St Eustatius: Part 2

S’up Guys!

What happened there?! I know they say time flies where you are having fun, but the last two weeks have been a real ‘blink and you’ve missed it’ situation. I am currently sat back in Leeuwarden, it is 2 degrees outside and I’m wearing multiple layers of clothing, but how about we rewind a bit and talk about happier sunnier times? I will try not to cry too much.

Week two began- well let us say ‘sun kissed’ after a Sunday spent avoiding the heat by diving through the waves, instead of doing the sensible thing and finding some shade. The duration of the presentation about the Queen Conch research that was being conducted on the island was very interesting but also a little bit painful for some of us who were ‘sun kissed’ in the more sensitive areas. And then Tuesday and Wednesday were for the real fun: diving.

Now, diving is incredible: going beneath the waves to the blue depths surrounding yourself with creatures you could never dream existed let alone be in your presence. But it also requires a fair amount of skill and coordination, of which I have none. Yes, I am qualified but this was the first dive since gaining that qualification and I hadn’t even thought about the processes in nearly a year! But of course after a little bit of encouragement from the incredible dive leaders, it all went smoothly, and we even managed to conduct a little bit of research whilst we were down there.

Diving was beautiful and we were all exhausted, but then on Thursday we were treated with visiting a Tropic Bird nesting site to assist with surveys, it was a bit of a scramble but so worth it when the gloves went on and the birds came out. Unfortunately I was struck down with the worst tooth ache of my LIFE and couldn’t enjoy the morning as much as I would have liked but hopefully the pictures show how beautiful these birds are and how much fun everybody else had.

That evening, drugged up on some hospital prescribed painkillers, antibiotics and a whole lot of saltwater gargling to try to help my tooth, I was luckily able to rejoin the group for the Science Cafe. This is an evening held every Thursday by the CNSI (Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute where we were staying), open to the entire public, with talks and presentations for anybody to talk at and listen to. This week our two lecturers were talking, one about our course and excursion and the other about his work with AROSSTA; the artificial reefs project off the coasts of Saba and Statia. Oh and did I mention there was free food and beer?

Friday we had a research methods workshop in the morning, then at night it was time for Karaoke!! We started by heading to the STENAPA accommodation and hanging out with the group of interns we had met last week, after a few drinks we piled in to the pick-up and headed in to town. Beers were drunk and songs were sung, and as the clock struck midnight, we all gave each other a look of ‘We have to be up at 6 to hike the volcano’ and some of us did the sensible thing and trudged home. Others, decided another hour would be fine and went on to the next bar where we carried on the party. The clock hit 1am… I looked at Danielle and said ‘Mate, we have to be up in 5 hours’ to which she looked me dead in the eyes and confidently replied ‘Give me 4’.

So I did.

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And true to form, a 6am we were up. Slightly groggy and worse for wear but we were up, and that was all we needed. Armed with sun lotion and all the bug spray we set up for our hike up the Quill. It started off not so bad, we saw a Red-bellied racer and met a very intrigued Pearly-eyed thrasher, but the hiking itself was easy enough. That is until we reached the rim of the crater. From here is was ‘just’ 20 minutes to get to the panoramic viewpoint, but those minutes turned out to be more of a climb than a hike! Using various roots and branches to pull ourselves up, getting covered in mud in the process but we struggled on to the top, and how it was worth it!

But then it came for the climb down… we started by going very VERY slowly and heard many disgruntled comments from behind us but we kept at our steady pace and thank goodness we did… every single one of the disgruntled followers slipped, tumbled and fell multiple times. But we made it down eventually (some on their bottoms) and all in one piece.

We made it home sweaty and tired, to find out the water at CNSI had been turned off again and there was no chance for a shower so instead we picked up our stuff to and headed to the beach to shower in the sea.

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And that was the end of Week 2!! This ended up a lot longer than I was expecting so week 3 will be separate and uploaded at some point in the near future hopefully!

Ivy and Danielle x

 

 

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St Eustatius: Part 1

If you are currently sat in wet and windy Scotland, with nights that are drawing in and exams approaching it may be best if you stop reading now. Our first week in the Caribbean is over and it’s been filled with fun and festivities, oh and of course some learning squeezed in.

1. Travel

We all met at Schipol airport at 6 am on the morning of 12th November.

We were flying with KLM and soon discovered the range of in flight entertainment included Wonder Woman, Spider-man and roughly 10 screaming children. This was made up for by the surprisingly yummy airplane food, and we were soon won over by a few particularly adorable children making their ways up and down the aisles smiling and waving.

This was the first flight being run to the island since the devastating effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria so we were very aware how important this flight was for many of those on board which was handled with great sensitivity by the airline staff. The diligence and resilience of the staff was particularly felt once we arrived at St. Martin, whose airport has been destroyed by the recent storms. We arrived to makeshift security and baggage reclaim under gazebos, but all went very smoothly and they even had dominoes available whilst we waited for our connection.

The connection from St. Martin was where the journey got interesting. As we were waiting we were watching the types of planes that were around us and it slowly dawned that this was going to be a very.. personal flight. The plane sat just 12 of us and the pilot and we even had to have a few ‘test runs’ before actually setting off. But it did the job and we arrived safely in St. Eustatius ready to enjoy our trip.

We settled in to CNSI where we would be staying, got our rooms and after a few tries- some more than others- got our finger prints put in to the door so that we could get in to the building. We also went to the local shop

2. Learning

Over this past week we have had various lectures and mini excursions to teach us about the workings of the island and how life here works. This has so far included:

  • A presentation from the director of CNSI, the scientific institute where we are staying.
  • Meeting with Charles Lindo, the tourism foundation officer on the island
  • A historic tour of the island
  • A presentation from Anthony Reid about the economy and infrastructure on the island
  • A presentation from STENAPA, the islands nature conservation organisation

Each of these activities has given us a broader understanding of life on such a tiny island which depends so much on importation to sustain itself. Within this we have also been working on group projects which have involved interviewing stakeholders and individual research.

3. Statia Day!

The whole of our first week of being here has meant us getting involved in the Statia day celebrations. This is a national holiday, celebrating Statia being the first country to acknowledge Americas independence. This means we got the spend the week enjoying a proper Caribbean party with Zumba, local bands and the most amazing people. Every night there was a party in the square, with the official celebrations taking place on Thursday morning with flag raising and a gun salute.

Everybody on the island has welcomed us with open arms; whether that is teenage girls dancing with us in the crowds- and laughing at us whilst we attempt to meet their standards but fail miserably or strangers stopping to ask if we need directions or even a lift, nothing is too much trouble.

So amongst learning and dancing, we have also squeezed in many a beach trip, snorkeling, exploring, a bbq and karaoke. We have seen lizards, geckos, hummingbirds, frigate birds, tropic birds, coral reefs…. Oh and did I mention it is 30 degrees?  And the week coming is set to involved diving, bird surveys and hiking the volcano, so no rest yet!

I did warn you not to read this if you were sat in the cold dark windy rain didn’t I?

Hopefully see you with another post next week updating you on more of our adventures.

Ivy and Danielle

x

Update!

Hey!

To say it has been a while since we posted would be an understatement, but it has been exam season and what can I say? we are hard working students!

The first assessment we endured was the creation of a scientific poster about a key issue on an island of our choice, we both stayed loyal and chose Scottish islands- of course, stick to what you know right? And then had to present them to the class in a ‘Poster Market’. Everyone was terrified in the run up, but once we got going the atmosphere relaxed and it ended up being quite enjoyable. Everyone’s posters looked fab and it was really interesting to hear all about the different islands that had been chosen.

We also had 3 exams, one of Cost Benefit Analysis where we had to apply the CBA to a scientific paper of our choice, the second was a theory exam encompassing what we had learned in our Life Histories, Tropical Ecology and Socio-Economic lectures, and lastly we had an Eco Research exam where we were provided with a case study and had to explain the methodology we would use in such an experiment and the statistical analysis we would conduct.

During all this we squeezed in an impromptu stop over to London to support a best friend, came back and delved straight in to finishing and handing in our 10,000 word essay comparing the Sustainable Island Management of two Caribbean islands. Which we then did a 15 minute presentation on yesterday.

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Squeezed in a visit to the amazing Whale exhibition currently being run at the Natural History Museum in London!

Sorry did I say we had been busy?

Well that brings us right up to date, to yesterday in fact. We now have the weekend to relax, then we spend next week preparing our projects for St. Eustatius before we leave next Sunday! Can not believe this trip to the sun has come around so quickly, we have been talking about it since we applied for this course. The 20 days (!!!!!) that we are there will include guest lectures from researchers, diving in the coral reefs, hiking in the Quill, bird surveys with mist nets and SO SO much more.

But for now that is it from us, I’m sure the next post will just be a flurry of photos from Caribbean so I hope you look forward to it.

Ivy and Danielle x

 

 

 

Wading through the Wadden

So Friday 22nd September saw our first excursion as part of the minor in Sustainable Island Management. We had a preparation lecture a week or so before, learning all about the Wadden Islands off the coast of the Netherlands. The five islands sit in the Wadden Sea, which actually extends up past Germany and Denmark, the Dutch area includes Ameland, Terschellig, Schiermonikoog, Vlieland and Texel. The Wadden Sea is a UNESCO world heritage site, created relatively recently around 7,000 years ago post glaciers, and harbours a stunning landscape featuring 10,000 plant and animal species living amongst the sand dunes, mud flats, salt marshes and sea.

Schiermonikoog

So we woke up fresh as a daisy at half 6 after a lovely long night sleep that definitely did not involve drinking beer at an Oktoberfest party, ready to get on our bikes and cycle to the bus station. We met a few of our classmates there and we all got on the bus to the ferry together. The journey was met with lots of ooh’s and aah’s at the windmills and sheep and LOTS of ‘I just can’t get over how flat it is!?’ much to our Dutch classmates amusement.

At the ferry terminal we met up with those in the class who had travelled from places other that Leeuwarden and our lecturer who would be leading the excursion, bought our tickets and boarded the boat. Whilst on board we had a debrief about the day, what to expect and what we should look out for, and had a little look at a map of the island.

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Might not be a CalMac, but it’ll do

We stepped on to the island and started on our trek through the National Park. We stopped at a few places on the way to lunch to discuss the various species which were growing in the harsh conditions of the salt marshes and discuss the various land uses.

 

After lunch was when the trip got really …interesting. We were aiming for the beach and the lecturer offered a vote: the path, or a cross country adventure. The vote for adventure was unanimous and so off we went, in the direction of ‘north’.

It didn’t take long for us to realise we had made a pretty huge mistake, the muddy squelchy ground started to become less ground and more water and we started to realise why the dutch have built so many dykes.

Soon we were wading through water above our knees and grasses above our heads, jeans, trainers and all absorbing the smelly swampy mess. What began as carefully jumping from one dry looking patch of ground to the next had quickly become ‘lets make a run for it’ to the highest ground we could see where we would regroup and decide where to head for next.

Forty minutes of walking, wading and near enough swimming , we finally made it to the beach and what a reward it was, but one thought over ruled them all, ‘It’s just so flat?!’ (are you seeing a trend here?) All that was left to do was release our inner SAMS student and run straight in to the sea, well we were smelly and muddy anyway, a bit of salt water wasn’t going to hurt was it?

After a paddle and catching some instas we strolled along the beach, met up with our lecturer and stopped for wee chat about some of the species on the beach and the history of whaling on the islands. We also heard all about the special shells found here which if given away, will cause the receiver to love you for ever more, causing everyone to spend the rest of the walk with eyes to the sand on the hunt for their very own cupid shell.

A wee walk further and we finally got to sit down for a drink, graciously paid for by the lecturer, who declared the excursion officially over. We trudged in our sopping wet shoes all the way back to the terminal, hopped on the ferry and got the bus back home to our warm welcoming beds.  Oh and we were greeted with finally having WiFi installed in our flat!

 

Hope you are still enjoying our adventures,

Ivy and Danielle

If you are interested in finding out more about the Wadden Sea World Heritage site…..

Ready… Set… Study!

Its been a whole week since we started our studies at Van Hall Larenstein and we have already had so much fun. Although the university here is quite a bit larger than we are used to back at SAMS, we have been happy to discover the atmosphere is very much the same. We can’t express enough how lovely and welcoming everybody has been to us, making sure we have everything we need and are understanding what we need to do.

Our class size is just 15 students, even smaller than back home! This means the lectures are really interactive and there’s already a great relationship between lecturer and students. Classes involve a lot of chatting and discussion, meaning you actually pay attention to what is going on!

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Danielle working hard in one of the study huts

First class kicked off with introductions and then they jumped straight into setting all our assignments.

One of which is a group report comparing aspects of two Caribbean islands, such as environmental issues, economy and legislation. What we have been surprised about is how much feedback we have had from our lecturer; we have already had multiple one-on-one progress meetings to discuss where we are going with the report. This has been so useful considering we are new to their system and reassurance that we are on the right track is definitely needed, we have these progress meetings scheduled every week up until the deadline which is a VERY good way of making sure we don’t write the entire thing a week before…

 

The second assignment we have been set is to create an informative ‘poster’ which we have to present to the class about an island of our choice and the difficulties it faces. We have discovered that they are quite big on group work and presentations within this course which although daunting is probably going to be great practice for the future. (dissertation presentations we’re talking to you)

Because we are taking the minor in Sustainable Island Management we don’t have defined modules, but instead have various classes on different topics. Some of the topics we are covering are Life Histories, Tropical Ecology and Socio-Economics and we have been pleasantly surprised how well our two years at SAMS have set us up for what we are learning.

Being such a small class we thought it necessary to go for some introductory drinks with everybody, which was a a really great idea at the time. But when sat in a lab hungover cutting the guts out of a fish? maybe not. We took all sorts of measurements from our fish, then took out the gills and opened up the abdomen. Danielle’s opened up her Plaice to find two whole sackfuls of eggs which we looked at under the microscope!!

 

If you are a SAMS student reading this and are at all interested in coming to Van Hall, feel free to find us through the alumni page and send us a message to ask any questions!!

Until next time

Danielle and Ivy

x

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, trains and pedal power…

We may have only been in the Dutch province of Friesland for a week but what a week it has been. Introduction week threw us in the deep end but we will get to that later. First let us introduce ourselves and explain a bit about where we are and why we are here.

We are Danielle and Ivy, two 3rd year Marine Science students from SAMS UHI and for the next 6 months we have enrolled in an erasmus exchange to the Hogeschool Van Hal Larenstein. Whilst here we will be studying a minor called ‘Sustainable Island Management’ within the Coastal Zone Management Course. The university is located in Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland. Located in the north of the Netherlands, Friesland is a small but patriotic province, with their own flag and language.

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Off on our travels!

After a very short flight we landed in Schiphol, and went to catch our direct 2 hour train to Leeuwarden- which we soon discovered that due to Sunday constructions was going to be a a manic journey consisting of a train, bus and another train (maybe this wasn’t going to be so unlike home after all). The only thing which distracted us from the fuss of hauling our bags across the country, was the discovery of double-decker trains. As we sped along, one thing was for certain… this country was very flat.

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The view out of the train window, Glencoe? Ben Nevis? Hello?

Eventually we arrived in Leeuwarden and settled in to our new flat, all we wanted to do was go to bed, but our grumbling tummies forced us out for an evening of exploration.

The smell of food lured us down to a canal side restaurant, and with the help of a lovely waiter (who we asked to pick anything off the dutch menu) finally got some food in us- even if we weren’t 100% sure what we were eating.

Chatting, eating and and an early night welcomed us, little did we know about the crazy week which was about to unfurl in front of us….

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Until next time
Ivy and Danielle x