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Mutant Sand Fleas Nip Blacktip Island’s New Year’s Fireworks

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An uptick in the population of a previously-unknown variety of sand fleas has forced organizers to cancel Monday’s New Year’s Ever fireworks displays on Blacktip Island. (Blacktip Times file photo)

Blacktip Island’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display, scheduled for Monday night, has been canceled due to an unprecedented sand flea infestation on the small Caribbean island, event organizers said.

“The sand fleas and no-see-ums are so bad right now, you can’t go outside anytime after dark,” Rosie Blenny said. “Go to any island resort and all you’ll see are welted-up tourists. The clinic’s out of any kind of cortisone.

“Usually the fleas are bad at dusk, then go away once it’s full dark, but these suckers are different,” Blenny said. “We tried setting up the mortars last night and the crew was eaten alive in five minutes. There’s no way we can set up fireworks in these conditions, much less set them off.”

Experts say the pests are a genetically-modified strain of sand fleas.

“Tests we’ve run on collected subjects show a slightly-altered DNA,” island public health chief Herring Frye said. “Whether that alteration is natural or human-induces has yet to be determined.

“At first we thought the mutation was due to cyanide gas from all the decaying sargassum seaweed washed up in the beaches,” Frye said. “Sand fleas love that sargassum, and we’ve been up to our knees in it lately. But new data suggests the change is more likely from some sort of genetics experiment gone wrong.”

Island entomologists downplayed that possibility.

“We run genetics experiments on insects and crustaceans all the time, sure,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology chair Goby Graysby. “But our labs are secure and nothing, I mean nothing, escapes them. Lately, anyway. And James Conlee’s not allowed within 100 yards of the TU-B campus.”

Other island residents suspected a more sinister source.

“A few homeowners have complained for years about the noise from the fireworks,” resident Lucille Ray said. “Not to mention any names, we’ve all overheard someone with the initials Cyrus DeCamp talking about how nice it’d be if something made it impossible to set off New Year’s fireworks.

“He has the know-how, And he’s just crazy enough to do it,” Ray said. “People’ve called him the New Year’s Grinch before now. My bet is he kicked his game up a notch.”

DeCamp could not be reached for comment, all phone calls to him were unanswered and reporters’ visits to his house were met with a hail of thrown rocks.

In place of a fireworks show, island residents and guests are making alternate plans.

“The Sand Spit’s organized a midnight flashlight war inside the bar,” bartender Cori Anders said. “And down at the Ballyhoo, it sounds like people are going to just drink until they see fireworks in their heads.”

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Sand Flea Festival Highlights Blacktip Island’s Weekend

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Sand fleas swarm over seaweed strewn on the Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort beach in preparation for Saturday’s Blacktip Island Sand Flea Festival. The festival culminates with a winner-takes-all naked crawl across the flea-infested beach. (photo courtesy of Lamiot)

 

Blacktip Island residents are bracing for Saturday’s annual Sand Flea Festival honoring local monks slain by Norse raiders.

“It’s the first gala fête of the Blacktip Island party season,” said event’s organizer Payne Hanover. “It’s a great mid-winter pick up. And having it during Lent means everyone can suffer, regardless of religious affiliation.”

The festival has its roots in Medieval times.

“For Lenten penance in the 13th and 14th centuries, island monks would fast, drink coconut mead, then strip naked and roll on the beach at sunrise and sunset to get as flea-bitten as possible,” Island historian Smithson Altschul said.

“In 1557 Norse raiders were blown off course, landed on Blacktip and slaughtered all the monks wriggling in the sand,” Altschul said. “After the Vikings left, locals kept up the sand flea tradition to honor the fallen monks.”

Recently, the festival morphed into a celebration of an island scourge.

“We figure if we can’t beat the no-see-ums, we might as well embrace them,” festival committee member Kay Valve said. “We throw a big party in their honor. Of course, on this island, we’ll throw a party in just about anyone’s honor.”

The festival, at Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort this year, will feature flea-themed food and drinks, a flea circus and a flea-bite henna tattoo stand.

Live music will be provided by local favorites The Social Morays, TURTLE!!!, and Young Jacques and the Double Hose.

As ever, the highlight of the festival will be the 100-meter naked beach crawl at dusk, with the winner being the contestant who takes the most time to complete the course. The victor will receive a case of Benadryl and be compensated for all medical expenses.

Prizes will also be awarded for most sand flea bites, largest bite and most painful-looking bite. Winners of each category will receive a Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort tank top and a year’s supply of calamine lotion.

“This is such a wonderful event,” Sandy Bottoms guest Suzy Souccup said. “I met my husband at Flea Fest years ago. We were on the beach in our skivvies, our eyes met, and fireworks went off.

“These were actual fireworks, you understand, from the resort,” Souccup said. “We stood staring at each other for so long, the sand fleas about ate us alive. We spent the rest of the night side-by-side in the clinic, getting IV cortisone and rubbing calamine on each other. It was magical.”

The festival is sponsored by Benadryl.

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