The Art and Ecology of Coral Reefs

January 12th, 2008

No time for quotes or imagery today… I'm in mid-stride teaching a terrific course for Castleton College called The Art and Ecology of Coral Reefs. It is very intense (and fabulous.) Cynthia Moulton, a zoologist, and I have 15 highly motivated students.  Needless to say, it's a ton of fun.

Days are spent snorkeling, identifying, drawing and painting reef creatures: fish, corals, sponges, gorgonians etc. Evenings we're painting in the classroom and seeing some excellent DVDs on reefs and art. I'm also working on the illustrations for a children's book that Cynthia has written.

We've done some strenuous, sweaty hikes through dry, thorny forest on the south side of St. John. Sugar plantation ruins tell the tale of colonial inhabitants, while the mysterious petroglyphs hint of previous cultures. The Taino were here before the Dutch. We're staying at VIERS, the Virgin Island Environmental Research Station.

The rich diversity of the reef is visually stunning… Color, form, complexity: all within a few feet of the surface of these balmy salt waters. Who made these things up? Bizarre adaptation of color and form. Scrawled cowfish, monstruously contorted octopi and spotted drums are my current favorites. Yellow Snapper and Blue Tang feel like old friends. Quite a few green sea turtles this trip too. It is astonishing to see their bulk flying so gracefully and effortlessly through the waters.

John James Audubon grew up on an island near here, though I can't remember which. (Ha! Saint Domingue- which became Haiti) No wonder he became an artist naturalist. The islands are resonant with cultural history, and the beauty of natural flora and fauna. Birds have been elusive. Lots of sound, and the inevitable pearly eyed thrashers and pelicans. All quite lovely of course. Antillean crested hummers are ever-so pretty, and behaviorally fun to watch as they battled over whose turn it was under the dripping trickle of a waterfall on our hike.

When I am home and have better connectivity (very slow here, and others are waiting for computer time) I will elaborate and add pix.

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