I believe that media can make a difference. I know that communication is as much visual as it is verbal, if not more. For part one of this series, we will explore the ‘if not more’ and begin a short tale of how an internship can ignite a flame under an entirely different side of yourself, previously uncharted. I call this side ocean.
Internships do not just magically appear for anyone- not usually. You must put in the time and effort towards finding an opportunity which best suits your goals. Luckily our Internship Coordinator is in constant pursuit of opportunities for us, but it still requires a lot of work to find the right opportunity. For my Capstone Experience for both masters degrees ( Entrepreneurship/ Sustainable Tourism), I sought an atypical internship experience. I wanted to work for a cause locally while having an effect, globally. In other words, we can all do our best locally to create or inspire noticeable change on a global scale. What better way to put my experience to work for the oceans and in turn, for humanity and all living creatures? What better way to set an example for younger eyes? Scientists say that we know around 5% of the world’s oceans but in the age of crowd-sourced knowledge, this library is growing exponentially. Normal human activity is naturally disruptive. Naturally, I aim to disrupt that.
Where I am Coming From
I like to recycle experience. I like to make stuff with data and code with Anthropology on my mind. At first, I imagined something educational, impactful and simple to love. I pulled from my experience. Since 2010, I have worked in close collaboration with scientists on sailboats, before enrolling to USF, called Beautiful Nation Project. Within Land Surveyors United community, members annually collaborate on the day of the summer solstice for Survey Earth in a Day, remeasuring the entire surface of the planet in a single day with great accuracy. I decided to get involved with an incredible cause in the form of an annual international film festival, as an intern. My mission is a BLUE one.
Where I am Going
Many of you have likely heard about the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit, but I’d bet most of you haven’t thought about how much work goes in to actually making an event like this happen. In the coming weeks, I will unfold this story in my blog posts for Patel College of Global Sustainability and give you all a bit of insight into what I am doing to help make BLUE 2016 to be a success.
About BLUE Ocean Film Festival
BLUE is an event administered, planned and executed by Make a Difference Media founders Debbie and Charles Kinder. The first BLUE Ocean event occurred in 2007 in Savanna, GA. Since then, it has become an internationally recognized catalyst for change and education regarding ocean conservation and ocean literacy. You can read more about Blue Ocean Festival here, but I would like to briefly point out how the “5 Elements of Blue” factor into global sustainability.
The five elements of BLUE come together and create a truly unique event which:
• Honors the world’s finest ocean films through the best-in-class film competition.
• Brings together the world’s esteemed leaders and ocean luminaries.
• Presents the world’s most comprehensive underwater film & photography professionals.
• Showcases Science and the Arts for the stewardship of the ocean.
• Changes the way the world sees the ocean.
This year, the festival just happens to be in St. Petersburg, FL on November 10th-13th. You can get your tickets here on Eventbrite and even become a volunteer by submitting the forms found here.
How Did I Find This Internship?
It all started with an introduction from the wonderful master of coordination, Rhiannon, to the Co-Founder and CEO of Make a Difference Media, Debbie Kinder. We met one day in Rhiannon’s office to discuss the types of help needed to get the film festival planning underway. At the time, I had been webmaster for PCGS for close to a year and Mrs. Kinder had seen all of the work I was doing for the college. The three of us had a brainstorming session and discussed a possible internship, helping BLUE with things like website redesign, social media management, marketing and content administration for the upcoming event in November. I was given the initial task of wrangling all of the existing and past social media footprint and developing a plan for how to best reengage followers, reconfigure existing media assets and ultimately reinvigorate participants and followers for the new year. However, this opportunity came during a time when there was a film submission process in action and over the years the process for submitting films had devolved into something quite difficult and time consuming to manage. BLUE needed a new method of receiving films for review, so my first action item was to build them a way for film creators to upload their videos directly into a single Youtube channel for review. This was difficult due to the fact that Youtube had recently disabled the ability for channels to allow community-style uploads. This meant I would have to build it with the Youtube API as a massive workaround. In fact, I have been told that the only other web app known to exist like this is used by Sundance Film Festival. You can imagine their excitement when I built this for them.
Next on the list was taking inventory of all media assets such as video submissions from previous years so that I might make them fresh again. We wanted to celebrate all of the wonderful submissions from previous film festivals to let contributors know that we haven’t forgotten about them in addition to providing some examples of the types of films we accept. In short, we needed a way to sift through the Youtube Channel videos outside of Youtube. So, I built a way to filter and jump to specific videos using a Google Spreadsheet at the database. You can see and play around with a demo of this project here, if you like.
In my next post, i’ll tell you why I left the Patel College as webmaster in order to convert my internship into a full time job. I’ll show you more of my work geared towards improving media outreach and helping BLUE reach their goals- helping the world thirst for knowledge about the oceans and how we can collaboratively mend the wounds we’ve dealt the oceans inn exchange for so much life.
Get Involved and Spread the Word
If you use social media and enjoy being involved in world changing projects, friend and follow BLUE Ocean Film Festival on the following platforms. Reach out to us if you would like to volunteer towards the efforts set forth and do your part to help increase ocean literacy worldwide.
An interview with the Honorable Ian Douglas who serves the commonwealth of Dominica in leadership over the Ministry of Trade, Energy and Employment.
Dominica is considered to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean. With that standard, the government, the business community and the people are committed to developing a nation that is sensitive to sustainability principles. Around the island you will find solar panels on homes, street lights and other buildings; I even saw some photovoltaic panels over a Save-a-Lot grocery store and a KFC. You will also find hydropower, wind-power and the early stages of geothermal power. This opens up a great opportunity for USF students interested in sustainable energy to come to Dominica and experience firsthand the work conducted by engineers from Iceland and the development to come. There are high hopes that the geothermal project will reduce electricity prices, provide jobs and encourage more business development. I was able to interview the Minister of Trade, Energy and Employment to discuss how these three areas contribute to Dominica’s overall Green Economy.
With the demand for organic agriculture rising, how is Dominica fulfilling that demand and ensuring that these products are making it to market in good condition?
Because of the shelf life of many products, getting to the market in good condition can be a challenge. So we are working with the boat owners right now to equip them with refrigeration, cold storage and capacity onboard their boats to get the produce into the markets and on the shelves in the condition that the customer would want it. We have also invested in multi-purpose stock houses. All the stuff leaving Dominica, must go through these stock houses so that they are properly washed, sorted and packed properly. This is a multi-pronged approach. We are an agency committed to raw standards. Another thing that we are doing is certifying the farms to make sure that the farming practices of the farmers conform to this kind of conveyor belt system from the farm to the market. We are looking at all of the aspects up and down the product chain to ensure that what eventually ends up on the market is what the brand says it is.
Are there any plans for marketing to the U.S. or other nations?
Our exports are more or less targeted toward the regional, Caribbean markets. There are a lot of requirements for products entering the U.S. from Dominica, so initially, our export strategy is to grow our smaller markets like Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, and Anguilla and then eventually move on to some larger markets. We have our eyes set on expanding to places like St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are U.S. territories but we will need to grow incrementally and get more transportation involved. As we open more markets and create more demand for Dominican products, then we can encourage our farmers to produce more. Creating the demand is important. If we ask Dominican farmers to produce more now, but we cannot get those products to the market, then we will consequentially create a glut which will discourage the market because the farmer cannot sell. Therefore, we have to grow slowly and do it right.
We have to be able to enter the market and sustain it because what the supermarkets are looking for is consistency, regularity and reliability. We cannot send 10,000 pounds of ripe bananas today and then the following week only send a box; that just doesn’t make sense. So, we also have to stagger our production. Farmers have typically planted around the seasons, but now they will need to plant non-traditionally to ensure that they can sustain regularity on the market.
What challenges in trade have those in the agriculture sector faced in Dominica?
Back in 1998, Dominica made over a hundred million dollars sending bananas to the United Kingdom. We, along with some other small island nations were given preferential treatment because of the 400 years of exploitation that England had engaged in throughout the Caribbean. For those in the U.S. and around the world who supported Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte bananas, they believed that Dominica and other small islands had an unfair advantage and that they should compete on the same level as all other nations of the world. Consideration was not given to fact that small islands had less arable land, and smaller population sizes that could not compete on the level of those nations with hectares of agriculture bigger than the whole size of Dominica and which could easily out produce the island nations in quantity. When Dominica lost preferential treatment on the U.K. market, the price of bananas dropped, the farmer couldn’t produce for the price that he was getting, the boxes used to contain the bananas were costing more than its contents and many had to abandon their fields. This disillusioned some farmers, but we are determined to find our way in the market.
What other commodities will Dominica export and to what other destinations?
Bananas, both green and ripe; ground provisions including potatoes, sweet-potatoes, dasheen, yams; vegetables, especially those that have a longer shelf-life like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbages, teas, spices, fruit and others. We just spent about 5 million dollars (XCD), developing two new buildings in both Portsmouth and Roseau and equipping them with a conveyor-belt system for washing, sorting, spraying, weighing, packaging and preparing produce for export.
The government had considered investing in a transport vessel for export, but it was determined that the issue wasn’t so much a lack of vessels but rather upgrading existing vessels and organizing them with better direction and more efficient trade routes. Some boats were traveling to St. Martin and back, but in between Dominica and St. Martin are other islands like Montserrat, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Anguilla among others, which are not being serviced. Those vessels traveling to Martinique, for example, could easily add Barbados as an additional stop on their trade route. There is a bigger market out there and we need to be more proactive about helping these vessels expand their routes and providing the facilitation that they need. The regular markets for Dominica, right now, include Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Martin. The next step would be to market to the greater Caribbean region and then grow from there. We hope to expand into Anguilla, Tortola, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Thomas, and St. John.
There are some things that are produced here in Dominica that would certainly be of interest to other economies. Two in particular would be coconut oil and bay oil. Producers of these products are doing very well. The Ministry of Trade is requesting some funding for them so that they can improve their packaging and labeling and so they can purchase more machinery which will enable them to supply more volume to the market.
How could marketing better reflect what Dominica has to offer?
We could definitely improve our marketing on the internet; I don’t believe we do enough web based commodity marketing because it takes a lot of funding. Even with tourism marketing, we only spend about 4 million (XCD) per year marketing the country and about half of that goes to trade shows leaving very little for e-marketing. This is a lot less than other competing small islands like Grenada and St. Vincent who spend about 10 million per year in marketing. Barbados probably spends about 20 million in marketing which enables them to capture even more of the world’s attention. This is not even considering the larger island economies like Jamaica and Trinidad. We are increasing our marketing budget to about 6 million for next year and are very hopeful for the future. The same goes for commodity marketing, we are going to have to put more into it.
Recently, eight representatives from Dominica, including a member from the Dominica Export Import Agency (DEXIA), a farmer, the manager of the multi-purpose packing houses, the director of training and others went on a trade mission within the Caribbean. The team traveled to around six or seven different islands and they returned saying that there is definitely a demand for Dominican produce which has developed a reputation for being fresh and tasty. The challenge facing Dominica is the ability to enter the market with the necessary quantity and reliability necessary to maintain those trade relationships.
Do you have high hopes for Dominica’s new coffee industry?
Absolutely. I believe that Dominica’s coffee can rival Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee easily because we have the elevation. Dominica is one of the most mountainous places, per square mile, on the face of the earth. Dominica also has the volcanic soil and tropical environment that have also proven great for growing coffee.
Ultimately, what we would like to do is brand Dominica as a totally organic, sustainable, renewable energy island. That is why we are going after the geothermal so much, because it presents so much potential for us to be able to reach that goal. Already in tourism, we are marketing the island for the ecotourism; if we can do that in other aspects, then the entire island itself can, in fact, become a showcase for sustainable living.
I’ve heard that in the long run, geothermal energy is the most affordable, most renewable source of energy but that the initial investment can be very expensive. How has Dominica financed their geothermal project and what is the present state of development?
Yes, it is true, the project has cost us an arm and a leg up front but the outcome can be very beneficial for Dominica. We have drilled about five holes so far, tested the power, purchased turbines and spent about 100 million, 40% of which has been made up of local funding. We also received some assistance from the E.U. Engineers from Iceland assisted us with the drilling and testing and now we are ready to move on to the turbine stage which again will cost us around 70 to 80 million. It is believed that up to 120 megawatts of power can be generated from the wells. Dominica only needs between 10 and 15 megawatts, which allows for the potential to export energy to neighboring islands. Our geothermal wells are not just dry heat or wet steam either, they spring up hot water. We pump the hot water up, separate the steam from the water, and then re-inject the water back into the well.
Initially we were working with the French because we knew that viability of the whole project was in the export of the geothermal power to Martinique and Guadeloupe. We believed that a partnership with a French Consortium of companies could assist with this project, but they are holding out for now. Nevertheless, we will pursue our small plant on our own because our government has a particular agenda and a commitment to the people for the reduction of our light bills and we need to be able to deliver that. We are putting together a geothermal development company to move the project forward. The government will have a majority of the shares but we are going to open up the opportunity for other companies and individual investors to buy shares and have some equity in the company.
Would you be open to university students coming out to learn and volunteer with the geothermal project?
We would love that.
How does the geothermal project open up opportunity for job creation?
If we drop the price of electricity, more companies will be able to come here for manufacturing. Businesses will be able to allocate funds for expansion and new hires. Hotels will be able to offer more affordable room rates. The price of electricity right now is just prohibiting. For many of our hotels, the price of electricity makes the room rate uncompetitive and for that reason, some our hotels right now are self generating with off grid energy systems. All of this puts the need for the development of a renewable energy source as a top priority. If too many people are self generating, it could threaten the viability of the grid system and compromise the ability to make electricity available to everyone at a fair price. Geothermal energy will allow us to drop the price of electricity by more than 50% per kilowatt hour. Right now the price is around 55 to 60 U.S. cents per kWh and we need to drop that to around 15 and 20 cents per kWh to be competitive. One of the other spinoffs of geothermal is hydrogen gas which can potentially be used to power our vehicles. Even electric cars could plug up and be charged through our geothermal power generation.
What are some recommendations going forward for anyone interested in getting involved?
For the geothermal it could be investment into the geothermal company. For trade it could be marketing and getting Dominican products out on the shelves of other countries. Dominica can readily produce ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and other spices and herbal remedies that are gaining popularity. Dominica also has a brand new coffee production facility which needs some investors and farmers to realize that potential. Dominica could also export various teas which are not limited to the black and green teas but also include the basillic, sorrel and other gourmet teas. Pureed fruits like mango, guava, pawpaw, and sweetsop could also be made ready for export.
How can village communities benefit from regional/international trade?
There are agents here called hucksters who go into the villages to buy produce for export from local farmers who on their own cannot reach the regional/international markets. The hucksters handle all of the shipping details and often times serve as agents for their local governments for importing particular agricultural products. Though the local farmer does not deal directly in the trade, they are benefiting from the additional sale of products beyond their local area.
Dominica is such a wonderful place that the world needs to see. What else would you say is advantageous about your green economy?
Being the Nature Island of the world, we are at a comparative advantage and we have the resources like fresh water, geothermal energy, and quality produce coming out of our soil to prove it. Using sustainability principles to our advantage, we can bring about economic stability in Dominica.
Mr. Douglas and I had a great conversation and some good laughs too. Looking to the future, I believe that at the Patel College of Global Sustainability, we have a world of opportunity in partnering with Dominica and their sustainability initiatives. – Jerry John Comellas
Last week we were able to tour the Torres Bermejas at the Alhambra. The Torres Bermejas is a military barrack just outside the wall of the Alhambra. It has not had any restoration attempts since the 1960s, so most of what you see in this video is about 450-500 years old. The aqua duct system was most intriguing to me (see pics). The system seemed so modern for such the time period. I am very grateful to Prof. Javier Gallego Roca and the team from the New York Institute of Technology for allowing me to be a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity!
A few weeks into the thick of my intership with the South Carolina Aquarium, my research has morphed from focusing on the profit margins of restaurants and transitioning to sustainable seafood, to the ethics of marketing and what to consider when switching from conventional to sustainable.
It all started with a question my external supervisor poses to me when we were evaluating a menu. The restaurant boasted, “Our menus feature all fresh, local seafood…” To which my supervisor queried “If all their seafood is sourced locally, why don’t they showcase that?”
In and outside of class, I have witnessed many of my grad student peers fall victim to this desire to force feed their sustainable knowledge to bystanders tossing plastic in the trash, grocery patrons eying conventional produce, and drivers of SUVs (myself included). While all this is well-intended, it can easily come off as pretentious, and make the lecturer look self-important. High on their pedestal, publicly shaming their glassy-eyed subordinates. And where does this lead us? To defiance for defiance sake.
Let’s go back to the original question, “If all their seafood is sourced locally, why don’t they showcase that?”
As a marketer, consumer behavior is of my utmost interest. While some like to believe consumer behavior is predictable and easily influenced (which it can be…) it is also very often fickle and erratic. Some consumers, no matter how hard you try to educate, will choose to consume things that they know are harmful…simply because they choosing not to buy “insert thing” groups them with those who pompously lecture against consuming this thing (cigarettes are a prime example…or the opposite, vegetarian food).
So, the answer to my supervisor’s question could be to take a look at the demographic. What kind of consumer patrons this restaurant? Would they be turned off if it seems “eco-friendly, green, or environmental?” Maybe the restaurant does good under the radar, as the to not detour customers? Or, maybe they make false claims? OR, maybe there are other pieces of the business that are not so sustainable, and to highlight the one thing they do responsibly would be green washing, running a risk of being exposed?
To my sustainability peers, things are not black and white. Consider all variables, and asks tons of questions.
Coming up on the end of week two, I wanted to recap a couple of positive steps and people I’ve come across in my research. Through the Kauai Community College, I was able to make contact with their Sustainability Director, Benjamin, who splits his time between academia and living off-grid on 4 acres of property. Having built their own tiny house by hand, their property was eye-opening in just how comfortably one can live with minimal effort and minimal impact. Their modest house has a bed and storage, while their living room, kitchen and dining room are all under a wind-swept awning down the pasture. Obviously Florida’s weather wouldn’t be amiable to this set-up, but I loved the way they limited their power usage while maximizing their space. Relying on solar panels, golf cart batteries, and goats to mow the fields, he gave me a lot of information about the current situation for people just like him. They have the equipment, they have the drive, but they are a bit lost on how everything works and how to make their residence/businesses most efficient and effective.
Benjamin’s off-grid tiny house
Most affordable, efficient, sustainable, cutest lawn mower
That same night, I was allowed to speak at the Farmer’s Union meeting and pass around surveys for my research. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community and motivation that these organic farmers share, even though this has to be one of the toughest jobs on the island. The session was led, inoculating the soil using an ancient technique was the topic, and I mustered up the courage to speak to the group without a problem. I had a great response which will hopefully unfold into farm visits and interviews!
Managing Dominica’s Most Precious Resource – WATER
Though it is said that in Dominica “there is a river for everyday of the year” the Dominica Water and Sewerage Company (DOWASCO), does not want to take their abundance of water for granted. Mr. Bernard Ettinoffe, General Manager of DOWASCO knows all to well how finite and vulnerable the water resource is and how it can be negatively impacted by climate change, human activities and new development, quite easily. Therefore, DOWASCO is determined to manage this precious resource appropriately and ensure the sustainability of water resources for all Dominicans now and into the future.
What is the current statistic on water provision throughout the country?
Presently over 97% of the islanders have potable water. We would have been at 100% had it not been for Tropical Storm Erika in August of 2015. At the time a new water system was set to be commissioned in the village of Belles by October of that year, but the storm wreaked havoc on our work there. 1,443,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) have been requested to complete that project.
CLEAN and SAFE DRINKING WATER
What efforts are in place to ensure that clean drinking water is supplied?
The way that DOWASCO maintains clean water systems is to obtain intakes from way up stream where the soil is not loose, where the rocks are more solid and where the water is not prone to silting. Our best water sources are higher up and some within the UNESCO World Heritage Site where people do not live and where agriculture and the felling of trees is not permitted. Because there is no construction of any kind in that area, the water is very, very clean. The water is pulled from those sites, chlorinated and delivered to the communities. Depending on turbidity levels, others checks and treatments may include sedimentation, filtration, coagulation, and flocculation. We always ensure that the water is very clean. When cruise ships come into port, Dominica supplies the vessel with this same water which is double checked on board in the ship’s water testing labs.
The raw water quality is already very good, so most of the time chlorination is the only necessary treatment. This is because we choose areas that are higher up in the mountains and have less interaction with people. If we require a water intake in an area that has agriculture, the farmers in that area are paid a subsidy and are no longer allowed to utilize that land. There is zero tolerance for the felling of trees and the planting of crops near a water intake area to ensure that no fertilizer or other runoff enters the water system. In cases where turbidity can be high, for example with the Springfield/Antrim system that serves Roseau, (after the road was constructed, a lot of debris was dumped on the hillside), we have introduced coagulation and flocculation with that particular system.
I have noticed the Hydroelectric Complex near Trafalgar falls. How does water in Dominica help in the generation of electricity?
The Dominica Electricity Services Company (DOMLEC) uses some hydropower which is generated from water coming down Trafalgar Falls from Fresh Water Lake. DOWASCO has a bulk waterline that extends from the mountain power plant all the way down to the seashore and which has the potential to load ships with six million gallons of water per day. Our intention is to use that water to load the ships, but once no ship is loading, to use that water to generate hydropower and upload it onto DOMLEC’s grid. DOWASCO has a Power Purchase Agreement with DOMLEC for this process. There is a trade-off from the electricity that DOWASCO utilizes and the balance which is uploaded to the grid. More specifically, there is a designated price that DOMLEC would pay for the generated electricity, which is included in the Power Purchase Agreement. If the water company uses more electricity than what is uploaded, then we pay the difference; if we use less, then the electric company will refund the difference based on the prearranged price. Presently, less than 20% of the community is using hydropower. The goal has always been to utilize more, but recently investment and focus has moved toward the development of geothermal energy.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR UNIVERSITY RESEARCH
If students from the University of South Florida had the opportunity to participate in an internship here, what kinds of water projects could they be involved with?
If university students were interested in water projects in Dominica, they could study the linkages between forestry, the water resources and the impact of climate change. Some water resource studies have already been conducted by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) of the University of the West Indies. A team of students could follow up that work. Presently Dominica is looking at a water audit to determine the quantity and quality of both surface water and underground water, along with the identification of the water recharge rate and an understanding of the water balance as a whole. The country could also benefit from a study of the independent efforts at rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and water reuse and turning that study into a campaign that encourages the sustainable use of water island-wide.
MITIGATING WATER SCARCITY IN THE CARIBBEAN
With all of this water on the Nature Island, is there any opportunity for entrepreneurship?
Not all islands in the Caribbean are as blessed with the abundance of water like Dominica. Water-scarcity is a problem for several countries in the region and there is an opportunity to leverage the existing capabilities of Dominica to meet that need. Dominica is known as the Nature Island; building along that theme with the promotion of quality Nature Island water from the tropical forests of Dominica, we could be a supplier to water-stressed areas in the region like Antigua, Barbuda, and Barbados, among others. Dominica has the highest per capita of water in the region.
At the Patel College of Global Sustainability we have learned about the Water-Energy-Food Nexus and how a change to one sector can significantly impact another. How is this systems thinking approach considered in Dominica?
In Dominica, energy is used to provide water and water is used to generate energy. As much as possible, gravity is used to deliver clean water to many of the residences and business on the island. In some areas, however, we are obliged to use pumping stations to deliver water to communities that are above the waterline. Although the cost of that water is high, DOWASCO does not pass those costs on to the consumers in that area. Instead, we make up some of the cost of energy used to deliver that water through earnings from the hydropower production and the power purchase agreement with the electric company. More and more, demand for water is also required for the irrigation of agriculture. In the minds of most people, gone are the days when gardens could rely solely on rainwater. Certainly rainwater harvesting could provide some of this water requirement and productivity could increase significantly if people would simply learn how to better manage their water usage. But for now, the food production levels are still heavily dependent on the water system. This all contributes to the Water, Energy, Food Nexus in Dominica.
Even though it is believed that Dominica has 365 rivers, Mr. Ettinoffe is hopeful that best practices in water management will be utilized all over the country which will conserve this finite resource and contribute even more to their status as the Nature Island of the Caribbean.
Jerry John Comellas; University of South Florida; Patel College of Global Sustainability
There are a routine number of activities that are common among the locals on the weekends: Saturdays involve time in the garden, going to the market and washing clothes; Sundays are about going to church, eating a big lunch and taking a long nap. And when time allows, you fill find them hiking forest trails, swimming in the river or relaxing on the beach.
For me personally, I just spent a whole week lining up appointments, creating surveys, making phone calls, sending emails, popping in to government office buildings, connecting with tourism organizations and networking with people on the island for the development of my capstone internship project. So to get a little down time over the weekend has been a real joy. On Saturday I participated in an amazing ecotourism adventure called Hike Fest, which I will write about in another blog. So let me tell you what I did today.
Today is Sunday. After attending a local church service filled with island style music, dancing, special artistic presentations by the youth and some powerful preaching, I decided to hike into the jungle forest to try and find that cocoa fruit that I had promised to show you guys. As I made my way to the trail head I could smell the lemon grass that had recently been cut and all the evidence of a tropical island was around me. The Caribbean Sea was shimmering in the distance. Village streets were lined with trees adorned by mangos, bananas, kokoi-plantains, limes, soursop, breadfruit and pawpaws (papayas). I passed three kinds of nut trees too – coconut, almonds and cashews. (I try to avoid the cashew tree even though it has a tasty plum; I’ve learned the hard way that tampering too much with a raw cashew nut can cause a severe allergic reaction.) Moving on.
As I entered the trail I was greeted by five baby goats that were leaping on and off of a large stone – cute and curious. The trail meandered along a river which created the soundtrack for my afternoon trek. I found several guava trees along the trail but the fruit was still green; so I helped myself to some of the young red leaves to make into a delicious tea later on. I located some cocoa (cacao) trees but most of the fruit that remained had already dried up. Finally I found a ripe one, but it was so high up I couldn’t get to it. I started to climb the tree, but I had to step on a termite mound… so I changed my mind. I threw a couple of rocks at the cocoa even making a direct hit but that thing was not coming down.
I decided to walk further up the mountain trail toward one of the Waitikubuli entry points (the Waitikubuli is the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean). This segment of the trail has a primitive but adventurous swinging bridge like a scene right out of a movie. Passion Flowers, Flamboyant Trees and wild Caribbean Orchids gave color to the green landscape. Bananaquit birds were chirping loudly all around me, Green Throated Carib Hummingbirds buzzed by quickly then darted into the trees and two Jaco Parrots squawked overhead. At last I found more chocolate trees and one of them was ripe and in reach. Hooray!
The walk back home was just as nice and natural as the walk up the trail and it concluded with a not as natural dip in the swimming pool, but hey, I’m not complaining. Come discover Dominica for yourself.
Part of the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPCHC) internship is to provide exploration for the intern into the other aspects/divisions which make up the whole of the EPCHC. During the 5th and 6th weeks of my volunteer internship, I shadowed the biological and solids analyst. In the microbiology area, I was able to witness a new form of Enterococcus verification of fecal samples. This analysis is a gram-positive bacterium that has the ability to grow in high concentrations of bile salts and sodium chloride which can be toxic, and life-threatening to humans and other animals.
TKN & TP Standards Setup
Up Close TKN & TP Standards
Sample Solids Machine
Samples in their boats
My visit with another analyst involved the Total Organic Carbon analysis. His samples were in a solid form (rather than the typical aqueous) and he needed to crush the soils and other various samples in a mortar and pestle until the samples were finely ground (like sand). Each sample was placed into a boat and placed into the Solid Sample Machine analyzer which heated the samples up with a Hydrogen carrier gas. A carrier gas is a controlled gas that is pushed through and back in the machines tubing to ensure the samples have been completely removed from the machine once the analysis has completed. In this analysis, his QC and matrix spikes (MS) successfully passed, and proceeded with his 22 samples. Each sample takes about 5-7 minutes to complete its run, making the entire analysis a time-costly one.
The remainder of my 5th and 6th week in the EPCHC lab involved TKN digestion, nutrient filtration, a retirement, and the official announcement of the Governor’s Sterling Award to the EPCHC! The Governor’s Sterling Award is a high honor awarding the agency for its accuracy and dependability. As the EPCHC is a model for the rest of the nation due to the recovery and environmental monitoring accuracy of the Tampa Bay’s ecosystem.
Rain and thunderstorms (with lightning) are common in the Tampa Bay Area. When there is rainfall, environmental samples are not collected, and therefore, samples cannot be analyzed. During the 3rd and 4th weeks in the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPCHC) laboratory, there were many rainy days. So, when there are few analyses to be run, reagents and standards are made. The reagents and standards are the quality control (QC) solutions to ensure the analyses are processing correctly and producing accurate results. Laboratory Control Standards (LCS) are usually duplicated every 10-20 samples, depending on the analysis. The LCS is an important QC within every analysis as they provide an expected result per analysis and without an LCS, the run is not valid. These reagents and QCs have various expiration dates, and most commonly they need to be re-made weekly.
Standards for sulfate analysis was prepared by measuring out 0.237-0.240g (grams) of Potassium Persulfate into glass tubes on a highly sensitive scale, which is atop a marble table. The marble table and scale are calibrated and ensured to be balanced and evenly equal for accuracy. The Potassium Persulfate is kept in the glass tubes and sealed with a cap until the analyst is ready to prepare the solutions to make the QC standards.
Usually on Fridays, two runs (~35-60 samples) are combined for nutrient analysis. These samples need to be filtered before placed into the sample tubes to be analyzed. About 5-10mL (milliliters) of each nutrient sample is filtered into a glass tube, and once all the samples have been filtered then they are wrapped in this stretchable plastic called parafilm and placed into a sample refrigerator for storage until the analyst is ready to run the samples.
Another crucial portion in the laboratory is the cleanliness of workspace, tools, and collection containers. Every laboratory is different, and at the EPCHC, the containers are rinsed with UV-DI (Ultraviolet-Deionized) water 3-5 times without salt. UV-DI is pure water with little to no other materials, minerals, or contaminants. Every week, if it is helpful, I will rinse tubes, collection containers (glass and plastic), and volumetric pipettes with UV-DI then set them to dry overnight.
Every day when I leave my volunteering internship at the EPCHC laboratory, I am happy! I absolutely love working in the lab, especially within this one! I’ve never experienced such nice, down to earth people who all share a common passion for the environment.
Tomorrow I begin my internship on the Nature Island of the Caribbean. When I tell people that I will be working on the island of Dominica (Dom-min-EEKA), their responses are clear that they have never heard of the island nation. “Do you have to learn Spanish to go there? That’s the country that shares an island with Haiti, right? How come you pronounce it Dom-min-EEKA… isn’t it supposed to be Duh-min-ni-kah? Ohh, I have a friend that is from the Dominican Republic!”
After a quick geography lesson, I explain to them that the Commonwealth of Dominica is a Windward Isle located in the Lesser Antilles and they are closer to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe than they are to any Spanish speaking islands. The people of Dominica speak English and a version of French Creole called Patois. Dominica does not share an island with Haiti, Great Britain, France and not even the United States for that matter.
Truly, these “other Dominicans” do not like it so much that people have no idea that they exist. Cristopher Columbus sailed there too; and he encountered a tribe of Island Caribs, the Kalinagos, when he landed there. Slaves were brought to that island too and provided the work force for both French and British occupation. Dominica is the true quintessential volcanic, tropical paradise. The island has the second largest boiling lake in the world, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean (the Waitikubuli) and beautiful coral reefs that are on the path of whale migration. Tropical fruit trees and coconuts are there in abundance. Green forests define the landscape along with magnificent waterfalls and a “river for every day of the year.” The only living species of Sisserou Parrots live in Dominica. The country has its own government, departments of government, education system, healthcare, seaport, airport, tourism and even an American Medical School.
The point that people are unfamiliar with the island nation reveals the reality that Dominica has not received the development attention and investment that many of the other Caribbean Islands have received. Some might say this is both a blessing and a curse; others might say that it is both a problem and an opportunity. However one defines it, due to the lack of attention their economy is fragile and employment outside of subsistence farming or fishing is limited. Some innovative community leaders have done well and have created jobs for others. Ross Medical School also provides some jobs. Carnival Cruise Lines now comes into port there. Expatriates from Europe and the United States have also sought opportunity in Dominica. Eco-resorts, health tourism, and organic island living are becoming popular buzz words associated with the island.
In summary, because the natural beauty of the island has been preserved and because sustainability and ecotourism are now more frequently associated with travel destinations, and because the island has so much biodiversity, forests, mountains, fresh water and geothermal activity – the opportunity is there to help create a sustainable island that serves as a model to the world of successful green and blue economies that generate employment for its people. With some creativity, we can turn current problems into opportunities for university student research, social-entrepreneurship, poverty reduction, ecotourism, pesca-tourism, agri-tourism, renewable energy generation, all of which contribute to the goals in the country’s “Organic Island Initiative.” Follow me on my journey as I unveil some of the sustainability practices already on the island and identify innovative ways for moving forward in their Green and Blue Economies.
Sustainability and the Nature Isle – by Jerry John Comellas