26 September 2010

Blog Book

Now that Jessee's posted her last post, I've put the finishing touches on the "blog book." And so, with this, we're officially bringing the blog to a close. I've uploaded the book to blurb.com, and it's now available for printing. It's quite expensive (sorry!), but the price isn't up to us. It's determined by the size of the book. And we reached the maximum allowable length of 440 pages! The book itself is supposed to be quite nice though, with fully professional printing and binding. It should be a proper coffee table book with many large, full color pictures. Preview the content below:

If you like it, you can order a copy directly from the printer:
South Caicos Island by Brett Matulis & Jessica Moyer

29 August 2010

What I'll miss most, Part 2

Written on August 20, 2010... (just haven't had a chance to publish until now).

It's hard to believe, but my time on "the Big South" has come to an end now too. I'm back in the States visiting my family and trying to prepare for our next adventure: moving to Edinburgh! I thoroughly enjoyed my summer in the TCI, and had two great groups of students to work with. I think I was really trying to soak up everything that I loved about my job with SFS (along with some sun, which I may never experience again in such enduring abundance), since I knew that I would be moving on at the end of the summer. I also took some time to reflect on the 15 months that I spent in the TCI, and am inspired now, by one of Brett's earliest blog posts actually, to share a few of the things that I'll miss most (and least) about the living in the islands. I think I’ll start with what I won’t miss so that I can end on a positive note.

What I won't miss:

1) So many invasive species. That is, the critters that invaded my sleeping quarters and my shower and my personal space, including ants, rats, termites, mosquitoes, and hydroids, just to name a few.

Termite tracks leading up to my bathroom window

Ant bite right under my eye

This rat was nibbling away at my soap every night for weeks before I finally set a trap

2) Staff drama. I suppose it's to be expected that any group of 10 people from a wide range of backgrounds and outlooks, who have to live, eat, work, and play together will have squabbles and cliques, and will include some misfits or even the occasional unfit, but our tenuous center staff dynamics weighed heavily on me sometimes. There are, nonetheless, many individuals at SFS that I feel lucky to have met and whom I truly enjoyed working with.

3) Getting hit on. Or at least inappropriate eyed up and down nearly every time I left the center to go into town. This wasn't special treatment I received by any means, but I think I may have been one of the least flattered, and therefore least tolerant, recipients of such attention.

What I will miss most of all:

1) The weather. It's confirmed. I'm a warm weather person, and I just love sun and water. And then more sun. Even on the days when it was pushing 100 degrees and we were all complaining about the heat, a little part of me was still secretly reveling in toastiness and wishing I could stockpile some warmth and sunlight for future, chillier, grayer days.

2) The underwater world. I've become so attached to the various beautiful and fascinating creatures that I've gotten to know over the past year-- and likewise to the Humann/DeLoach field guides that help me connect names and important facts with what I'm observing. Most of all I'll miss the sharpnose puffers and the green turtles, but I truly loved seeing a range of new and intriguing species every time I went on a dive or snorkel. In a way, I feel like I have a home, and many many friends, in the tropical marine ecosystems of the Atlantic.

Huge spiny lobster spotted during my final snorkel

Well-used field guides

3) Connecting with students. I spent a good portion of the past year with intelligent, motivated, passionate, and curious young college students. Not all of the program participants I worked with fit that description, but the many who did made all of the work that my position required worth it!

4) The porch. I loved sitting in our hammock out there with a book, and just enjoying the breeze and the (relative) quiet.

5) Baking cakes. I did this for every student birthday, and for a host of other events and celebrations as well, sometimes in collaboration with other people and other times on my own. In fact, I probably spent way too many hours decorating cakes when I had a million other things I ought to have been doing instead. I wonder if I'll ever have another job that will incorporate cake decorating. I hope so! Some of the cakes got gobbled up before we could take pictures of them, but here are a few examples:

(camping trip)

(night snorkel)


(well-camouflaged peacock flounder)

(bon voyage party for our site manager)

(juvenile smooth trunkfish)

(SFS logo)

(a double birthday -- the above two cakes go side-by-side)

(mangrove ecosystem)

(she brought a stray puppy, a.k.a. "potcake", back to the States with her)

(our nightguard was from the DR)

(queen angelfish)

(for a huge Lakers fan)

(the last cake I decorated on the island... so I went all out!)

6) Saving money. There isn’t much to buy on South, nor is there much need for "stuff". I appreciated living simply, and also being able to put so much of each paycheck right into savings-- which I'm likely to promptly deplete this next year in Scotland. Ugh.

7) Sunsets. I've lived in many places that boast gorgeous sunsets, but South can compete with the best of them. (Lake Champlain might be its only rival in fact.) There's just something about a sunset over water, especially when the sea birds or night hawks are out enjoying it too. Dusk sort of provides an opportunity to reflect on time spent, lessons learned, relationships developed, and experiences accumulated, as well as to dream about and plan for what’s ahead…

28 June 2010

Summer 1 '10

Jessee here. I know I haven't been doing a very good job of filling Brett's shoes as primary blogger lately, but I'll try now to catch you up a little.

Big shoes to fill (Brett left these here when he moved out)

Since Brett left the island about 3 weeks ago, quite a lot has happened here. First of all, we got a brand new batch of students for Summer session 1! We've also had a few staff changes, including losing our Site Manager, Tim, and gaining 3 new Interns, two of whom arrived just last week. Before they got here, I had been filling in for the waterfront staff quite a bit, and though it made for an extra busy schedule, I really enjoyed going out on the snorkels and driving the boat for the field research projects.

So far, the summer's been filled with lots of the usual activities and trips, such as camping, hikes along long cay, baking cookies, swimming at coast guard, and playing volleyball at High Point. On that note, we have some serious volleyball talent in the current group of students, and I think we may give the High Point guys a run for their money at our next face-off (probably tomorrow). Unfortunately though, I'm pretty sure I broke my toe at one of our practice sessions.

Pretty purple toe

There have been some new activities thrown into the mix this summer too. For example, there was a celebration of TCI culture at the Regatta the week before last, in honor of a gentleman who put a lot of energy into preserving local traditions and foods and music, and who passed away recently. The junkanoo band paraded through the streets, children performed on stage at the Regatta Village, and there was food and drink for sale thoroughout the night. (SFS contributed a big TCI flag that our students painted, and it served as a backdrop for the stage.)

Preparing decorations for the Junkanoo festival

In other news, our pool is currently out of commission. We loaned our pump to a guy in town that Tim was friends with, and he apparently loaned it (or sold it?) to someone else. So, we're working on tracking it down, but in the meantime our community swim lessons have been cancelled.

Algae-infested pool

The only bright side of having no pool is that we had to come up with a creative alternative activity for the kids who come to visit us every Saturday afternoon. We usually have arts and crafts projects available, and ping pong, volleyball, dominoes, cards, etc., but the swim lessons are by far the biggest draw, so I was prepared to have a lot of disspointed kids on my hands. We decided to set up a few touch tanks with sea creatures in them as a new and exciting attraction, and also as a way of teaching the kids about marine life and encouraging them to interact (gently) with their natural environment.

Touch tank

Two of the faculty members and I went out in the morning to collect creatures, and we came back with several west indian sea eggs, a pencil urchin, 2 crabs that had taken up residence in unoccupied shells, a few snails, 2 brittle stars, a milk conch, a queen conch, a few flamingo tongues, a few sand dollars, a sea biscuit, some sea marbles, a few different types of algae, and... a small lobster and a shrimp that were living together inside a knocked conch shell! It was a huge hit! Some of the kids were afraid to touch things at first, but most of them worked up the courage to at least pick up a conch shell and look inside. The cutest reaction belonged to a little boy, Elrico, who pointed to an item in the tank that I explained was called a "sand dollar". He thought for a second, and then said "What's that mean? You can buy stuff in the sea with it?"

The tanks kept the kids' interest for almost an hour... incredible!

Princeton makes a new friend

The current group of students took their final exam today, so there are no more lectures this session. In fact, they are only here for one more week. (The shorter summer sessions fly by!) This final week will be action-packed though. We had a frisbee game this evening, field research twice a day all week, a volleyball game tomorrow, the high school graduation ceremony to attend tomorrow evening at Regatta Village, a few recreational waterfront activities thrown in, the students' final research presentations on Saturday morning, some community engagement Saturday afternoon, the 4th of July, a day to pack and clean up the center and take a final field trip together, have a closure banquet and photo slideshow, and then I fly back to Provo with the students next Tuesday morning.

Our busy daily routine starts with a "morning meeting" and group activity

I'll be sad to see this group go... I'm enjoying them a lot. I'm also starting to feel a little sad about leaving myself. I gave notice to my supervisor a little while ago, and then last Friday at our weekly meeting she annouced to the rest of the staff that I will be leaving SFS in August. (And, as of this post, I suppose the news is accessible world-wide.) So it's official. As of the end of Summer 2, I'm moving on. To where, I don't know yet. Somewhere that Brett are I are both able to find work and meaningful community involvement, is the idea. Wish us luck! Given the status of the current job market, we need it!

06 June 2010

Closing Time

My time on the island has come to an end.

As I noted before, it probably seems quite sudden that I left. But it has been in the works for months. It was February when I first began to realize I needed to leave. There's no place for "partners of staff" at the SFS center in TCI. As more and more restrictions on how I could be involved were placed on me (and the others in my same position), it became apparent that I'd be better off some place else.

Despite how some characterized it, I never felt entitled to free reign over the school's resources or expected to be entertained by those who worked there. Quite the opposite, when I came I was more than happy pitch in where I could - to work for free! On numerous occasions I offered to be part of the staff-of-the-day rotation, monitor the radio, serve boat duty, or lead groups. I came with the attitude that I needed to "earn my keep." I would bear no burden on others and do everything I could to make the lives of those around me easier. That was what I could offer in exchange for the extraordinary opportunity of being allowed to live there.

No matter what, though, some were determined to resent the fact that I was there in no official capacity. There's nothing quite as infuriating as being told, "you don't seem to understand that this is a school," when it was so far from the truth. (I must add, though, if you judge by the way this person conducted his course, it's understandable why someone might forget).

But there's no need to dwell on the things that made life on South Caicos difficult. In the sincerest way I can possibly put it, I wouldn't trade the last year for anything. Despite the challenges, I've had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I'll never forget (especially since they're quite well documented in this blog). I logged over 170 dives, swam with dolphins, whales, sharks, eagle rays, and loads of tropical fishes. I've become an underwater photographer and gained an advanced knowledge of diving. I captured sea turtles and freed iguanas. It's been quite an adventure. And I couldn't be more thankful for it.

We'll have to count on Jessee to keep this blog going through the summer. I won't be writing regularly anymore (though I may post once or twice more, for instance, when I finish the book). It's a sad feeling bringing things to a close. This blog has been pretty central to my life for an entire year. But all good things must come to an end.

Farewell South Caicos!

05 June 2010


I took this video yesterday on the flight from Charlotte, NC to Fort Myers, FL. Fortunately, we flew around it and not through it. It was perfectly smooth and made for a good show.

On the Mainland

It was a long and arduous journey, but I've arrived safely in Naples, Florida. As the crow flies, South Caicos is only about 600 miles from Florida. If only I could have flown directly, it would have taken hardly more than an hour. Instead, it took me 16. So close, yet strangely far away.

There are few things less pleasant than commercial air travel these days. It seems that collectively airlines have given up all effort of providing decent service. Instead they try to wring every last penny they can from you. I was charged $25 to check my bag and $3 for the on-board snack. They've even gone as far as placing advertisements on the tray tables! On top of that, the TCI government charged me $20 for permission to leave the country. They get away with all of this because they know we're captive consumers. We'll keep purchasing their product no matter how bad it is because when it comes to long distance travel, there's nothing else we can do.


But I guess, when it comes down to it, I can't complain because they did manage to get me from point A to point B without any mid-air disasters!

I do, however, always enjoy the island-connector flight from South to Provo. See some of the photos from it below:

Boarding in South Caicos

You can really see the damage that the East Bay resort has done dredging sea grass.

Dove Cay and Long Cay

One final goodbye - looking down at the Center.

03 June 2010

Rain on my Parade

June 2nd, I mentioned last year, is a special day for us. As of yesterday, we've been together for 8 years! We didn't get to spend it together last year, so I had grand plans for it this year. But there was rain on my parade.

Rainy Day

There was thunder and lighting for the better part of the day. Both of us were a little bummed out because of it, but incredibly things cleared up in the evening and we still had an enjoyable time (even if I wasn't able to carry things out in their full glory). We went for my final South Caicos dive, just the two of us. And while we were down there, I gave Jessee her card.

It was a good last dive too. We got a good sampling of the regular South Caicos megafauna - a Nurse Shark, a Reef Shark, and a lone Eagle Ray. It was as if they were all coming out one last time for me. Aside from that we saw lots of Horse-eye and Black Jacks (my favorite fish) and a Sharpnose Puffer (Jessee's favorite). Just before we ascended I spotted a Golden Coney too. Coneys are quite abundant, but Golden ones are a rare color variation. I've only seen 3 or 4 others the whole time I've been here.

A bit blurry.

A bit grainy.

Nassau Grouper

Sharpnose Puffer

Golden Coney

They're somewhat shy.

That's supposed to be an 8

After we cleaned the salt off our equipment (extra thoroughly for mine since I'll be hanging it up for a while), we went out for dinner. There's not much in terms of "fine dining" on this island, so we embraced the situation and went for the bottom rung of what was available - The Chicken Shack.

Fried chicken and french fries. It made us both feel sick.

Bruno was happy, though, because he got our bones.

And one more thing, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!