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Friday
Oct 31st

University of Minnesota Student volunteers make a difference for the ecology of Exuma, The Bahamas

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An interesting and timely program available from The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism called "People to People". Through this program tourists are connected with a local family and are then able to share hobby, recreational and other interests, including just making new friends; it is a value-added opportunity that I would highly recommend. Factoid: The stunningly beautiful area known as Crab Cay (Key) in the first James Bond action-thriller "Dr. No" is part of the Exuma, Bahamas chain of islands

Stretching in almost a straight line for some ninety miles, the Exuma Cays, (pronounced keys), which lie in a southeasterly direction from Nassau, are perhaps the most tantalizing of The Bahamas' island groups. They are known for their beauty, amazing shades of blue and green-colored water of the sea around them, and their interesting and creative native population.

An interesting and timely program available from The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism called "People to People." Through this program tourists are connected with a local family and are then able to share hobby, recreational and other interests, including just making new friends; it is a value-added opportunity that I would highly recommend.

So, with the warm charm of the friendly people and equally warm weather, it was easy for myself and a group of other University of Minnesota student volunteers to spend the majority of our January winter break on a working vacation volunteering time and some sweat equity towards a study being conducted in support of the environment in Exuma called "The Coastal Ecology of The Bahamas."

The project combines new technologies in science with old problems facing societies everywhere, such as, how do we learn to live compatibly with the landscape? And is it possible to understand the requirements for sustainable development and resource use on islands?

Tropical islands are a particular challenge for people to use and enjoy without destroying the beauty that creates their quality of life. People have always come to the Bahamas for the beaches, sea breeze and adjacent coral reefs and fishes.

Yet even the very first Tiano Indians were unable to balance the environment and the most basic of human needs, and eventually had to move from one island to another because they had depleted all the available fish, turtles and other edible marine life.

Both University of Minnesota graduate and undergraduate students became an invaluable part of the 2008 field season, marking the seventh year of a long-term project to look at coastal land use and management on all the major islands of the Bahamian archipelago.

Initially using information collected from the Land Sat 7 satellite images to model the extent and degree of human alterations to the coastal zones throughout the region, students then used both remote sensing information and fieldwork to develop recommendations that will go into better environment management plans for resort developments as well as future settlements.

One very important part of the study deals with having a much better understanding of the novel pathways that nutrients and pollutants can pass from land to sea, and can actively test the effectiveness of coastal setbacks and development methods that best protect coastal resources.

The students basically moved from an earth observation platform from a satellite to on-the-ground modeling and measurements of water use and pollution loading in order to come up with measurable criteria for sustainability.

Environmental scientists like to say that "The solution to pollution is dilution," and coastal oceans are indeed the ultimate diluters. For the people who live on an island, almost every action has some consequence in terms of impact on coastal waters.

But there is a limit to how much pollution can be processed by these coastal oceans, and finding out what the thresholds are, and how they apply to principles of sustainable resource use, is of the utmost importance.

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Paul Edward Hamilton welcomes comments at
 

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