SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
November 18, 2019
Settling Into St. Croix
Greetings from beautiful St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and thank you for reading the inaugural blog post for C-289 (the “C” stands for our ship, the Corwith Cramer, which will be our home for the 289th SEA Semester voyage). The faculty - Chief Scientist Dr. Heather Page, Captain Greg Wisener, and myself - have prepared an exciting and multifaceted schedule for our ten-day Island Component. The fourth member of our teaching team, Dr. Matthew McKenzie, will be joining us in a few weeks.
After successfully completing the six-week Shore Component in Woods Hole, students arrived here last week and hit the ground running as they began exploring the history, culture, and ecology of St. Croix. Our base of operations is Discovery Grove, a charming retreat located in the rolling hills on the north side of the island. Students live communally in cottages of four to six beds each, with no AC to escape the tropical heat. Natalie Marshall, our extraordinary steward, prepares our tasty meals, but everyone assists in the cleanup. Our gregarious and accommodating host at the Grove, Ty McRae, stresses the importance of water conservation, so showers are limited to a two-minute maximum. If it sounds like I’m complaining, you’re mistaken: I see these as positive attributes that will prepare students for life aboard the Cramer.
On our first full day, we wasted no time getting in the water. At Frederiksted Beach on St. Croix’s west coast, students practiced laying transects, placing quadrats, and taking samples for the first time in real ocean conditions. We also spent some time exploring in and around the cruise ship pier (don’t worry—there were no ships in port!). Although we didn’t find the seahorses we were hoping for, we did see a green sea turtle, a very large ray, and countless tropical fish. We returned to the beach electrified, if a bit exhausted, and eager for more.
The next day, Saturday, we rose early in order to visit the weekly farmers’ market. Students, working in pairs, looked for unfamiliar produce and asked the vendors about its usage, origins, and preparation. We then brought our discoveries back to the Grove for show, tell, and snack time. We sampled long squash (Kiernan and Liz), breadfruit (Caroline and Thomas), golden apple (aka June plum; Brett and Carla), okra (Courtney and Francesca), sorrel tea (from the roselle plant; Izzy and Rebecca), sapodilla (Dan and Valeriia), soursop (Muriel and Sabrina), starfruit (Julian and Lexi), moringa tea (Jamie and Rikki), fresh, unprocessed cacao (Becca and Emily), and something sold as candlestick fruit, but which may have actually been midnight horror (Ciara and Jemma). This led to a great conversation about the economics of food production.
We reentered the water on Sunday for our first official reef survey at Isaac Bay on the island’s east end. Every survey begins with an assessment of ocean and weather conditions. Overcast skies and distant squalls seemed ominous, but the rain held off and the cloud cover provided welcome protection from the sun’s rays. Students completed their research and we enjoyed a beachside lunch before returning to the vans, at which point the skies finally opened and we experienced our first tropical deluge.
Today we went back to Frederiksted, this time for a tour of the island’s most historically significant town. Our guide, Yulette George from Crucian Heritage and Nature Tours (CHANT), walked us through the eighteenth-century fort and quaint streets lined with nineteenth-century Danish homes and storefronts. Thanks to Yulette, the island’s fascinating and sobering history of colonialism, labor strife, and natural disasters (from the 1867 tsunami to 2017’s Hurricane Maria, from which Crucians are still rebuilding) came alive.
We hope you continue to enjoy these regular updates from the Caribbean Reef Expedition. Tomorrow we head to Cane Bay for our second reef survey and I will pass the torch to our first student blogger, Francesca. Feel free to comment below with greetings and well wishes.