“How do you spell “Caicos?” I heard through the cockpit door as I boarded the plane back to TCI. Irma dealt the island nation a nasty blow, with reports indicating 99.5% of the structures on South Caicos sustained damage in the most powerful hurricane to ever amass in the Atlantic Ocean. Still unsure of the state of our Center and the surrounding community, the mood on the returning flight was grim and full of apprehension. The devastation left by Irma was immense. Debris everywhere, houses and historical structures reduced to rubble, the SFS Center unrecognizable. But as we pulled up the driveway and read “Welcome to The Admiral’s Arms Inn”, we knew we were home. South Caicos had once been the hub of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Inn played a vital role with both the air traffic controller and harbor master operating there. Admiral’s Arms welcomed guests from all walks of life – sailors, vacationers, Coast Guard personnel on a weekend’s pass, etc. As I walked through the front gate, it was unmistakably The School for Field Studies Center for Marine Resource Studies.
We set to work clearing debris right away, and began the process of assessing damage just in time for Maria to find her way to our doorstep. Living a month without electricity, we grew in touch with our circadian rhythms, rising with the sun and retreating under mosquito nets at dusk. A lot has changed since those early days back on South and there is still much to be done; however, it’s extremely rewarding knowing that with each nail and screw driven in, this facility is being improved upon in ways that will ensure the longevity of our operations on the island we have called home for nearly 30 years.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria revealed the charms of the old Admiral’s Arms Inn which we uncovered, restored, and integrated into the interior renovations. Huge strides are being made and we look forward to the return of students with the upcoming Summer I program. As we build anew we celebrate the history of our South Caicos home and the community we are so lucky to be a part of. The South Caicos community is something you have to experience yourself to fully understand – in time it becomes a part of you and you may just earn yourself an island nickname.
This phase of South Caicos history lends itself to new research opportunities in analyzing the effects of the hurricanes in both the community and in the field. The South Caicos community is slowly returning to a new normal, proving to be as resilient as ever. We are fortunate to be able to stay involved in the community and spend time with many of the local youths. The interns have been working on organizing presentations and activities at Iris Stubbs Primary school. Our first presentation focused on coral reefs and ocean pollution with an emphasis on how plastics affect coral health and the marine environment. This presentation was given to the 5th and 6th grade classes and was followed up by questions from the class afterwards. Our second presentation focused on mangroves and their role in coastal conservation. As part of education week we also read and acted out some of our favorite stories to each class. We help with the local soccer practices on Mondays and Wednesdays as well as volunteering at the schools for sports day, cross country races, and during education week.
It has been amazing to see the multitude of alumni, families, and friends who have reached out offer donations and support to the South Caicos community during this time. Thanks to the support of SFS alumni and friends, community donations are also arriving weekly. Though this support we are able to provide class materials (pens, pencils, crayons, notebooks), books, educational games, white boards, computer screens and printers. We also provided classroom materials for the high school science program – microscopes, pipettes, dissecting kits, balances, and even a skeleton. In addition, we are helping to restore the community basketball courts (backboards and nets). Being involved in the distribution of these materials has been amazing. Each child at the primary school was able to be provided with new school supplies and materials to get them through the rest of the school year. A huge thank you goes out to our SFS alumni, friends, and family particularly our friends at Creighton’s Corner Elementary for the generous donations. They are making a huge difference here in South Caicos.
3rd graders at with their new supplies
4th graders with their new supplies
We are beyond excited to be welcoming students back to our campus for our summer sessions! The faculty and staff are eager to welcome our summer students and for the campus to return to its lively and active state. It’s going to be a great summer! To all who have supported our efforts here, your kindness and generosity has fueled our progress and in return secured the legacy of all those who have and will learn under this roof – Thank You!