“Discovery Bay Marine Lab 1970, Super Day Celebration”
It had been 1 week since Phil and I arrived in Discovery Bay, Jamaica. We had been diving 3 times a day and re-documenting Phil’s old transect lines from 1971. We had just ended our second dive that morning, and our boat captain O’Neill aka, “Snow” got a grin on his face and said, “I’m gonna show you somtin”. We powered through the bay in our aluminum carriage, and pulled right up to a sandy beach. In front of us was a rundown abandon building, a couple broken boats and an old out house. Phil jumped out of the boat and stood in astonishment, “It’s the old marine lab!” I joined him on the beach. I could imagine as he recalled the details of the old lab. “ We had a screen around that porch, our dive locker was over there…”. It was a magical moment for him. We walked around and met some of the locals who were near by. They said it had been run down for a long time and they didn’t know who owned it.
The next day, October 20th, was Hero’s “Eeroes” day, a national holiday in Jamaica. So we took the afternoon off and went back to the fisherman’s beach next to the old marine lab. We sat in the water and watched the local scene that surrounded us. Specifically we watched the lab. There where locals sitting under the porch for shade, there were kids playing on the beach and in the water. But the lab just sat there like an old cripple, forgotten in the corner. That’s when Phil said, “ Wouldn’t the old marine lab be a perfect place for an interpretive center? Look at all the people here using the beach and all the kids. The lab is in the perfect spot and it’s not being used for anything”. We had stumbled onto a very powerful idea that would guide us through the rest of our stay in Discovery Bay.
No more than 10 minutes after we spoke about creating a center for the locals to learn about the reef, a
large Rasta pulled Phil out of the beach bar, “ Hey mon, your dat scientist wit da pictures of da reef, I wanna talk with you”. This man was a community organizer who was interested in showing the before and after pictures of the reef to the fisherman. We told him about the idea of restoring the lab into a community sea center and he invited us to the fisherman’s meeting that Friday.
From there it was like a path being laid out before us. The local scientists in Jamaica sought out Phil to dive with him and discuss his work. As we talked about the idea of employing locals to do reef restoration and Eco-tourism the scientists eyes became wide with the potentials. We also spoke to the lab’s Principal Scientific Officer who wanted to work on community outreach programs in Discovery Bay. We talked to our boat captains and they got excited about the idea that their kids would have somewhere to learn to swim and learn about the creatures living on the reef. Every one we met, we asked them their thoughts on a community sea center and what they would like to see from it. The more people we spoke to in Discovery Bay, the more people wanted to contribute their trades. One man had a Jerk chicken stand, another had a huge sound system on his car for advertising. Everyone was becoming excited about the idea of having a place for the locals run by the locals.
That Friday we went to the fisherman’s co-op meeting. It was a small gathering of the board members.. They were astonished with the before after pictures of the reef. We asked about the old lab and they told us that it was owned by the Red Cross. We gave them the reef pictures to show the rest of the fisherman, and they recommended that we put a proposal together and present it to the Red Cross who would most likely be willing to either lease or donate the lab to the community.
Now were back in Charleston, South Carolina and it hasn’t slowed down yet. The scientists that went diving with us are looking into making the whole of Discovery Bay into a World Heritage site. They are also talking about different projects that need to be done to get the hotels to manage their sewage. We are brainstorming different foundations who might want to fund an outreach community project.
Today when you hear the words Discovery Bay, the images that come to mind are, Christopher Columbus, Coral Reef Science, and SCUBA diving. If you were to ask a Jamaican that same question they would say Bauxite shipping.
In the 1960’s when Tom Goreau began the first Discovery Bay Marine Lab, and pioneered coral reef biology; the marine lab was embedded in the community. If he had lived to see the new lab develop what would he have envisioned for the old lab. The town has forgotten that they are living on one of the most famous reefs in the Caribbean. There is a disconnection with people’s daily lives and the health of the reef. This center would not only restore that connection, it would strengthen it. It would help develop a sustainable economy based on applied reef ecology. Opportunities will arise in areas such as Eco tourism and improved education. Children that are raised in this environment will value the ocean as a recourse to protect, insuring a more vibrant environment for future generations
….One person can have an idea, but it takes a community to make it a reality.