It's Gap Year Decision Day!

To celebrate Gap Year Decision Day, here is a few diary entries from CEI gap year alumni describing their time on our campus.

Eidan Willis

In late August, I began my gap year with a ten-day family trip to Iceland, where we traveled around the western half of the country in search of glaciers and humpback whales. It was here that I discovered my love for videography and my desire to share my experiences with my friends and family on social media. Then, I embarked to Utah and Colorado for a two month river-rafting, mountaineering, and camping trip with one of my closest childhood friends, my dad, and a couple big horned sheep. In December, I ventured to Japan - this trip included visits to many temples and gardens, backcountry powder skiing, and wonderful food. We even stumbled upon the emperor giving his New Year's speech at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo! Most recently, I spent two months at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in The Bahamas, where I assisted scientists and researchers with their marine conservation efforts. This consisted of catching, tagging, and safely releasing sharks and stingrays to better understand their respective ecological and environmental impacts. It was here that I achieved my Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving certification. I also took part in a week-long kayaking trip with a 50 hour solo experience on Lighthouse Beach in Southern Eleuthera. In the coming months before university, I plan to travel more with my dad, including an eight day self-guided wilderness fly, float, and salmon fishing trip down the Chilikadrotna River in Alaska.
This experience gave me the chance to grow as a person, gain some invaluable life skills, and meet people I will never forget. Ironically, I wasn’t actively searching for any of this; it’s funny, actually, because this was all just part of the ride. I couldn’t be more thankful for everything I was fortunate enough to experience and discover.

Watch Eidan’s video about his time in Eleuthera here.

Gap year students embark on an 8 day kayak expedition.

Gap year students embark on an 8 day kayak expedition.

Andrew Hollander

I was really hesitant when I first heard about the possibility of taking a gap year.
Now, nearly a full year later, I think it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. My gap year has been filled with growth and challenges, both physically and mentally, and pushed me out of my comfort zone too many times to count. I spent the summer working as a camp counselor in upstate New York, running a cabin of 8 boys, coaching various sports teams, and leading trips into the Adirondack Wilderness. I spent the fall honing my Spanish language skills in Peru and Ecuador, while doing long homestays and traveling through South America independently. I then enrolled in the gap year program at the Cape Eleuthera Island School in The Bahamas, learning about environmental issues, doing a wide variety of marine biology research, and meeting some awesome people. As my year comes to a close I look back with no regrets over how I spent my time. This was an amazing year, which I know will serve me well in college and beyond, and I’m excited to see what comes next!

 

Max Njkerk

As I come to the end of my gap year, I have concluded that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. A gap year gives time for a student to explore different areas of interest that university and work would not permit. I spent the past twelve months at Evert tennis academy, training 5 to 6 hours a day in the Floridian heat; in the Bahamas at the Cape Eleuthera Institue, understanding the complex relationship between man and the environment; and at the Cordon Bleu in Tokyo, learning about the french culinary arts. During my gap year I have developed as a person, whether it is gaining mental toughness from competitive tennis, going out of my comfort zone to research environmental issues, or gaining independence whilst increases my knowledge of the culinary arts. In each program I have met great people from various different backgrounds and perspectives who share similar interests. I truly recommend that if someone has the opportunity to take a gap year then they should definitely take one!

CEI Gap Year students enjoy many trips to different attractions around Eleuthera, including swimming in Queens Baths (pictured above).

CEI Gap Year students enjoy many trips to different attractions around Eleuthera, including swimming in Queens Baths (pictured above).

Mark Jaschke

The decision of whether to take a gap year or not was a tough one. But after looking back over my time abroad,  I am positive now that it was a phenomenal decision to make. The Cape Eleuthera Institute's gap year program was the first trip I was able to take and it was an experience I will never forget. Not only did I make some great friends, but II also learned a great deal about a variety of current research areas, from marine biology to making biodiesel. Finishing the triathlon at the end of the CEI gap year program was one of the most satisfying races I have ever finished. I know my time at CEI will be a very positive and influential part of my gap year and for many years to come!!

Gap year students and leaders feeling very satisfied after completing the ("Talapiathon") triathlon. 

Gap year students and leaders feeling very satisfied after completing the ("Talapiathon") triathlon. 

Gabby Beaulieu

Of the few monumental life decisions I’ve made, electing to take a gap year was definitely the easiest. Almost one year ago, I decided to take a year off from college, for a number of reasons, and never regretted it.. The gap program at CEI was the second of the three main projects that I enrolled in during my gap year, but the time I spent on Eleuthera was undoubtedly some of the most jam-packed and rewarding 9 weeks of my whole journey. In just over two months, the program piqued my interest in marine life and renewed my appreciation for the ocean. The program also increased my awareness of the amount waste I personally generate, and there’s a variety of items — paper towels, take-out boxes, styrofoam cups etc.— that I view entirely differently as a result.
After my time as a CEI gap year student, I’m much less inclined to sit around and do nothing— we used to joke that we did more before 8 AM than some people do in an entire day, and that mentality of productivity and exploration is something I hope to continue throughout my life. No account of my time at CEI would be complete without mentioning the seven humans with whom I jumped off cliffs and swam with sharks, so a huge shoutout to the squad!

Gap Year Program Director, Ami Adams.

Gap Year Program Director, Ami Adams.

If you are interested in becoming a part of one of our 2017/2018 gap year cohorts, find out more on the CEI website

 

Tagging sharks in Cat Island

Over the course of the last two weeks, members from the Shark Research and Conservation Program traveled to Cat Island, The Bahamas, for the 7th annual oceanic whitetip shark tagging expedition. This project, which started in 2011, has partnered with various institutions over the years in order to better understand the movements, behavior, and physiology of this severely threatened pelagic species. This year, partnering with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, University of North Florida, Microwave Telemetry, photographer and videographer Andy Mann, Google Expeditions, and the Moore Charitable Foundation, the team explored the physiological effects of capture in addition to the continued tagging and sampling efforts.

Despite the historical abundance of oceanic whitetip sharks, this species has undergone drastic declines leading to a ‘Critically Endangered’ status in the Northwest Atlantic. Cat Island remains one of the few destinations where this species can be found reliably and in large numbers, despite still low population numbers. Past expeditions to Cat Island have produced details of movement and migratory patterns, reproductive status, site fidelity, and genetic structure for the species, providing a better understanding of the population and contributing to conservation efforts.

Oceanic whitetips swimming in the deep waters off Cat Island.

Oceanic whitetips swimming in the deep waters off Cat Island.

This year, the team successfully sampled 27 whitetips and deployed 9 high rate pop off archival satellite tags (PSATs) that record temperature, depth and location at a 2 minute resolution for 12 days. This data, complimented by blood chemistry analysis and accelerometer data, will be used by Dr. John Mandelman, PhD. candidate Ryan Knotek and Dr. Jeff Kneebone of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life as part of a study on capture stress and post-release behavior in the species. With this study, information will be extrapolated to determine the impacts of recreational and commercial fisheries on whitetip populations.

Debbie Abercrombie and Ollie Shipley apply a PSAT to a shark.

Debbie Abercrombie and Ollie Shipley apply a PSAT to a shark.

Fourteen standard rate PSATs were deployed onto pregnant females that record the same information at 15 minute – 1 hr resolution for up to 9 months, allowing for insight into the reproduction cycles and pupping grounds of the species. Pregnancy was determined by Dr. James Gelsleichter and Masters candidate Chelsea Shields from University of North Florida, who performed ultrasounds on potentially pregnant individuals. Tissue samples were also collected from each shark to be used for niche width and diet comparisons, as well as continued analysis of population connectivity and structure.

Jim Gelsleichter takes an ultrasound on a potentially pregnant female.

Jim Gelsleichter takes an ultrasound on a potentially pregnant female.

John Mandelman and Ryan Knotek process blood samples on the boat.

John Mandelman and Ryan Knotek process blood samples on the boat.

In addition to collecting data contributing to the conservation of the species, this expedition also explored a new means of education to be implemented in The Bahamas and available globally. In collaboration with Andy Mann and Google Expeditions, CEI developed a virtual reality lesson plan highlighting the importance of healthy shark populations and the need for conservation and research. This lesson plan will be implemented by CEI in classrooms across The Bahamas, and will be available to the public following release to Google Expeditions.

Each year, this expedition explores new aspects of research, conservation, and education; we are delighted with the success of the most progressive year yet, and we thank our collaborators and funders for making this expedition possible. Thank you also to all who helped execute the study: Lucy Howey-Jordan, Dr. Lance Jordan, Debbie Abercrombie, Sean Williams, Dr. Edd Brooks, Annabelle Brooks, Dr. Mark Bond, Dr. John Mandelman, Ryan Knotek, Dr. Jeff Kneebone, Dr. James Gelsleichter, Maggie Winchester, Oliver Shipley, Brendan Talwar, Chelsea Shields, and Andy Mann.

Palmata progress: A new coral nursery initiative

After the recent addition of a newly established Acropora cervicornis (staghorn coral) nursery, the CEI Reef Team has embarked on yet another coral propagation project. Jodie Ball, Research Technician, is leading the initiative as part of her independent project in conjunction with the Center for Sustainable Development, one of Cape Eleuthera Island School’s affiliate organizations. Her goal is to set up a shallow water coral nursery for the propagation of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), also a critically endangered species, that can be used for educational purposes as well as contribute to reef restoration science.

There are various acknowledged approaches to coral gardening but CEI has so far only employed one of these innovative techniques, in the form of 2 PVC-trees at both our Tunnel Rock and Bamboo Point dive sites. However, in just a few weeks, the Reef Team and members of CSD have expanded these efforts, with the creation of two new structures, installed at a shallow water reef just off the south west coast of Cape Eleuthera. This new nursery is cultivating elkhorn coral, which thrives in much shallower water than staghorn coral. Consequently, these new structures were deployed at a shallower depth, between 10-15 feet, and easily accessed from shore.

The new nursery structures wait on the deck, ready to be deployed.

The new nursery structures wait on the deck, ready to be deployed.

The two new structures were built using different materials, all of which were previously considered to be waste. One of the main goals of our campus is to strive to be a zero waste campus so the team was quick to jump at the opportunity to repurpose old materials, rather than spend a large amount of money on pre-constructed designs. One structure was make from rebar and painted with blue anti-corrosive paint, and the other using cinder blocks and cement pucks, with six pucks attached to each of the cinderblocks using epoxy. By mid-week the new designs were ready for deployment. After the structures were secured in their new home, the next phase of the project was to collect wild coral fragments to be grown in the nursery. On the Atlantic side of Eleuthera, scattered colonies of live elkhorn coral can be found in the mostly dead fringing reef that once thrived with many species of coral and sea fans. The team collected a small branch of elkhorn coral from a wild colony which was then broken down into 28 pieces. Once added to the nursery, the new corals were photographed and measured and added to CEI’s compilation of coral data.

Elkhorn coral fragments hang from the rebar structure at the new shallow water nursery site.

Elkhorn coral fragments hang from the rebar structure at the new shallow water nursery site.

Elkhorn coral fragments attached to cement pucks using epoxy. 

Elkhorn coral fragments attached to cement pucks using epoxy. 

Jodie hopes that her new project will provide an opportunity for the many visitors to the Cape Eleuthera Island School to learn about the global decline of coral reefs and how we can aid in their restoration. We’ll keep you updated on the progress!

* All photos courtesy of Daisy Buzzoni

Sea Turtle Research at CEI awarded Disney Conservation Foundation grant

We are excited to announce that Cape Eleuthera Institute has been awarded a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) as a part of the Fund’s focus on reversing the decline of at-risk wildlife around the world. The conservation grant recognizes Cape Eleuthera Institute’s work to promote the connection between people and the environment by studying island ecosystems and educating people about conservation in The Bahamas.

The Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team has strived to share the conservation implications of their research findings and current management strategies in The Bahamas through outreach. With support from the DCF, the Cape Eleuthera Institute has been reaching out to the community by meeting with local students this spring and leading interactive presentations regarding sea turtle biology, the threats they are facing, and management strategies. Through discussion, the team can assess the awareness of and attitudes towards the sea turtle harvest ban, quantify the level of sea turtle ecology knowledge, and discuss research and conservation efforts to protect these threatened marine reptiles in The Bahamas.

Meagan Gary and Chelsea Begnaud after their presentation at North Eleuthera High School.

Meagan Gary and Chelsea Begnaud after their presentation at North Eleuthera High School.

The shallow coastal waters of The Bahamas produce ideal foraging grounds for green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles in their juvenile stages. All three sea turtle species found in The Bahamas are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to severe population declines and substantial threats. In 2009, The Bahamas became one of the only countries in the Caribbean to institute a sea turtle ban when the Ministry of Agriculture & Marine Resources passed legislation offering full protection to all sea turtles in Bahamian waters. The law forbids the harvest, possession, purchase, and sale of all turtles and turtle products. While The Bahamas should be applauded for their progress in sea turtle conservation, the high ocean to land ratio and fragmentation that comes with trying to inform and monitor 700 islands leads to difficulties in both regulation of the ban and the principle awareness of the existing laws. Through their outreach findings, the team discovered that while some students displayed knowledge of existing protection for sea turtles, less than one percent of nearly 800 students could identify the specific law behind the ban.

The Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team’s local school outreach is part of the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s effort to foster a relationship with Eleutheran residents in order to understand preexisting knowledge and perceptions regarding conservation to better serve the community. The team has visited 18 public schools and students learned about the sea turtles of The Bahamas, the importance of the sea turtle harvest ban, and how they can protect sea turtles by adjusting their daily habits and getting involved in local opportunities. The ensuing trivia games had students from grades 1 through 12 leaping out of their seats to have their answers heard. They discovered that sea turtles can enhance human lives through maintenance of seagrass beds and coral reefs that serve as habitats for commercially important seafood and as coastal barriers to protect against the damaging effects of hurricanes.

A student from Deep Creek Middle School assisting with the turtle workup.

A student from Deep Creek Middle School assisting with the turtle workup.

The school visits were a unique and rewarding experience for the team to travel outside of Southern Eleuthera and see how the love for sea turtles extends to the farthest reaches of the island. Visits extended as far north as Harbour Island and Current Island! Because of their outreach efforts, more people know of the sea turtle ban and why it is important. Students were encouraged to promote environmentally responsible behavior and assume leadership roles as “Sea Turtle Ambassadors” in their own communities. The seven members of the team are not able to offer all the protection that sea turtles need and they hope that the students and their teachers will share their appreciation for the local marine environment and support the need to protect it.

Jess Rudd teaches students at Current Island all-age school.

Jess Rudd teaches students at Current Island all-age school.

This summer the Sea Turtle team will be teaming up with the Bahamas National Trust to assist in their Discovery Club camps and spread the sea turtle conservation message further. We are also excited to announce the first ever Sea Turtle Camp for Bahamian students at CEI this summer!

The Disney Conservation Fund focuses on reversing the decline of wildlife and increasing the time kids spend in nature. Since its inception in 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) has granted more than $65 million to projects that help protect the planet and animals in 115 countries around the world. Projects were selected to receive awards based on their efforts to study wildlife, protect habitats and develop community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems around the world.

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of grant recipients, visit ww.disney.com/conservation.

2017 Maxey Cacique Award - Mackey Violich (F '06)

Every year, The Island School is proud to present the Maxey Cacique Alumni Award to honor one alumnus who has lived our mission to make a difference in the world.  Our alumni community includes over 1,800 individuals who have achieved outstanding accomplishments since transitioning back home from The Island School.

This year, we honor Mackey Violich from the Fall 2006 Island School semester. After graduating from Lawrenceville Mackey returned to The Island School to take the first Dive Master course taught on Eleuthera. Returning to intern for many summers Mackey progressed to be a Research Technician for the Shark Conservation Program. Now, five years later, she is finishing up as a graduate student under Edd Brooks, Cape Eleuthera Island School CEO! Mackey's long history at CEI has allowed her to develop a love for the deep sea, which has led her to working with some of today’s most advanced oceanic technology. Her partnership and research with Dr. Edith Widder and the Medusa has helped discover new species, as well as learn about an area of the earth we still know little about. Mackey’s undergraduate degree in Marine Conservation Studies and Environmental Economics from the University of California Berkeley paired with her Masters in Oceanography from Florida State University is only the beginning of what Mackellar Violich can achieve.

We are immensely grateful for Mackey's years at CEI, her enthusiasm within our tight knit community, her dedication to shaping the future of young adults, and her commitment to The Island School mission and values. We are sad to see Mackey go, but can’t wait for the next time she comes home to Eleuthera.