From the Captain’s log

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The Black Dolphin launched into this new school year with a big splash, starting early through involvement with FISH summer camp run by our resident marine science teachers, Sarah Taylor and Maxine Cutracci. 

 

We first cruised local waters around Aberdeen with our budding scientists to carry out turbidity, acidity, and oxygen concentration tests. We then took some of the more adventurous for an overnight cruise up to Tai Long Bay in Sai Kung to look at the variety of plant and animal life in the area. 

 

This is a long trip, so we enlisted students to help steer the boat and set the sails on the trip. The summer heat certainly ensured that students spend a maximum amount of time snorkeling to observe the coral and fish life in the area.

 

We started off the school year proper with a team-building exercise for a few High School students taking a class with High School Project Development teacher, Ashley Ault, who was keen to give them a real challenge.  We had just the thing to build real team work. First mate Jay and I are always arguing about how large, heavy, and awkward our dory boat is. We separated the High School students into two groups. One group had to use our sail halyards to lift and launch our 400lb dory and paddle it ashore. This activity is way harder than you might imagine. The dory is designed to carry 1000lbs of fish and with just a few students onboard, it is easier to paddle in circles than in a straight line. After eventually getting ashore, our second team had to paddle back and lift the dory back aboard. The students did a great job and we were impressed by how well they worked together.

 

Sadly, having had a promising start to the new school year, we soon got stuck in a double doldrum of inactivity. While Black Dolphin is in pretty good shape for her age, she occasionally exhibits physical complaints that can’t be ignored for the sake of safety. She spent several weeks out of the water being treated by a team of talented shipwrights, but by the time she was back in the water and ready for students Hong Kong’s schools were cancelled due to the heated political situation. We were extremely happy to be back in the water, and happier still to be sailing with students when things calmed down in the run up to the District Council elections. 

 

Our first sail after getting back in the water was with High School art teacher Kat Lee’s beach cleanup team. They were working on a project which involved looking to see what types of waste are washing up on Hong Kong beaches. We chose a beach on the northern side of the western spur of Lamma Island a short way from Mo Tat Wan. The prevailing wind blows trash directly onto any beach open to the northwest, and this one is no exception. It’s also relatively inaccessible and hence, underserved by land-based beach cleaners. The students found that the vast majority of trash was from locally sold products, largely drink and soap plastic bottles along with huge drifts of polystyrene foam. Most of this has broken down so much that their original forms could no longer be discerned. We brought back as much as we could, making sure to save space for high priority waste like motor oil containers and discarded electronics.

From enabling scientific research to helping students to learn about teamwork to transforming waste into art, the Black Dolphin then sailed the fourth graders into Ancient Greece. 

 

Grade 4 students studying the History of Greece joined us as Athenian sailors out to chart a newly discovered island (Lamma) and to look for new trade opportunities. We set off, keeping a sharp lookout to ensure that we didn’t sail out of sight of land and accidently sail off the edge of the world. We had heard rumours of some crazy guy called Pythagoras who claimed the world was round, but we didn’t believe him. It is easy to get lost at sea at night and fall victim to the mighty Kraken. So we kept a special lookout for sand beaches to add to our chart, so that future sailors would know where to beach their boats safely for the night. Since we were also looking for new trade opportunities, we also kept a lookout for garbage…..a sure sign of nearby civilization.  After successfully completing our mission, we enjoyed a lunch time swim before returning to our home port, the great Greek city of Aberdeen.

 

After transferring students to a sampan from one of these sails, we had a surprise encounter with a dolphin who has frequented Aberdeen harbor. He followed us back to our mooring and lingered long enough for the First Mate Jay to put his mask back on and jump in. They played tag for 20 minutes. The Marine Science Center staff tentatively identified it as a spinner dolphin based on some blurry underwater photography, definitely not one of Hong Kong’s two endemic dolphin species. 

 

One of our favourite Black Dolphin moments this year was having Grade 2 students onboard. Full of curiosity and bubbling with questions, they were studying biology and while they are not yet old enough to join us on open water adventures, the Aberdeen Harbour had plenty of discoveries in store. We taught them about the many different types of relationships between animal species, giving them examples of predation, symbiosis, commensalism, and parasitism to give them the concepts they’ll need to move past a simplistic food-chain view of the interrelated tapestry of life around them. 

 

The students trawled for plankton from the Aberdeen Boat Club dock to see some of the creatures that fundamentally underpin the world’s ocean ecologies. They also took a short trip in the White Dolphin to see some of the harbour birds that eat fish near THS. By seeing how each of these birds hunt fish in different ways and at different times we also showed them that even a predator-prey relationship can be complicated in its details, and how both populations can affect the other.

 

During STEAM week, a group of High Schoolers worked with us, along with Sarah and Maxine from the Marine Science Center. These students were tasked with designing artificial reefs. They had built and weighed three artificial reef structures, which they intended to submerge near coastal coral and oyster communities. The idea is to mark them with buoys and recover them some time in the Spring to see what is living on them and thereby learn about the area’s biodiversity. The team had seen the SWIMS (Swire Institute of Marine Science) team use these techniques in their ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) project the year before. Students chose three spots on the peninsula of South Bay, checked the depth by SONAR, and settled on the final resting position with masks and snorkels. We look forward to seeing what grows there next year. 

 

Next, we headed off for four separate days of sailing with different Grade 3 classes who had been studying about rock cycle. We focused on Coastal Processes and the formation of Tombolos, Sea Caves, Land Bridges and Sea Stacks. Firstly, students observed how Long Shore Drift caused the formation of a Tombolo joining Ap Lei Chau to Ap Lei Pai. Then they learnt about how wave action causes the progression from sea cave to land bridge to sea stack. While the students observed plenty of sea caves and even how a rocky peninsula had been converted to four sea stacks, visiting a land bridge was beyond the range of a day sail! Instead, they settled for a lunch time swim before returning to school.

 

This year’s Grade Five students were very excited to sail hundreds of years into the past as we took a trip into the Age of Exploration. 15th to 17th century Europe was a time of great discoveries starting with the Portuguese discoveries of the Atlantic archipelagoes and the sea route to India, and from Spain, Christopher Columbus sailed out to discover the New World. Students were split into 2 groups and will take turns being explorers or indigenous people. While aboard the Black Dolphin students took on roles found on ships at the time such as sail hands, lookouts, navigators, helms people and captains. Ashore, students took on the role of indigenous people and pondered on the advantages and disadvantages of first contact with foreigners.

It’s an understatement that first mate Jay and I love our jobs and find our roles in enabling this unique way of bringing so many subject matters to life for students to be an incredibly fulfilling one. We look forward to more adventures aboard our beautiful Black Dolphin.

 

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