Submitted by Rosi Birch Lovdal
Sitting in the sun filled dining room at Small Hope Bay Lodge, on Andros, enjoying a late breakfast, the lounge door opened and a man stepped in and looked around with curiosity. I walked over to greet him and was immediately struck by this sparkling presence. Red lamb chop side burns, a bald head, and amazing intense blue eyes, all graced by a wonderful open smile. He introduced himself, “I’m Conrad Gebelein, a marine geologist from the Lamont Geological Observatory of Columbia University in New York”. He told me that he was on Andros doing core samples on the West Side. And so began our inspiring relationship with Conrad Gebelein, in 1970.
Conrad visited often after that, and over the next few years he changed the course of our lives, and the understanding and life of our island. We invited him to be our resident expert for a week of what we called “Special Interest Weeks”. This meant that Conrad was available for that week to give us a talk each evening and to be accessible during the day for general questions on his subject; marine geology. Now this was 1970 and to be honest with you our guests were more interested in partying than in learning about the geological make up of Andros Island. So Conrad gave his talks out in the games room adjoining the lounge, and in the first night or two most folks just stayed in the lounge with their own conversations. But! Conrad’s voice would reach them when he reached one of his many peaks of outrageous enthusiasm, as he told us about things like oolites, which none of us had ever heard of before. It was transforming. He made it fun! You just had to be curious and enthusiastic. Everyone was magnetized to come closer and hear more.
At the end of the week we took one of the dive boats out to the shallow reef with the Conrad followers. It was one of those exceptionally clear days where you could see the sea bottom vividly when just standing on the boat. Suddenly Conrad yelled “Stop the boat!” and forthwith plunged into the sea. He had just seen the combination of hallomeda and millopora (if memory serves me!) for the first time ever, and he was, truly, ecstatic. He had all of us in the water singing at the top of our voices, “Hallomeeeeda! Millopooooora!” to the Hallelujah chorus. A celebration of the geology of the Andros Reef, Conrad style.
Conrad took us to the mysterious west side of Andros and explained calcium carbonite to us. And ‘whitings’ which help to clean the air of our planet. We had all become eager students and he offered us his time and his knowledge and inevitably his inspiration.
Going to ‘the West Side’ through the maze of the Bights made me feel like I had gone back in time, like Jason going through the labyrinth, as we wove our way through the small islands and peninsulas to finally reach the opening onto the West Side. The under sides of the clouds were green, reflecting the intense aqua green of this shallow water which stretched away from us for 100 miles over the Great Bahama Bank. Everything was still. A heron moved his long leg, the only movement in all this stillness. I remember feeling that I was the only thing alive in a magnificent painting.
We played in the white limestone mud, we saw dolphin ranging up Little Loggerhead Creek and schools of bone fish flashing by. A curious lemon shark came right up to the shore where we stood. When I lay down on the mud flats to rest in this sublime stillness, I could hear the soft swish of the feathers of a bird who came to check on me, hovering just over my head.
Talk of development and its effect on the geology of the island was a very very new thing. We had heard that the reefs off Florida had all been destroyed by development but none of us understood it specifically. We knew that our new government was making decisions that would have a long lasting effect on our lives. So we invited our Prime Minister, Lyndon Pindling, and some of his cabinet and I believe the Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture. There was not an environmental ministry as such then.
Conrad escorted our PM and his colleagues in a walk, yes! right through the mud of the mangroves. Slog, slog, slosh. He told them and showed them that the mangrove was the nursery for the reef, that the nutrients in the mangrove mud were necessary for the growth of not only the tiny fish you could see, lovely tiny snapper and barracuda and even grouper, but also of the reef itself. He made it clear that if the flow of the tidal wash in and out of the mangroves was blocked, the reef would die, in a matter of a very short time. As it had in Florida. This was pivotal information in those days, vital for the understanding of the appropriate development of our island in order to protect our unique environment.
We also learned that the interior of Andros was full of an organism which was 6 billion years old (if my memory serves me, again) called blue-green algae, which produces oxygen and makes the earth habitable for man. This we heard with awe.
I was sent the oil painting of the west side of Andros, shown above. Here was Conrad's working site for these few years, as a thank you for all I had done for them. Imagine. This painting hangs on my wall in my home in Norway. I love dreaming into its blueness, remembering the days when we discovered the grand mysteries of the geology of our mystical Andros. His inspiration lives today in our efforts to preserve this wonder of primal nature.