The Rainbow Effect

By Kelly Currington ~ Photo By Beatrix Neuhaus

The year 2020—a new decade—started off with a bang! There were celebrations, friends and excitement for the year ahead. Plans were in place for travel and adventures with family and friends; what a magnificent year it would be! Little did we know that a silent storm was brewing that would impact the course of the entire world.

Beatrix Neuhaus captured this rainbow over Chalk Sound.

The tsunami of COVID-19
COVID-19 was a term unknown to most, but it entered our lives like a tsunami and instantly altered our terrain. In what seemed like mere hours, the world went on lockdown in an attempt to slow the wave of exposure to the deadly virus as it rampaged across the globe, affecting millions of people and taking hundreds of thousands of lives. People scrambled to get back to their respective countries if they were abroad, many went into an isolating quarantine, and fear embedded itself in our lives. Fear of contracting the virus, fear of a loved one contracting the virus, and fear of the uncertainty of the future. Suddenly, and without preparation, you could not go see your family or friends, you could not go out to eat or shop, you could not do anything that was part of “normal” life as we had known it. Something new entered our world—social distancing—a reality of which we had no concept.

Our comfortable, known world was transforming so quickly that it was difficult to grasp. As businesses were ordered to lock their doors, the domino effect of job losses was set in motion. People were instantly without jobs, without the necessary means to take care of themselves or their families, and economies appeared to be in jeopardy of devastating collapse. For the first time in most of our lives we had no freedom to live without conscious thought of every action.
I think one of the most notable tragedies was that families couldn’t be together to mourn their loved ones taken by the virus or any other death; a very lonely reality had presented itself. We were living in a world we could never have imagined just a few months earlier.

Constant news footage of the virus, and the staggering sadness and uncertainty associated with it, saturated our lives and made it hard to focus on anything else. But then we started finding ways to exist in this “new” world with hope and finding good in the little things. Technology was now the avenue of family dinners, girls’ nights, birthdays, anniversaries and even funerals. Though it was not the same as physically being together, it was absolutely better than nothing . . . so we adapted.

Our environmental footprint
As humans we have stomped a huge environmental footprint on the planet, and over the past several decades that footprint has been heavy and severely detrimental to Mother Earth’s health. We have poisoned her, stripped her and stolen things we can never give back; enter COVID-19. Irrespective of any political, medical or religious beliefs you may have, some good has come from this unprecedented time.

With almost every aspect of our world on lockdown, the Earth started to slowly reclaim what we have taken from her, like a flower at death’s door from a violent winter suddenly showing signs of new life with the onset of spring. Our footprints were suddenly eliminated and healing seem to start immediately, with balance beginning to creep back in.
With airplanes grounded, boats moored and people not allowed to leave their space or gather, just-like-that the planet started to breathe again. Evidence was visible everywhere, and thanks to social media we were reminded of just how much harm we have inflicted. Without the noise, fuel and trash pollution created by the life we (humans) have been living, the scales started to shift. Signs of life were appearing in places void of it for so long that we had forgotten it ever existed there. Marine life was present in places it had not been seen in decades, wildlife started to roam the residential areas that used to be their home, and the air quality in places that had been toxic was now clean. The scales are leveling . . .

TCI lockdown lets nature breathe
I can’t help but focus on the place I love most—the Turks & Caicos Islands—and how this pandemic has affected the tiny country. This “Beautiful by Nature” paradise is home to over 40,000 residents and attracts more than a million visitors every year, creating a strong and viable economy. Now, the beaches are empty, the sugar-white sand is undisturbed by humans, and the breathtaking turquoise water is uncluttered of boats and noise. This will definitely cause a huge financial strain on the country, but it will also create a time of necessary change and healing.

With the country on a strictly-enforced lockdown, the ripples are affecting the land and the sea. No human impact means they can breathe . . . deeply.

A constant on my mind has been the health of our corals, especially the ones affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). After waiting seven months for permits, the Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF) was only able to start treating the corals less than a month before the lockdown and had done one treatment transect. They used a low-dose Amoxicillin mixture that is specifically designed for this treatment method. According to TCRF Project Manager Alizee Zimmermann, the combined ointment is designed to expand into the grooves of the coral along the disease margin and to minimize leaching into the water. The treatment goes directly onto the coral where it stays and is absorbed.

Prior to the pandemic, the disease had already spread to Grand Turk, West Caicos and Providenciales, and the concern was that with the cooler temperatures of the sea, and TCRF’s inability to continue monitoring and applying treatments; the disease may be spreading at an alarming rate. The priority of this type of treatment is to save the older, bigger colonies, as they have survived for 50–200 years. When the world came to an abrupt and complete halt, the treatments stopped and the health and/or survival of the corals was left to fate.

When TCRF divers were finally able to get back in the water for the first time, they saw very clearly that SCTLD has continued to spread on the reefs, but there is some good news as well. One of the corals treated over two months ago had not been taken by the disease, and more importantly, had no new lesions. This is such a positive discovery! With continued and consistent treatment, there may be a good chance of preserving enough reproductive tissue on the affected corals for them to continue to populate the reef. So while the world above is fighting the pandemic, the aquatic world has been fighting its own battle in silence; now the treatments can continue in hopes for a positive prognosis.

The lockdown time did not go to waste. The TCRF and Ms. Zimmermann put together online, educational video sessions for those interested in learning how to identify infected corals and report them. They also learned other ways to participate with the TCRF and be ocean warriors, guaranteeing the future of protection and conservation efforts in TCI.
With the absence of human presence, the overall effects on the reefs will be positive; a regenerating and recovering period; a time for them to rest undisturbed.

Another area of recovery that could be positively affected by this situation is the conch population in the Turks & Caicos Islands. The Caicos Conch Farm used to be one of only two productive conch farms in the world, and the largest worldwide exporter of the mollusk. Hurricane Irma destroyed the farm, and to date it has not been rebuilt. Without the farm to help supplement the population and the over-harvesting of wild conch, natural reproduction could not replenish them fast enough and their numbers started to decline to the point of landing conch on the endangered species list.
Most restaurants in the country serve the tasty white meat in a number of forms, tourists buy the shells and recreational operators prepare them for guests as ceviche on the beach. Now with restaurants closed, no tourists and boats ordered to stay in port, conch are safe from human predation and can start to regain their numbers.

As well, natural predators of conch leave when their food source dwindles, so without the intrusion of humans, their numbers can make some gains. This is not only good for them, but good for the creatures that hunt them. This could mean an increase in population of eagle rays, nurse sharks and loggerhead turtles in the Turks & Caicos Islands—all of which attract snorkelers and divers.

More than a million tourists clammer to the TCI each year. They come to soak up the sun on picturesque fine sandy beaches, swim in the truly turquoise water and dive the stunning reefs and dramatic walls. Tourism is the main source of revenue and the absence of that income is on everyone’s minds.

Rainbow after the storm
The island community has pulled together during the pandemic and the government has done an outstanding job at keeping the people safe. Deciding to completely close the country for four months was no doubt a difficult decision, as it severed the economic blood-flow. But with the TCI Government’s goal of protecting the people’s health as the priority, it has worked.

When it is safe, visitors will be itching to return to the TCI’s “Beautiful by Nature” paradise as soon as possible. While what is normal may look and feel different, we will adjust and continue to move forward with the TCI Strong fortitude that has held the country together through many a storm.

My whole life, I’ve heard and seen proven the saying, “A rainbow follows every storm.” The COVID-19 storm has definitely been a rough one, but the rainbow is coming.

Sometimes in life we take things for granted, not because we are ungrateful, but because normalcy tends to breed complacency. Losing those things can bring back into focus how precious they are, and regenerate appreciation. Being able to go outside, get in your car and drive to the beach, or a restaurant, or a friend’s house, used to happen without a second thought. Now that those liberties are no longer available we realize how precious they are, and how badly we want them back.

There is no question that this pandemic has caused unprecedented damage across many aspects of life, but I believe it will also bring about positive change. People are communicating more, on a level deeper than a quick text; college kids are back home with their parents and sitting down to dinner and actually talking; families are making home-cooked meals together instead of going out. We realize that it isn’t the material things we miss the most, but people and the togetherness of community.

When have you ever NOT looked at a rainbow? When have you looked at a rainbow and NOT thought, “It’s so beautiful—must be a sign it’s going to be a good day?” The storm creates the rainbow, the rainbow creates a magnificent display of natural beauty, and that beauty instills optimism and hope. I call this the “Rainbow Effect.”

The storm has been rough and it isn’t over yet, but the clouds are starting to clear, the damaging winds are slowing and the light is starting to shine through. My hope is that we use these lessons to move forward with a new appreciative direction and outlook and continue to care for each other and our planet, keeping in mind the freedoms we lost, and the good that grew from the loss of those freedoms.

Learning from this difficult time and making the world a better place will give comfort and purpose, along with a sense that the lives lost were not in vain.

It is imminent that in the near future the most beautiful beaches in the world will be speckled with tourists and locals, boats will head back out to sea and the Islands will once again be alive with the sounds of human activity, the enjoyment of life—the rainbow is coming!

A huge “thank you” to every health care worker, public service worker, and “essential” person who has worked to keep the rest of us safe, while putting themselves at risk. This includes grocery store workers, the folks ensuring food and supplies get to the country, and even the public for respecting the new rules and participating unitedly in the solution.

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On the Cover

Gary James at Provo Pictures (www.provopictures.com) used a drone to photograph this bird’s-eye view of Dragon Cay off Middle Caicos. It perfectly captures the myriad of colors and textures that make God’s works of art in nature so captivating.

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