Monday, August 3, 2015

Fitch High School, Cane Toads, and Cahows

For Connecticut science teachers Charmaine and Kevin, Bermuda has always been special.  The couple fell in love with the island during their honeymoon, and soon returned with groups of Fitch High School students.  The pair began a Bermuda ecology course in Connecticut, which culminates in a fieldwork-based trip to the island.  Now, after 18 years of bringing students to Bermuda through BIOS, the island still hasn’t lost its charm. 

During their week-long stay at BIOS, the Fitch High School students snorkeled at Whalebone Bay, learned about the conservation project at Nonsuch Island Nature Reserve, explored North Rock, and much more.  I was able to join the group on their trips to Nonsuch Island and North Rock to document their trips, and learn why they look forward to returning to BIOS each year.     

On Thursday afternoon I met the group down by the docks.  After the safety briefing, we headed out to Nonsuch Island in the Castle Harbor Islands Nature Reserve.  Nonsuch Island is a reserve and wildlife sanctuary where conservationist David Wingate has spent his lifetime restoring and helping bring the endemic Bermuda Cahow sea bird back from near extinction. 

I spoke with Charmaine and Kevin on the boat ride over about their experiences bringing students to BIOS. Both couldn’t say enough good things about BIOS, and explained how the program has a significant impact on the students that they bring. “The people at BIOS have been great,” Charmaine said.  “For a lot of kids this is the only time they get to go to Bermuda.  The students learn to appreciate different cultures, see the beauty of the island, and for a lot of students this trip is the first time that they have been on their own.”  

The pair explained that some of the students who participate in the trip return the next summer with a new group, and help by teaching some of the classes and mentoring the students.  Kevin said that this becomes a valuable leadership opportunity for the students. 


Soon we caught sight of the light turquoise-colored waters surrounding Nonsuch, and the students excitedly got their dry bags ready.  Because the water is too shallow to dock, the captain anchored a little off shore, and the students helped load up the kayak with their dry bags. We all jumped in and swam to shore as Kyla, the Program Assistant for BIOS Ocean Academy, brought the loaded kayak in with her.  Once the students were ready, Kyla began the walking tour of the island.  She stopped along the way to point out some of Bermuda’s unique flora and fauna.

Eradicating the invasive cane toads
At one point, Kyla stopped to point out a black plastic wall enclosing a pond.  She asked the students what function they thought the barrier served.  The students were quick to guess that it was to keep an animal out.  That animal, as we found out, was a toad.  

We were all in awe as Kyla explained that the cane toad, Bufo marinus, has been observed swimming all the way from the mainland in search of fresh water!  Amazingly, the cane toad can smell the freshwater across Castle Harbor. These determined toads are the same ones that Bermudians commonly refer to as ‘road toads’ because they frequently are seen squashed in the road.

David Wingate published a paper in 2010 describing the success of the barrier in eliminating the invasive cane toads from the island.  Wingate explains how the cane toads threatened the endemic Bermuda skink and the seriously endangered Bermuda petrel, or cahow.   To try and rid the nature reserve of the invasive cane toads, Wingate and his team came up with a “non lethal method of removing toads” by installing “a toad barrier around the freshwater pond, constructed of robust high density polyethylene (HDPE).”  Because the toads rely on freshwater as breeding sites, they were unable to breed and consequently captured by Wingate’s team during the night.  Amazingly, Wingate and his team carried out the nighttime toad raids for 5 years until all toads were removed before they reached reproductive maturity.  After the 5 years, an impressive 1,244 toads were returned to the mainland. 

The barrier remains to discourage any more toads from coming to the island and Wingate estimates that only one toad per year tries to migrate to Nonsuch.  Because that rogue toad can be captured quickly, Wingate reports that the toad is now gone from the island and that his research paper “is the first published report of a successful eradication of the species from an island with breeding habitat.” 

Devils Isle and Cahows
Further along in the walking tour, Kyla said that the reason that Bermuda was called Devils Isle was because of the screaming cahows that people heard from aboard the ships.  It was thought that their screeches sounded like ghosts of people killed in shipwrecks.  Kyla also explained that in the 1620’s there was a widespread famine on the island and the settlers essentially eradicated the cahow.  With her arms stretched out, Kyla said how the cahows would mistake humans (which they had never encountered before) as trees, and would land on their limbs.  This made the cahows an easy target for the starving settlers, who would simply pick them off their arms and legs and cook them.  

In less than 20 years of settlement, the Cahow declined to the point where it was thought to be extinct, a belief that persisted until the rediscovery of 18 remaining nesting pairs on four offshore islets in 1951.  A 15-year old David Wingate, who was with the group when they found the pairs, left inspired.  After university studies, Wingate returned to Bermuda, driven to help bring the Cahow back from extinction. 
Kyla showed us some of the artificial nesting sites that the Cahow Recovery Programme has installed in order to encourage Cahows to reproduce.  Although remaining critically endangered, there is now hope for the Cahow on Nonsuch Island.  Wingate's conservation and recovery program on Nonsuch Island has successfully increased the number of Cahow breeding pairs from 18 in 1951 to 92 pairs in 2010.  The Cahow Recovery Programme is now recognized as one of the most successful restoration projects for a critically endangered species, and was highlighted in the first World Seabird Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, in September, 2010.  

The BIOS experience
The students seemed to really enjoy the tour of the island, and got a chance to do some snorkeling before heading back to the boat.  Once aboard the boat again, I spoke to a few of the students about their experience at BIOS.  One student, Alex, said, “I think it’s cool to be around all of the scientists here, and see the type of work that they are doing.  It’s so interesting to hear about their latest research.”  Another student, Sam, had the opportunity to experience some of the friendly Bermudian spirit, “One thing that struck me is how nice the people are here.  They smile and greet everyone they see."

Lauren is on her second trip to BIOS and told me, “It’s an amazing experience to see a lot of things that most people don’t get to see.  It has been a really unique experience.” Lauren explained that her favorite part of her time at BIOS has been being able to go diving, “It’s so amazing that I get to have this opportunity and I’m only 17.”  It was Mackenzie’s first year at BIOS and also her first time out of the country. “This trip has changed what I thought I wanted to do,” she said. “ Now I am interested in pursuing a career in marine biology.” 


It is evident that the love that Charmaine and Kevin have for Bermuda and for BIOS is now shared by so many of their students.  We can’t wait to welcome next year’s group, and show them all why Bermuda and BIOS are so special.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bermuda Program Interns Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our Bermuda Program Intern profiles! Eliza, Phoebe, and Alice are three wonderful interns are working with Kaitlin Baird, the Assistant Director of Science Education Programs at BIOS, to help run the Marine Science Internship for local high school students.  These three Bermuda Program Interns help make everything run smoothly by teaching, assisting when needed, and leading science dives. 

The Marine Science Internship (MSI) program targets high school students aged 15+ who are interested in pursuing college-level studies in ocean science. This two-week internship provides participants with resume-building experience and practical training in scientific diving techniques. MSI interns learn statistical analysis procedures, standard laboratory protocols, and have the opportunity to fine-tune the SCUBA skills necessary to conduct marine science research.

Meet Eliza!

Through her BIOS Volunteer Internship, Eliza is combining her love for Marine Science with her studies in Business and Marketing at Wake Forest University.  Learn how here:

1. How would you describe the project you have worked on at BIOS to a non-scientific person?
After completing MSI in 2011 and 2012, I returned in 2013 to help Kaitlin out by leading dives and helping her in the classroom. In 2014, I was hired as Kaitlin's Bermuda Program Intern to help with the MSI program and now I am back again this summer. One particular project Kaitlin has put me in charge of is MSI social media. I take photos during our dives and then sort through them, posting some on Facebook, and pulling others for use in the classroom.

2. What did you hope to gain or learn from your internship, and did you achieve this?
From this internship I hoped to further reinforce my understanding of the basic Marine Science research methods and learn more about the education programs at BIOS. I feel as if my understanding of Marine Science concepts has most certainly been reinforced as I have had to help others comprehend different survey methods, fish species, coral species and the anthropogenic impacts on the ocean. Additionally, since I have had to help Kaitlin with some of the instruction, I definitely feel as if I have gained more knowledge of the educational aspect of BIOS. 

3. Has anything in particular impressed you while you have been at BIOS?
 Among the many things I have been impressed with during my time at BIOS, I have to say that Kaitlin has impressed me the most. After being with her for the past five summers, I have seen her growth both as an educator and a scientist. She not only is full of knowledge and creative ideas, but she is incredibly easy to work with and to get along with. She knows exactly the perfect combination of work and fun and her incredible organizational and presentation skills make the MSI Program a resounding success.

4. Has your time at BIOS changed your thoughts on what you might want to do in the future?
 Although I am currently on a Pre-Business track at Wake Forest University, my time at BIOS has encouraged me to explore the ways in which I can combine my passion for Marine Science with my studies in Business and Marketing.

5. What do you like about the Bermuda Program?
 I personally believe that the Bermuda Program is one of the best programs at this institution. It provides young scientists and students alike with the lab and work experience that is a crucial part of their education, and a foundation for their work in the future.
6. If you could sum up your internship in three words, what would they be?
Exposure, education, enjoyment


Meet Phoebe!

Phoebe is going into her second year at the University of Southampton in the UK, where she is working towards a Masters in Marine Biology.  Phoebe was first introduced to BIOS when she was 15 and a student in the Marine Science Internship.  This year, she was chosen to be an intern in the Bermuda Program, and is now working as part of the team running the Marine Science Internship program. 

1. How would you describe the project you have worked on at BIOS?

I’m working in the Education Department of BIOS under my mentor Kaitlin Baird. Specifically I am working as a supervisory diver/assistant teacher in the Marine Science Internship (MSI), which is a program for high school students who have previous qualifications in diving, but don't have much experience in science diving or research.   In two-weeks we teach students different underwater surveying methods, how to collect samples and data sets, and how to process their own data.  So not only does it help them advance their diving, like it helped me when I did my Marine Science Internship, but it also exposes them to how we process data at BIOS. Right now I'm also doing an independent project on identifying algae and creating a document that assists people in recognizing the different types of algae.

2.   What did you hope to gain or learn from your internship, and did you achieve this?

I wanted to gain experience in teaching diving. I’ve helped teach younger kids in environmental camps since I was 12, so now that I'm 18 I wanted to use my educational knowledge and ability to teach in order to give back to the community.  I also gained my rescue diver and Emergency O2 qualifications this summer, which provides me with the skills to help any divers in distress.

3.  Has anything in particular impressed you while you have been at BIOS?
Kaitlin, my mentor, has been absolutely amazing.  She has gone above and beyond what she needs to do.  Kaitlin makes it so easy for us to just jump in on the first day and really feel comfortable helping the new interns.

4.  Has your time at BIOS changed your thoughts on what you might want to do in the future?
It made it more specific.  I always knew I wanted to work in marine biology but now I know I want to work in coral reef conservation, and hopefully come back and work here.

5.    Would you recommend an internship at BIOS?
I began my experience with BIOS when I was a pupil in the Marine Science Internship, and I would highly recommend doing that and then moving on to becoming a Bermuda Program Intern like I have. This gives anybody who wants to study and work in marine biology an amazing head start to their career, because you get the rare opportunity to do hands on work and research. Additionally I feel that the Bermuda Program is an invaluable resource for our Bermudian community because it gives people who want to study marine biology the opportunity to stay local, and make a difference protecting our waters.  I’ve benefitted from the funding that these programs get, and they make a world of difference to people like me.

If you had to choose some words to describe your BIOS experience, what would they be and why?
·      Rewarding – the young adults who come usually leave with a smile on their face, and look forward to doing more research in the future.  It proves that education isn’t boring.  It’s fun. 
·      Opportunity – because I would’ve never had this opportunity anywhere else.   It helped me learn so much more about Bermudian ecology and the state of Bermuda right now, which really helped me confirm that this is what I want to do, and that I want to stay here. 


Meet Alice!  Alice is in her last year at The Hotckiss School in Connecticut.  The ocean has captivated Alice since she was young, and she is enjoying her internship at BIOS helping in the Marine Science Internship Program. 

1.  How would you describe the project you have worked on at BIOS?
 I am currently working in the BIOS Education Department with the Marine Science Internship. I am helping Kaitlin to organize the program in the field and in the lab. Throughout the internship we go out and survey different ecosystems, and help to teach the MSI group about conducting research and data input and analysis. 

2.  What did you hope to gain or learn from your internship, and did you achieve this?
In order to help Kaitlin with MSI, I had to obtain my Rescue Diver certification. This certification, along with leading small groups of divers during MSI, has really helped me develop as a young diver. I have also gained experience in the field of education through understanding the importance of organization, enthusiasm and safety. Through reinforcing the information that Kaitlin presents to the interns, I obtain a better grasp of it. I hoped to further acquire a mix of educational and scientific understanding and I feel that MSI has really helped me in doing so. 

3.  Has anything in particular impressed you while you have been at BIOS?
 BIOS has always seemed like a large facility to me.  However, I have come to know it as a small community.  The BIOS staff around me, although very busy most of the time, are not only familiar with one another, but noticeably affable with those around them. Specifically, I have been impressed by Kaitlin. She has so many tasks that she needs to address, however, through her efficiency and positive manner, she not only proficiently executes these tasks but also maintains her optimistic attitude and the attitudes of those around her. Knowledgeable in both education and science, Kaitlin is the perfect teacher for young, interested interns. 

4.  Has your time at BIOS changed your thoughts on what you might want to do in the future?
Growing up in Bermuda, I have always been captivated by the ocean. I know that I will always be interested in Marine Biology and it is certainly a field of work that I am considering. After my time at BIOS last summer as a member of the Marine Science Internship and an aide to Kaitlin and the program, I realized that I want to work with people. Regardless of what I do in the future, I would like to be surrounded by people as I have been at BIOS.

5. What do you like about BIOS?
For locals, BIOS is a great place to try to understand the ocean that envelops the island on which we live. For overseas interns, BIOS is a wonderful resource to explore unfamiliar and diverse waters. It is the ideal facility for a young and curious person interested in marine science, like myself and many other interns at BIOS. As an educational institution, BIOS encourages learning and curiosity.  Any internship at BIOS involves science and education in one way or another; through lectures offered in Hanson Hall, learning from other scientists, or sharing your own knowledge. 

6.  If you could sum up your internship in three words, what would they be?
Stimulating, opportunity, community 

Keep checking back to learn more about other Bermuda Program Interns!