Monday, September 26, 2011

No reason that Antigua's fishers can't go off shore.

When speaking about sustainable fishing and specificially about fishing for pelagic species, the people representing the commercial fishermen of Antigua and Barbuda keep saying that fishermen here in Antigua and Barbuda don't have big enough boats. I have been saying that this isn't true for years because I see little pirogues from most of the English speaking islands to our south way out in the Atlantic off shore fishing for deep sea species. Hell, when i was 16 years old I would take our little 40 hp powered boat fishing way offshore and to Barbuda. Things have changed a bit for us since then:

Also as mentioned time and time again in my blogs, we see small Guadeloupean and St. Barts boats in our waters fishing too. Click this blog to see what i am speaking about. See how the boys from St. Barts catch pelagic fish easily from small boats in this video:

Recently one of our friends who fishes all season long here in the deep waters off shore took one of Antigua's smallest commercial fishing boats out 25 miles east of Antigua to fish on one of the Guadeloupean FADs. These photos below were taken by someone on our open boat between storms and trust me, it wasn't nearly as calm getting there or getting back. They ended up with about 300 lbs of tuna and mahi mahi.
The time for fishing sustainably on and almost collapsed inshore fishery should be at an end and we need to encourage fishers to move to more sustainable methods. Click here for more on sustainable fishing. 
Here is a photo taken from their boat:
As you can see: the boat isn't big at all. In fact, the wide angle camera shot makes the boat look way way bigger.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I don't ususally take other Antiguan writer's work and post it, but this time the author gives full permission in her first line. I am "macoing" her very good facebook note.
Friends, Facebookers, Maco's all...lend me your ears.

Yes it's been quite a while since I wrote a note but if you've read any of my notes before you know that when I do put one down, there is a reason, and the madness has method and rhyme.

Considering the nature of what I'm about to address, I know that not everyone may agree and thats fine, but to be brief, and "crispy" as someone called me today...let me put this as a disclaimer: This is Marcella Andre's facebook page. Its not my job hence I subscribe to my own code of conduct, I'm not looking for friends or enemies for that matter, neither favours nor accolades. I'm just sharing my thoughts. If you don't like what you will find in this "note" take it to the Lord in Prayer...or in simpler terms Bite Me! If you have a dissenting view, please dissent with respect for me and others. Whew!! that was a load off my chest.  

The Context

I have a feeling that some of you who posted comments to my preview think that I am about to talk about Sargasso Weed and its myriad effects...but no, sorry, thats not it. I think I'll leave that to Eli Fuller and marine biologists thankyou. The title of this post should give you an indication that I'm referring to our tourism product. Yes...the Beach is just the Beginning they say....And then what???

Setting the Scene

For the last five weeks, I have been "tour repping" every weekend. For those of you who don't quite get the concept let me explain. A particular tour company in company requested my services for this 5 week duration because they recently struk a deal with a number of travel agencies in the French Caribbean. To ensure excellent service, they needed a french speaker to assist them with the guests experience while here. Each weekend there was a total of about 100 visitors from Martinique staying for a week, and placed at Veranda, St. James, Jolly Beach, Galley Bay and Halcyon. (BTW, Thanks for the reccomendation to the person who suggested me) (Side note: parents, please implore your children to learn another language or two, you'd be amazed at the opportunities that just this skill creates...Thanks to my momma I can proudly say I speak two and a half languages in addition to my mother tongue)

Anyhoo...back to the topic at hand. As a tour rep, basically you are expected to meet the guests at the airport when they come in, visit them at the hotel specifically for the purpose of "selling tours", and also be available to them should there be anything they need to resolve with the hotel, any queries they may have on anything at all...basically they own the right to your attention for the week while here.

The experience has been fantastic. You know I'm a "people person" so that aspect of it has been great, and just the opportunity to use my french is always welcomed. The experience was also a learning experience and it is one that led to the question that I am trying to get an answer to...after the beach what?

You see, in my "tour repping" orientation, I was handed a list of what we offer to our visitors. It reads something like this...Shirley's Heights,Historical Tours... Catamaran Tours (x 2 different companies x 3 excursion possibilities-bird Island, Cades Reef, Circumnavigation, all going to the same places) , Barbuda Tour, Stingray City, Helicopter Tours, (hella expensive!!) Island Safari (where you see among other things "fig tree drive"), Zip Line, Deep Sea Fishing, Horseback Riding (wow!) get the drift? There are quite a lot more but they are along the same lines. I worked with four pages of possibilities but there were many more....along the same lines, just different operators. One of the things a tour rep needs to know is the type of tourist that they are dealing with. Once you have figured that out, then it helps you decide what tours you are going to pitch. By the end of week one I had decided to stick to Catamaran, Town, Island Tour, Stingray. Those are the ones that were most likely to sell. Additionally a tour had to be created specifically for them that included a french speaking person who could explain to them what they were seeing.

In one of the groups there were three girls who did practically everything they were offered. They spent a total of at least U.S. $700.00 individually on just excursions. Let's not forget they were also paying for a week at Veranda, did some shopping and dining outside of the hotel. Because they were such good sports, and because they were some pretty cool chicks, I offered to take them to a restauraunt that they had heard about and wanted to go to - Warri Pier. So there we are, sitting at dinner, four of us,they are telling me that they had a great time, showing me pictures of all their "adventures" - oh wow....picture from the helicopter- beautiful set of pictures, at the beach from one of the catamaran tours , next barbuda's beach - excellent, next set - in the water at stingray city....a few at Shirley's heights as we conversed that evening I asked them about their impressions of Antigua and though I was a little hurt for Antigua and its offerings I also was not surprised at what they said.

They expounded in great detail on the fact that though they had a great time (because they planned to no matter what), yet they still have not been able to identify Antigua's "culture" or what Antigua represents, or what thing, way of being is Antiguan. Big surprise. (NOT!) I listened as they told me that the people at the dockyard need some customer service training (forget what I said above,...I'm available to facilitate!:-) because the person said to someone else within earshot of the visitors "I only speak one thing - E N G L I S H" and then practically dragged through the Dockyard tour as if they were harrassing her. I know you've heard this one before but they also visited a couple places in Heritage Quay and they felt as if they had been judged already because they did not appear to be americans with lots of U.S. dollars to spend or even British people with the power of the pound behind they were ignored. Undaunted, the ladies still shopped because of course what the clerks would not have known is that the spending power of the Euro was on their side. Note well, that despite the great time they had, those unpleasant experiences were still recalled as a part of their overall "experience". Oh and one last gem... they found that we sure do play a lot of reggae and dancehall here. No joke. I'm just telling you what they told me - their perceptions.

So think about it. What really do we have to offer to the caribbean tourist? How does a caribbean visitor discover the heart and soul of Antigua while in Antigua? In my attempts to encourage the purchase of excursions I was actually met with responses like " we have water around us too...thats not really interesting to us" "we want to discover things Antiguan" and really, they are correct. No brainer. If I live on an island (as I do) I really don't want to spend my money in someone elses island visiting beaches and circumnavigating because I can do that at home. If I'm going to the beach on another island, getting there will not cost me US 120.00. I want to discover and understand the people, their culture, what is unique to them.

This year I visited Guadeloupe three times. Each time I discovered something interesting and different that showed me who they are, what is important to them, what their values are (none of them were on a beach).

The Reality as I see it 

The truth is that here, we are a melting pot. (Matter of fact, I think they should just go back to that idea "melting pot of the caribbean"). We have assimilated everyone else's culture in a plethora of ways. If that's what it is, work some aspect of that, if that is not the way we would like to be perceived, then we have to actually find some way to promote the remaining "things Antiguan" that we still hold some pride for.

Why for example can we not have a mini excursion that takes people through the process of making Cavalier Rum..with a culinary experience involving the use of cavalier at the end of the trip. How about the pineapple farm tour and again the same experience at the end...? How about actually creating an event that gives visitors an experience and education of our "culture" and history even including the melting pot reality and leaves them feeling like they learned something and had a great time doing it? Add some food and drink to that too...

I do not claim to have all the ideas but seriously...up to now we don't know who we are? We can't decide, plan, get creative with how we present ourselves? Cha man! :-) Our toursim product needs to wheel and come again...and not just for the caribbean tourists either. The beach for North American and European visitors is no longer a novelty...its stale.

When speaking to my students about presenting themselves through a resume and cover letter, I remind them that if you choose to used played out shit (well not in those words..) like "i'm dedicated and willing to perform for the best of the company" that they have just cast themselves on top of the pile of others because they have presented no unique selling point about themselves. They've got to look for that unique selling point or points and sell away!

So...after the beach, What??

And by the way...let me not even start on this thing we call "culture". As far as I'm concerned, they can just close the department of culture and put out tenders for people with real creativity, talent, organisation and ideas to run it.

My name is Marcella A. Andre and I approved this message! :-) Remember, the Beach is just the beginning.... This is the what's in the middle and the end?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A very interesting video on the Sargasso problem in the Caribbean

More and more islands have had problems with Sargasso (sargassum) weed washing ashore in unusual amounts. If it's the first you are hearing about it, you can read this blog. Click here and Click here for an update to the first blog.
Here is a video out of Barbados which does a pretty good job of explaining further.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tropical Storm Maria misses Antigua despite forecasts.

In all my years I have never seen Antigua and Barbuda prepare like they did for this tropical storm. Tropical Storm Maria was forecast to come over the top of Antigua on Friday night and Saturday morning but the storm which had not been behaving as forecast from the start, veered north and didn't give us much of anything. On Friday which was a lovely sunny day, the schools, banks and many other businesses closed early. JD and I decided that we better go and firm up the boats in the afternoon and spent a few hours putting out extra anchors and extra lines. We prepared for a Cat 1 hurricane even though we knew that we would probably not even see 50 mph squalls. Nothing happened on Friday night and again on Saturday it was a lovely day for the most part. On Saturday night when the storm was well north of Barbuda we saw quite a bit of lightning. Then late in the night the winds switched to the south and we started getting some squalls. According to the facebook group "Antigua Weather" we received a few gust around the island in the 35 mph range and quite a bit of rain. Sunday it rained on and off the entire day which was perfect for those of us who love to chill on Sundays.

Why did Antigua prep so much for this storm and almost miss hearing about the last one? Well the answer is simple and should be a lesson to the authorities. This storm turned into a Depression and was given a forecast track by the National Hurricane Center quite far east of the Caribbean. This gave the weather people and the media time to speak about it for days and days before it "arrived". It was never forecast to become a hurricane anywhere near us and yet you would have imagined a category 5 was bearing down on us. People were scrambling to take their boats out of the water and board of their homes. I even heard nails being driven in the dark on Friday night. All in all I guess it was good for people to go through a drill. We even found some areas that we need to work on with our boats, but I just hope people and the media can be as energized when the storm goes from a tropical wave to a hurricane just off shore. Let's hope we don't see one of them.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Facebook group "Save Antigua's Turtles" launched.

Sometimes things happen in your life which just make you shake your head and smile. Yesterday I wrote a blog about the big problem we are facing with our sea turtles here in Antigua thanks to badly informed politicians mixed with manipulative Chinese gifts. Check the blog(s) by clicking here
and a video on the Antigua Sea Turtle Conservation Project blog by clicking here.
Anyway, last night on my way to a weekly semi political BBQ with friends that they call "Cabinet" I kept an eye out for more hatchlings on the Jabberwock main road. As described in the blog linked above these lights and others along nesting beaches are wiping out thousands of little endangered species this summer. As soon as i got onto the beach road I saw several "splatted" hatchlings that had been run over by cars and immediately in front of me I saw a little one crawling toward me. I called my sister Nell and started picking up others. We spent three hours there and saved 30 that were wondering away from the beach underneath the brillian chinese lights.
Many more were not so lucky. Remember that there were over 100 eggs in the nest. I actually found some tiny tracks on the beach which lead me to their nest, and I excavated it finding one more straggler inside. I also found another nest nearby that had recently hatched out.

Today I will be on Observer Radio 91.1 FM speaking about this problem and others that face our endangered sea turtles. You can listen on a live feed on their website. Click here for that.

I also just started the facebook group "Save Antigua's Turtles". Please join and lets show the politicians that we care about these creatures. It's decisions that you and I make that will ultimately save them for future generations. Go to facebook and type in "Save Antigua's Turtles" in the search bar. You will find the site and once you join I will authorize you to be a member. Thanks!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

More and more endangered species dead because the lack of care among officials.

The hawksbill turtle is one of three marine sea turtles that nests along the shores of Antigua and Barbuda. Green and Leatherback turtles also nest here. We have turtle pictures on the pages of our Antigua and Barbuda passports and also on our currency notes. They are what many tourists dream about seeing on their holidays. When tourists are lucky enough to see them it's a thrilling memory that lasts a lifetime. The World Conservation Union. classifies the Hawksbill as critically endangered which is why my wife who runs the Antigua Sea Turtle Project spends plenty of her time trying to get info about these important species to the decision makers here in Antigua. This dead baby turtle has a very interesting story which speaks volumes about how well our government cares about these endangered species that are so important to the people and the nation. It also shows how well they listen to solid science presented to them when it comes to the deadly problem of lighting along the nesting beaches. It's mother was nearly killed about 60 days ago when it came to lay the eggs which produced this endangered and now dead baby turtle. (it takes 60 days for eggs to hatch) Read all about that here. CLICK HERE

Someone on my facebook wall told me yesterday that on nesting beaches in the USA you are fined during nesting season if you leave your porch lights on. Here we try to put as much light as possible on the beaches. Antigua seems to have drifted backward when it comes to environmental protection and this shouldn't be the case in this day and age when there is so much information available to us all. Of course the main reason that politicians and policy makers say they can't do anything about the lights on the beaches is that they feel that we are safer with blazing lights along the beaches. I think it needs to be pointed out that time and time again the crimes along these nesting beaches have happened this year in broad daylight. Lights didn't stop this car from having it's window smashed and things stolen from it.
Neither did it stop a family of three people from being stuck up at gun point on the beach at sunset earlier this year. Lights are not saving people along that beach but they are killing many turtles. The sad reality is that that problem of turtles being killed is way worse over in the Minister of Environment's constituency on beaches like Crab Hill Beach and Turners, Dark Wood Beach and Fryes Beach.
The Antigua Conservation Society is going to speak with the Environmental Awareness Group about this later today and I think it's time we show the people in charge that some of us care enough about this problem. In the meantime you can always call the Environment Division and The Fisheries Division and The Ministry of Tourism and even the PM's office. Baldwin Spencer knew since 2008 about the problems associated with lights and the solutions and said so in a meeting with the Environmental Awareness Group just before the lights were turned on. My wife's letter got to him in 2008 long before the Chinese gift of street lights arrived in Antigua. Why have the problems with these lights and the solutions to these problems all been ignored?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

We get some Hurricane Katia waves

While conducting a special Eco Tour right around Antigua by boat for the Environmental Awareness Group some friends of mine got me to take out my other powerboat for a surfing adventure. Hurricane Katia was passing a few hundred miles off to our north and was giving us some nice big east coast ground swell. The winds were light and waves were breaking in places that normally are calm. All of the Caribbean's surfers wait for days like this when the winds go light as a hurricane passes to the north. As you can see I had a few fun rides too. The gopro camera captured the action well. GOPR2534
  GOPR2528 The photos below were taken with my phone from the boat which we had to anchor far away to be safe. You can see Nikolai B on a big wave. It got bigger and cleaner later in the day.

Bigger and bigger and then one set of waves came through which broke outside where we were lining up. The "cleanup set" washed us all over the reef leaving our gear in various stages of disrepair. This video shows the waves pounding the heck out of me. Nik's leash broke and you see his board which is 9'6" long coming toward me and actually hitting my board. Later after "going over the falls" I collected his paddle and then his board. That was the end of our day adventure on the water.