We are excited to announce grant funding from the NMFS to research the opportunities and challenges of creating a market for lionfish as food in the U.S. Virgin Islands, one area where the invader is proliferating.
Today, May 28th, is officially the last day of our lionfish program. After our last sight of the cabin we have been staying for the whole week and the hill we climbed up as work out every day, we loaded our luggage and supplies to the van. It had contributed so much to our trip in St. Croix in providing transportation, temporary storage, fitting room, and even sacrificed its windshield in order to protect us from the rainforest attack. Today is its last stand. It was a pity that the nice pastries store we have been visiting is closed today but we found an alternative for our breakfast before we headed to our morning drink local culture learning trip at the rum distillery.
Of course we will miss you, the lovely cabin and the bearing van…
The distillery trip introduced us to the process of rum making. Here used to be a sugar cane plantation and the mill standing there proved the history of the site. We walked by the tanks for distilling and fermenting. The smell of alcohol was just like any other alcohol but the smell of fermenting was so impressive that everyone passed the tanks as fast as they could. Outside of the workshop, we saw the molasses flow out slowly from a truck that looks like still. Encouraged by our tour guide, we all got the prospective sweet taste of rum using our fingers and it was great. The aging of rum in barrels would take up to 12 years and the life expectancy for each barrel is 36 years which means reuse of three rounds. As time passes by the rum gets darker and smaller in volume.
Basically how rum is made…
The finished product is filled in truck and it will take a few more steps in transportation before it is finally labeled in Kentucky. I guess this is the end of the story. We also tried a few rum samples and of course that small amount of drinking happened in a proper manner-proper for a group that is going to do more survey in the airport right after this.
Comparing to our surveying in airport today, the close of the pastries can be called as lucky since we found a substitute. We went to the airport trying to grab a few more surveys with tourists to make our minimum-one-hundred goal. After the work in Christiansted for the previous couple of days, we were already really close to one hundred, which is a limit for the result to be statistically meaningful. But unfortunately, either there weren’t a lot flights this morning or the passengers do not have checked bags, we only succeeded in interviewing two tourists before we knew that no more flights will come in the morning. Therefore we gave up at about 95 to 100 and left the airport to have lunch.
That food truck is awesome!
Maybe I just should not post the photos of the food but it was great. Everyone enjoyed their lunch. Actually, after staying together for the whole week, we have really learned to work like a team. Cooperate and win as a team but not as a person-these may sound like tedious and boring but only when experienced together do we feel it. Our lionfish t-shirt informs others that we are a team but now we know and feel we are a team by heart, or maybe also by wearing the same without communication.
We wear the same t-shirts, use the same water bottles, eat the same thing, we are twins!
After the tedious checking in process, we are finally here, waiting for our flight to finish our field research in St. Croix. We decided to spend the last one or two hours here in a meaningful way, like a coding party. Since we are really here for researching, this is the only party we had. That is also the last finishing up part we can contribute to the lionfish research project at this moment.
Be serious! We are here to do research! But this party we cannot miss…
Everyone is happy and excited. Therefore, we were filled with the feeling of accomplishment when we had people asking us “how is your survey going” in the airport and keep meeting people who had met during our surveying. Meeting that gentleman in the photo below is actually the fifth time, literally every day after he took a survey on 24th. Again, this is a small island and we shall keep that in mind and behave ourselves. Hopefully so far we have built a good reputation as “the lionfish group”.
“That’s not nice.””Well, I never said I’m a nice guy!”
Finally, say good bye to our tiny and lovely airport. “The End” for our field trip. But hey, uur field research is just another start for the lionfish project! Please keep paying attention to further updates!
Instead of waiting to survey tourists in an empty airport, we got smoothies!
We’re hanging out by the Christiansted harbor webcam. Check us out!
Shhh, We’re Hunting for Tourists
Last night we had our first taste of what a real rain shower feels like in the Caribbean. We all agree it was a very loud experience, but it was great! Unfortunately, the rain did not quiet Hannibal, our famous resident rooster. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night shall stay him from his appointed task. As always, he had us awake bright and early.
We went tourist hunting today! While we have had great success finding locals to survey, we’ve had a harder time locating tourists. We started out the day on the pier again, but we had little luck. However, it was not wasted time! We did get some surveys and I ran into a tourist I had interviewed a couple days ago. I’ve seen him around the pier a lot and each time he makes a concerted effort to wave or come say hello. This interaction is one example of the experiences that continue to bring more meaning to our work. It truly is special to know that in our time here, we are not only assisting with an important research project, but we are also forming friendships and having some kind of positive impact, even if it’s just bringing a smile to someone’s face. While I would have loved to have stayed and spent more time with my new friend, we still weren’t getting the survey numbers we needed and this fact required a change of strategy. Kate, our fantastic coordinator/ outreach manager/ fairy godmother acquired permission for us to survey in the baggage claim area of the airport. So off we went to the airport! We hastily made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and, once armed with surveys, made our way into the airport.
Grabbing a quick bite to eat before running into the airport!
We got a fantastic number of surveys, bringing us very close to our goal for tourist interviews. This was because when a plane arrived and people started filing into baggage claim it was like a speed round of surveying. We had to get the most amount of surveys possible in a very short amount of time. It was definitely a day for efficiency!
Our new surveying location!
While we were having to act quickly whenever a plane landed, we had a lot of downtime in between those flights. So Kate had the wonderful idea of taking us to get smoothies while we waited! We bought them from a local food truck and they were just fantastic. They were exactly what we needed to power through those last surveys of the day.
The best smoothie place around!
Molly enjoying her smoothie!
After wrapping up at the airport we got some time off and went to the beach! Molly, Jakob, Kaetlyn, Han, Jeff, Dr. Yandle, Paulita, and myself all went snorkeling on a self guided exploration of a small reef. The experience was absolutely wonderful. We saw two stingrays and a colorful assortment of reef fish. We also saw areas where new coral was being grown! The water was warm and clear and the view was so beautiful that we hated to get out. It truly is another world down there. It’s experiences like these where we get to step back from the research and just appreciate the beauty of St. Croix that help to put all of our work into perspective. Our efforts here may potentially lead to a method of marine environmental management that is both good for the environment and for the people, so working extra hard for those tourist surveys feels even more vital.
Right next to the dive shop was the restaurant where we grabbed our final dinner on St. Croix. This meal was probably one of our more memorable dining experiences. Not because the food was tasty or the view was gorgeous, but because nearly half the team, myself included, got pulled to dance to the R&B band playing up front. A lot of laughter has occurred on this trip, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much as when dancing tonight.
Today was definitely a great last full day on St. Croix. We made a lot of progress on our surveys and had yet another awesome opportunity to explore the natural environment. It truly is hard to believe that we will be leaving tomorrow and while I am excited to go home to Atlanta, I would be lying if I said I will not miss St. Croix.
Our last sunset of the trip.
It’s not every day that you can conduct surveys on a small private island. Outside the main island of St. Croix, just a 20 second boat ride from the Christiansted Boardwalk (known to us experienced surveyors as simply CUB), this small island is actually a hotel with a public beach. However, before I continue anything else. TODAY IS HAN’S BIRTHDAY. BIG 2-1!!! We now know how to say Happy Birthday in Mandarin生日快乐! or Shēngrì kuàilè! After the initial happy birthdays, we began our relatively early trek to Christiansted. After the customary stop at The Pastry Hut TM, home the amazing donuts and turnovers, (not their real saying but maybe it’s a good idea?), we set out on the road. Although we got caught on the main road with a lot of traffic, we made it to Christiansted around 9. Once there we split into two groups. Half of us including Paige, Molly, Jeff, myself (Jakob) were sent to the island with Kate, while the other half of Jason, Katelyn, Han and Meg were sent to the Christiansted Boardwalk to intercept unaware tourists going on their scuba trips. Tourists actually walked up to us at first to ask what we were doing. However it soon became slow so Paige and Jeff were sent back to the mainland to try to interview people at the boardwalk. Ironically, and I think due partly to birthday luck, Han got by far the most of the day with 9 interviews in a few hours! What everyone seemed to really enjoy was the 30-minute break to do some shopping for people back home. The break and opportunity to shop reminded us of everyone back home that we have left for a short period of time and haven’t gotten to talk much to. However, Molly and I during our break still got to talk about our work to the Purple Papaya shopkeepers, who asked us about our sweet-looking shirts. After we had filled in about how lionfish were safe to eat, they responded with saying that “Nemo’s mom was eaten by lionfish, and if it tastes good, “we will eat that shit any day.” It was a welcome endorsement from the locals, and reminded me of what we are trying to accomplish.
The lunch we had today seemed to draw rave reviews from everyone except Kate, simply because she had too small of a plate for the size of her salad. (pictured below) Everything we had from Rum Runners was in big portions, with arguably the nicest bathrooms in St. Croix (also a big shout out to Cost-U-Less bathrooms, which scored very highly on my test) A funny moment occurred when they brought out the food. They came out to Jeff face down asleep on the table. Unfortunately I only got the picture right after he woke up, but smiles were all around. The good news about the day was that we were able to get a good amount of tourist surveys today! Hopefully we will get more tomorrow to round up a successful trip. Most tourists were very willing to talk to us and to help out “poor college students’ to quote one couple from Maine. While this “off “season for St. Croix hurts us in regards to the number of tourists, many of us can see why a good amount of people from the mainland come and move here. It’s relaxing, unknown, and relatively few people (at least why we are here). The most interesting point that I have come across is how willing the people here are when it comes to taking surveys. It seems that back at Emory, people go out of their way to stay away from these surveyors. I have been one of these avoiders before, and being on the other side opened my eyes a little bit. It doesn’t take very much to answer 10 minutes worth of questions, and it could mean a ton to the surveyor’s research. I think that is the best example in terms of how this trip has changed me. We have gotten so used to the surveys that I think most of us could say nearly the whole thing memorized. As I write part of this blog post we are currently coding (picture) at Kate and Paulita’s place, which is a welcome respite from the heat. Han’s birthday dinner comprised of the chicken and rice and jonny cakes we had gotten earlier in the week, although this time I thought it was significantly better, especially the rice and lentils. We ended the night with a lemon pound cake and blueberries that had been made by Kate, which was delicious. Overall from today, I think there are a higher percentage of tourists that are saying yes to our surveys than the locals. I thought nearly no tourists would take part, since they are used to people trying to get them to take surveys and avoid people with clipboards. Combine that with my thoughts about tourists not wanting to take surveys and waste time on their vacation, and I believed we were doomed. However, we have been moving pretty steadily and hopefully we finish them up.
While it is certainly tiring work being in the direct sun in 95-degree weather for up to 7 hours a day, (as you can tell by the candid pictures of catching up on rest whenever possible) this group remains positive and fun. We could certainly use some views or comments on this blog to help motivate us for a final push of tourist surveying and the dreaded coding.
Kate’s extra plate
He woke up!
Kill them all (the lionfish!)
Not a bad mix
Ride over to the island w/Jeff
Start of the day
After a late night last night working on surveying, we got to sleep in a bit today and didn’t wake up until 7:00 AM – thirty minutes past our regular wake up time. We’ve fallen into a pretty reliable morning routine complete with bug spray, sunscreen, peanut butter and jelly making, and of course, Hannibal the rooster who wakes us up every morning before the sun rises. This morning, there was even more excitement in the air than usual because we knew that we were going snorkeling later in the day. We were all running around the camp trying to gather all of our belongings – swimsuits, towels, and sunglasses – before it was time to hit the road.
Although we were all very excited for snorkeling, we had to get quite a bit of work done first. We hopped in the van and made yet another trip down the mountain road that we’re finally beginning to get used to. For today’s surveying, went back to Christiansted to spend some time at a couple more local grocery stores. We split up into two groups, with four of us at “Cost U Less” and the other four, including myself, heading to the east end’s “Pueblo.” Although we were off to a rough start with a lot of rejections, those of us at the Pueblo actually ended up having a full morning talking to local shoppers about their seafood preferences – and their ideas about Lionfish.
It continues to be a fascinating experience to hear about the incredibly diverse range of opinions about the Lionfish invasion here in St. Croix. For example, some believe that Lionfish are edible and also quite yummy. On the other hand, some believe that it is a dangerous fish to consume. We’ve also met people who’ve never even heard of Lionfish. Tourists that we’ve spoken with add a whole new layer of complexity. Whether they have heard of Lionfish or not, they view the survey from a completely different perspective than local residents do, allowing us to gather even more unique data about seafood and Lionfish preferences.
All of this diversity and circumstantial behavior is part of what makes this project so interesting. We are studying such a small environment – St. Croix is only about 80 square miles, after all – and yet we are constantly learning more and more about the island. We are starting to have a sense of place that allows us to understand not only where we are geographically, but also why the culture of the area cannot be ignored when examining the Lionfish problem. As Dr. Tookes and Dr. Crosson told us before we left for our trip, the culture here is very proud and diverse. Many people here have grown up eating the same traditional meals and may not necessarily want to try anything different. However, the general affinity for seafood in both local and tourist communities may make St. Croix the perfect place to try to establish a Lionfish market. This is something that can only be determined with more research!
After a quick lunch on the road, it was finally time for some snorkeling! We headed back over to Frederiksted and stopped at Adventures in Diving STX. After a lot of chaos with us all trying to get changed and lathered in sunscreen, the first group of us went out to the pier to begin our snorkeling tour. We spent a lot of time laughing about how silly we all looked waddling around in our gear before jumping in. After getting our masks and snorkels adjusted, we began to explore around the pier. Our guide gave us all a complimentary “Reefcomber’s Field Guide” that we used to identify the fish and coral we saw throughout the snorkel. The pier was a great place to explore because all of the posts were absolutely covered in beautiful coral that was full of little reef fish. Although we had our cards, it was tough to tell exactly what species of fish we were seeing. We definitely saw plenty of Sargent majors, butterflyfish, and damselfish. Towards the end of our tour, our guide took us closer to the beach where a new coral reef was forming. There were plenty of vase sponges that were small now, but they can grow so large that a whole person could fit inside.
There was one thing missing on our snorkeling trip: Lionfish. Although we thought there might be some around, we didn’t see any Lionfish throughout the entirety of our snorkel. Although it was somewhat disappointing that we couldn’t see the fish that we’ve been talking about all week, it can certainly be considered a good thing! Hopefully this section of new reef can continue to grow and thrive without an overwhelming number of Lionfish in the area. Our guide told us that this specific section of the reef had recently begun to support not only more fish, but also bigger fish, a sign of positive reef health that we were all excited to hear about.
After some additional data coding in the afternoon, we went to a restaurant called Turtles After Dark for dinner. We had a great time discussing our trip so far and digging into the all you can eat pasta special. It’s hard to believe that we are already more than halfway through our trip. We’ve learned more every day about this unique island and are getting closer and closer to really tackling the Lionfish invasion. It’s been a great trip so far and I can’t wait to see how the final few days of surveying turn out!