Oh crap here comes the sappy shit.
This program has really given me a lot over the past 3 months. Namely, unparalleled underwater experiences, a deeper appreciation for nature, and some of the best friends you could find on an island (or anywhere, really). Sarah has become a person that I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do without—but luckily I won’t have to. The weekend we get back is her 21st so we’re going to celebrate together in the city. And we’ve already bought Red Sox tickets for August when I’ll be home from North Carolina. We have the uncanny ability to never get sick of each other even though we’re together for at least 10 hours out of the day every day. I feel like we’re really similar, except that she struggles a bit more than I do. Hence her perfect nickname, Strugz.

 

love ya, girl.

Yesterday we put on our last day of community engagement in South Caicos, and we definitely went out with a bang. We had an event called Sea Day! 

For Sea Day,  we went out and collected starfish, conch, little fish, urchins, etc. for a touch tank. Me and some other girls caught a sea turtle the night before to teach the kids about turtles. Charlie did a SCUBA demonstration down at the pool. We had “pin the spine on the lionfish” games, costumes, face painting, a photobooth, and LOTS of cake.

At the beginning of the semester, Slamma and Gills created an island fraternity. We were officially the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Turks, a brotherhood that was really exclusive so naturally it included everyone in our program. They gave us all nicknames (I’m Baby Narcs… a little girl seeming to be in a permanent state of SCUBA diving induced drunkenness called nitrogen narcosis where the you actually start to feel and act intoxicated at deeper depths.)

Anyway, we have had a few “pledge activities” throughout the semester. For example, two weekends ago we were randomly duct taped to someone else all night and the first couple to finish their little bottle of rum first won. Last night we had another pledge event— a prom! It was definitely the best prom I’ve been to: no worrying about what guy would ask you, no hassle over a corsage and a dress, no worrying about the location of the after party. And best of all, it was 90’s themed.


So Slamma and Gills picked half of us to be the “askers” and put the other half of the group’s names in a bucket to be picked out randomly. I got to ask Lauren, a super bubbly, amazing girl with a ton of tie dye. I chalked “Lauren, prom?” on the outside of the dive shed and waited for her with flowers to ask her to prom. Naturally, she said yes. So we geared up with a bottle of rum and dressed up according to the theme as a young Mary Kate and Ashley in matching backward hats, tie dye, denim cutoffs, high socks, and gray converse. You got it dude.

Everyone got really into the theme— it was one of the most fun nights I’ve had here.
From top left— Street Sharks, Spice Girls, Friends, Pokemon, Top Gun, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Salem, Powerpuff Girls, Barbie and Ken, Rose and Jack from Titanic, MK and Ash, Wayne’s World, Beanie Babies, Baywatch, and Nickelodeon slime. 

Here are a few favorites from the night, shot by the talented Ryan Askren.

Wayne’s World


Ash Catchem and his Pokemon (pikachu and chancy)

 


Powerpuff Girls and Dr. X

Baywatch

Top Gun

 

Baby Spice, Ginger Spice, Sporty Spice and Scary Spice

Brilliant.

Aurora got bit by a lemon shark in the leg.
One of our interns, Charlie, got stung by a lionfish on the hand.
And as of last night, I got bit in the face by a hawksbill sea turtle.

We’ve caught over 25 turtles in the past two weeks. Last night we were especially charged and excited to go out, knowing we’d be headed to Admiral’s Aquarium where we’ve caught many in the past. We caught 7 turtles in the first 15 minutes, but not without consequence.
Within the first few minutes of us being in the water, me and Carolyn spotted 3 big guys. Abandoning each other, we both just went for it. I dove down to pick up this turtle, who was still groggy and sleepy in my hands, but only for about a half second. He then shot up to the surface, bringing me with him and began thrashing around violently, smacking me with his flippers and trying like hell to get away. My left hand slipped off his shell just a few inches and in the darkness I just felt something clamp down and find purchase on my jaw. Realizing the bastard had bit me but high off adrenaline, I started to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all while accidentally swallowing salt water as I tried to swim to the boat with this huge turtle in my arms.

I almost hope that it scars so when people ask me what it’s from I can say “oh yeah a sea turtle bit my face” instead of the generic “I fell off a bike when I was 5” or something.

Let’s just say that describing last night’s turtling as “eventful” is probably an understatement.

Things are winding down here at SFS. We’ve had a few interesting happenings lately at the center. Our food shipment finally came, except it was all poisoned. Yep, the shipping company packed it in containers that included paint thinner, which leached out into all our food. The center had to throw away $3,000 dollars worth of food the other day. We’ve ordered enough to get by from a grocery store in Provo, but this isn’t and never will be luxury.

So, like I said, things are winding down. All we have left is this one week of data collection for DR, a week of writing our final papers, and a few extra days. The day we leave here is going to be unbelievably bittersweet. On the day we leave here I’ll be looking forward to seeing my friends and family, celebrating my 21st birthday, and saying goodbye to South Caicos. Talk about a rollercoaster of emotion.

Things I will miss:

- going to sleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean
- all my friends here :(
- crack conch
- 2-a-week dives
- sea turtles every day
- being tight with the locals
- turquoise water
- living in a daydream


Things I’m looking forward to getting back:
- my wonderful family
- MAINE!
- Caitlin, Chali, and Kaitlyn
- my down duvet and REAL bed!
- avocados. berries. real, unprocessed food.
- my bunny Murphy and my pup Martin
- sangria
- sleeping in


 

Turtle rodeo? What’s that you say? It’s basically how I spend my days now. Today we spent 6 hours on the water and came out of it with this guy…

Totally worth it if you ask me! So back to turtle rodeo… for my directed research me and Carolyn have been going out in the mornings with the shark group, setting nets, and waiting for a turtle to wander into them. We’ve only caught one in the nets so far— the time we get the most turtles is when we go out every night from 7-9 and catch them by hand on the reefs when they’re sleepy. Today we set nets per usual but also went out scouting for turtles surfacing for air in an attempt to try out turtle rodeo. Once we saw one, we chased it down with the boat and followed it around until it got tired. Carolyn then jumped out of the boat after we corralled it and grabbed it. We named it Cooper :)

We tag turtles that aren’t tagged, mark the ones that are recaptured, take a tiny tissue sample for genetics, and take a bunch of different measurements. By the end of next week we will hopefully have enough turtle data to write some semblance of a scientific paper on our findings.

All I know is that I haven’t sat in a classroom in 2 weeks. I spend 6 hours in the sunshine and the water every day. I’ve held at least one sea turtle every day for the past week. My days are spent laughing with my group and the sharkers and going a little bit delirious. Thinking about going home is really bittersweet right now.