As I’ve previously mentioned, we returned to Marsh Harbour last Friday for a weekend event titled “Art for the Parks,” at the Abaco Beach Resort. This was an event that we had heard about for awhile, but debated whether or not to attend, and in the end, we were very glad that we did. It all started over 3 weeks ago….
When my parents visited us they stayed at the Abaco Beach Resort, and as we walked in and out to visit them we couldn’t help but notice a large banner advertising, what I thought was “Art in the Park.” We checked out the pamphlets discussing some of the things that would be going on, and we thought it sounded cool. As the event neared, the Cruiser’s Net (they provide community announcements every morning on the VHF radio) talked about all the artists participating and the local art to be seen. I couldn’t help but shake this nagging feeling that it was going to be a cheap street fair/tourist trap with bad local arts and crafts and over-priced goods. We were anchored down in Lynyard Cay when we decided that it wasn’t worth going back. We decided that with the weather, and the 25 nautical mile trip, we couldn’t help but be disappointed when we arrived.
Later in the week the Cruiser’s Net started mentioning a field trip to Abaco National Park that was being offered by the Bahamas National Trust. The next day, I started to listen closer to the VHF and realized that the event was titled “Art for the Parks” and was a fundraiser for the Bahamas National Trust. We called for more information about the field trip and found out it was $15/person and would go to the National Park. I’ve been itching to see some of the interior of the islands and this was cheaper than renting a car, so we figured, “Why, not?” At the bare minimum we would get to see the island, even if the event was a bust and the parrots didn’t show.
Since I’m writing this story, you’ve probably deduced that we had a blast. Our field trip was a small group made up of cruisers, full-time residents, and visitors that flew in from other Bahamian islands solely for this field trip. The first thing to surprise us was that also in attendance on our trip were several BNT representatives, including the Executive Director, Eric Carey. BNT had lined up an expert on the Abaco Parrot named Caroline from Florida State, who is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on the Abaco Parrot. She filled us in on many facts, dutifully answered questions, and obviously had a real passion for the parrots. I think she said she’s been working with them for 8 years.
The Abaco Parrot is distinct because the entire population of only 3,000 birds resides solely on Great Abaco Island, it is closely related to the Cuban Parrot, but is a separate species. As Caroline explained, they don’t really like to fly over water, and therefore don’t venture to the other islands. The Abaco National Park was set aside to protect their breeding grounds, which consist of pine forest over the limestone of the island. The birds actually nest underground in abscesses within the limestone that provide them shelter from the frequent fires in the forest (every 3-4 years) but leaves them exposed to predators such as cats or raccoons.
I was not anticipating actually seeing an Abaco Parrot on our field trip, but being the expert, Caroline knew where they would be feeding outside of the park. She then led us right to them after listening for their calls. The whole group got a chance to snap photos, listen to the parrots, and photograph other birds along the way.
While many of the other attendees were serious birders (telephoto lenses, birding books, binoculars, etc.), Sabrina and I were obviously just along for the experience. But then Eric mentioned that along with us on the trip was Krista who was a marine biologist for the land and sea park. That’s more up our alley! We had a great time talking with Krista about the marine parks and the many reefs to explore while we walked along following the parrots. We found out that she was giving a talk that afternoon at “Art for the Parks” on how to clean lionfish and told her that we planned to attend, and I had a chance to get some of my questions answered by a true expert.
After returning to the resort after the field trip we grabbed some lunch and walked through the art exhibits. This wasn’t a tourist trap, but accomplished artists displaying original pieces. It seemed like all mediums were represented: oil on canvas, watercolors, photography, underwater photography, jewelry, wood and one gentleman who had some fantastic work with a layered effect of ceramic paints on plexi-glass.
In addition to the artists there were several different booths talking about boat building in the islands and one booth focused on the blue holes. We spent a long time there talking with the local museum curator and geologist about the blue holes in the region and a recent National Geographic feature on the topic.
We attended Krista’s demonstration on how to clean and fillet lionfish where she also talked about the many issues affecting the reefs. The lionfish she brought for her demonstration were HUGE and it gave me something to shoot for (literally.)
After our fantastic day of wonderful experiences, we decided to join the “Support Fleet” for the Exuma Cays to donate to the national park system. Our membership also provides us with free moorings in the Exuma Cay Park and priority on the waiting list for moorings. It also grants us a year’s membership to the BNT, the quarterly newsletter and free admittance to the national parks. One of our goals is to get to Inagua National Park one of the world’s largest breeding grounds for the West Indian flamingo. We mentioned that we wanted to get down there while talking with Eric and he gave me his card, told me to email him and he’d contact the game warden to get us a tour of the park. I hope we can make that happen, Eric’s eyes lit up as he told us of the 50,000 flamingoes that will be in the area when we would be down there. As he described it, they’re no longer pink, they’re “blood-red” getting ready to breed. I’m sure it’s a sight to behold.
Bahamas National Trust manages the 27 national parks in the Bahamas, much like our National Park Service oversees the U.S. park system. They established the first land and sea park in the world at Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park back in 1958, and it became a no-take marine reserve in 1986, the first one in the Caribbean. I encourage all visitors to the Bahamas to visit the parks and consider supporting them and for cruisers that will be going to the Exumas to consider joining the “Support Fleet.” In addition to protecting the Cays for conservation, there are the aforementioned perks provided to “Support Fleet” members.
At the end of the day we ran into Krista again and we told her that we enjoyed her talk. We talked for awhile longer about the health of the reefs and things that can be done. We’re hoping that we can stay in touch and maybe help the BNT with their various marine efforts in and around their parks. I’m hoping that we can meet up with Krista sometime in the future, she knows where the big lionfish lurk!
* Side note: While walking around Boat Harbor we saw an old friend, readers of the blog might remember P48.