I started this blog because I love the beach. Throughout the course of this semester, I’ve gone beyond my own coastal experiences to write about what’s happening beneath the sea surface, the challenges of communicating climate change and how the waters that surround us are being affected, and how that impacts the animals that call the ocean home.

There’s a lot happening to the beaches right now, and a lot of things are changing very quickly. However, I think it’s important not to forget about the reason I fell in love with the beach in the first place, which is the fun, sunshine, and relaxation I can always guarantee it will bring me.

I am fortunate enough to have spent time on more than 50 beaches this year alone. I started 2016 in Great Exuma, Bahamas, and will end it the same way, frolicking and swimming on some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I first visited Great Exuma less than two years ago, but already it feels like a permanent part of my home.

Grand Isle Resort, Great Exuma, Bahamas*

Maybe it’s the water, which is so striking that the hotel we stay at – the Grand Isle Resort – has a cocktail named after the particular bright blue color: The Exuma Blue. Maybe it’s the neighbors – I’ve already talked about the now world-famous swimming pigs, but the Exuma islands also play home to iguanas, starfish, and manta rays. Maybe it’s the knowledge that this is a precious ecosystem, that, like everywhere else, is fragile. The Exuma islands are developing a strong tourism industry, which is dependent on the continued health of the islands and those who inhabit them.

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Swimming Pigs of Exuma, Bahamas

Whatever the reason, Great Exuma, Bahamas is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s fitting that I am lucky enough to start and finish my 2016 Beach Odyssey there. I’ve come full circle. And I can’t wait to feel the sand between my toes again.

Chat N’ Chill, Stocking Island, Bahamas

*All photos in this post were taken by Jenny Schanker. Thanks, Mom!