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From Marine Science to Sustainable Living: The Inspiring Plant-Based Journey of Corina Marks and Ryan Flegal

Updated: Jan 22

In the latest episode of The Glen Merzer Show, we had the pleasure of hosting Corina Marks, a marine scientist, and her partner, Ryan Flegal, an old friend of Glen's. Together, they have embarked on a remarkable journey, leading them to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the creation of the Feather Leaf Inn, a magnificent retreat that is plant-based. 

Meeting of Minds:

The story begins in Monterey, California, where Corina was deeply immersed in marine science, studying the impact of marine protected zones. Ryan, with a background in real estate and a flair for adventure, proposed a life-altering idea to Corina: that they sail to the Caribbean and look for a spot where they could live and protect the environment. Corina, passionate about marine science, suggested keeping their focus near the coastline. This shared vision led them to embark on a search for the perfect location for a retreat center. 

Photo of Corina Marks and Ryan Flegal

A Historic Oasis in Saint Croix:

After extensive research, Corina and Ryan discovered Estate Butler Bay, a historic estate in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, with a rich history dating back 264 years. The estate, once covered in sugar cane and operated by enslaved people, became the canvas for their dream of habitat preservation and research.

Corina and Ryan's journey culminated in the establishment of the Feather Leaf Inn, a testament to their commitment to sustainable living and habitat preservation. Their story is a blend of adventure, love, and a deep sense of responsibility towards the environment.

Inspiring commitment to a plant-based lifestyle:

Listen to the full episode on The Glen Merzer Show to delve into the inspiring details of the journey of Corina Marks and Ryan Flegal. Their commitment to a plant-based lifestyle aligns with Real Men Eat Plants' mission, encouraging everyone to consider the impact of their choices on the environment.

Listen to the episode here: Corina and Ryan in Paradise

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DISCLAIMER: Please understand that the transcript below was provided by a transcription service. It is undoubtedly full of the errors that invariably take place in voice transcriptions. To understand the interview more completely and accurately, please watch it here: Corina and Ryan in Paradise

Podcast Transcript:

Glen Merzer: All right. Welcome to the Glen Merzer Show. You could find us across all your favorite podcast platforms. You could find us at Real Men Eat And please remember to subscribe. My guest today during tropical week on the Glen Merzer Show, come to us from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Corina Marks is a marine scientist. And her partner Ryan Flegal is my old friend and together they have, uh, started uh uh uh uh uh uh uh retreat in. It's in Saint Croix, right. Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, called the Feather Leaf Inn. Uh, they have another property called the Sugar Maple Bed and Breakfast. Corina and Ryan, welcome to the show. 

Ryan Flegal: Thanks, Glen. 

Corina Marks: Thanks so. 

Ryan Flegal: Much. Nice to see you. 

Glen Merzer: Nice to see you. You know, for our viewers, I have known Ryan so long. Uh, I knew you when you were. I'd say a 20 year old college student in Santa Monica. 

Ryan Flegal: I think that's true. 

Glen Merzer: And you're right. About six one. 

Ryan Flegal: Somewhere in the neighborhood. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: Yeah, well, when I knew you, you were barely up to my chest. 

Ryan Flegal: Okay. 

Glen Merzer: And how quickly they grow. 

Ryan Flegal: Okay. 

Glen Merzer: So let's let's hear the story. Where did you guys meet? And how did that turn into a life in the U.S. Virgin Islands? 

Ryan Flegal: Thanks, Nan. Well, we, uh, we met in Monterey, California, where Corina was doing marine science. She was studying the effectiveness of marine protected zones. So taking a look at what happens when we don't fish in certain areas and, uh, what happens to the number of fish that grow there and how big they get and what their reproductive capacity is? So she was, uh, doing that kind of work out of Moss Landing Marine labs. And I was, uh, up in Monterey as well, and, uh, doing some real estate with an old historic, uh, silver screen vaudeville theater from 1926. And and when we met, uh, I was already planning on traveling the world. I was going to wrap up that sale of that theater and then travel the world for a year or so, and I pretty quickly said, Corina, you want to go with me? And and. 

Glen Merzer: It was it were those are the. 

Ryan Flegal: First major spoke. 

Glen Merzer: To her or had you met before. 

Corina Marks: We met? Uh, Monterey is a pretty small community. And so we met through mutual friends, uh, there and and then. Yeah. And then lived there for a couple of years to get there because I was like, no, I got a good thing going on. I'm not sure about this whole travel the world thing. I love traveling, I absolutely love traveling. Um, and and then so, yeah, we spent some time together a couple of years in Monterey, and then I decided, like, okay, let's give this a shot. Um, and by that point, we really. We wanted to speed things up because we know how much time projects take. Um, that is renovations. Setting up a business. Um, and just testing. Testing things out. Right? Um, and we were looking all over the world for a place to have a retreat center and do habitat preservation and research. 

Ryan Flegal: So. 

Glen Merzer: Yeah. Go ahead. Ryan. 

Ryan Flegal: But for this part, I need to back up a little bit. Uh, when you and I met, it wasn't that many years after I had rode my bicycle from Los Angeles to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Glen Merzer: Right. And I'm hoping that when you were talking about traveling the world, you weren't going to ask Corina to sit on the back of the bicycle. 

Ryan Flegal: Oh, no. No, that's right in front of the bicycle. That's good. Um, so, uh, when I rode my bicycle from LA to Rio de Janeiro, I. I got to experience a witnessed firsthand the destruction that, uh, countries like the United States, uh, uh, countries of consumerism were having around the world on other countries. And so this is true whether we're clearcutting the rainforests for logging and cattle ranching, or whether we are pulling every last shellfish out of the ocean, because the appetite for them has grown past coastal communities and inland and even, uh, getting shipped abroad. Um, this is true whether we're looking at what's happening in, in Colombia, where I watched an entire mountain reduced to, uh, mud and silt as it literally got loaded. Uh, scoop by scoop by these big excavators into kind of a washing machine would filter out the gold from the from the soil, and the rest of the soil just went back into the river and was carried away. So an erosion, uh, a purposeful erosion on a scale like you've never seen before, so that we can have jewelry that we have in the United States. All of that led me to believe. That. It's kind of crazy that this world we have, this small world that we have, isn't better protected. And so I was interested from that day in and doing habitat restoration work. And so, yes, I asked Corina if she wanted to go traveling with me. But then I also asked her if she was interested in doing a habitat restoration project. And and when she said yes to that, she also said, but let's sort of keep it in a certain area of the world and, and let's keep it next to the coastline because she wanted to continue to do marine science. So with that said, after looking extensively for years and years on the computer and where we were going to go and so forth, uh, we, we settled on, on Saint Croix. And I'll fast forward through that a little bit to say that we found this place, which is 19 acres on the coast of the Caribbean, here on the west end of the shores of Saint Croix in the US Virgin Islands. And it's a historic estate that was built 264 years ago called Estate Butler Bay. And this is an estate that was probably a few hundred acres at that time and completely covered in sugar cane. And every all the buildings here are built out of stone. They're like, uh, the walls are nearly two feet thick. And and this estate was, was operated and built and run by enslaved people. Um, in the 1700s and 1800s in the Virgin Islands, the the Danish government was in control of the the land and the Danes were were imprisoning and uh, kidnaping uh, but tens of thousands, close to 100,000 people from uh, from Africa and bringing them over to work in the sugar cane fields. And that was greatly enriching the, the Danish government, um, and the people of Denmark. And so when, uh, that happened for quite some time, slavery ended in. 1878. Here, 1848 was a was the first emancipation. And then there was, uh, actually a violent mob kind of program called the Firebird, where women led a revolt and, and freed the people of, uh, of the Virgin Islands that were enslaved. I say women, these are women, people who were also enslaved. Uh, they got pitchforks, they got torches, and they just started this mass arson. They basically burned most of the island, all the cane fields, many of the historic plantations. 

Glen Merzer: What what year was this? 

Ryan Flegal: That was in 1878. Mhm, mhm. Uh, and in 1848 there was an earlier uh, uh, attempt at uh freedom, which actually was, was successful on paper. Uh, and that that um movement in 1848 for emancipation was led by a few different people. One of the less known people was named Moses Roberts. Moses Roberts was actually the chauffeur for this estate that we're at right now. He drove, uh, the horse drawn carriages, which, if I can show you just to my left, uh, this is the building where the horse drawn carriages were, were kept. Um, and he also, uh, had access to the blacksmith shop on the property. Um, and the blacksmith shop has a giant baobab tree growing in front of it. These are the trees of Africa that get in earth, much larger than what we think of or comparable to what we think of in terms of, uh, California redwoods. But they're they're they're the world's largest succulent. 

Glen Merzer: How old is that tree? 

Ryan Flegal: That tree is is is upwards of 200 years old. 

Corina Marks: Yeah. No more than 300. 

Ryan Flegal: Somewhere between 2 and 300 years old. Yeah. And it's got it. A huge, huge trunk. And it's just beautiful. So we had a dedication on the 175th emancipation commemoration of that tree to Moses Roberts. Uh, for his organizing efforts, he helped bring other enslaved people together, uh, risking their lives to meet secretly to plan, uh, the the events that unfolded on July 2nd and July 3rd, 1848, where on July 2nd, about 800 people gathered at Fort Frederick Stead, which is three miles from here, and and said, we're not going to work anymore. And they were largely ignored. But by a by the next day that had grown to 8000 people. And then I don't know how many protests you've been to, but 8000 people is a whole lot of people. And these are people who had to walk there. And the entire population of the island at that time was probably somewhere close to 20, 25,000. So you're talking about one in every three people who lived on the island is at this protest, so to speak, this, this, uh, this absolute revolution and. 

Corina Marks: Very clearly risking their lives. 

Ryan Flegal: Very clearly risking their lives. So many people have been killed or tortured for this before. 

Glen Merzer: And it strikes me that these dates you're mentioning, 1848 and the other date, I think was in the 1820s, that surrounds the time of the US Civil War. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: Uh, which one of our presidential candidates has just learned had something to do with slavery? 

Ryan Flegal: Um. 

Glen Merzer: And, um, so was there at the time a lot of awareness between what was going on in the abolitionist movement in the United States and in the Virgin Islands. 

Ryan Flegal: I would say very little. Go ahead, Corinne. Sure. 

Corina Marks: But they're also, um, I think they're, you know, post-Civil War there were people who moved from the Caribbean, from Saint Croix stateside and were part of the civil rights movement later. Yeah. And I think that that that was the real connection. Uh. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. Alexander Hamilton has roots in the and in this island, Saint Croix. Uh, so certainly there were people who understood some of that. But day, the day to day, the people who are in the fields here and enslaved barely had knowledge of what was happening five miles away from them, let alone, uh, 1200 miles. So I would say not so much in that way, but I don't want to undermine the the people that were able to learn and travel and, and see what was happening at that time, too, because there were some that were, were very involved. 

Glen Merzer: Are there any historic sites there that have anything to do with Alexander Hamilton? 

Ryan Flegal: There are actually our, our sister hotel, uh, the sugar apple bed and breakfast in Christian Stead. Uh, that hotel. Uh, we understand that maybe on that property or right next to that property, there was a church that's no longer there. And that was where Hamilton maybe did some studying and so forth. Uh, there's, uh, another building a few blocks from there and the historic core of Christian Stead, uh, where Alex or Zander Hamilton worked. Um. We believe we know the site of his name. I want to say his mother's grave site is at another historic building. And here we are on the west end of the island. We're about 28 miles or. No, we're not that far. We're about maybe 15 miles or something from. From the other hotel here. Uh, this, uh, at the Feather leaf in, uh, this is on the National Register of Historic Places. So, uh, well. 

Glen Merzer: Could it could I give you some marketing advice? 

Ryan Flegal: Sure. Go ahead. Glen. 

Glen Merzer: In Verona, there is a very, very, uh, uh, frequented tourist site, uh, where? It's a balcony where Romeo and Juliet once were. So tourists come to see the balcony of Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Italy. So I think if you were to take one room and either the feather leaf in or the sugar maple sugar. What's that sugar apple. 

Ryan Flegal: Called the sugar apple is actually a fruit. Uh, yeah. Well, um, states I don't know about, but it's a tropical fruit, right? 

Glen Merzer: So you take take one room in each property and have it be where Alexander Hamilton studied democracy. And tourists would flock there. And, you know, nobody has to know. 

Ryan Flegal: That we keep it between us and all of Europe. Thanks, Glen. 

Glen Merzer: Just just a suggestion. 

Ryan Flegal: I appreciate it. 

Corina Marks: Yeah, yeah, there's actually a tour you can sign up for a Hamilton tour. Um, a good friend of ours is, uh, is an actor and historian, and so he will take you on a Hamilton tour throughout, Christian said. And he'll come and walk by the sugar apple bed and breakfast and stand there and talk about. How he spent his life there as well. So we're we're almost there now. 

Glen Merzer: When you traveled from California to, uh, to the Virgin Islands, what was your method of travel? 

Ryan Flegal: We came by sailboat. Glen. 

Glen Merzer: You came by sailboat? 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. So? So remember, we've got a confluence of different things, and, um. Uh, here one is, I said, hey, Corina, you want to travel with me? And two is. I said, how about we do this this restoration project, this habitat restoration project. And so our, our thought at the time was we'd buy this old sailboat and we just fix it up for a, uh, I don't know, a month or two maybe. Well, the fixing it up took close to three years, and and we bought the sailboat in Florida. So we moved from California to Florida to finish fixing up the sailboat, to then launch it and and go traveling island by island through the Caribbean. Seeing how we like things, seeing what what worked out, what would be a good spot where there might be a need and, uh, used for what we were wanted to do and, and an opportunity to, to really make a difference. Um, so because it was taking so long to get the sailboat fixed up. We also were actively looking on the internet at what was available and so forth, and Saint Croix popped up as a as a potential possibility. And we thought we should just get on a plane and go, go see it. So we came to Saint Croix. That happened to be right between the twin hurricanes of Irma and Maria. That happened in 2017. Uh. And so we were looking at properties and Kareena said, I think we should book some tickets. Now I'm looking at the weather and it doesn't look good and leave early. And I said, oh, let's do it that night. And tickets were all sold out that night. And it took us a while, but finally we were able to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Maria via Coast Guard cutter and then a relief flight from Puerto Rico to Atlanta. So the Coast Guard took us with another 100 people that were evacuating, uh, to Puerto Rico. And then we got on, uh, an airplane there, and and then we came back and we. 

Glen Merzer: Held a where was your sailboat at that time? 

Ryan Flegal: Sailboat was still in Florida. Yeah. Sailboat safe in Florida? Uh, and we we came back a couple weeks later, um, after the airport had reopened. And we kept looking at, uh, what we thought this island was like, and we weren't sure if we were going to move here. But as we looked around, we we both agreed we were we were totally engrossed and interested in what was happening here. And and when we saw this property, the the historic Butler Bay estate that is now the feather leaf in, we we thought, yes, this is kind of this, this meets all the it ticks all the boxes. Uh, it has a coastal component to it. It's got all these absolutely amazing, really well crafted, uh, buildings, uh, that, uh, have been here for 260 years. And we're proud to steward and share the history of, um, it's got, uh, uh, some elevation, so it's not going to get washed away the next storm surge, but it's right here on the coast. And and I think most importantly, there's coral reefs right in front of us. Um, there's also five purposely sunk shipwrecks. Says artificial reef and. Oh, really? Yeah. Uh, this is actually one of the top dive sites in the entire Caribbean. Uh, the dive boats come here every day. Actually, I think over our shoulders. But behind the tree there, there's a huge mega yacht parked right now. Uh, they're scuba diving the shipwrecks as we speak. Um, and and. Yeah, it's just really, it's a really beautiful place. So maybe I'll stop and let Corina tell you a little bit about how we've established our our dive. Uh, our sorry, not our dive program, but our our coral conservation and restoration program here. 

Glen Merzer: Yes. Tell us about the coral reef restoration project. 

Corina Marks: Um, yeah. Thanks. We are. Um, the Caribbean reefs are really impacted there. Like, as far as worldwide reefs go there. Um, they've been in decline for a long time. And they've also been like researched for a while as well. First, uh, in, in marine science, it's like a 40, 50, 40 year data set is like really long, right? Whereas, um, I'm sure, uh, they looked very different 100 years ago as well. But, um, but essentially, uh, Ryan and I both like the idea of, um, like increasing biodiversity and nature where we are and kind of, uh, decreasing impacts on reefs as well as forests. Um, and seeing what we can do to help the populations here. So when we came here, we were actually surprised to see as much coral as we, we found, um, in Butler Bay. And for a couple of years I, um, worked with the Nature Conservancy and, um, got to know the researchers at the University of the Virgin Islands and, um, just kind of saw what was happening in coral research and the trends that they were seeing, and finally decided that, um, I wanted to steward, uh, coral restoration site here. So we're, um, we're we're basically coral gardeners. Um, there's coral restoration is a misnomer because, um, to restore an entire reef is impossible, but we can garden. And so we are, um, in the same way that you would, um, kind of clone a plant that you really like, like, take a cutting of a plant that you like or is doing well, you can also do that with certain species of coral. So we um, so yeah, we're going out and taking corals of opportunity that are detached due to wave action, um, and then affixing them to the reef where they might otherwise, uh, roll around and lose their tissue. Um, coral are animals that secrete, uh, calcium skeletons. So they're the foundation of, of the coral reef ecosystem. And, um, if you can help fix some of those, then you can you can help, uh, stabilize the reef and grow more corals. Um, so that's one thing we're doing. 

Glen Merzer: And having those ship wrecks there actually helps the coral. Is that right? 

Corina Marks: It doesn't necessarily help the coral, but it does provide like structure, three dimensional. Structure in what would be a flat, um, sandy bottom ecosystem. So, um, having any, any type of structure provides a home, a refuge for fish and turtles. Um, so you'll see, like, that's why they're great dive sites is you'll see more fish and turtles around there. Um, and there are some corals growing on them as well. But some of them, the corals don't grow on and that might be depth or other factors like, um, because coral settles on, uh, different structures like, and its life cycle. It settles out of the water column and depending on whether that substrate that they land on is suitable, they'll grow there. 

Glen Merzer: So you've you've lived there now for 5 or 6 years, is that right? 

Ryan Flegal: No. Yeah. We just had six years. Island nursery six, six years. 

Glen Merzer: And have you seen, um, improvement in the coral? Thanks to your efforts? 

Ryan Flegal: We have we've seen we've seen improvement. We've also seen decline. It's been bad in some of so, uh, I would say throughout the Caribbean and even throughout the world, corals are being impacted by really human caused problems. Overfishing, uh, global warming and the warming sea temperatures are big ones. Sediment from development that's washing over the reefs. Corals are filter feeders, so when you blanket them with sediment, they get essentially suffocated if that happens long enough. Um, so we've had a couple of big issues happening regionally, meaning through the whole Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic, uh, in the last few years. One is that there's been a disease that has washed over the coral is called stony coral tissue loss disease, and that has been just gobbling up corals and killing them up at an alarming rate. And then the other thing that's happened is that just a few months ago, we had exceedingly warm sea temperatures for a good month or so. And that caused some bleaching of corals. Um, so corals live as, uh, with a symbiont. They have an algae that lives within them. So they're an animal, but they live paired with this algae, just like we have bacteria in our gut and so forth. Corals have an allergy that lives with them. And if the ocean gets too hot, the algae leaves the coral or is either expelled, dies off, um, and and the coral bleaches. And if that happens for too long, the coral permanently dies. We've seen that with this bleaching event, some permanently died and some are coming back. Some are getting that algae back, that symbiont back and and are able to live still. Um, so, so so that's the bad part. 

Corina Marks: So with the disease that is, um, sweeping the Caribbean, originating in Florida, the Florida Keys were hit really hard on one very small scale, small scale solution is actually topically applying antibiotics because the disease kind of like marches along picture to brain coral like around brain coral. And it kind of like marches along the tissue on top of it. And so, um, there are specific corals just out right in front of the property, brain corals, a couple of really big ones that we've been able to save from that disease. And it really is um, like I said, you're just you're just saving a few, uh, we call them colonies. Coral colonies. Um, but those colonies, um, are the key to the continuation of the reefs, because they will reproduce by, um, releasing millions of eggs and sperm each year. And then if there are enough coral colonies, we get mixing and fertilization and and more reefs. Um, and so we're, um, we're monitoring, we're treating and we're also conducting, um, like our own and in vitro fertilization of corals here to, to make sure that those, um, the last coral colonies, um, mix in spawning season. 

Ryan Flegal: So, Glen, what what what the corals are in crisis here. They're really trouble. Yeah. I mean, this is true on the Great Barrier Reef. This is true in many places. Uh, most places around the world. Right. That's the bad news. And and recognizing that there have been there's been a lot of federal funding and a lot of effort by different scientific groups to try and figure out solutions to limit the damage and make positive steps forward towards restoring reefs. So we received a grant for, uh, a few hundred thousand dollars, uh, a year or so ago, uh, to do coral restoration here in front of the feather leaf. And, and we're doing a few different things. One, we're doing monitoring of corals. So we're monitoring elkhorn coral. The the big branching orange is brown coral. Uh, so we're doing some monitoring work there. We're also doing, as Corina mentioned, topical treatments to disease corals. And we're doing as she also uh mentioned as well, we're doing uh sexual propagation of. So we do an assisted sexual propagation by actually building what we call coral condoms. These are fine mesh nets that we go and swim out usually at night when corals are spawning once a year, each coral colony, uh, each species spawn simultaneously. Usually one time of year. And scientists have been able to track this by sharing data and learning about this over the last 20 or 30 years. And so we know more or less. Uh, in accordance with the moon cycle. You know, maybe it's three days after a full moon and, uh, 55 minutes after sunset or something like that, when a coral species is likely to spawn. With that grant fund, we've been able to hire a team of divers to work with us. We go out onto the reef, and we each put coral condoms over that species of coral. And then if they spawn as we think they are, then we are able to capture the sperm and egg of those corals, bring them to shore, mix them all together so that you get, uh, sperm and eggs from different coral colonies, uh, in for the genetic diversity. And we think we fertilized over a million pearls, uh, coral embryos last year. And we really hope to those right back into the ocean. So that alone increase the. The the potential, the percentage. Yeah. 

Corina Marks: The corals to settle on the reef. 

Ryan Flegal: And then we also have tried doing some other things that, uh, get a little bit more technical, but essentially, uh, there are lots of different coral nurseries and ways of trying to grow corals, uh, at different labs around the world. We set up a pop up lab. So we had a limited ability to do this on land at the fan, but we also were able to take those coral embryos and put them in enclosures that are fine mesh net on the reef at depth. So we scuba dive, dove down and set those up with, uh, little mini muffins made out of concrete for them to settle on. And we can then attach those mini muffins to the reef itself. It's a complicated process. And if you think about all this Corina has been saying. You can't do the whole reef. You can do pieces of it, and we do pieces of it to see if we can keep the species alive and see if we can create enough of a reproductive sampling out there to regrow reefs. Uh, of course, the most important thing is we've got to limit these human pressures that are damaging reefs in the first place. 

Corina Marks: So and I think I want to we can get into other topics. That's fine too. Um, but I do before we move from coral. Um. I think human. I think all of us are kind of constantly shifting baselines or our expectation of what nature is, what is natural. Right? Because, um, because honestly, like ecosystems are constantly changing with weather events, extreme weather events and climate change and even even your local park in a city, um, has a variety of species that are subject to disease or, and also, um, you know, management by humans. So we're going to put this in here, that in there. And then, you know, different birds come squirrels, butterflies, all this this is constantly changing whether you notice it or not. Um, and and what I've come to really appreciate is basically the nature that is left and what's here. And so even though I'm, I'm a realist and I like to just like, tell people what's going on with the ocean. I also want to remind people that the diversity along our coastlines, and especially on coral reefs, is super high. So even in a system that is heavily impacting degraded, you still go out on the coastline and you can see within, you know, 30ft, you'll see maybe 15 different species of fish or um, little, uh, sea slugs and lobsters and there's all sorts of, and corals. And so actually, like when you go on a nature walk, um, along this coastline or, uh, nature swim, you, you do see an incredible amount of life. It's just relative to what it used to be. Um, it's a lot less. And so we, um, we've been sort of shifting we myself and like everybody who has been snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean and it's like, oh, yeah, it used to be this way. But then if you shift and you say, wow, like, check out what's here, it still is really incredible. And we still see, you know, we see, um, nurse sharks, which are super neat. They can they can be pretty long. They're not dangerous at all. I know some people's heart jumps when they hear sharks, especially Californians. Uh, because. Because we have whiteys there. But, um, the nurse sharks, the reef sharks are amazing to see. Here we have, um, green sea turtles. Um, they've actually been doing really well. Saint Croix has a National Wildlife refuge for nesting sea turtles. Um, and there's three main species hawksbill, green turtles, and then the giant leatherback sea turtles. And so, uh, green sea turtles, um, their populations have been sort of stabilizing, which is exciting because all sea turtles are endangered. Um, and so we see them right out here in the bay. Um, yeah. And then and then we see seasonal changes. We still see parrotfish and, um, the Nassau grouper. I know these are all, like, unfamiliar fish species, maybe to the West coast, but, um, but there's a lot. It's still exciting every time we go out there. It's just that, um, we understand that it's. It's a lot less than it used to be. 

Glen Merzer: Do other marine scientists come and visit to to see your work? 

Corina Marks: Yeah. And that's been, um, really satisfying. I've. I've not worked with, um, Woods Hole Oceanographic. So they've done their graduate course here. They do like a ten day, ten day to two week field component. Um, and then there's the Sea Education Association. So we're hosting like marine science education groups. And then from time to time, we get guests, um, who who I talk to or I see them pull their scuba gear out. And so I'll talk to them and I'll say, oh, you know, what are you up to? What do you want to do? I, you know, I give them tons of information about where you can do shore diving, who you can call if you want a boat dive or just snorkel. Um, and then, uh, if we're doing something, you know, we'll take them out diving. So I think we are not, um, we, we're trying to limit the impact of divers in the shallow coral restoration areas, because that's a really big deal. Hawaii has seen that, you know, once you once you protect an area for nature and and you open it up for tourism, you have to you have to really do that delicately and in a smart way because, um, yeah, the more traffic, the more potential harm there is to the reef. 

Ryan Flegal: And Corina has talked about, like those science groups that have come to spend time here with us. So student groups, but we've also done outreach locally on the island and shared what we've been doing. We've we've had an open house at our pop up lab for, uh, for people locally on the island to attend. And we talked with student groups here, uh, and we're excited about expanding that in the coming year. Uh, I mentioned that we got a grant, but we've also applied for a couple of larger grants, and we're hoping those come in because they'll really enable us to do a lot more outreach with student groups and, and. Uh uh uh. They're learning and participation in the coral research work, uh, coral studies that we're doing. Oh, I also want to share, Glen. You know, you asked if what we were doing with coral works, and and we we. Corina likes to give this dose of realism. That's so important. But I also want to share that one. 

Corina Marks: Share the not real. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. No, not the not real stuff. So what are you talking about? Oh, a few stories. No no no no no no no, none of that. None of that. Just kidding. Uh, I mentioned number of ways that we're doing coral restoration work here, but one that we're doing is called fragmenting corals. So we find chunks of elkhorn coral that break off in the waves and they're still alive. But if they're left to just roll around. Oh, but did you say how many fractures. 

Glen Merzer: What what just happened there? 

Ryan Flegal: What? Corina says. Yeah. Ryan. He heard this part already. 

Corina Marks: No, no, no. It's okay. 

Ryan Flegal: We're fragmenting. But I want to say that's them. Yeah, but but we take those and we break them into smaller chunks. Each chunk is now a new colony. Mhm. And those colonies, we're able to go down to the seafloor and with a nail and a little clip that looks like an extended paperclip, we're able to attach them to the sea seafloor. Okay. Those uh little colonies that we have attached are doing surprisingly well. We've seen them grow just in the last. How long has it been now? Well, one. 

Corina Marks: Thing is so, so, um, so we we have over 280 new little corals, right? 

Ryan Flegal: And right on a small. 

Corina Marks: Small percentage are still alive. But the exciting thing is in the through this huge heat wave that the Caribbean had, they did really well. They did in very, very shallow water and their new colonies. And so there's, there's this excitement of like the ones that are still here are like stronger and resistant. And so we've, we're, we're attempting to extend the footprint of the coral reef into new and different areas. Um, so it's bigger. And so those, those fragments that we've reattached, some of em are doing quite well. Yeah. And that's exciting. Mhm. 

Ryan Flegal: Oh that's great. 

Glen Merzer: Yeah. All right. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back with Corina and Ryan. And we'll learn more about coral condoms something that isn't discussed on many podcasts. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. 

Corina Marks: Um. 

Glen Merzer: Okay. We're back with Corina and Ryan. Now, tell us about the, uh, the feather leaf in. From the point of view of people who might be interested in visiting and spending a few weeks there or a few days there. Um, uh, it's is it's a vegan establishment, is it not? 

Ryan Flegal: It is. Yeah, we're completely plant based here and we're really excited about being able to share that with people. We now have a full time chef who is making absolutely delicious food for people. If you come during the winter, we include a breakfast for free. We also host a number of different retreats, wellness retreats, yoga retreats. We've got cooking classes and things like that happening for people, and we host student groups and corporate groups, uh, and weddings. We do, uh, a good number of destination weddings here. Uh, so all of that is available at the Feather Leaf Inn. And we're just so and. 

Glen Merzer: That's feather leaf, right? 

Ryan Flegal: It is. Yeah. 

Corina Marks: Feather like a bird. Leaf like a tree I and and com you know, that's, uh, um, that is a reference to one of the leaves on the property, which is a tamarind leaf. It looks a lot like, uh, uh, feather as well. And, um, there are many tamarind trees on the property, and there's some of the biggest fruiting trees, um, as well. So. 

Ryan Flegal: Come in. 

Glen Merzer: How many rooms? How many rooms do you have there? How many people can you house. 

Ryan Flegal: For a small inn? Uh, so even though we have a lot of land and and big common area spaces, we've only got nine accommodations here on the on at Bethany van. So, uh, that puts us in a really good size for groups of, like, 20, 25 people, depending on what room configurations are and so forth. Uh, but it means that we can, uh, we can host family reunions and things like that, that, that work especially well here because the whole group can be together without being distracted by other, um, other. Yeah. Uh, like, if you're in a larger hotel and you're sort of lost within that, that, uh, that wash of people here, it's it's a great focus to have and in your own space. 

Corina Marks: And it's neat because because it's, it's nine accommodations across three buildings. So if you rent out all those nine bedrooms, you the the place is yours. You know, the pool doesn't close, the common areas are yours. And then we also do group catering. So it's just great for like medium sized groups. Um, additionally, you can just rent one of the houses and one of the buildings if you have a smaller group. So good guests. 

Ryan Flegal: Mhm. 

Corina Marks: And they call this the Christmas wins. They last until like February and it's like the perfect temperature. What do you think it. 

Ryan Flegal: Is right now. Oh it's lovely. It's actually it's. 

Corina Marks: It's like 80. Yeah 81. Maybe with a breeze. Um, but I was saying that, um, if it, if, you know, if you're a family of four, you can rent, um, a standalone house with its own kitchen. Um, if you're a group of six, one of our houses has, um, has three bedrooms with two queen eat two queen beds each, all with their own ocean view balcony. And on our website you can go to the menu that says stay, and you can browse photos of each each of the houses. And yeah, you can get to know the property better. Um, but for groups like, the best thing is, uh, we're owner operators, on site managers. So people would contact us and we just talk through what their goals are, what they want to do while they're here, and how they can best utilize the property. 

Ryan Flegal: Mhm. Right now we have guests staying in individual rooms, you know a couple or small family staying, you know nightly guests that are here for their vacations. Uh, next week we're going to be hosting a yoga retreat here for the week. And then we've got another retreat the week after that. So our schedule shifts depending on on who's coming and what's happening here. But there's, uh, there's some wonderful opportunities to participate, whether you'd like to come for a retreat or you want to just come and have your vacation here. Oh, and I also mentioned for larger groups, there's a couple of properties nearby, and we've had larger groups where they can still all fit on the property, but they stay within walking distance of family fan and. 

Glen Merzer: Uh, within walking distance. There are other resorts. 

Ryan Flegal: Uh, not resorts, but some vacation rental, larger homes and and yeah, a neat little place down the road that works out pretty well. And so we've been able to accommodate larger groups because we've had weddings closer to 100 people. And, and, and then you've got a lot of people flying in many places to stay. 

Glen Merzer: Okay. Now, do you still have your sailboat? 

Ryan Flegal: Um. Thank you. And. No. Yeah. The sailboat was a neat project, but we didn't do a lot of sailing. We did sail here from Florida after we bought the property. Uh huh. We we we put the property under contract. We flew back to Florida. We spent a few days packing everything onto the sailboat. We got on the sailboat, and we we pushed off the dock and ended up back here a month later in time to close the sale of, uh, of the feather leaf and, um, but we we weren't sailing. Once we started taking on this enormous project of restoring these historic buildings and doing all the tree planting, which I'd love to share with you about. And and running the, the, the the end. So, uh, we were able to sell the sailboat to somebody else who did know make a. 

Corina Marks: Sailboat wasn't really a day, sailor. It was like it was. It was a home. 

Ryan Flegal: It's a it's an adventure cruiser. Yeah. 

Corina Marks: Traveling and, uh, traveling the world. So we wanted to pass it off to somebody who would continue the adventure. And we go. We like going out on boats here, but we we do it on other people's boats. 

Ryan Flegal: Okay. 

Glen Merzer: So tell us about the tree planting. 

Ryan Flegal: We planted well over 100 fruit and nut trees on the property, and with all the 19 acres we have here and historic, historically, uh, fertile agricultural land that again, uh, enslaved people were growing sugar, uh, sugar cane on to make rum and, and really enrich the, uh, the coffers of the Danish government and Danish people at that time. Um, we're happy to now have done away with that monoculture and have this real biodiversity of a, uh, nascent little young food forest that we started. So we planted everything from jackfruit, the world's largest fruit. Uh, each fruit can can be up to 80 pounds. We'll be happy if we get some that are 10 or 15 pounds that they're pretty amazing. Uh, we planted lots of coconut palms. We planted lots of, uh, trees in the on and off family. These are the sugar apples that we were mentioning. The other property is named after. But also. 

Corina Marks: It's probably one that people in the West. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. Jeremiah or Juan Abernathy is the Spanish name for soursop. Same fruit. Uh, we planted nut trees like cashew and, uh, even some macadamia nut trees. Uh, avocado. Breadfruit. 

Corina Marks: Uh, you're missing the number one tree. 

Glen Merzer: How can you miss the number one? One? Right. 

Ryan Flegal: Number is mango. We do. We planted more mango or mangoes than anything else. And a larger number of the mangoes grow super well on the island of Saint Croix. And we love to eat the mangoes. And so we planted a lot of different varieties, one so we can have. Different tastes of mangoes because mangoes are so delicious, but also so that they will fruit at slightly different times in our season for harvesting mangoes will be a little longer. Um, so yeah, lots of mango trees. Uh, there's, there's some other kind of neat trees, like peanut butter fruit or. 

Glen Merzer: Peanut butter fruit. 

Ryan Flegal: Or beetles. Cherry or egg? Fruit. Yeah, yeah. Peanut butter fruit. Think of a small little orange fruit and you eat it and it's like a peanut butter sandwich sandwich. Or maybe just peanut butter. 

Glen Merzer: You're making this up, right? 

Ryan Flegal: I kid you not. Look it up. 

Glen Merzer: Blend peanut butter fruit. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. Peanut butter fruit. We planted it, right? Yep, yep. 

Glen Merzer: And, uh, how are these trees? Uh, starting to produce fruit for you. 

Ryan Flegal: They are? Yeah. This last year, we got to eat a good number of mangoes. Not enough to to have a, uh, a wealth of them yet, but we we hope to be able to share lots of fruit with guests that come here, uh, in the, in the future, uh, we've with all the fruit trees we planted as they start to, to really produce. It's going to be wonderful to share what we've what we put in here. 

Corina Marks: Um, I think it's important to share the seasonal component. Yeah. A few seasonal components of things on the island. So winter is when most people come like December to April, however, um, uh, mango season is June to August, so it's the warmer summer months. Um, and the ocean is just perfect temperature. Then it's like 82, 83 degrees super clear days. And we also have an annual mango festival that happens in June. Um, we also have the emancipation celebration in July. Um, so that's kind of the summer activities that happen here. Um, and but mangoes, mangoes, this time of year in our high season. And tourists usually come from like, Mexico, or sometimes they'll come from the Dominican Republic and other places in the Caribbean. But if you love mangoes, come in June. 

Ryan Flegal: Or August. 

Glen Merzer: Well, I'm sure all our listeners are wondering the same thing. What is the best season for peanut butter fruit? 

Ryan Flegal: I can't tell you yet because that tree hasn't started producing yet. But soon we will know. And yeah, we actually gave a peanut butter fruit tree to some friends of ours, and they planted it in their backyard in Florida. And it grew pretty quickly and they were getting fruit from it. So we've only planted that tree. But. Yeah, maybe two years ago. So, uh, maybe in another year or so, we'll start getting fruit from it. 

Glen Merzer: Is it a good idea? Right next to the peanut butter fruit tree to plant a jelly fruit tree. 

Ryan Flegal: We have the Barbados, uh, cherry tree within, like, within eyesight. They're kind of their neighbors. Mhm. Maybe 20ft apart. Yep, yep. All right. 

Glen Merzer: And tell us about the town area. Um, third Saint Croix. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. So just give you an idea of Saint Croix. Saint Croix is. Well, Saint Croix is part of the US Virgin Islands. We have three main islands here and some smaller islands as well. Saint John, Saint Thomas and Saint Croix. Most people stateside when they think of the U.S. Virgin Islands, they think of Saint John, where there's a national park, or Saint Thomas, where there is quite a bit of cruise ship traffic and a lot of tourism that happens. Um, Saint Croix has the same population as Saint Thomas, which is much larger than Saint John. Uh, but we've got about three times more land. So things are spread out here. There's an agricultural sector here. We have a, uh, certified organic farm on the island. We have other local farms that are wonderful. Um, and and there's there is kind of this high. Yeah. Tight population. 

Corina Marks: Uh, I think you call it traffic. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. There's not traffic. There's not. There's no parking regulations on the island. I shouldn't say no in 1 or 2 buildings where there's some some regulations. But you won't find any parking meters in Saint Croix, that kind of thing. Um, uh, people really kind of spread out and have, uh, have the space and, and the nature here, uh, around them. And that's that's one. Yeah. 

Corina Marks: And the island's only it's so it's 27 miles long, east to west and about five miles long, north south. And, um, it's neat because it has a couple different microclimates. The East End has awesome hiking trails, and it also is dry and receives most of the wind. So that is like it's almost like being in Baja when you're there, it's like very dry and there's cactus. And then you can hike down to beautiful white sand beach and go for a swim, um, and watch the sunrise in the most eastern part of the United States. Um, and, uh. 

Ryan Flegal: That's where Joe Biden was staying. Yeah. Uh, two weeks ago for his vacation was on that section of the island here. 

Corina Marks: And then the North Shore has really, like, has a small mountain range and these beautiful plunging hills, green hills that, like, meet the sea, um, and actually go to a sea wall that's great for scuba diving. And that looks more like Hawaii or Tahiti and then the West End. It's a little bit flatter. And that's where we are, um, has the best beaches because it's in the, uh, like the wind comes from the east and we're in the west, so we're in the lead of the wind and, um, just has, like, perfectly quaint, beautiful white sand beaches with shade trees. Um, and then like, a few beach bars and and good diving and sailing and, um. Yeah, but it's pretty diverse. Oh, and then I forgot there's also, uh, uh, national park or national monument. Salt River on the North Shore has its, um, an intact mangrove ecosystem. And so, um, it's also a super bio bay. Um, have you ever seen bioluminescence in water, Glen? 

Glen Merzer: Um, I have only seen photographs of it. 

Corina Marks: It happens in California, too. It happens like, right in Santa Monica Bay some years. Um, where the water. It's basically creatures in the ocean lighting up. So we have a super bio bay, meaning all year round there are multiple glowing species in this bay. And so, um, a really fun thing to do is to go night kayaking there. There's a couple tours coming, huh? Thank you. Out. Um. 

Ryan Flegal: So there's and and there's bioluminescence right in front of us in the ocean. I, I was out with a group of people two nights ago, swimming, snorkeling at night. And, and we turned off our underwater flashlights and started moving the water around. And it was a wash with with these little stars. Underwater is beautiful. It's just like moving shooting stars and stuff. Um, water. 

Glen Merzer: So do you have any of those flying fish that jump out of the water? 

Ryan Flegal: Absolutely. Yeah. We had ballyhoo and we have the the winged flying fish. Absolutely. Both of those. And I was swimming, uh, a few days ago. And a needle fish pretty long, a couple feet long. Needle fish, like, skipped across the surface for maybe 30 or 40ft. It was it was fun to watch that. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: Are there any bioluminescent flying fish? That would be quite a sight. 

Ryan Flegal: No, but. But I'll blow your mind. There are bioluminescent jellyfish. Really? Yeah. There's a harmless jellyfish that will. That will light up when the water around it is, is disturbed and and it's like like the size of an orange or a grapefruit. And it lights up like this glowing little jelly ball in, in the ocean. Right. 

Glen Merzer: I read once that jellyfish can live to be 500 years old. 

Ryan Flegal: So that's fine. 

Corina Marks: I don't know, I'm gonna have to fact check that. 

Glen Merzer: Yeah, yeah. Fact check that. I may be just making stuff that. 

Corina Marks: I'm a core marine scientist and a coral scientist, but I also have heard that corals don't necessarily age. So there's a lot to learn out there. Yeah. Um, jellyfish are are complicated to study, so I think, uh, I'm interested. Now, I got to go. Actually, I'm going to go look up. 

Ryan Flegal: Oh. No, I'm not interested. Okay. Yeah. 

Glen Merzer: So, uh, what's a typical day like for you guys in this heavenly, uh, Paradise you live in? 

Ryan Flegal: That's a little different than what it is for the visitors that get to come here. Because we we work a lot. And as you can imagine, with our hands in, uh, two small hotels here and all the coral restoration work and, uh, the gardening work we're doing, um, stewarding these, these historic buildings, uh, running tours and so forth. We we wake up and we work hard for a long, long, long, long, long time. And then we go to bed. That's our typical time. And it was a very. 

Glen Merzer: That was very good description of your day. 

Ryan Flegal: Within that we get to do some pretty incredible things. Uh, some. 

Corina Marks: Times we get to be on a podcast. 

Ryan Flegal: Sometimes, I guess sometimes we get to go scuba diving. Uh, so even when we're working hard. But we're, we're underwater and and we're watching the spotted eagle rays and the and the turtles and everything else out there while we're, we're we're attaching coral fragments to the bottom or putting out acoustic monitors because green has got a whole program going on where we're we're listening to the reef as well. So we have underwater microphones or hydrophones out there. Um, all that stuff is, is, uh, part of the day as part of the day, and it's a, it's, it's a it's a pleasure. And I think it is that diversity of, of different projects we're doing or the conversations we're able to have with guests that, uh, uh, sharing all of, uh, of what's happening here in Saint Croix that makes it, uh, makes it enriching while we're here. Go ahead. 

Corina Marks: Oh, I was going to just add it's a terrible problem to love all the things you do, because then. 

Ryan Flegal: It's. 

Corina Marks: It's just like, okay, uh, you know, done with this. So I'm going to go do this. And so it's just there's constantly. 

Glen Merzer: Well, that sounds like a wonderful problem, not a terrible. 

Ryan Flegal: Problem or a problem. Um. 

Glen Merzer: Tell us about your plans for the sugar apple bed and Breakfast. 

Ryan Flegal: So Sugar Apple Bed and Breakfast is a 12 room, 12 guestroom, uh, hotel in the town of Christian Stead. This is a historic town. There's two historic towns on the island, Christian Stead and Frederick Stead. And and so guests that come to the sugar apple, a bed and breakfast get a little bit different experience in the family van, which is. They can just walk to all the restaurants. They have a town experience, but at the same time, they're in this little oasis where there's a saltwater swimming pool and gardens and, uh, a much smaller property than what we have here. Uh, but it's beautiful. We we fix that all up, and we have a manager who runs that, and we've now listed that for sale, so hopefully somebody will. Will. Be able to, uh, get that jam and really love it. Um, we we think it's an incredible property, but we recognize that as stretched as we are, it'd be so much nicer if we, uh, we're just focused on the family fan as we do all the expansion with marine science work and and coral restoration habitat stuff here. So that's our focus, um, at the moment. And, uh, but. 

Glen Merzer: So to my listeners out there and viewers, there's an opportunity to live in Paradise at the Sugar Apple bed and breakfast and become the proprietor of that, that, uh, establishment. 

Corina Marks: Uh, we have a website, actually, and it's opportunity VI opportunity Virgin Islands And you can check out, um, the and we also have a website that's sugar apple So you can look at the property at those two URLs. Okay. 

Glen Merzer: Sugar, Apple B and B. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah, yeah B spelt. 

Glen Merzer: Spelling out B and

Ryan Flegal: Uh, yeah. Just this three letters B and as in Nancy B Babcock. 

Glen Merzer: O b n. 

Ryan Flegal: B. Yeah. 

Corina Marks: Like er me. 

Ryan Flegal: Right. 

Corina Marks: Right. 

Ryan Flegal: All right. 

Glen Merzer: And how far away are the two properties from each other? 

Ryan Flegal: Uh, 40 minute drive, about 15 miles. Um. So, um. 

Glen Merzer: Uh, but that's that's a 40 minute drive with no traffic, right? 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. It's, uh, island driving. Yeah. Yeah. Uh. 

Glen Merzer: Not like the LA where we met. 

Ryan Flegal: No, we we've traded freeways for potholes, and we much prefer the potholes, so we wish. Wish we didn't have either. Of course. Yes. Um, no, there's it's it's driving here is pretty, pretty easy compared to what I'm used to, uh, stateside. Absolutely. 

Glen Merzer: Now, have you had any hurricanes in the last five years? 

Ryan Flegal: We have not. We've been. We've been spared, thankfully. Um, we're pretty well prepared here. We're we're 100% solar powered at the feather leaf. And we also have batteries and a generator should we need to use it and so forth. We've done a lot of wonderful things. As I had said before, the walls that are 264 years old on these buildings are nearly two feet thick and made out of stone. Uh, so, uh. 

Glen Merzer: That helps keep it cool. I would imagine. 

Ryan Flegal: It helps keep it cool. And it obviously, uh, a lot of, uh, good structure for any wind storms. Uh, to keep things careful, carefully protected. But we spent a lot of time fixing storm shutters and, uh, and upgrading roofs and doing all sorts of work to just make things stronger so that we can weather storms quickly and easily and be back up and running, uh, shortly after. 

Corina Marks: And we put in a lot of redundant systems that basically I learned, um, installation on the sailboat about. So we have solar here. We're mostly off grid, fairly thin with battery backup. Um, and we also have, uh, Starlink internet and a generator. So we have redundant power and internet systems so that, um, for communications and luxury purposes. So if, if the systems go down, we're somewhat independent here and that's by intention, but yeah, by design. 

Ryan Flegal: And we collect our own rainwater. Glen, uh, all the roofs at the feather leaf in have gutter systems that lead into cisterns. Uh, we've got a huge old Danish cistern that is like single layer layer brick, kind of arched, uh, roof. And the cistern is, you know, bigger than a couple of swimming pools. It's it's a large, large, uh, covered water storage area. So we, uh, we collect water from the rain, and then we we filter and pump it, uh, and we're, we take charge of all that water system to keep everything running here as well. 

Glen Merzer: That sounds great. 

Corina Marks: It's just one big. 

Glen Merzer: So, um. What? What are the next projects? Is there, um, a next, um, uh, change you want to make to the property? 

Ryan Flegal: I'm really excited about planting more fruit trees, so that'll be one of the next things that I want to get into. We've got a nursery here that's probably got. 60 or I-80, at least fruit trees in it right now, that all need to go in the ground soon. And it'll be good to get those, uh, those down. Um, I mentioned the baobab tree that, uh, we have on the property. We've actually got a few full grown baobab trees, and we've planted a few little young baobab trees, and I want to do more of those. And if we get this grant, we're going to do a whole coastal resilience, uh, program with tree planting between here and the. The town of Frederick said three miles away. Um, and and do a watershed management, uh, plan. Uh, we've we've started by working on the coral reefs and doing the habitat protection there. I mentioned that the work we're doing on the coral reefs is kind of in vain if we don't take away the negative pressures that we as humans are putting on those reefs. And one of those pressures is, uh, is runoff and sediment. And so we're we're looking at doing this, this program, this plan where we, uh, uh, work on how do we control the runoff that comes off the roads and development from the west end of the island and blankets the reefs? And so how can we figure out ways to create bio swales or retention ponds or, uh, deep rooted plants and, and filtration with, uh, with, with green medium to, uh, make it so that the water is retained on land and sequestered back into our groundwater supply here and also so that that sediment, uh, stays on land and isn't eroded away and washed into the ocean. 

Corina Marks: And, um, I know we're probably close to out of time, but one thing I'm excited about is, um, as potentially networking with some of the diabetes groups on island. I think that like, expanding, um, our plant based commercial kitchen. Um, we've been kind of quietly vegan and quietly plant based, and we're ready to, like, upscale our cooking classes and also serve the greater community that are dealing with, um, the top health struggles in the US. 

Ryan Flegal: So heart disease, cancer, diabetes, absolutely. 

Glen Merzer: That the people who reside on the island are. 

Corina Marks: Couple of years. 

Glen Merzer: Facing the same metabolic disorder disorders that the people in the in and on the mainland are. 

Ryan Flegal: Of course. 

Corina Marks: Yeah, absolutely. I think part of the American influence here has been like fast food, um, just changed everybody's health. 

Glen Merzer: And now the story, Ryan, is that you became a vegetarian at the age of 12, influenced by your eight year old sister at the time. 

Ryan Flegal: When my little sister, as sweet as she is, uh, just decided she had a. A crisis of conscience and said, no more, no more animals in her body. And at eight years old, she stopped eating meat she didn't do. She didn't last very long. She was eight, so maybe a week or two. And then she just couldn't hold it together anymore. Everything around her was was doing something different, and she was trying to do it all on her own. That was enough to make me think about it, though. I remember being at the table at my grandmother's house and she had just pan fried in butter. A pork chop for me. Oh, and I was just like. Trying to say no thank you. Huh? Which? My family took. It took to mean Ryan, are you sick? Why aren't you eating this? This is what you love. Um. And so, uh. Yeah, about a week or two after my sister stopped eating, I started eating meat again. I. I stopped eating meat, and then she joined me again. And we've been we've been vegetarian ever since. And a few years later, we stopped eating the dairy and eggs that we recognized were also part of the same problem. 

Glen Merzer: So you were vegan from about, what, 15 or 16? 

Ryan Flegal: No, a little later than that, I think. But, um. Yeah, I, uh, maybe since my early 20s. Yeah. Okay. Yeah, yeah. 

Glen Merzer: So you would probably just gone vegan around when I met you and. And Corina, what's your story on this? On the score. When did you go? 

Ryan Flegal: I, um. 

Corina Marks: I've been vegetarian pretty much my whole life, and, uh, I just never had a good education about food, like most people. Um, if you don't know, how can you change? So once. 

Glen Merzer: I like most doctors. 

Corina Marks: But like most doctors. Sure. Yeah, absolutely. So, um. Yeah, being an academic, I was, like, sort of embarrassed at, like the age of 25 that I didn't understand the impact that our food system had on our body and, uh, our environment. And then, um, started my own transition of just cutting out eggs and dairy and took it slow and then never looked back. Um, yeah. 

Glen Merzer: So where do people fly in when they fly into Virgin Islands? 

Ryan Flegal: Our airport is, uh, the Saint Croix Airport is called is st is the airport code, and there's one airport on the island. It's about 25 minutes away. And there are direct flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, sometimes from Charlotte, uh, um, sometimes from Dallas. And of course, you can also fly here through Puerto Rico or Saint Thomas with connections there. Um, but the direct flights on American and Spirit through, uh, Miami and Fort Lauderdale are the most popular choices. 

Glen Merzer: And then they take a taxi from the airport to your. 

Ryan Flegal: Yeah. Or rent a car or whatever. They're, you know, whatever they're doing. 

Corina Marks: We're there just 20 minutes from the airport. It's a small, uh, small island, so. 

Ryan Flegal: Okay. 

Corina Marks: We also I want to add in that we have snorkeling gear and bicycles for our guests to use that are complimentary. So, yeah, I'm always happy to, um, teach people the tips and tricks about snorkeling and, um, enable them to ride a bike to the beach. 

Glen Merzer: Yeah, well, it sounds like the perfect place to spend a vacation or have a retreat when. 

Ryan Flegal: You come in. Glen. 

Glen Merzer: I hope to be there very soon. 

Ryan Flegal: Be lovely. 

Glen Merzer: It's like 20 degrees here. It's called that 80 degrees. Looks good. Yeah. And there's this beautiful flower on on the side of Kareena's bougainvillea. 

Ryan Flegal: Oh. 

Corina Marks: We're here. Yeah. 

Ryan Flegal: I love that. 

Corina Marks: It loves the tropical climate. Yeah. So, like, around the property is just, like, glowing with pink. 

Glen Merzer: Well, Corina and Ryan, thank you so much for joining us. And, um, folks, you couldn't find and find their establishment at Feather Leaf And then there's, uh, the opportunity to, uh, to, uh, get involved yourself in that kind of life and opportunity.

Ryan Flegal: Right. Yep. Glen. Thank you. It's been so wonderful to, to do this with you. And I so appreciate the the decades you have been working on, uh, health and environmental education with your, your, your book writing and, and this podcast and everything else that you do. So thank you. 

Glen Merzer: Well, thank you. And I've got this climate change thing almost under control. 

Ryan Flegal: Okay. 

Corina Marks: I'll let the corals know. 

Glen Merzer: Yes, please do so. Thanks so much. See you soon. 

Ryan Flegal: Great. Bye bye. Bye. 


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