HISTORY OF THE LAB
The Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (Shark Lab) was founded by Dr. Samuel “Doc” Gruber on the island of South Bimini, Bahamas. Over the years there have been several changes to the facilities since the Shark Lab's inception in 1990.
Originally a police barracks (likely built in the 1960s) Doc sought to reinvent the building to imitate and function as a research vessel. In this sense, the Shark Lab could remain self-contained, self-sufficient, and conservation oriented.
The Lab facility itself is a small wood-framed house located on the south shore of the island. It sits on a small parcel of land with a beach to the south and a small marina to the north. With the design of a research vessel in mind, the Station is made of five cabins or “state rooms” each with two sets of bunk beds. The rest of the Lab consists of a kitchen and dining area, two heads (bathrooms) and the lab room itself which acts as storage for some of our scientific equipment and samples. The Shark Lab can sleep up to 22 personnel, however the typical team is made up of eight full time staff members and ten volunteers.
FACILITY UPGRADE - April 2020 to Present
Although the Shark Lab has undergone several makeovers throughout the years, with the addition of an external storage area, and extension of a staff room onto the porch, it saw its biggest renovation in 2019 and 2020. In the former, a stand-alone shed was built to hold a new desalinator machine. This was designed as a small, air-conditioned room on stilts, in order to store all our water pumps and other plumbing supplies. This space was essential to install a larger machine that has the capacity to produce 500 gallons of clean drinking water in one sitting. Our technicians also needed a work bench to clean out filters and access all parts of the machine for regular upkeep and maintenance.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Shark Lab made the difficult decision to close its doors to the public and send home volunteers. This left a skeletal team of staff on site to tackle some huge construction projects that would otherwise have taken years!
Lab – One of the first focal points of the Shark Lab’s renovations was the lab room itself. This room contains most of our scientific equipment, while serving as a work area for research and data entry. During courses and volunteer training, it functions as a lecture theatre with its presentation screen. In this area, we also store two freezers – one for bait, and one for samples. While this part of the station did not undergo major reconstruction, it did receive a floor job, new internal walls, and an improved door and ceiling lights. The final touch included new shelves and counters which design showcases some Shark Lab memories.
Kitchen/dining area – Previously, the Shark Lab’s kitchen was set up in a small corridor between a bathroom and the tool room. This claustrophobic area made mealtimes an interesting task at the best of times! With space for only 1-2 people to prepare meals, cooking for twenty guests was often more challenging than necessary. The old kitchen was entirely ripped out, alongside the tool room. Following which, just like most of the house, the internal walls were restructured with dry wall and wash board put up. The new layout essentially doubled counter space, made room for a deep based sink (and new spray faucet), and there are plans to add an island counter for serving meals and extra preparation space. The final task was to install spotlights and better ventilation on a new ceiling.
The new kitchen and dining area is fully equipped with appliances and storage for food. This project was especially important, as the Shark Lab the lab places a food order every 2-3 months, so requires enough room to maximise storage space for supplies arriving in bulk. On top of this, the kitchen has one large refrigerator for lab food and a smaller one for personal items. The new design sees the kitchen opening to the dining and living area, which also includes two large food storage freezers, and a sofa.
Shark Lab Alumni might notice a big difference in size when visiting the dining room, as among the building of cabinets and new sharky decor, the team chose to increase the room area. Now the dining region expands three metres further out, meaning that there is more space to accommodate large university courses and film crews. As part of this, the porch was also rebuilt with new foundations.
Tool Room – With the original tool room sitting adjacent to the kitchen, this left a very small space to store A LOT of tools! Prior to tearing down this part of the building, the south end of the house was extended to make room for a 30 ft storage area in order to accommodate the contents of the original tool room. Combining as a laundrette, this new area now stores all the lab tools and maintenance supplies. Equipped with a full-length work bench and desk, with its own air conditioning unit. The team also installed another entrance, so that the new tool room has easy access to the back area of the Station and beach.
Hallway - The lab's former hallway was adorned with hundreds of photos that were taken by BBFSF staff and volunteers over the years. In the Station renovations, the team unfortunately had to take down the Wall of Fame/Shame in order to rebuild the walls. After a few days of work, including a new paint job, the hallway was rejuvenated. While the photo collage has not yet been brought back to lab, there is a project idea underway that involves the combination of both old and new memories to make the ultimate decor addition.
Cabins – Although the general size of the rooms was not altered, old cupboards and bunkbeds were removed and replaced. The new rooms were re-floored, got some new walls, and the most exciting part…after 25 years… brand new home-made bunk beds! Every visitor will now enjoy the luxury of a larger bed, that is more easily accessible, and is equipped with blackout curtains and extra storage space. Even with the addition of these beds, the team was still able to fit in a study desk per room.
External – The final and most obvious change to the lab, is the re-building of its external walls, including cladding and then a popping blue and white paint job. Although this is still a working process, with one more side to go, it has already made a huge difference to the overall appearance and first impression of the Shark Lab. Brand new gutters were added to utilize the wet seasons in Bimini in order to store more rainwater for showers, and currently the roof is under construction to facilitate the capture of rainwater, as well as providing more effective storm protection with hurricane rated metal sheeting, hurricane straps, and increased support beams.
Dock – The dock began getting rebuilt in 2020 and is now officially completed. The new dock is a U-shape with two walkways, and two stairwells for easy boat access. The dock has two tables for the preparation of bait, and for the filleting of food fish. The team also installed a freshwater hose alongside the previous salt water hose to help in cleaning and rinsing equipment, and a rack was built to hold our large bait coolers. In addition, the long awaited seawall has finally been installed and we no longer have to worry about the property flooding!
Vehicles - The Shark Lab fleet consists of nine vessels ranging in length from 16 to 26 feet, all of which are essential to research:
Sundance skiffs: two x 17 ft models powered by tiller driven 50 HP Mercury outboards
Sundance skiffs: three x 16 ft models powered by tiller driven 40 HP Mercury outboards
Sundance bay boats: two x 20 ft centre-console powered by 115 HP Mercury outboards
Twin Vee catamaran: one x 22 ft centre-console powered by two 115 HP Mercury outboards
These boats are affectionately named after formed Shark Lab dogs or species of elasmobranch: Indy, Ratty, Shadow, Thresher, Pristis, Mokarran, Cirratum, and Brevirostris.
The newest addition to our fleet joined the Lab in 2019 following a generous donation. This 26 ft Rupert rigid hull inflatable with centre-console steering is powered by two 115 HP Yamaha outboards. This vessel has been especially valuable in helping us to host large groups such as film crews and visiting researchers.
On land, the Shark Lab relies on three vehicles to run errands on Bimini. The task force is made up of our 1996 Toyota 4Runner, a 2003 Chrysler minivan, and a 2001 Ford F150. These vehicles are used for work related activities such as fuel and water purchases and transporting people and supplies to and from the airport.
TO THE FUTURE
The lab still has a long way to go, with many projects still underway. Following the current facility’s completion, we have plans in progress for the design and construction of a new centre next door. We will do our best to keep you posted on this exciting journey!