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A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

C.V. Bethel students learn firsthand about sharks in The Bahamas
  • Twenty-eight students from the C.V. Bethel Magnet Marine Science Program swapped their pens and paper for snorkel gear and hit the waters to learn about sharks, thanks to a collaboration between Moore Bahamas Foundation, BREEF, Cape Eleuthera Institute and SUNY.

Published: May 29, 2013

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For 28 students from the C.V. Bethel Magnet Marine Science Program, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn about shark behavior from experts, and snorkel the world-famous waters of Clifton Bay.

The opportunity was made available to the students through sponsorship from the Moore Bahamas Foundation and environmentalists with BREEF, the Cape Eleuthera Institute and Stony Brook University, State University of New York (SUNY).

The shark education day on May 21 was a highlight of the education portion of a five-week shark tagging expedition that will help marine researchers understand the migration patterns of the marine animals. The expedition, sponsored by the Moore Bahamas Foundation, began May 7 and runs until June 15. It involves young people interested in marine science from C.V. Bethel, BREEF and the Island School's Bahamas Environmental Stewards Scholars (BESS) program.

"This gives the word school a whole new meaning," said one of the students, watching video footage shot during the tagging.

For the C.V. Bethel students, the presentation was an eye-opener — and the praise for Bahamian shark conservation efforts by experts from as far away as New York was strong.

"We've found that sharks here spend most of their time in The Bahamas, traveling as far as Puerto Rico but returning very quickly," said Dr. Demian Chapman, Stony Brook University's Institute for Ocean Conservation Science School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “We attribute that to protected waters. The Bahamas has some of the best legislation for protecting sharks, making it a leader in shark preservation and the people of The Bahamas should be very proud of that."

On July 7, 2011, the Government of The Bahamas officially made Bahamian waters a sanctuary for sharks, enabling a total of 50 different species to thrive alongside the country’s $80 million shark tourism economy. According to Eleanor Phillips, director of The Nature Conservancy's Northern Caribbean program, that legislation has become a catalyst for neighboring countries.

"Caribbean governments have now pledged they are going to establish protected areas within four years. Other countries have challenges, but they are willing to work together to overcome them."

The education day was organized in collaboration with the Moore Bahamas Foundation, BREEF, The Cape Eleuthera Institute and SUNY, while the research and shark expedition is the latest in a series of grants made in the past two decades by The Moore Charitable Foundation and its affiliate the Moore Bahamas Foundation.

"We're a country of ocean more than we are a country of islands," said BREEF Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert. "Ninety-five percent of The Bahamas is underwater, so what we do in the water has a huge impact on our future ecology and economy. Our goal is to empower these students to go out and be ambassadors — to share what they're learning with their family and friends."

The students not only learned in the classroom, but also swapped their pencils for snorkel gear to get a one-of-a-kind experience with the expedition team.

"I learned that sharks aren’t as dangerous as everyone thinks they are and that killing the sharks could actually kill us," said tenth-grade student Divolu Omilius. "Out of everyone in the class, I was the person who was the most scared but I’m not anymore. I'm excited to go out now and see them in the water."

The general public can follow the Shark Research Expedition on: http://www.somas.stonybrook.edu/research/highlights/Chapman/index.html.

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