. We saw a triggerfish here as well, and several more trumpetfish. After we got back to the Sadie Sea, Captain Tom and First Mate Amy encouraged us all to jump off the top level of the boat into the water, which was fun and scary. Mostly fun!! We headed back to VIERS and all booked it for the showers, and collapsed into heaps around the camp. If you want to learn more about the fantastic charter boat, Sadie Sea, visit http://www.sadiesea.com!! Hollins out!

Kristin and Kristie

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