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Tuesday, 01 November 2011

Maho Bay Camps: An Endangered Species? - Page 7

Written by Janice Anderson
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That night, I simply shooed a bug that crawled down my wrist out the screen door. The next morning, another, the size and shape of a watermelon seed, walked over my computer screen. The first day I would’ve jumped urgently: Really? A bug right on my screen? How can I concentrate? Maybe if my trip were longer I’d not even notice that I was noticing.

Just as I began to see nature as accessible, I had to add another threat to my growing list. So far, I worried about the loss of the lease, the difficulty maintaining water and the coral bleaching and die-offs. Now, an after-dinner presentation on venomous Lionfish raised my awareness about another danger facing the Caribbean. This invasive species has infected coasts all along the islands and the southern shoreline of U.S. mainland. While not fatal, its venom – delivered through as many as eighteen needle-like dorsal fins – can cause extreme pain, nausea, and shortness of breath. Hoteliers and boat captains showed every tourist the Lionfish picture. When found, they’re removed from local waters in a constant battle to keep their numbers down. According to Karl Pytlik, Lionfish expert from CORE (Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education), they’re well beyond a “poisonous nuisance.” They could ruin the ecosystem and devastate the economy. With poisonous fish around, no one would want to swim. No more snorkeling or other water sports. This could decimate tourism from top to bottom: transportation, hotels, restaurants, and shops. Not to mention, the fishing industry. And like it or not, this Lionfish is here to stay: it multiplies quickly, eats 75% of its own body weight per day, and has no significant predator. The only hope is to limit their numbers by individual capture.
I hated to see the week come to its end. I felt braver than when I had arrived; snorkeling began to feel beautiful in a way that a hike in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park was beautiful. If something stunning caught my eye, I stayed to watch. I wondered at the splendor of it all. I grieved the losses. When we snorkeled across the bay instead of hugging the rocky fringe (where the coral has the best chance), the sea bottom was covered with dead white coral. Like bones. There’s a suspicion that the Lionfish that have populated the Caribbean waters were once in hobbyists’ aquariums. As in so many areas – the Gulf of Mexico, the waters off Japan – humans were wrecking the place. We’ll all have to adjust if we are to move towards sustainable living. We need more places like Maho Bay Camps, not fewer.   

Before we checked-out to begin our trek home, we donated to the Friends of the Virgin Island National Park and obtained contact information for CORE. We also signed up to get updates on the lease dilemma with the hope that the Trust for Public Land would be able to negotiate the deal to keep it open for years to come.

In the open air taxi on the way out of town, I held my camera at arms length, leaned over to Pat and took our picture with the turquoise sea as background: happy tourists sad to be leaving. In fact, I snapped as many photos of the threatened crystal waters as I could, trying to capture something I had just barely found. I kept at it until the islands were mere dots in the green sea below our plane. One of those dots, St. John, and on St. John the treasured fourteen acres, and somewhere under the surface of Maho Bay an octopus moved: slowly, deliberately and with pride.

©Janice Anderson

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

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