Monday, March 28, 2016

Shifting Sands at Doctor's Cave Beach

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the way in which hurricanes, storms, tides and currents shift the sand at Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay. However, first here is a little history, taken from Doctor’s Cave website.
   It began in 1906 when Dr. Alexander James McCatty generously donated his beach property to found a bathing club in Montego Bay. The Club got its name because it was used by Dr. McCatty and his friends, who were mainly from the medical profession and, at that time they entered the tiny beach through a cave. The cave however, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932. The water which is crystal clear has a temperature range, winter and summer from 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, 22 to 28 Celcius.
     In the end of early 1920's, Sir Herbert Barker, a famous British Osteopath visited the beach and later published an article boosting it by declaring that the waters have curative powers and that he was restored to good health after bathing there. He said the waters could cure several ailments. This heightened the allure of the beach and Doctor's Cave became famous overnight as foreigners, many rich and famous came to try the water. Hotels were built in the immediate vicinity and thus began the tourist trade.

The following information is taken from History of Doctor’s Cave by Emile Martin in Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club 80th Anniversary Souvenir. (1986)
In 1932, a hurricane destroyed the cave and as a result the entire layout of the bathing club saw drastic changes with considerable improvements to the facility. With better accessibility, the large beach came into its own.
In the 1940’s another severe hurricane swept away much of this beach and the trustees employed an American expert, Sidney Makepeace Wood, to restore it. He designed and built concrete groynes to harness sand-bearing tides and currents. As a result, the beach grew to about 20 times the original size.

         At one point there was a diving platform at the end of the west groin, but it collapsed into the sea during a storm. The remains of it can be seen encrusted with corals.
        The photographs below show changes in the beach over a period of seven years.
August 2009

In this photo, taken in August 2009, you can barely see the top of a concrete column sticking up above the sand, and sand comes to within about a foot of the top of the walkway. Many years ago there was much less sand on the beach and this walkway was a jetty to which boats could be tied.

November 2012, after Hurricane Sandy

The next two photos were taken in November, 2012, about a week after hurricane Sandy had scoured away the sand under the walkway. The two concrete columns are completely exposed.
The picket fence was erected at the end of the walkway soon after these photos were taken.
November 2012, after Hurricane Sandy

By November 2014, the sand had built up again under the walkway, completely covered the concrete columns and extended further into the sea, entirely as a result of forces of nature.
November 2014

November 2014. The sign warning of concrete columns
under the sand may appear superfluous to the unwary.

View of eastern end, August 2009

At the eastern end of the beach also there is a cycle of sand building up and being washed away by the action of the sea.

In 2015, part of the groin broke away. Waves surged in and gouged out a section of the beach in a matter of days.
Breach in the groin, March 2015
 When a gabion basket filled with rocks was put in the breach, the beach came back again equally quickly.

February 2016. Rough weather piles up more sand on the beach.

The effects of the weather are no less dramatic under the sea surface. During calm weather, assorted seaweeds and turtle grass thrive. During hurricanes and winter storms, tons of sand churned by water scour rocks and the sea-bottom, ripping them away. Roots of turtle grass remain, new leaves soon sprouting from them. Dome-shaped flower, star and brain corals in the reefs withstand many storms, but the branching staghorn corals are easily broken and survive only in sheltered pockets. As reefs and turtle grass beds serve to protect the beach from erosion, every effort should be made to preserve them, including allowing parrot fish to live.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning Disorders Symposium UWI WJC Part 1

 When I volunteered to assist grade 2 students at Chetwood Memorial Primary School with learning to read, I became aware that some of them had specific problems which I was unqualified to diagnose and treat.  Mrs. Campbell, the principal, told me that, even if they were diagnosed, there were insufficient facilities to accommodate them, so the school had no choice but to move them through the grades.  It is heartbreaking that many children gain very little from their experience at school, and in the process become frustrated and alienated. However, efforts are now being made to give these children assistance.
I was pleased to hear more about this in a Symposium
“Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists, a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. This symposium addressed learning disabilities in addition to other reasons why children don’t learn.    
     The need for this symposium was highlighted in a video in which the following questions were posed to students on the campus: “What are learning disorders? Can you name them? What schools in Western Jamaica cater to students with learning disorders?” The responses showed that many students knew very little about this subject.
Anita Baker,
President, Association of
Future Psychologists

In her welcome, Anita Baker, President of The Future Psychologists service club, stressed that learning disorders affect not only the children with these disorders, but also their parents and families. Pointing out that a learning disorder may not always be detrimental, she quoted from the actor Orlando Blume, who labelled dyslexia “a very great gift, which is the way that your mind can think creatively”.

Dr. Ann Shaw-Salmon
The first speaker was Dr. Ann Shaw Salmon, D. Phil (NCU); MSc in Educational Leadership (Conn State University); BA. She began her teaching career with a diploma from Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College. She is now the dynamic, optimistic, Principal of Mt Salem Primary and Junior High. She spoke about “Our Journey with ASTEP”.

ASTEP – Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme was introduced in 2011 to cater to students who had failed 4 attempts at the Grade 4 Literacy Test and were therefore ineligible to sit GSAT (Grade 6 Achievement Test) to qualify for a place in Grade 7 in a secondary programme. 163 schools were designated as ASTEP centres, which were supposed to be staffed with extra teachers and physical resources. At Mt Salem Primary and Junior High 73 students were tested and ranged from remedial to requiring special education. 14% were below pre-primary level, 36% were at pre-primary level, 36% were at primary level (i.e. ready for grade 1) and the others at grades 1 and 2.
     The reasons for the students’ poor performance were not only learning disabilities – dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, but some also suffered from disruptive behaviour disorders such as ADD, ADH and conduct disorders; and some were emotionally disturbed. Their learning problems included learned hopelessness, defensiveness (making excuses), fear of failure, anxiety and alienation. They had difficulties with remembering, had poor social interactions, were easily annoyed, “giddy in the head”, disruptive, loud and boisterous. They used indecent language, they played truant and were involved in fighting, stone-throwing, gambling and stealing.
     They had no parental guidance and had poor nutrition. They were in need of love and affection, patience and guidance. Some students were grieving the loss of parents or other close relatives; some were barrel children i.e. parents were abroad;  some were latch-key children with parents working, so not there for them; some parents were in prison. Some parents refused to cooperate with the school and were unwilling to get help with parenting. Given this scenario, it is a wonder that the ASTEP Centres were able to do anything.
     However, the Mt Salem centre turned out to be a model to be emulated. Dr. Shaw Salmon found that if the teachers show love, there is success. The students at this centre, in addition to being taught basic literacy and numeracy, were also taught skills, including how to make natural juices, and cooking, including making pizza. They had outside presenters and went to the craft market to learn how to make bracelets and necklaces. They also had an agricultural project, and a band. These activities showed the students the importance of being literate and numerate. Having received this special attention, they were encouraged to give back to those less fortunate than themselves.
     In spite of these achievements, the ASTEP  programme is being phased out and replaced by a series of tests in the lower grades of the primary schools, designed to allow for earlier diagnosis and intervention. Mr. Karl Watson from the Ministry of Education was the  speaker at the symposium who addressed this topic. I will write about this in a future blog post.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mosquitoes for Science Projects in Schools Part 2

Having made suggestions for science projects involving mosquitoes in my blog of January 20, 2016, I  set up a simple experiment to find out whether Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will lay eggs in water with or without dead leaves in it, in the shade or in the sun. 4 jars were set up accordingly. A second purpose was to follow the life cycle of A. aegypti, photograph the different stages and find out how long it takes from egg to adult. The experiment produced rather unexpected results, so may require some modifications, which I have suggested in an edited version of the previous blog post. I should have learnt a lesson here: "Don't suggest an experiment without trying it first", but had I done so, I mightn't have written the blog!

Jars set up to be placed in sun or shade
with or without dead leaves.
Which do mosquitoes prefer?
The jars were set up on Feb 7, 2016. As of Feb 9, there were no eggs.

March 3, 2016. Still no eggs!
    March 3, 2016 - still no eggs, nor larvae. I have decided to abandon this experiment and comment on why it didn't proceed as planned.
1. The week following setting up the experiment, it rained every day and there was little sun. The jars put in the sun filled up and overflowed with rainwater. (I poured off some of it.)
2. I may have put too many leaves in the jars. As they rotted, they depleted the water of oxygen. Whether this would affect larvae, I don't know, as they do come to the surface of the water for air, but it would certainly make it more difficult to see them.
3. Leaves fell into the jars without dead leaves, so they were no longer accurate controls. Algae started to grow in the jar without dead leaves in the sun. This would also provide food for potential mosquito larvae.
4. The failure of this experiment doesn't mean there were no Aedes around. I observed larvae in other containers, such as a bowl I use to water orchids. I disposed of most of them, but kept a few in a jar with a lid so that I could confirm that the adults, when they hatched out, were indeed Aedes, and they were.
5. Another drawback to this experiment is that young larvae are so small they are hard to see.
Final stage larvae of Aedes,
barely 1 cm long.

            I had suggested this experiment for primary school children, but it might be more suitable as a project for students of biology doing CSEC or CAPE (Caribbean exams.) It would be useful for them to have access to a microscope or a binocular microscope so that they could observe young larvae.
             A more suitable activity for primary school children would be for them to hunt for existing mosquito breeding  sites and record the conditions under which the larvae of Aedes were found. A follow-up activity, ridding the environment of these breeding sites, needs to be an on going one.  My own observation is that Aedes are more prevalent after about a week of fine weather following a period of heavy rains.
      Another source of confusion in relation to mosquitoes is that there are so many similar species, identifiable more by their habits than appearance. Aedes breeds close to human habitation, not  in forests - the Cockpit Country is full of mosquitoes, none of them Aedes. Mosquito larvae found in bromeliads or Traveller's Palm are unlikely to be those of Aedes, and it is hard for the casual observer to distinguish between the larvae of different species of mosquito.
        However, the behavior of the adult Aedes is well known to us. We know they are hard to swat and quickly fly off, while another species sitting on your arm feeding will allow you to swat her. The reason is that the latter must fill her stomach from her first victim, while Aedes will fly off and feed off as many people as necessary to fill her stomach. However, if Aedes catches you sleeping, you could well be her only victim. If Aedes feeds on the blood of someone with Chikungunya, Dengue or Zika, the viruses will remain in the mosquito and can be passed on the eggs.  Within 8 - 10 days of hatching, the eggs will give rise to adults which will infect humans when they feed on them.
     Our best defense against these pests continues to be vigilance in removing the breeding sites of Aedes around our homes, schools, business places, churches and other meeting places. For other breeding sites, such as potholes in roads, we need to put relentless pressure on the authorities.