Up Close and Reeeal Personal

On Wednesday, we did our Bimini routine: breakfast and group journal. Next up, something new and exciting: a golf cart tour! Past SHU groups had not done this before, so we were the guinea pigs. Sophia really liked being able to see more of the island, which wasn’t realistic to see on foot during our short breaks. It was almost like a behind the scenes tour, more fully integrating ourselves into the local community. It was surprising to see how empty the large resort was; given all the environmental destruction, we would think it would at least be busy all day long. Nicole’s cart saw an iguana run near the road, just moments after speaking of them. We watched the sea plane fly overhead and then cruise over to the floating dock. Passing by the local schools gave us a good perspective on what education might be like on this small island – there was even a school bus parked in someone’s yard! We visited Ms. Antoinette’s gift shop; she was very welcoming, with the coolest platform Crocs. We also made time to stop by and meet a couple of island dogs, including Pup & Holly who are available for adoption.

We had a short break before lunch and visited The Chic Store – another very welcoming shop keeper. We also checked in with the Straw Market ladies to ensure we could plan for hair braiding tomorrow. Next, it was lunch and sharks, with the heads up that we would have a savory treat onboard. On our way to Triangle Rocks, we peppered the new boat crew member Matthew with questions about sharks and his experiences with them. We spied a few bottlenose dolphins and the Sapona in the distance. Soon, we were at the shark spot and it wasn’t long before we could see Caribbean reef sharks beneath us. We were all pretty (pretty?!!) nervous at first, but we all did it! Abby and Liv found the sharks to be calming and Sophia calmed down once she saw the sharks just doing their own thing. It seemed to be a very healthy reef, with an impressive number of sea fans. The fish were so vibrant, each one cooler than the next, always a new one to look at. At one point, one shark showed us a hint of its speed, cruising through the school of fish. Nicole didn’t see any claspers, so we think at least most of the sharks were female. We are learning so much on this course! The sharks lost interest, so we explored the reef before heading back to the boat.

Once onboard, we were informed that there was a surprise second spot. We were given clues, including that it was a creature we had already seen, but not too close up. On the way, we sampled conch salad, wondering what would await us. As the boat anchored, at Honeymoon Harbor on Gun Cay, we looked around, wondering about the southern sting rays we could see in the distance. Yup! We were there to see – and feed and touch! – the rays! Captain Al gave us all the information we needed; he’s very knowledgeable. Once we got to the shallows, we had a moment to sit in the gross grass (no offense to the grass) and sort out our fins. We discussed what was about to happen, how our personal space was going to be invaded: and it was. It was hilarious when they would basically climb up our backs! Sophia stood for a bit, as the rest of us sat calmly (well, not always calmly) and fed the rays shrimp. Feeling them pull/suction the food out of our hands was amazing, at times even feeling their plates. We were concerned about their “stinger,” but as we learned more about its anatomy and function, we felt better. Some of the rays were really active, sitting on Abby and Julia’s lap and splashing. We all felt them cruise over our legs, and we started to notice subtle differences between the individuals. What are their markings from? Why are some lighter and other darker? Part of why we were so aware of their markings is surely because of the time we have spent in class and on the boat discussing photo-ID. It was also really cool to be able to have our faces out of the water, as we sat and interacted with these amazing animals. We were chatting and sharing our feelings in the moment and seeing how each of us became comfortable such a short period of time.

Back at the Sea Crest, we headed to the beach to enjoy the sunset before dinner. We may not have known where today was going to take us, but it exceeded our expectations.  

Until next time,

The Galphins (aka The Final Five, SHU 2022)