Sharks bring the community together in Bimini

PHOTO PROVIDED by Jillian Morris.

By Jillian Morris

“Tell people—and they may forget…show them—they may remember…but involve them and they will understand”


[dropcap]B[/dropcap]imini is home to a diverse population of sharks and marine life. These islands in the Stream are also home to a vast mangrove forest. Mangroves don’t get as much attention as they should because they don’t really move or do anything that appears very exciting. In reality, mangroves are the heart and soul of these tiny islands and so many like them around the globe. Above and below the surface, mangroves are intricate and vital ecosystems for fish, lobster, conch, birds and even sharks.

The baby lemon sharks that are born in Bimini each spring rely on this mangrove habitat as a nursery area. The mangroves provide shelter, an ample food supply and a place where sharks can learn to be, well, sharks. Fish, conch and lobster stocks would also suffer drastically without the ability to develop and grow in a protected area.

This amazing natural resource is constantly being threatened and it is crucial for the people of the islands to know why mangroves are so vital and how they can protect them. My husband and I, along with staff from the Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab) were recently able to take a group of high school students from the Louise McDonald School on North Bimini into the mangroves to meet some baby lemon sharks and see the beauty and importance of this ecosystem.

We made arrangements for six students and four teachers to join this expedition. Most had been on the edge of the area, but never into the heart of it. The kids were excited, fueled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (official meal for field work) and chocolate cupcakes. We anchored the boat and warned everyone about the squishy bottom. The girls all jumped in and there were some squeals and giggles as toes sunk into the mushy sediment. We trekked onward, but the boys were still hanging in the boat. They had insisted, “ladies first,” but all the ladies were on their way. Finally, after some heckling from their female classmates, the boys joined the mission.

The channel leading into our destination is only about three feet wide in places and completely wrapped with mangroves. A deep center part had a few people swimming. The tunnel leads into an opening that baby lemon sharks use on the high tide for shelter and to find food. We hoped that a few would be waiting for us inside. Sharklab manager Jill Brooks started chumming and we chatted with the kids about sharks as we waited. They were nervous and excited, still giggling a bit about their toes squishing in the muddy sand.

Slowly, but surely the cautious little sharks began heading our way. Eventually one came in for a snack and a few more followed. Any fear or misunderstanding quickly disappeared as each student took a turn feeding the sharks. A competition arose, as the students shouted out how many they had fed. Finally the teachers inched forward and got in on the action. They were all smiles as the little sharks, one by one, took their squid snacks. I watched in awe as sharks and people shared a very special encounter, one that is powerful enough to change perceptions and create an understanding. This was such an amazing thing to take part in and it was all captured on film for a German documentary. When asked, none of the students ever imagined they would be hand feeding wild baby sharks and certainly not in their own backyard.

Each teacher and student now holds a personal connection to this forest and these animals. The mangroves provide nutrients and habitat both above and below the surface. They protect the islands from the wrath of ocean storms and support healthy fish stocks that cover the reefs and blue water surrounding Bimini. Now when the students hear someone talking about saving sharks or saving the mangroves they have their own story to tell. Collectively those stories will strengthen the resolve to protect these wild areas and the animals that rely on them.

The hope for sharks and for our oceans lies in children, so it is crucial for them to understand that they each have a voice and that they can each make a difference. No matter where you are in the world, take a child out into nature and share the moment.

Thank you to the Louise McDonald High School, Principle Sands, Lisa Wallace, The Bimini Biological Field Station and Ulf Marquardt for making this amazing opportunity a reality.

For more information, visit and Jillian’s website