Tag Archives: coral reefs

Stanley Selengut, Maho Bay Camp’s Founder

I have been absent lately working on other things, but in the process of working on an upcoming post I found some interesting interviews with Stanley Selengut, the founder of Maho Bay Camp, Harmony Studios and Concordia,  that I wanted to share. Despite having worked there for many years, I never heard him speak much and am always surprised when I see so much attributed to him. My impression of him was almost one of shyness, but he is very personable and revealing in his YouTube video!

The text below is a long excerpt from the September 15, 2008 edition of American Way (magazine of American Airlines), in an article entitled “Paradise Lost?” by Jack Boulware.

DESPITE MAHO BAY CAMPS’ reputation as a green destination, Stanley Selengut says his original vision had little to do with conservation. “I was going to build a little lodge right on the ocean, and a nice old couple would run it. They’d have a little scuba boat and a little sailboat. My friends would visit, I would visit, and if it lost money, who cares, because I could take my vacations as a tax deduction.”

When the news arrived that a New York builder had gotten hold of commercially zoned property, the park superintendent of St. John was irate. He met with Selengut, telling him that development could easily disrupt topsoil, potentially ruining the beaches and coral reefs. Selengut then agreed to construct a pedestrian community, with elevated walkways between the trees so nothing would be destroyed.

“In those days, the way you developed was you clear-cut the land, you built what you wanted to build, and then you landscaped with grass and palm trees,” Selengut says. Instead, he hired a few locals and built a series of 18 tent cabins, inspired by structures he’d seen on a trip to Africa. All the buildings were erected on hand-dug footings in order to minimize impact to the land.

From the beginning, the idea was for Maho Bay to be affordable, not elitist. “That was more of a challenge than the green part,” Selengut admits. “Being green, if you have endless supplies of money and want to charge $600 a night, isn’t that hard. But being green and remaining affordable doubles the challenge.”

Not long after Maho Bay opened, two things happened that completely changed the little camp: Neighboring hotels began to send their overbooked customers to the ecoresort, and a writer for the New York Times came to visit and wrote an article that went on to be reprinted throughout the United States.

“We were full right off the bat,” Selengut remembers. “That gave me the feeling this wasn’t really a toy — there was a real market for what is now called nature-based travel, or ecotourism. So that gave me the encouragement to put some real money into it and make it into a real business.”

As more cabins were built, Selengut’s curiosity about his customers grew. He would send every guest a personal letter with a questionnaire and a postage-paid return envelope addressed to his office in New York. Many of the suggestions he received in those replies came from professional landscapers and botanists and were directly incorporated into the Maho Bay design plan. Other ideas were a little different.

“One guest was an artist who worked in fabric,” Selengut says. “I went down [and found a] worker taking our waste sheets and tie-dyeing them and batiking them and sewing them into stuff. Somebody else found out that a kiln can fire ceramics using pallet wood [as fuel], so we’d go to the dump and get bunches of pallet wood and use it to fire the kiln. And then somebody came up with the idea that we could take the lint from the laundry and mix it with the office paper and water in a blender to make art paper. Every time I go down there, they’re doing something new that sounds like great fun.”

Neat little interview recorded with Stanley Selengut & posted by Audubon Magazine in 2008:

(this was posted five years ago and does not appear to allow embedding, so click on this link to watch it on YouTube!)

 

Snorkeling Cinnamon Bay Cay

The beaches and snorkeling on St. John are fantastic! But I will admit to becoming a “beach and snorkel snob” since living here. While I don’t have a ‘favorite’ place for beach or snorkeling, I tend to eliminate some destinations automatically.  For instance, I often eliminate Jumbie as a beach to visit due to the shade and rough waves. It is not bad, but there are others I like better. Snorkeling is the same too. I snorkeled Cinnamon during vacations, and since living here found other reefs that I prefer. I have not returned to snorkel Cinnamon in years.

So I was long past due for a snorkel at Cinnamon and decided the calm seas and warm water of the summertime were the perfect time to swim around the entire cay off of Cinnamon Beach.  I wasn’t fighting against a current and was able to take my time looking, and since the water was calm, it was also very clear with no sediment kicked up!  The park beach was open but Cinnamon Bay services and campground were closed due to the government shutdown, so it was quiet and uncrowded, with everything green from the summer rains.

This visit was a good reminder that the snorkeling on St. John is good everywhere! It just depends on factors such as what you want to see, the type of beach you want to go to, and the weather and water conditions at the place you have chosen, which have a big impact on the quality of your snorkel!

I have come to prefer snorkeling here in the summer because we have just enough of a longer day to have more time for good visibility when snorkeling, and with the chill taken out of the water I will easily snorkel for one or two hours. The winter water usually chills me and chases me out much earlier.  Also the Parrotfish have got their summer pastel colors, which I love to see. It is like visiting another world!

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the coral in the 3rd image, please let me know!

beach path

beach shop

I am not sure what this coral is. I think Boulder Star Coral but if someone knows, I would love a confirmation or clarification!
I am not sure what this coral is. I think Boulder Star Coral but if someone knows, I would love a confirmation or clarification!
Colorful sponge and soft coral seen around the cay at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Colorful sponge and soft coral seen around the cay at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Flamingo tongue snail (a sea snail) leaves its trail on a sea fan in Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Flamingo tongue snail (a sea snail) leaves its trail on a sea fan in Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Love the color on these Christmas Tree Worms seen at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Love the color on these Christmas Tree Worms seen at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Blue tang, Grunt and Squirrel Fish gliding in the coral reef at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Blue tang, Grunt and Squirrel Fish gliding in the coral reef at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
A peach colored flamingo tongue snail perched on a sea fan in Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
A peach colored flamingo tongue snail perched on a sea fan in Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Finger coral with the polyps out during the daytime! Seen at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Finger coral with the polyps out during the daytime! Seen at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
School of Blue Tang, along with Bar Jack and Surgeon Fish, eating on the coral reef at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
School of Blue Tang, along with Bar Jack and Surgeon Fish, eating on the coral reef at Cinnamon Bay, St. John.
Large and healthy Brain Coral seen while snorkeling around Cinnamon Bay Cay this summer.
Large and healthy Brain Coral seen while snorkeling around Cinnamon Bay Cay this summer.
Cinnamon Bay Beach, St. John: The water feels as good as it looks!
Cinnamon Bay Beach, St. John: The water feels as good as it looks!

 

Snorkeling at Waterlemon Cay

One of the best things about a visit to Maho Bay Camp was the chance to go snorkeling every day at a different bay and see the fish and coral at the different reefs. I will admit that over the years I have varied in my interest in snorkeling. Some years I would go every day and others I thought the water was too chilly and would venture underwater less often. This past year was a fantastic year for snorkeling due to the lack of rain. The more rain we have, the more runoff from the mountains hits the bay and clouds the water in the bays. I also finally decided to purchase a “real” underwater camera. (The disposable ones have always been a wast of time and money.) I bought a digital Panaxonic Lumix and could not be happier with it! And it has made my time snorkeling more fun too. I don’t get out snorkeling as much as I would like to.

I will be writing more about the reefs in future snorkeling posts, especially about the coral bleaching event that occurred some years back and what we can do to help the reefs survive the stress they are placed under due to environmental and human factors. But in the meantime, here are a few photos from a snorkel at Waterlemon Cay in mid-September of this year.

The view of Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay of the far left edge of the bay. The path took us along the right side edge of the island, past a beach and some ruins and the start of the Johnny Horn Trail.
The view of Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay of the far left edge of the bay. The path took us along the right side edge of the island, past a beach and some ruins and the start of the Johnny Horn Trail.
This is the path we took to hike past Leinster Bay out to Waterlemon Cay. This is as green as I have ever seen it!
This is the path we took to hike past Leinster Bay out to Waterlemon Cay. This is as green as I have ever seen it!
The lush green path out to Waterlemon Cay.  (I expected Frodo to jump out at any moment!)
The lush green path out to Waterlemon Cay. (I expected Frodo to jump out at any moment!)
I have been seeing more of the Scrawled Filefish around the reefs in St. John. They are distinguished by their beautiful blue marking and the fact that they will change color much like squid or octopus. Amazingly they feed on fire coral!
I have been seeing more of the Scrawled Filefish around the reefs in St. John. They are distinguished by their beautiful blue marking and the fact that they will change color much like squid or octopus. Amazingly they feed on fire coral!
The beautiful Peacock Flounder, with bright blue oval and spots on it body, is often seen blending into the ocean floor.
The beautiful Peacock Flounder, with bright blue oval and spots on it body, is often seen blending into the ocean floor.
The Southern Stingray is a common sight around the reefs in St. John. This one was stirring up the sand, but at the same time was being pestered by a group of fish that included the brown spotted Trunk Fish (on the right). I have never seen fish look like they were attacking a stingray before.  He began to puff up in the center. Not sure if he was eating or if it was a defensive posture he was taking.
The Southern Stingray is a common sight around the reefs in St. John. This one was stirring up the sand, but at the same time was being pestered by a group of fish that included the brown spotted Trunk Fish (on the right). I have never seen fish look like they were attacking a stingray before. He began to puff up in the center. Not sure if he was eating or if it was a defensive posture he was taking.
The Staghorn Coral at the bottom left is not often seen in the reefs around St. John and was the first coral species listed under the US Endangered Species Act.  Hopefully there are colonies doing better in less traveled bays.
The Staghorn Coral at the bottom left is not often seen in the reefs around St. John and was the first coral species listed under the US Endangered Species Act. Hopefully there are colonies doing better in less traveled bays.
Tarpon swimming in the deeper waters of the north side of Waterlemon Cay. Once I got used to their size (up to and over 4 feet) I have enjoyed swimming with them. If you are at Big Maho Bay when the pelicans are feeding you will see plenty of tarpon swimming in the shallow water among the silversides!
Tarpon swimming in the deeper waters of the north side of Waterlemon Cay. Once I got used to their size (up to and over 4 feet) I have enjoyed swimming with them. If you are at Big Maho Bay when the pelicans are feeding you will see plenty of tarpon swimming in the shallow water among the silversides!
A singular Feather Duster Worm amid the base of some Pillar Coral. The Pillar Coral is a hard coral but looks fuzzy because the tiny coral animals have their polyps out for feeding. It is one of the few hard corals that will do this during the daytime!
A singular Feather Duster Worm amid the base of some Pillar Coral. The Pillar Coral is a hard coral but looks fuzzy because the tiny coral animals have their polyps out for feeding. It is one of the few hard corals that will do this during the daytime!
A brilliantly colored purple Sea Fan at Waterlemon Cay, St. John. There is a large grouping of various colors that wave in the shallow water above the reef on the north side of the cay.
A brilliantly colored purple Sea Fan at Waterlemon Cay, St. John. There is a large grouping of various colors that wave in the shallow water above the reef on the north side of the cay.
I saw a lot of blue-spotted fish that day at Waterlemon Cay and cannot recall what fish this is!
I saw a lot of blue-spotted fish that day at Waterlemon Cay and cannot recall what fish this is!
These are called Social Feather Dusters because they group tightly together. They are actually worms and these feathery crowns often retract into tubes when a snorkeler approaches.
These are called Social Feather Dusters because they group tightly together. They are actually worms and these feathery crowns often retract into tubes when a snorkeler approaches.
Sea anemone spotted in 6 inches of water right at the edge of the bay where snorkelers enter to swim out to Waterlemon Cay! I believe it is called a Sponge Anemone.
Sea anemone spotted in 6 inches of water right at the edge of the bay where snorkelers enter to swim out to Waterlemon Cay! I believe it is called a Sponge Anemone.
The male Parrotfish are the colorful ones and it seems summertime is when the colors come out the most! The parrotfish eat algae off of coral and usually inadvertently ingest some of the hard skeleton of the coral, which later is expelled and becomes the soft white Caribbean sand we love so much! I believe this is the Stoplight Parrotfish.
The male Parrotfish are the colorful ones and it seems summertime is when the colors come out the most! The parrotfish eat algae off of coral and usually inadvertently ingest some of the hard skeleton of the coral, which later is expelled and becomes the soft white Caribbean sand we love so much! I believe this is the Stoplight Parrotfish.
Someone created a coral sculpture similar to those found on Drunk Bay on the edge of Leinster Bay, just as we turned off to head towards Waterlemon Cay. It reminds me of the traveling gnome!
Someone created a coral sculpture similar to those found on Drunk Bay on the edge of Leinster Bay, just as we turned off to head towards Waterlemon Cay. It reminds me of the traveling gnome!
We've had some good rain on St. John this summer and it has caused some interesting things to appear, namely this white fungus seen sprouting from a rotting tree. Looked like the color was spray painted on the fungus!
We’ve had some good rain on St. John this summer and it has caused some interesting things to appear, namely this white fungus seen sprouting from a rotting tree. Looked like the color was spray painted on the fungus!
My fellow snorkeler, Genia, ahead on the path leaving Waterlemon Cay. This island is all about the variations of the colors blue and green!
My fellow snorkeler, Genia, ahead on the path leaving Waterlemon Cay. This island is all about the variations of the colors blue and green!