Rogers’ show will feature thriving coral, above, and creatures both small — a shrimp, below, and large.
Bajo el Sol Galllery will be teeming with fishes, corals, shrimp and turtles, on Friday, July 8, as Caroline Rogers unveils new underwater photography at an artist’s reception starting at 5 p.m. at the gallery located in Mongoose Junction.
Rogers, a coral reef specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, has called St. John home for the past 25 years, but did not start snapping pictures under the waves until about five years ago.
“Part of it is that we really started to use photography in our research and I started seeing more and more things that I wanted to capture,” said Rogers. “I just began going out on my own time really to look into getting better images and more images.”
Two years ago Rogers complied many of her favorite shots into her first book, Coral Reef Stars, but she never stopped using her camera on her often weekly snorkeling trips.
A second book, Mysterious, Magical Mangroves of St. John, should be out in a few months, and as the title suggests, much of Rogers’ time lately has been spent in the mangrove areas of Hurricane Hole. The mangrove area in Coral Bay is also where Rogers snapped most of the photographs for the Bajo el Sol show, explained the scientist and photographer.
“I’m really excited about the show because I love Bajo el Sol and I really think that [owners] Tom and Livy Hitchcock do a really great job showcasing St. John artists,” said Rogers. “It is really an honor for me to have this show at their gallery.”
The hardest part for Rogers was determining which of her thousands of pictures would grace the Bajo el Sol walls.
“I have tens of thousands of pictures and I selected a wide variety of photos that celebrate the biodiversity of St. John, from tiny, colorful shrimp that measure less than two inches long, to a large Hawksbill turtle,” said Rogers. “Even though I am a scientist, I chose the photos based on their beauty, but they also show the ecological importance of the mangroves.”
Part of what drives Rogers’ excitement is the incredible diversity of Hurricane Hole’s mangrove area.
“Most of the photographs are from Hurricane Hole inside the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument,” said the photographer. “This area may be unique in the Caribbean in terms of the numbers of different kinds of corals. There are almost 30 different coral species, which is phenomenal.”
“I’ve asked experts all through the Caribbean and no one knows of any area like it,” she said.
“It’s really exciting that this little island has this particular coral mangrove environment. It’s important ecologically as a nursery for both corals and fish.”
The extent and the health of corals growing in Hurricane Hole area is a rare source of excitement in the progressively deteriorating ocean environment, Rogers added.
“One thing that really excited me is the number of large corals growing in the area,” she said. “Corals are thriving there and they don’t seem to be doing as well on the coral reefs. There are also some rare corals in Hurricane Hole that you seldom even see on the reefs.”
“I think it’s really important to me because I’ve watched the coral reefs declining over the last many years and I know there is still a lot in the waters of St. John that we can celebrate,” said Rogers. “It’s an exciting area for me from the research point of view and also for the artistic point of view with all of the different textures and colors.”
Although the esteemed scientist can usually identify all objects in her path, Rogers was stumped by one sighting in Hurricane Hole.
“One day while I was snorkeling in Hurricane Hole, I was swimming along and I saw a little yellow blob and it just caught my attention,” she said. “It was a little blob about one and half inches long and it had a tail and was clinging to some seaweed on a prop root. I thought it was some kind of a little frogfish so I took a picture of it.”
Rogers sent the image to Dr. Jack Randall, an internationally known fish expert who spent several years on St. John.
“I looked in a book and I knew it was unusual to see something like this in the mangroves so I sent it to Dr. Randall, who sent it to a global frogfish expert at the University of Washington,” said Rogers. “That scientist confirmed that it was a Sargassum Frogfish and the first report of frogfishes living in mangroves. I ended up seeing over 20 more of these guys.”
Although dedicated to art, Rogers is always mindful of the scientific side of her nature as well. Through her images, she hopes to share the beauty of the undersea world, but also affect positive change for the sensitive areas in which she works.
“Mangroves are even more threatened than coral reefs in general,” said Rogers. “These are very fragile communities and it’s best if people don’t speed in the area or tie up to the mangroves. Many people think of mangroves as waste lands so it’s good for people to understand how important they are.”
“When you snorkel, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller animals,” she said. “I encourage people to go really slowly and look very carefully. You never know what you might see.”
Rogers’ images also show how this underwater world is so accessible.
“All of these images were taken in less than 15 feet of water while I was snorkeling,” she said. “I want people to look in a different way at mangroves in general and know that these are accessible areas.”
Don’t miss Rogers’ artist’s reception on Friday, July 8, at Bajo el Sol in Mongoose Junction starting at 5 p.m.