The HIke to Reef Bay

Today we took another scenic ride in the open safari car driven by Hamilton,
this time to a heavily forested area with trees high enough to block out much of
the tropical sun.  From there we hiked down an old Dutch “road” to see the
petroglyphs, rock carvings made by the pre-Columbian natives of the island
between 400-900BC, and the ruins of the Reef Bay sugar mill.  On the way, we
stopped to learn about several native trees with interesting names, such as the
“Monkey no Climb” tree.  We also observed a variety of small creatures including
hermit crabs (again!), spiders, and anoles – small gecko-like lizards.   In
addition we passed the ruins of a house that was once a village, although it
had been so well reclaimed by the forest it was hard to see any sign of it
beyond the single mostly intact rock foundation.  The site containing the
petroglyphs looked as though it would be beautiful in the wet season, as Randy
told us that there would be a waterfall then.  Though not quite as beautiful as
it could have been, the place was still pleasant, made up of large smooth rocks
and with quite a few dragonflies and birds flying around near the two water
pools in the rock.  One bird was particularly friendly, first sitting on a
branch near one part of the group and then landing on a rock near another,
staying there longer as one of the group was feeding him pieces of bread.  The
petroglyphs themselves were amazingly well preserved and quite striking.  One
set was better preserved than the others and reflected in the water, creating a
nice mirror effect.
The Reef Bay sugar mill ruins were large and relatively
well preserved, considering that they have lain abandoned for multiple
centuries.  One of the larger buildings still had its roof and housed more
hermit crabs and, more importantly, several bats.  The bats remained hanging on
the ceiling, but our presence woke them and their sleepy shuffling about to get
comfortable again was quite adorable.  The ruins themselves were interesting as
well: looking more intact than some of the others we visited allowing us to
better imagine what the site would have looked like when it was in

After the hike we ate lunch and had a short lecture about Field
Survey Techniques that represent the diversity on the reef.  There two types of
Data quantitative which is the number of each species identified and counted. 
The next is qualitative,  the presence or absence of a species. The different
types of techniques were Manta Tow Technique, which has a person being towed
behind a boat with a board to hold onto and use to write notes on as well.  The
Plots Belt Transects has a tape measure set down over a set area and a person
swims along side keeping tract of everything they find on both sides of the tape
measure with a board to take notes. The technique we did today was Quadrants. 
This technique uses a large square grid placed on the sea ground and you can
count the species inside the grid. This isn’t helpful for special relief and
different size objects, but is good for averaging the quantitative amount of a
species in a given area. We went out with 1 by 1 meter grids and laid them on
the sea floor and counted the numbers of rocks inside the grid to give an
“estimate” of the number of the fish while snorkeling in Little Lameshur Bay.

Tonight was a fun night because we had a special guest come Ital
Anthony.  He had a cultural presentation about folk medicine and different
native plants.  We learned about 30 different plants you can find around the
Virgin Islands. For example the eyebright plant is used for red and itchy eyes,
it’s boiled and cooled with hot water and used to wash out the eye for relief.
After his folk medicine and plant presentation we started learning about the
percussion instruments. He started singing different native songs for us to
dance to and we all joined in!

Shout outs:

Shout outs to Dad,
Mom, Steph, Jess, Katie, Erin, Sam and Dave miss and love you guys ! I can’t
wait to come and tell you about my amazing experience here in the Virgin Islands
! (:

Mom – I’m fine and they are feeding me well.  Stop
worrying.  If you haven’t already, let poor Roxie sleep in your room.
Shannon, and Laurel – if you guys are reading this, hi!

hi mom,
I hope Maggie isn’t being too loud & hi dad I hope you’re enjoying the cold

Hi mom, dad, henry, dust and Charlie,
Hope your
enjoying the cold weather, while I’m getting my tan on. Can’t wait to come home.
Love you! – Ariel



Bacon Blog from the girls in cabin 3

Everyone was feeling exhausted this morning but were instantly rejuvenated at the sight of bacon for breakfast!
After another delicious breakfast, our punctual taxi driver “Hamilton” took us to the Annaberg sugar mill ruins. The ruins were an impressive sight. Most of the old wind mill is still intact as well as the rooms they distilled rum in.
From there we hiked to Watermelon Cay for a beautiful snorkel. Some of the breathtaking creatures we saw included sea turtles, a manta rays, nurse sharks and colorful fish.
After our snorkel, Hamilton took us to Cinnamon Bay for a shower that lasted longer than 3 minutes!!!! Smelling good and looking snazzy, we went to Cruz Bay to shop. Everyone split up into groups for an excursion that lasted four hours. By 5pm, everyone had stories to tell.
A character that everyone seemed to enjoy was Thomas who imparted our group with wise words and delicious coconut water straight from the coconut (which he hacked with a machete).
Tonight in camp it is quiet. Everyone is relaxing and preparing for tomorrows adventure.

Shout outs…….
Hi mom, thanks for paying for this trip, Love Ashley C
Hi mom and dad, I’m having a great time and love and miss you….Ashley P.
Hi mom and dad…I miss home and even Biagio a little bit. I’m having a blast though…and love you. Jessica



Thomas was born and raised in the USVI. He owns and operates a Smoothie stand in downtown Cruz Bay. He greets every customer with a big smile whether it’s first thing in the morning or end of day. Several of our students had the good fortune to spend some time in conversation with him today.

Thomas has a son in the Navy studying engineering and a daughter at Cornel majoring in Forensic Science. A third daughter attends a local private school and in fact came in when classes let out for the afternoon.
Thomas recognizes the value of an education and came out from behind the counter to sit with our students. A wiser man we have not met this week. He said “You can lead or you can labor”…He told a story about a litter of six puppies in a box and one puppy climbed out much to his litter mates dismay…the moral of the story according to Thomas is, it’s fine to be a puppy outside the box.


Flanagan, Hurricane Hole and Tektike reefs….

Flanagan, Hurricane Hole and Tektike reefs....

After yesterdays long hike and full day in the hot sun..we were all lulled to sleep last evening with a night long rain shower. We awoke to a gray, overcast morning and set out with our snorkel gear for a sail aboard the “Sadie Seas”. We snorkeled three very different reefs today. Two were in quite deep water..25-35 feet and were full of abundant sea life including a pod of dolphins which greeted us as we jumped into the water. Our third stop was at Hurricane Hole which is so named as it serves as a safe harbor for boats to moor during storms and hurricanes. This reef abuts the mangroves and was relatively shallow. We were able to snorkel up close to the mangrove root system and it was incredible how much of an ecosystem there was to be found amongst the shallows.
Following an afternoon lecture on coral and it’s natural and manmade predators, we spent another two hours in Lameshur Bay identifying different corals and their health. Along the way, we spotted eagle rays, turtles, nursing sharks and lion fish. Everyone had a great experience today and although I saw blue lips and chattering teeth…everyone rallied and snorkeled till late this afternoon. Should we all develop fins by morning, I shall not be surprised.

I must blog a few words about VIERS. Nestled in the forest is a wonderful community made up of some incredible volunteers who have made us feel entirely welcome this week. They are incredible cooks and in spite of all the exercise, I suspect we will all go home a pound or two heavier. Each morning, camp is visited by a doe and her fawns who come for the mangos which fall off the trees. The ground and walking paths are littered with hermit crabs lumbering about in their carry on homes and it seems each night they have a small convention outside the dining hall. Emma the resident cat rolls her eyes and keeps on sitting in her spot. I suspect that one tangle with a hermit crab is all a cat needs to stay away forever. We are allowed a three minute shower each day and yes there were shrieks of dismay from the girls, but after two days…we are a hearty lot. It has been so rewarding for me to see each of these students try something new each day that expands their world just a bit. At night their laughter can be heard in the darkness as the camp quietly settles down for the night.

This evening’s guest bloggers will be from the men’s cabin and so without any further adieu, I give you….Michael, Ben, Nick and John.

Today started out to be a rainy morning but ended up being a succesful day. After eating a nice batch of french toast and sausage, we headed down to the dock to await our 45 minute boat ride to Flanagan Reef. After a smooth ride along the scenic coast of St. John, we got right in the water with our fins and snorkel masks to explore these amazing reefs and underwater sea creatures. Right away, Randy (campground operations manager) or “Rando” which is the name we provided him with, spotted dolphins swimming right along side the group. Of course the group was excited to see wild dolphins, but it was amazing to hear it was Rando’s first time since he lives here and is always in the water researching. Good for him,,since it was his 30th birthday today!

Overall, we saw some cool creatures and colorful reefs. After snorkeling for a half hour, we decided to hop on the boat and head over to the mangroves, also known as hurricane protection bay. In these calm waters, we saw giant hermit crabs, brown sting rays and a variety of juvenile fish and coral. Then we headed by boat over to the Tektike site. Tektike is a historic site and a former underwater habitat and research project which was developed by NASA in 1969 and 1970. There we had a blast observing the area and Ben even spotted a nurse shark. We spent a good amount of time snorkeling here while others decided to jump off the upper level of the boat. John and Mike probably had a little too much fun snorkeling since the group had to send out a search boat to find them!! We ended the day at Lameshur Bay where we of course snorkeled some more. This is where we spotted sea turtles, a spotted eagle ray, a stingray, some barracudas and all the cool little fish. It felt like we snorkeled forever but it was well worth it.
Team Blue


Ram’s Head and Lameshur Bay

We did a two mile hike this morning up to Ram’s Head and enjoyed views of Tortola BVI and St. Croix USVI. Our guides as always are amazing and this mornings guide was Cindy from of all places, Londonderry NH! This afternoon we snorkeled, kayaked and took a tour of the mangroves and actually hit the microscopes in the VIERS lab. Dr. Stake delivered a lecture late this afternoon on the geologic and geographic history of St. John, followed by a great presentation on coral reef systems throughout the globe.
One of our students turned 21 today….the celebration included singing and cupcakes. In honor of Chelsea’s birthday, she and her cabin mates will be our guest bloggers this evening…..don’t go away!

Today was Chelsea’s 21st birthday. We may or may not have forgotten, being slightly delusional at getting up so early. However, we celebrated the day in ocean blue and later on with cupcakes. We hiked Ram’s Head trail in very hot temps. While there we sampled some triangle fruit from cacti along the trail. We took breaks to look at the view of the British Virgin Islands as well as numerous shore lines. WE had leisure time to swim and snorkel in Salt Bay and Lameshur Bay.
Personal shout outs:
Hi Dad…love Bones
Hi Chelseas mom…don’t know you very well but you seem well put together. Thanks for making Chelsea pack all that she did.
Hi Mom, thanks for the birthday cards! In addition, thankyou for teaching me to properly apply sunscreen….Love Chelsea
Hey Mom…hope you are staying warm…Love Sarah

PS: we have named our blog entry…”Dock Talk” because last evening we all hiked down to
the dock and watched shooting stars across the evening sky.
Peace out everyone
Chelsea, Sarah, Cassandra and Danielle (Bones) AKA Cabin 2


Today Was a Good Day………..

Today Was a Good Day...........

Our days will begin early here at VIERS….breakfast at 7:30 sharp, to be followed by a brief rundown of the days itinerary. We set off after breakfast for a hike to an old sugar mill perched on a mountaintop with views to St. Croix forty miles away. Along the way, we had a lesson in local fauna, local insects and a history lesson of St. John. The turquoise sea beckoned to us as we hiked along. Promises of an afternoon spent snorkeling were paramount in our minds.

The VIERS staff are just amazing and their hospitality has been wonderful. These are a group of volunteers from all over the country who all feel an obligation to give back in some way. They have acted as our trail guides both on land and in the water. They are amazing cooks and have comfort food waiting when we respond to the large dinner bell which gets rung in camp to signify that the meal is ready.

Today was our first day in the water….for some a first time snorkeling. Judging by the laughter and smiles it was a good afternoon. Everyone expanded their comfort zones today. We had a show, tell and touch with some amazing little sea critters that Dr. Stake brought up from the depths. We snorkeled up to a depth of 25 feet today and saw squid, rays, a turtle, a barracuda and lots of colorful fish in all sizes.
Everyone thought the turtle and ray were their high points.

I heard lots of laughter, I saw friendships being made and I saw people help each other out in small ways. Kindness to one another and a newfound respect for their natural world were todays highs for me. Day one on the island … was a good day!




After a long day, we have arrived at the Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station. We were warmly welcomed by VIERS staff and oriented to the camp. After a hot meal and hot showers….we are settling in and dare I say after a 4 am start, we are all looking forward to a good nights sleep.


Pre-Departure Meeting

Pre-Departure Meeting

Join Dr. Stake, Pamela Graesser and the Global Engagement Team..Dey and Mark for an overview of the trip details including departure information, packing list, itinerary and valuable travel tips . The meeting will be held in Memorial 102 at 5:30pm on Tuesday February 26th.

Field Biology with Dr.Joel Stake

Students will experience first-hand the cultural and natural beauty of the United States Virgin Islands. They will explore surrounding coral reefs, mangroves and the spectacular 7000 plus acre Virgin Island National Park that encompasses more than half of the islands of St. John. Students will learn more about connectivity and balance between human land use and the rich terrestrial and coastal habitats found on islands. Threats to these habitats and ongoing efforts to mitigate these threats will be discussed. Biology field techniques will be taught and used to conduct diversity surveys for selected habitats on the islands. In addition to gaining an appreciation for the natural beauty of the US Virgin Islands, students will visit historic sites pre-dating the arrival of Columbus to the New World, providing a cultural framework for the modern identity of the US Territory.