Conservation is Dirty Work

Saturday morning I shuffled out of my apartment bleary-eyed, waved a sloppy greeting to the sun as she did the same, and dragged by Scuba gear to the pick-up spot for my Coral Nursery & Restoration course at Stuart Cove’s  dive outfit. I and five others became the first students of the course outside of the USVI (where the certification was conceived); me, a US diplomat, two Bahamian students (one of whom went to the Island School recently, the other currently works at the Atlantis Aquarium) and a husband/wife coral conservation team who spearheaded the project from the get-go. You met Eddy, the husband of the duo, when Amelia and I built PVC trees with him last month.

Our dive class rides out.
Our dive class rides out.

The class consisted of a morning lecture session, a pretty basic overview of coral anatomy, natural history, endangerment, and conservation techniques. From personal research on coral taxonomy and classification, wherein coral posed a problem as simultaneously animal, vegetable, and mineral, it’s pretty awesome that coral classification is still a problem [hyperlinked]. I took a lunch break on the beach over my delicious lentil, pigeon pea, and plantain wrap, and then we got it the water. The second half of the certification is technical training, where we practiced buoyancy (my favorite part of diving to teach – it’s a difficult skill but necessary) and cleaning techniques, as well as how to identify and monitor coral health.

Some examples of disease, paling, and bleaching, From  www.sefsc.noaa.gov
Some examples of disease, paling, and bleaching, From http://www.sefsc.noaa.gov

I’m a coral geek, so I was just excited to participate, but participating in the course was actually part of my summer research on sustainable tourism, and contributes to the Anthropology of the Anthropocene at the core of Amelia’s research. The Anthropology of the Anthropocene is, in short, a study of how humans conceptualize of their immediate relationship to global systems and global climate change. Across disciplines, researchers question the validity and/or utility of categorizing a geological era as subject (to some degree) to human action and mode of existence – more to come on this in a Literature Review post next week. For example, as discussed in previous posts, mega-developments have turned to coral restoration as remuneration or recompense for their short- and long-term environmental impacts. After the PADI course I’m not only more aware of the vocabulary and methodologies for restoration, but also have piloted a program which promotes individual responsibility for conserving local habitats.

Intently observing cleaning techniques.
Intently observing cleaning techniques.
My favorite way to see the world.
My favorite way to see the world.

To that end, much of the theory work we did in the morning was bound to something like the Anthropocene. One of the participants in the course was there because, “as humans, y’know, we’re obviously disrupting the quite a lot.” When motivating why coral conservation is necessary, the primary causes cited are predominantly anthropogenic: there are those affiliated with global climate change like rising sea temperatures and levels, but overfishing, pollution, vessel groundings, and fish feeding were featured as well. That’s a pretty obvious causality, and pretty obviously condemnable, but at the same time, there we are with The Nature Conservancy growing coral ourselves – what’s not anthropogenic about that? This debate mirrors that surrounding the definition of  “wilderness” (see Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness” or also Sayre, “The Politics of the Anthropogenic”). (Note to self: clarify if there is a distinction between “anthropocene” and “anthopogenic” – not in terms of speech, but philosophically…)

bbs first underwater selfie!
bbs first underwater selfie!

Theory aside, the dives were great, and I met some lovely people. We’d spent the day scrubbing at algae with little toothbrushes, and deserved a calm night. Eddy and Mallory were excellent hosts at the end of the day. Eddy runs the nursery – the coral are, pretty much, his babies – and his wife Mallory is a dive instructor who works at BREEF on their totally awesome Underwater Sculpture Garden project. Jason deCaires Taylor will be doing a sculpture – check out his work! We grabbed drinks, I played with their new kittens, and had a strange dinner at Señor Frog’s – a restaurant infamous at my high school for enabling spring break disaster. It was a lovely treat after a long day.

2014-07-12 12.51.59

Gear hefted into my room, sun-toasted and dive-happy, I fell asleep to Junkanoo for second time this week. This job keeps getting better and better.

Love,

Rennie

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