CAMPERS all over the world ride horses, swim and eat s’mores by an open fire, but at one camp in Grand Bahama youngsters got to hang out with fish, mangroves, reef balls and sting rays. They were the dozen lucky enough to take part in the second session of Camp Eco-Explorer.
Sponsored and run by Save The Bays in partnership with Waterkeepers Bahamas along with volunteers like Elfsworth Weirm, Grand Bahama Park warden at Bahamas National Trust (BNT), Keith and Linda Cooper of West End Ecology Tours, and Barry Smith at Paradise Cove, the week-long Eco-Explorer camp allowed children ages 7-11 to study and feed sting rays, explore mangroves, wetlands and pine forests and learn about deforestation from salt water intrusion caused by hurricanes and storm surges.
“We went where most kids on Grand Bahama will never go, to The Gap,” said camp co-director Rashema Ingraham, referring to an expanse of wetlands intertwined with fresh water tributaries and flats, home to tarp and bonefish and waters so clear you can read the date on a coin on the bottom. The area, a cornucopia of tropical wonders, has been identified as a national park and is maintained by the Bahamas National Trust.
For Tafari Fountain, a fifth grader at Freeport Gospel Chapel School, no number of s’mores could begin to compare with feeding stingrays.
“We went on many adventures but my favourite was at Paradise Cove, where we got to snorkel and get a close look at the beautiful fish in our waters. The most memorable activity was learning how to hold pilchards when feeding stingrays,” she said.
“Everywhere we went, the campers brought a youthful curiosity that was such a joy to see,” said Ms Ingraham, executive director of Waterkeepers Bahamas. “You could see that when they first saw an animal or a fish of any size, there would be a little bit of fear and then as they swam with them or got to learn more about the animal the fear would be transformed into wonder.”
This is the second year Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save The Bays partnered to host the camps, the first week for older campers, the second for younger ones.
Sixth grader Edissa Bain says she will always cherish her initial introduction to the world of stingrays.
“I was allowed to feed and touch a stingray for the first time,” she said. “Their skin is soft and slimy like oil. Mr Keith Cooper, our tour guide, explained that we should not be afraid of these creatures, if we have an encounter with one while swimming not to get alarmed, instead quietly walk away or stand still until it swims away. Mr Cooper also mentioned that stingrays are not harmful and will only attack if they feel threatened.”