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Tuesday, 01 November 2011

Maho Bay Camps: An Endangered Species? - Page 3

Written by Janice Anderson
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After-dinner lectures held each night at Maho Bay Camps helped to further orient me to this underwater world. We learned about the coral die-off and bleaching events of 1998 and 2005, where eighty percent 80% of the Caribbean coral turned white and up to forty percent died. Bleaching doesn’t actually kill the coral. It’s due to the stress-induced loss of its symbiotic organisms, zooxanthellae. Coral is clear; the hues come from these organisms within their tissues. Some say the reef depletion is due to the high rates of erosion and run-off caused by construction – yet another reason to keep Maho Bay Camps as is. Others attribute it to the warming of the waters. But one thing is clear: die-offs continue. As a reminder of the National Park status of the coral around St John, one speaker showed a slide the Statue of Liberty with Swiss cheese-like holes, and another of Mt. Rushmore with half the heads missing. “If this happened to any of our other National Monuments,” he said, “Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts would be fundraising and Congress would act.”

On day three we took a day trip with Hamilton, of Hamilton’s Taxi Service. He’s been taking Maho Bay Camp visitors on trips since the late 1970’s, when it was hard to get anyone to drive on the rough and remote roads. Now, he’s given exclusive access to visitors on excursions to trailheads and other beaches. We snorkeled around Salt Pond Bay, on the southeastern end of the island, where we found healthier coral and bigger, more colorful fish. One, aptly named Queen Triggerfish, had blue, yellow and green in its body; its top fin flowed from its neck like a dancing boa. I enjoyed snorkeling this time – until I came upon a school of octopus-type things (or they came upon me). Their wide suction-cup mouths opened and closed repeatedly. They appeared to swim backwards because a big fat dot on their tail end looked like an eye. I found this disorienting. The whole group changed direction simultaneously and quickly. They seemed to swim right towards me. Or did they? I poked my panicked head above the surface and kicked my feet so they couldn’t get at me. Pat noticed and came above water.

“Squid,” she told me, as reassuringly as possible.

“Really? I’m heading back.”

We dried off in the warm sun, enjoyed our packed lunch and then hiked to Drunk Bay. Compared to the northern, tall-treed side of the island, this southern trek offered a new sense of climate. Arid. Desert-like. Cacti and low brush in scorching sun. To the east, the large, darker, gray-blue waves appeared more like those of my Jersey shore youth. This shore was made of rocks, from the tiniest pebble to boulders bigger than me; nowhere to place a chair or lay a blanket. Here, it is customary for visitors to make designs out of broken coral and rocks: stick figures mostly, but also Zen stacks, arrows, and bird nests. We watched one mother and her seven-year-old daughter diligently collect “art supplies.” Climbing over rocks on our way out, we checked out her sculpture: stone body, coral limbs, pebble pearls, and coconut shell hair.
   
Mahobay4By midweek, I started to love the tent cottage. I even warmed up to the ‘kitchen,’ though I still missed running water. Mostly, I loved sleeping there. I felt so lucky to lie on a comfy mattress and listen to tree leaves snap against one another, and to feel the periodic breeze on my skin. It felt as if I was sleeping outside and indeed, the Big Dipper situated itself right between the treetops as I gazed upwards from my pillow; my nightly miracle.

Unfortunately, Maho Bay Camps – this safe haven for geckos, iguanas and reluctant tourists like me – is in danger of extinction. A twelve-year extension on Stanley Selengut’s original twenty-five-year lease is up this January. They’ve gotten another, six-month extension – to July 2012. Bottom line? Mr. Selengut cannot pay the asking price: thirty-two million dollars.

Enter the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national, nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to protecting land for public use. The Trust has already purchased nearly five hundred acres of land elsewhere on St. John, which it is selling in phases to the U.S. Congress to be turned over to the National Park Service. Negotiations for the Maho Bay Camp land have not, as of yet, led to an agreement. If they can’t agree, the precious fourteen acres could turn into a multi-floored cement structure with air conditioning and a chlorine pool. As much as the Westin sounded appealing to me when I first arrived, that is not what this place wants to be.



(Page 3 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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