After a long but beautiful day yesterday we were all happy to have an extra thirty minutes of sleep this morning before breakfast. We started off our day by driving to the western edge of the island and visiting the more popular beaches and landmarks on St. John. At Hawksnest beach one of our coral research groups was able to gather data in a new watershed and our tourist survey group got a good start on their surveys. Cinnamon bay was next on the agenda. While the beach was beautiful and full of people soaking up the sun, the marine life showed signs of wear and tear. The coral in particular seemed to be damaged. During our stop here many group members chose to explore the ruins of an old sugar mill and the surrounding flora.
While the tree information signs were very interesting and provided good information; many within our group were disappointed by the lack of information on the slaves that worked the mill and their part in St. John’s history.
At our next stop, Annaberg plantation, we enjoyed a picnic lunch and soaked up the history of the site. This plantation was established in 1718 by Christopher William Gottschalk and was named after his baby daughter, Anna. When translated into Danish the name literally means “Anna’s Hill.” While today the surrounding hillsides are covered in trees, when the mill was operating the hills would have been covered in sugar cane plants.
The entire mill was constructed and worked by enslaved Africans who were brought there by the Danes. The slaves would often work eighteen to twenty hours a day during harvest season because of the short time span between when the cane was harvested and when it was processed in the mill. This mill originally used a horse or donkey to turn the wheel and crush the cane but eventually built a windmill that could harvest up to twice as many barrels of cane a day. Annaberg was the site of the first major slave escape during the colonization period when 11 slaves fled to Tortola – a British island where slavery had recently been outlawed.
While at the mill we soaked in both the information from our own research as well as some information presented to us by a park volunteer. We all came away from the afternoon with some new information and appreciation for the history of the island. We were disappointed that the information provided by the park glossed over the brutality of the slavery at Annaberg. However, as a group we spent a long time talking about the colonization on St. John and how that past is presented to the tourists by the National Park Service.
Our snorkeling adventures today continued at Waterlemon Cay – an island off the coast of Waterlemon beach. As we were preparing to enter the water we overheard some fellow snorkelers trying to find a missing group member, Eric. For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed jokes about not “pulling an Eric” and keeping close to our snorkel buddies. While we were all prepared for strong currents and potentially rough waters, we were pleasantly surprised with the gentle, clear waters we encountered.
Our whole group enjoyed seeing all the biodiversity and a few groups were able to collect some good data for our research projects. Because of the lack of strong current, many of our group members were able to snorkel around the island a second time to enjoy the beautiful reefs.
The final snorkel of the day was at Octopus garden, a shallow patch known for sea fans and octopus, which turned out to be a favorite spot of the group. The afternoon sun illuminated the sea fans, accentuating the beautiful purple color. We all enjoyed it so much that we will be going back on Sunday for a final night snorkel before we head home. The octopus sightings were really cool and a few groups even got some unexpected, good data.
We ended the day with a delicious dinner back at VIERS and a debrief of our experiences snorkeling and at the mill. We talked about some connections between the lack of historical authenticity and some of the tourist survey responses we’ve received. Many of the tourists that have been interviewed are fairly ignorant of the history and culture of the island. A favorite among the group was a survey filled out by a woman who was adamant that she would not return to St. John unless they constructed sidewalks! Tonight many members of our group are enjoying the stars down at the dock. None of us can believe we only two days left here!
Brittany and Brenna