The annual marine-robotics field trials are held once a year or more at the Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados, and are coordinated by staff from McGill University.
There is a combination of experimental work, system validation as well as formal and informal scientific presentations. Attendance is by invitation only.
The critical daily morning briefing is at 8am each morning except the first Saturday, where it's a special case at 8:30am and breakfast is included.
Experimental sessions are scheduled in parallel slots in the morning and afternoon.
Formal talks occur at lunch time and after supper.
More general information including a detailed plan and schedule for attendees can be found elsewhere, but this is a brief summary. McGill's Bellairs Marine Biology Research Institute is located
on the West coast of Barbados. The institute itself has a humble charm, although there has been an ongoing drive
to renovate more and more of the facilities (perhaps to a more costly and tourist-quality appearance). During the Winter when our
trials are held the weather is typically warm and the accepted attire on campus is very casual. As a rule, however, the country and the
hotels nearby favor a relatively conservative dress code for dinner (i.e. long pants for "good" restaurant food). If you tire of the academic-shabby
atmosphere, you can find fine dining nearby including as close as the hotel next door (which is quite posh and rather
costly: rack rate room with breakfast in the sold-out month of Jan 2016 was from about US$890/night for a minimum-price garden room, or much more for a junior cottage).
The currency of Barbados is the Barbados dollar (see below). Prices are of course, quoted by default in the local currency (if somebody quotes you a price, you will generally sound a bit silly if you ask "Barbados dollars?").
An exception is the dive shop which sometimes uses US dollars by default.
Credit cards are accepted at most upscale locations, but having either US or Barbados
dollars in cash is imperative for day-to-day purchases. Canadian cash is not accepted in stores.
There is a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) about 20 minutes from Bellairs Research Institute and it has an ATM machine that speaks Interac, so getting money is not a problem.
Overflow accommodation for our group is sometimes housed in the Europa or Halcyon Palms hotels (both operated by the same management).
These places are about 30 minutes South of Bellairs, on foot. They both have a pool, but are not on the beach. You can also take the local bus 2 stops: that costs $2 (recall that is equal to $1 USD). Note that these places
offer air conditioning, and the rooms get warm during the day, but the AC can only be operated by if you have tokens that must be purchased
during business hours at the front desk.
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Getting to Bellairs
- From the Airport
- Before you can entry the country you will need to complete an arrival card for custom and immigration.
It includes information of the purpose of our trip and your destination.
For members of our group, I think the purpose is best described as "meeting." Do not say work, do not say education or anything that might incorrectly imply you are being paid on the island, or operating a business.
For some people in our group it might be "business," but if asked you should be be sure to point out that you are attending a meeting and you are not making any money.
For the location of your stay, it should be indicated as: Bellairs Research Institute (of McGill University), and the location is
the parish (region) of St. James (remember this parish name for when you complete the form on arrival).
- US dollars can be used anywhere on the island, however, credit cards cannot be used so widely and especially NOT for taxi or bus rides.
- To get to Bellairs from the airport, either take a taxi (about
$140 Bds/70 USD) and split the cost if you share, or hypothetically you can a long bus ride for a few dollars.
If the taxi driver does not know where Bellairs is, say it is
located in between Folkstone Park and Coral Reef Club
on the North side of Holetown. These two landmarks
are famous; but with all the workshops
during the past 15 years, Bellairs is also becoming fairly well known
among taxi drivers. If you want to take a bus it's a pretty long journey. There are
some direct busses or you can go to Bridgetown
first and change to another bus (at another bus station). As above, the cost of a bus is $2.
Bellairs Telephones: area code (246), main office: 422-2087,
dining hall: 422-2034. FAX: (246) 422-0692.
enquiries at bellairs-mcgill.org (note the address must be manually edited to removed the XXX if you click the link)
- When you arrive at Bellairs either come to the office or (if it's closed)
go around the main building via a passage on the right
and make enough noise so that somebody opens the gate for you. This may pose a challenge if you arrive when people are busy.
Upon arrival, you might encouter a locked gate: make a lot of noise to be let in. If the gate is open you can go straight to the
dining hall if you don't see anybody you know waiting for you.
There, you should find either people or a message for you on the
bulletin board or the blackboard telling you which is your room. Our
rooms are in three buildings called Brace,
East Wing and West Wing. The rooms are labeled with
B, E and W accordingly. You will find a key to your room,
in your room, which should be unlocked unless your roommate has
already arrived. In this case, you should look for your roommate
on the beach. A few people (e.g. faculty) may have rooms in the new (more expensive) Brace rooms on top of
the frontmost building (the dry lab).
Sharing living space
- Kitchen and Food
- We must purchase our own breakfast supplies. The breakfast food is kept in the kitchen fridge of the "student kitchen",
or in the kitchen of the Brace/Seaborne buildings for faculty who are staying there.
- There is a kitchen with dishes and basic utensils. When we use it, we
are responsible for washing all of our dishes after breakfast and any time they are used.
Please leave the kitchen clean. You must clean up after yourself. Whenever you use the kitchen, try and
leave it at least a tiny bit CLEANER than when you started. (It's usually not that clean: try and recall the image of a
typical shared kitchen in an undergraduate residence.)
- We can make coffee in the kitchen any time we want. Brace wing has it's own private coffee machine. If you make coffee, you are encouraged to tell Greg or Mike (who drink it like bottomless pits).
- There is a guest fridge in the dining hall where we can keep our own
private food. Please label your food and remove any left over when
- Affordable food is in Holetown.
- Showers and Sand
- Sand in the shower drains can cause significant and costly blockage
problems. Please be sure to rinse off the sand from your feet
before entering your rooms. There are water taps outside both blocks
of rooms for this purpose.
- Locked Doors and Valuables
- Security: although Barbados is a generally safe place, there have been thefts on campus in past years.
As a result all entrances to the compound should be kept locked at all times. This goes for both the front and rear gate.
Please be sure to keep the gates locked, and your room as well. In past year there people have entered the compound and
stolen valuables that were left unattended.
- Please leave your room locked when you are not in it.
- You can leave your money and other valuables in the safe in the
main office. If you leave some money in your room I suggest you
put it in a purse inside a locked suitcase inside a closed closet;
certainly do not leave it within arm's reach of the back windows
facing the public park.
Telephones and computers are available in the main office. Note that calling home via a calling card can be expensive.
Unfortunately, Due to the occasionally unstable Internet service on the whole island Skype can sometimes be unstable and inconsistent, especially in the evenings.
Bellairs Survival Hints
- Food and Snacks
- We will have a cook and the food is great, but if you need
anything special please bring it along. Dinners on-site will include vegetables and
fish, but probably not much mammalian meat (this is when the Dudek group is dominating the facility). The standard meals for our group should be adequate for vegetarians.
There will be a fridge
where we can keep our private food items. We are expected, however, to eat several meals prepared by the cook since
this is what allows her salary to be paid.
- The coffee there is of the instant variety. If you wish to
bring your own coffee you may do so. Greg and Mike need a constant supply of brewed coffee and usually
make arrangements of their own.
- There is a local supermarket nearby (20 min. walk) as well as a range of
restaurants. There are good vegetarian roti in several
places near Bellairs.
- Local environment
- Beach, Sun, Snorkeling, and SCUBA diving
- Bellairs is situated on one of the best beaches in Barbados, so
don't forget your bathing suit (and skin protection) for experimental work, as well as for swims
before breakfast and in between work sessions.
- You can buy swimwear and other supplies in the nearby town (Holetown), but the prices are fairly high so it is
best to bring your own gear.
- Buy a good dive mask before you go, even if you have never tried one out before. It is worth going to a real scuba shop for
this to assure a good fit. For people in Montreal, you can try Total Diving
on Sherbrooke and West Hill Avenue (in which case you should say you are from McGill -- in the past people from our group got a small discount due to
the consistent business we brought).
- It is absolutely crucial and required that you bring and use
sun protection. Aside from possible impact on your long-term health, a bad sunburn can prevent you from fulfilling your role in scheduled experiments.
Please try and buy a sunscreen that is labeled as "reef safe." A protection rating (SPF) of 30 or more is recommended.
- There is also good snorkeling right in front of Bellairs so if you
have a mask and fins bring them along too. In fact, if you have SCUBA
diving equipment then bring your gear. The is an ongoing need for divers with the Aqua project.
There is recreational diving right there as well, and air
tanks at Bellairs cost about US$12.00 per tank.
- Bellair's will be playing an leading role in a Public Private Partnership to Preserve Coral Reefs, sponsored by the Multi-Lateral Investment Fund of the Inter American Development Bank (MIF-IDB).
- Some Distinctive Risks
- Do not eat raw fruits from trees; in particular, there are manchineel trees in Barbados that have fruit that looks like tiny green apples, but which are poisonous.
- The traffic can be intimidating, especially at night if you walk to town. Bringing
a small flashlight is a good idea.
- The island seems to be fairly safe with respect to crime, but don't leave
valuables unattended. Lock your room when you are not in it.
- Sunburn is a serious risk that can ruin your stay: bring sunscreen, a hat and
sunglasses. Use it even if it cloudy, especially the first few days.
- Mosquito-borne diseases exist in the topics. See the next section.
- Depending on the weather conditions and other factors, we may
get some mosquitoes.
I have been bitten innumerable times without consequence, but
Dengue fever exists in Barbados (like most equatorial regions) and
recently been a problem throughout the Caribbean. Luckily, the risk seems low as of Dec. 2015.
As a consequence, you should taking mosquito repulsion and eradication seriously.
- Zika virus exists on the island (and most of the topics). Incidence in 2017 is low, but you should check for yourself if you are concerned.
Women from a non-Zika region who are pregnant should not travel to Barbados.
Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and eye inflammation. Up to 80% of the people infected with Zika show no symptoms.
The illness is generally mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week, but there are serious implications for those who might be pregnant or become pregnant within some refractory period.
The US CDC web page on this topic is at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-virus-barbados and should be
consulted for up-to-date information.
Note that the primary
vector for Dengue and Zika is the Aedes aegypti mosquito which typically bites during the daytime, particularly in the early morning and in the evening. Use repellant!
- Bite prevention is the best strategy.
Bring a mosquito repellant, but be aware it is bad for the reef so wash off before swimming.
Repellants can be purchased in Barbados, but the selection is limited.
- We will be living in intimate quarters. All of us will share a
room with one or possibly (but very unlikely) two others (even
four to a room has occurred in the past) with a resulting
distance of inches between beds. If you snore let the trip coordinator know
in advance and we try to will put all the snorers together. It is
my experience that a snorer has no problem sleeping with another
snorer. Rumor has, they even enjoy it. And if you don't snore yet, don't be too cocky about it since most people start to snore eventually.
Exchange : The value of the Barbados dollars is pegged to the US at 2 BDS to 1 USD.
US dollars can be used everywhere while Canadian dollars can be used almost nowhere. Bringing some US money is a good idea.
In Canada: The best exchange rate may be available here in Montreal. Major credit cards are also accepted at many (upscale) locations.
- In Barbados: Both the Royal Bank and Scotiabank have branches near Bellairs, so customers of those banks can withdraw cash without incurring Interac charges.
The rest of us have to make do with the ~5$ fee per transaction.
- Supplies: You can buy most normal supplies including toiletries, pharmaceuticals, swim wear and good in the nearby town of Holetown. Prices are sometimes
a bit high by Canadian standards, but almost everything is available. Holetown is a 20-minute walk.
Work-related SCUBA diving and robotics research
- We normally deal with 2 to four dive operators on the island based on availability, price,
convenience and other factors. High Tide Water Sports is right next door and is by far the most convenient
place. They can rent full scuba gear, but will be reluctant to rent gear unless you also go for some dives on their
- The tips below are reminders regarding safe practice, but this listing is not exhaustive or definitive.
- You need to be officially and formally certified to scuba dive. Don't think about scuba diving without
proper training: the places won't even rent you gear. Scuba training should be
The important exception is the carefully monitored "Discover Scuba" dive session you can take, which is highly recommended if
you have no prior experience and are comfortable in the water. It takes a few hours and costs about $100USD.
- It is mandatory that divers working on the Aqua project adhere to PADI safe-diving practices (DAN would be fine too, but I
am selecting PADI since it is better known.) This includes going in closely-collaborating buddy teams, careful gas management,
making sure people are informed about you dive plans.
- Keep a very careful eye on your buddy. This is doubly important if either of you might be distracted.
- You need to have up-to-date dive insurance. The recommended dive insurance provider is DAN. Please provide your DAN number and emergency
contact information to the person who is acting as "paperwork czar".
- Unless you have been diving recently, you need to take a supervised refresher dive when you arrive. This is planned for Saturday. See the
schedule (posted elsewhere).
- Diver safety is more important than equipment. Watch your buddy before anything else.
- No diving should occur within 24 hours before departure. Please be conservative about this.
- A new issue is Barbados is the lionfish.
It is not a significant risk to humans, but worth noting.