Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Bit of Eco-Tourism

Posted: February 20, 5:16 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)
Adjacent to the Cape Eleuthera marina where we’re staying is the Cape Eleuthera Institute, a research facility promoting conservation, sustainability, and resource management, and the Island School, an affiliated semester abroad program for high school students. I care about those issues just as much now as when I was employed reviewing environmental impact statements , so a tour of their facility seemed like a great way to spend the day.

Living on a sailboat has meant making energy to run our refrigerator and lights from solar power, and traveling by wind power. This made us hyper-conscious of the environmental impact of lifestyle choices, so we really appreciated seeing the entire campus at CEI has one of the smallest eco-footprints we’ve ever imagined. They are primarily powered by wind and solar power, the Bahamas seems to have an ample supply of both. The gutters on the roofs collect rainwater, they are grow all their own food on site and process their own waste, and buildings are made of local materials. One of my favorite examples of this closed cycle was the tanks in which they’re growing tilapia for consumption. The nutrient-rich water that the fish live in is cycled to the hydroponic gardens, where the plants take up the nutrients to help them grow and simultaneously clean the water.

the hydroponic tanks, lettuce for tonight's dinner salad

While waiting for our tour to start I got into a conversation with Danielle (sp?), one of the staff at the Institute. We talked about how science is incorporated in public policy in her country and mine – my friends and colleagues know that this is one of my favorite soapboxes. I’m still mulling one of the stories she told me. Populations of favorite species here, such as conch and Nassau grouper, have been stressed by overfishing. But the lionfish, a distinctive-looking invasive species, has no natural predator in this part of the world and is becoming common. The fish has the reputation of being poisonous and there has been an awareness campaign warning people not to touch, as in this educational fact sheet from NOAA. In fact, only the spines have the toxin and the fish itself, properly handled and cleaned, is quite tasty. CEI has an approach that seems to me a elegant way to turn a weakness into a strength, and the mirror image of the endangered species awareness that was so closely linked to my professional life. Instead of teaching people not to hunt or disturb the animals as would be the case for an endangered species, there’s an education initiative afoot here - lionfish tournaments, lionfish cookouts, teaching people how to catch, handle, and clean the fish – with the hope that the fish will become popular eating and hence overfished until they become very scarce. I wonder if there are insights here that could be applied to help the Chesapeake Bay … but don’t know of any good recipes for serving sea nettles for dinner.

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