Zane: Today, The HOEC team returned to the Cayman Turtle farm. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the buses and were off. After a short but scenic drive, we arrived at our destination. The entrance was bright and colorful. Before we entered, a few of us noticed a small green iguana in front of the door. After we had taken many pictures, the lizard darted away.
Inside the laboratory, we met up with Dr. Walter Mustin, Ph.D., one of the turtle researchers who works at the turtle farm. He gave us a presentation about the turtles, and showed us many interesting things, such as a small, five-day-old green sea turtle, and some leathery turtle eggs. He also explained a rather fascinating theory that he formulated to explain the health of the turtles when they hatched in relation to the amount of sand that was on top of them.
After this, we all moved back outside, where we witnessed a turtle feeding session in a large tank. We were ushered along by our tour guides, and eventually arrived at an aviary, which happened to be the largest open air aviary in the Caribbean. In small groups, we entered the structure through a system of doors that were designed to to keep the birds inside from escaping.
The aviary was enclosed by a mesh net that spanned the length of the
roof. Inside, there were many trees and bushes, as well as artificial
water features such as ponds and waterfalls.
Once the whole group was inside, there was a quick briefing, then we all
dispersed to explore the different species of birds that could be found
within. I walked over to one of the guides and was handed some seeds to
feed the birds. As soon as I held out my hand a small yellow bird that
I later determined to be a saffron finch, fluttered down from a nearby
tree and settled in my palm. It began to eat the seeds out of my hand.
The claws gripped my hand, but I felt no pain from the encounter. As
the finch was feeding, another bigger bird flew down and chased it way,
taking its place on my hand. Soon after, another bird chased this one
away. This happened many times in quick succession until I was out of
seeds, at which point all of the birds vacated my palm in favor of
others that had food.
After the aviary, we moved down to a large glass wall that looked into a
huge saltwater tank called “Predator Reef.” Housed inside were all of
the larger carnivorous creatures, such as sharks, barracudas, and a
single loggerhead sea turtle. The guide then called us up, and in
apparent gratitude of our visit, bestowed upon each of us a shark tooth
that came from one of the sharks in the tank.
We then went up a pathway to an area that overlooked the same tank. It
was now feeding time for all the predators in the reef. Some staff
members lowered platforms about knee-deep in the shark-infested water,
then jumped in onto the platforms. One of the staff explained that the
nurse sharks had been trained to be held still for a few seconds by the
trainers before they could get their food (dead fish and squid).
After the nurse shark feedings, the staff exited the water, and fed the
sandbar sharks, which are smaller, yet faster than the nurse sharks.
They are closely related to reef sharks. Since this species is faster
and more dangerous, the trainers fed them from out of the water with
long poles. We were instructed to go back down to the underwater
viewing window to watch. As we were pressed against the glass, we saw
the sharks swim slowly up to the food item, then sharply turn and grab
the fish in their mouths, gulp it down, and continue casually on their
We then walked up to the main entrance, where one of the staff prepared a
classic Caribbean drink for us. He took a coconut and hacked off the
top with a machete, inserted a straw, and handed it over to us. We all
drank from them eagerly.
Next came a brief tour of the crocodile tank. We watched a crocodile
launch itself out of the water to grab the food item that was being
dangled over it by a staff member.
When this was over, we walked to a series of small tanks that were
filled with salt water. Swimming inside were many green sea turtles of
assorted sizes. It was allowed, and even encouraged, for us to pick up
the turtles from the water and observe them, so many of us did. When
they were taken out of the water, some of the more energetic individuals
repeatedly flapped their front flippers, as if they were going to swim
out of our clutches. Many pictures were taken of us holding these small
So far, the experiences that National Geographic has provided me have
been absolutely astounding, and I’m sure that the adventures yet to come
in the remainder of the trip will be just as good as those that I have
Brody: While we were kayaking today in the mangrove forest, we
stopped at a grouping of a few mangrove trees to listen to our guide
telling us about them. They grow in salt water and are very important
for fish and other wildlife. When Hurricane Ivan hit Cayman, a lot of
the mangroves were destroyed. Scientists have worked hard to restore the
mangroves by growing seedlings in special containers that they then put
into the sea. While our guide was talking I noticed that there was some
coral floating nearby, but then I realized it was a jellyfish. It went
under my kayak. A guide helped me lift the jellyfish up with my paddle.
We asked what kind it was, and the guide said it was called Cassiopeia
jellyfish. On a scale of one to ten its sting is a four. Besides all of
the science lessons, we had some playtime fun. The NG explorer who is
traveling with us, Boyd Matson, started a water fight. Also his son,
Taylor, helped him attack us all with water. Taylor also had a water
bottle he used to squirt water at us. “You guys look awfully dry,” Tyler
said to my Dad and me. Then he splooshed us with his water bottle and
his dad helped him by giving us a paddle splash. This went on for a
while. It was fun! We stopped again at the mangroves that survived the
hurricane further down the coast. They were in good shape. After that
stop, we had to turn around and head back. On the dock wall I saw some
interesting crabs that looked flat and were climbing up and down. After
this great experience and all the others, I really think being a marine
biologist will really fit me. I am good at finding things and usually
see a lot of new things, like the jellyfish, that others might miss. I
am also really careful around the coral when we were snorkeling. So I
really thank all the NG people that made this possible. And I can’t wait
for the new adventures that are to come.
Michael: Today was another really awesome day on the Cayman
Islands–full of nature, water, warmth, and the fun fellowship of the
other kids throughout the day and during meals. The Turtle Farm was
definitely an awesome highlight due to the fact that we got to see how
turtles hatch and the process that the mother goes through. The babies
hatch out through the shell and then crawl up from under three feet of
sand and then finally pull themselves to the water. I was really
interested to find out that female turtles can lay eggs every ten days
during the laying season. The guides were so knowledgeable about the
whole life cycle. One of them had performed a test that revealed the way
that they were incubating the eggs was not fully correct.
The birds at the aviary were very colorful and also tame enough to eat
birdseed right out of my hand. Nurse sharks and sandbar sharks patrolled
the tank where we saw staff feed the sharks and other predatory fish. I
was fascinated to see how violent the sandbar shark was when it fed on
the fish. Also, one of the highlights for the entire trip for me was
getting to hold the green turtles of different sizes at the holding
tanks. I was fortunate enough to be able to hold the five-day-old turtle
during the previous presentation by Dr. Mustin.
I have really enjoyed all of the really awesome opportunities we have
all had while on this beautiful island. Conch ceviche and swanky, a
traditional Caymanian drink made of lime, brown sugar and water, are
both types of new food that I have been able to try. Also, getting to
hold a jellyfish today while on the kayaking trip was again something
new. I have really been so impressed with how welcoming, friendly, and
gracious everyone on the entire island has been. Gina, with the
Department of Tourism, is one of the friendliest people I have ever met,
and continues to do everything she can to help make our trip as
memorable and fun as possible. Every time we have eaten we have had
delicious, succulent meals that have really appealed to everyone with
different tastes. We have eaten with parrots right next to us, and the
ocean crashing nearby. The fresh seafood has been a nice luxury that is
not readily available in most areas of the U.S. We have been blessed
with beautiful weather and only occasional rain showers that usually
occur during the night. Plus, the water is so warm and the colors are
just out of this world. The hotel is situated right on Seven Mile Beach
and it is so nice to wake up every morning to the slow-moving tide and
then go to bed with the sun setting right in the middle of the horizon. I
really am so appreciative of the Cayman Islands for hosting us and
everyone who has worked as hard as they can to make this trip possible.
I am really excited to go to Cayman Brac, a neighboring island,
tomorrow to take more photos and continue to live in this expedition of