Sitting here in a hammock sipping a cup of coffee and watching the crystal blue waves roll lazily by the center I realize I am perfectly content. I arrived at the center a week and a half ago now and have been involved in nonstop activity. Our first few days covered introductions and tours and formalities. Then came swim tests and dive skill checkouts. Then our fist dives and our first week of class, our first forays out into town and even our first field exam where we identified mangrove species in the water. I felt like I’ve been here for weeks and at the same time feel like no one could ever convince me to leave.
South Caicos is part of the Turks and Caicos Islands, an archipelago of about forty islands that lies to the southeast of the Bahamas. It is not in fact located in Africa as one of my friends believed when I first told her I would be studying abroad here. South Caicos, the island where my school is located, is comprised of eight square miles of coral rock with a population of around 1200. South Caicos has a rich history, once being a main exporter of salt for the area. You would never believe now seeing the stark difference between the lavish tourist destination of Providenciales and this more run-down island that South Caicos was the first island in the TCI to have a hotel and also had the first international airport.
The island’s main economic activity now lies in the fishing industry. Queen conch and spiny lobster are harvested and processed here before being shipped off to Miami. South has been relatively protected from the effects of tourism, but with contractors working on some large-scale hotels here, concern for the sustainability of the pristine reefs and the already weakening fishery has increased. That is why the School for Field Studies set up a site here nearly two decades ago to conduct research that can then provide guidance about sustainable practices.
There are thirty-six students here, four interns, a dive instructor, three professors, our student affairs manager, the site director and her husband, and the site maintenance guy. The students share bunk beds in modest rooms, but no one spends time there because the rest of the center is so incredible. We have a pavilion that covers a big eating space and our “games room” which contains a ping-pong table and dart board. Outside of that there is a salt-water pool, about eight hammocks and a sand volleyball court right outside our gates. There is a small classroom and computer lab as well as a dive and snorkel shed. The edge of the property lines a wall that drops straight to the ocean where the four boats are docked and where we like to snorkel at night.
We have class four days a week, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays we go for recreational dives in the morning and have community outreach in the afternoons. Wednesdays we will be going to the public schools to help teach and on Saturdays numerous projects happen at the center that include swim lessons for the local youth as well as a project to build a green house on the island. Sundays are our days off, but we all made a pact to never let a Sunday go by sitting at the center. We will snorkel or explore or in some way learn to appreciate the environment as well as the culture on the island. South Caicos is definitely on island time but the students and staff certainly intend to stay busy and enjoy every second of time here.
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