Bequia.jpeg
 Bequia Flag

Bequia Flag

On Sunday, August 27th, we left St Vincent by ferryboat and traveled to the small island of Bequia (pronounced Beck-Way). The island is approximately 9 miles from Kingstown and has 4,300 inhabitants. 

 Herman Belmar at the Bequia desalinization plant.

Herman Belmar at the Bequia desalinization plant.

Monday 7/28 Our first full day on Bequia started with a morning meeting with Mr. Herman Belmar, Island Administrator.  In addition to managing the administrative and operational functions across the island, Mr. Belmar is the Project Manager for the Reducing Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) demonstration projects on Bequia. (For more information on the RRACC projects see our post from 7/20.)  After an interview with Mr. Belmar at his office, we all piled into his car, gear and all, to tour the expansion of the existing solar-powered desalinization plant and corresponding distribution system.  Mr. Belmar not only provided us with a wonderful tour of the inner workings of the plant, but we also got to see the site of the new water tank, the solar PV system and the distribution lines.  Following our site visit, we had a quick stop off for something cool to drink and then it was of for a full island tour, including a great view of Port Elizabeth.

Bequia is a small island, just seven square miles and, similar to the mainland, it is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  However, the environmental and social dynamics are just different enough that it felt like we traveled much further than the 9 miles to the mainland of St. Vincent.  The island is encircled with fine white-sand beaches, rather than the sparkling black sand found on the mainland (a result of being a volcanic island).  Bequia feels more arid, receiving an average of 59 inches of rainfall annually, compared to the average 150 inches on the mainland. 

The hillsides, while lush when we arrived, are a patchwork of cactus and dry tropical forests.  Many people told us that until early July, the hillsides were brown and the trees bare, only leafing out after the first rains of the season. The island was slowly emerging from what we heard was one of the longest droughts in recent years, extending almost 7 months without rain.  Because Bequia has no ground water sources, residents, farmers and business are dependent on rainwater.  While water conservation seems to be one way the community works to meet their water needs, this alone cannot address the shortfall they have been experiencing. 

 Old Well

Old Well

The RRACC project on Bequia, expansion of the solar powered desalinization plant and development of a distribution system, evolved out of an existing project funded through AusAid in 2011. The project was designed to address issues of water scarcity for some of the most vulnerable residents on the island living in the community of Paget Farm.   The plant, originally developed with a 20,000 gallon capacity, is being expanded to 60,000 gallons.  In addition, a water distribution system is being installed to provide water at two depots (one of which is the site of an existing well in Paget Farm.  During the last drought, the desalinization plant provided potable water to the roughly 1,000 residents of Paget Farm.  The plant also generates more electricity than is needed to power the desalinization plant and, due to the net metering system, provides a source of revenue to fund ongoing maintenance of the system.

- Nuin-Tara

Tuesday 7/29

The owner of the Rambler's Rest guest house, Donnaka, an Irish-to-the-tropics transplant took Shale and I for a guided hike on Tuesday.  The terrain is extremely hilly, with dramatic vistas of the surrounding islands.  Among many sites, Donnaka's comprehensive tour took us by an old sugar mill and a beach covered in Sargassum seaweed. (See below description of the seaweed.)

 Donnaka, on a beach where there are frequent sea turtle sightings, Sargassum seaweed is covering the beach in the background

Donnaka, on a beach where there are frequent sea turtle sightings, Sargassum seaweed is covering the beach in the background

Since early 2012, Sargassum seaweed (seen floating and onshore in the above stills) known for its presence in the Sargasso Sea, has been flooding the shores of many Caribbean islands, interfering with not only the pristine beaches but also the paths of fishing boats and marine life alike, particularly nesting turtles. Some explanations for the sudden mass exodus of the seaweed from its historic homeland include changing current patterns due to climate change or a large increase in seaweed population due to higher ocean temperatures; regardless of the cause, the appearance of such huge quantities of the weed in the Caribbean is cause for concern environmentally, as well as economically.

 Bequia Quadcopter Beach Still - note seaweed in the water

Bequia Quadcopter Beach Still - note seaweed in the water

 Bequia Quadcopter Beach Still

Bequia Quadcopter Beach Still

Thursday 7/31 - Leaving Bequia

VIP seat. Just before leaving Bequia on the ferry, Donnaka introduced me to the ferryboat Captain - Captain Elvis Presley Gooding. While the rest of the team had to stay below and get sea sick, I was invited up to the bridge to film and hang out with the captain and first mate. And out on the breezy, sun-soaked deck, I got some great shots of various island harbors as passengers came on and off.  -Tom

 The Captain adjusting my GoPro for me.

The Captain adjusting my GoPro for me.

 Captain Elvis Presley Gooding overseeing the boarding process and joking with the locals.

Captain Elvis Presley Gooding overseeing the boarding process and joking with the locals.

Upon arriving, we quickly dropped our bags off at our rental house, just ten yards from the water at Belmont Bay.  We then rushed to grab two great interviews; Katrina Collins, the founder of a local environmental organization, the Union Island Environmental Attackers, discussed her path to becoming an environmental and community leader.  Our second interview was with Orisha Joseph, Communications Officer with Sustainable Grenadines (SusGren), which is a transnational organization working on coastal and coral restoration and preservation.  

 Roseman Adams (nickname, Young Buffalo) 

Roseman Adams (nickname, Young Buffalo) 

We then made a few quick stops for groceries since the following day (Friday) was a national holiday – Emancipation day, which celebrates the The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ending slavery in the British Empire (see more below for a view of the festivities).

We finished the day with a lovely dinner on the water and then went out for a late night guided turtle walk, thanks to the dedicated volunteers with the Environmental Attackers.  July 31st was the last day of the protected turtle season (August 1st marks the beginning of the open turtle hunting season).  We were looking for leatherback turtles, but unfortunately we didn't see any.  However, we had a wonderful and knowledgeable guide in Mr. Roseman Adams, who is a certified turtle handler and volunteer with the Union Island Environmental Attackers (among many other things on the island). We got to close the night out with an incredible view of the Milky Way and I saw marine phosphorescence for the first time!  It was a magical way to finish off a wonderful day.

-Nuin-Tara

Friday morning, Tom and I (Shale) were up not-so-bright and early after our late night of turtle watching to join the “Attackers” on their trail clearing hike up the two tallest hills in the Grenadines, Big Hill and Taboi. Armed with cutlasses (someone unversed in the local lingo might call them machetes), Roseman and our other local guides hacked a steep trail through all manner of exotic tropical flora, ranging from the deadly Devil’s Nettle to the incredibly tasty and refreshing local wild cherries, which proved a welcome snack. Our companions were a diverse lot, including visitors from Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Vincent, in addition to the gregarious Union Island locals—Roseman and Stanton even brought along their children to add to our little trail breaking community. After hours of trekking, filming, eating cherries, and plenty of playful banter, we eventually reached the 999-foot peak of Mount Taboi and the fantastic views of island and ocean which awaited us there. Of course, it was all downhill from there, and we made it down to Clifftown just in time for a fantastic twilight display of traditional drumming and dancing performed in the town square by some of the local youths. The performance was an exhibition of the skills developed in a summer dance camp supported by a local school, and a great insight into the local culture of this secluded island in the beautiful Caribbean.

-Shale

 Traditional Drumming and Dancing

Traditional Drumming and Dancing

 Katrina

Katrina

 Bap with his corn.

Bap with his corn.

Saturday, Shale and I caught the Attackers' founder Katrina, singing at a gospel event and sunday, we met up with Bap at his farm and he talked about farming (he has a huge collection of refrigerators that he uses as planters), the Union community, his steel-drumming days, and gave us a bit of insight into the 1979 insurrection. (There was talk of Union succeeding in the late 1970's, but the uprising was quickly put down by the SVG government.)

We've met so many interesting, motivated, and funny people in Union and we're all really looking forward to another week on this small, sunny island.

Side note: I bumped into Captain Elvis this evening hanging out by the jetty with some Union locals. In street clothes and with a beer in his hand, he greeted me warmly.  He told me the ferry schedule keeps him in port till Wednesday. He has a cabin on the ferry, and he gets to spend tomorrow on the island. "We've been doing this route for 4 years," he said. "I'm originally from Bequia, but Union is my favorite."  


 
 Bap clearing trail on the top of Mount Taboi

Bap clearing trail on the top of Mount Taboi

 

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