A fine day in Paradise – 6 Jan 2008


Professor Brad "Butterscotch" Peterson encourages Prof. Joe "Jicama" Warren to enter a lobster trap as part of a specially-designed cage experiment he has planned. Photo by Chris "Cous-cous" Thomas.

What a beautiful day in Jamaica, the weather was perfect with light trade winds, sunny skies, and temperatures in the mid 80s. This break in the weather allowed the sea to calm allowing the certified divers to make their first dive out on the forereef after a delicious breakfast. The clarity of the water was only 25-30 ft due to heavy winds over the past week, but it was really nice to get out there and get that first seaside dive in. What we encountered was many sponges, reef fish, corals, and a fisherman’s lobster cage. The lobster cage only had 4 of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, but a bycatch of dozens of fish including a stonefish. While it was beautiful down there we look forward the next few days when we can get better clarity of the water column. While the certified divers went seaside, the other students enjoyed the snorkeling in front of Discovery Bay Marine Lab.

When we returned to the dock the remainder of the day was spent identifying the organisms we were able to get pictures of, lectures from our fearless leaders Butterscotch Peterson, and Jicama Warren, and a Jamaican style BBQ with the other groups studying at Discovery Bay. You would think that the highlight of the day would be the BBQ with Calypso Band at the end of the day, but I have to confess that the lecture about Climate Change and coral reefs (and penguins) takes the cake as the BBQ abruptly ended at 8pm after about an hour of food and live music. While it was a good time it didn’t last long enough. Tomorrow the group from Wisconsin and Minnesota leaves which will open up more space for everyone and allow the guys to join the rest of our group at night on the grounds of DBML. We are hoping for similar weather conditions tomorrow, with even lighter winds, and no rain.

Chris Thomas

January 5


Steve is almost ready for the water, he’s hoping to capture some elusive algae for his identification collection.

Definitely today’s weather conditions were better than yesterday. It was a picture-perfect scene when you headed out to bay area. There was more sun, a little less wind, and the breath-taking view of the turquoise waters. You know what that means, another opportunity to go snorkeling.

Though, I doubt anyone went out for a morning snorkel. Most of us probably passed out last night. I know I definitely did. Nevertheless, I made the extra effort to get a good Jamaican breakfast.

For breakfast, had some fried dough which was yummy, and Akee fruit(sp) with fish. I remember last year’s group talking about it. It was a meal that looked like scrambled eggs but was actually fruit. It was fruit that is poisonous if you ate raw, so it had you had to cook it the proper way in order to be edible. I don’t know. I wasn’t too thrilled with though the fish was good with it. Prof. Warren thought it was fantastic though.

After breakfast, headed out to the water for another attempt to snorkel. In the beginning, I was a little nervous after yesterday’s "panic" attack and first attempt to snorkel; however, I wasn’t ready to give up. For crying out loud, I was in Jamaica and it should be an experience to take hold of. So with help from Emily and learning along side Jackie, we had success. I didn’t panic this time and I became really comfortable with snorkeling. Yay Success! We saw a lot of great things in the waters, especially where the Mangroves were. I saw a lot of urchins, puffer fish, sea anemones. We also caught some nifty critters. Not sure what they are yet but we should identify them really soon. I was so proud of myself. Oh my gosh! it was too amazing for words. Definitely an experience of a life time. Lunch time came and it was actually a pretty healthy meal… well, if you didn’t count the french fries; fruit and salad.

Another quick discussion with Brad and Joe and we were ready to gear up again and head out to snorkeling for the afternoon.This time we took out the underwater camera. It was a little difficult to take pictures with the turbidity and the wave action. Hopefully some photos came out nice.

Afterwards, some people in the class started to learn to scuba dive and/or finished their dives but Jackie and I went on the hunt for critters. We were determined to catch at least something. It wasn’t a lot of success at first but in the end we caught a lot of neat creatures: algae, "donkey dung" (haha), and a cute little puffer fish! Another great experience underwater. It was time to end the day of snorkeling and take a nice shower. Why is there no such thing as hot water here?? Oh well. Oh yea, I’ve got to get myself Hair Conditioner after these long snorkeling trips.

Freshened up, time for dinner. Another tasty Jamaican meal: rice, vegetables, tofu, goat and curry. So even, after a long day, we still had lecture?! But nothing really goes the way it is planned. There had been some difficulties in organization of rooms and supplies for lecture, so the class gathered outside near the bay area. It was a really nice night. The winds had died down and the water became calm.

Most of us were stargazing with help from Joe. It definitely was a good opportunity to break out a bonfire and make ‘smores… if we had those things… In the end, we sort of had an "unofficial" lecture. We all gathered in the wet labs and started to identify the species we have found.You would think Jamaica would be all paradise and relaxing. Nope, more work to come for us. A PowerPoint presentation, a Practical, and a final research project?!

Aside from future forecasting of work, the day itself was just great. I definitely learned a lot. Can’t wait to do more snorkeling and more hunting!

This is Hot Dog Helen signing off!

January 4


A student pops out of the water to orient themselves while exploring Discovery Bay for the first time.

After yesterdays poor weather, we only hope for some improvement. We woke up early (around 6 am) only to find no relief, the winds remained strong if not stronger. Despite the impudent weather some of the students along with Dr.Peterson chose to go out snorkeling. When the students came back we ate a breakfast of hot dogs, onions and French toast….yes a interesting combination to say the least. There was of course fresh fruit which is always so delicious, especially the pineapples, never a piece wasted.

After breakfast some more students decided to try snorkeling, this time all of the students boasted of there being good visibility. Now I felt it was time for me to give it a shot. We had to wait for the afternoon lecture to pass before we could go out. On this trip Dr. Peterson and Dr.Warren wanted the class to go out as a group and we did. As soon as lecture was over we quickly changed and I being very anxious to get wet was one of the first students in the water. As I entered the water from the dock I noticed only 2 or 3 feet of visibility, frustrated and disappointed I paddled quickly toward the reef. As I paddled out I noticed the water looked as if it were half vinegar half water also the kind of illusion you see when heat rises off hot pavement. I thought it was just the mask I was using, maybe a recent defect. When I emerged from the water I stared into the horizon, all was clear, I could see fine. I couldn’t seem to grasp what was going on. My vision appeared warped under the water yet clear when looking out in the air. It wasn’t until Rachel informed me that there is an underwater aquifer where cold water rises up to meet the warm ocean water and therefore causing this distortion. I swam past this cold water inlet only to find the most surprising thing of all… clear water, with visibility of easily 15 feet reef structure and deeply ruptured, crevassed bottom looked like something you might only see when accompanied by a Discovery Channel voice over. In all this structure we saw puffer fish and other countless tropical fish. This amazed me, in the worst of conditions the reef seemed to maintain its beauty, even in the absence of good lighting. However the current was very strong and after a long snorkeling trip with Chris (cous-cous), Tyler (tomato), Shitaki and Shnoozberry a.k.a the Steve’s (because they’re both named Steve) we headed back inward.

Tyler and I decided to check out what we called incorrectly the "mangrove forest" because there appeared to be a single mangrove like tree. The "forest" as it was called was protected by a rock barrier which we marginally swam over. Crossing over these rocks we found what can only be described as paradise. A small pool of clear aqua blue water, which begged to be illuminated by the non-existent sun. Even without intense sunlight the pool retained a mystical feel, a kind of calm before the storm; with tree branches dipping into the water and overarching rock ledges leaving shallow caves beneath the rock. Schools of fish swam out of these underwater hideouts seemingly to greet us, then just as quickly passing by and then vanishing within the crevices of the rock face. The smaller fish and lone fish held close to the structure, intrinsically spectacular in their beauty and movements. After the mangrove forest we washed our equipment off and headed toward the volleyball court where a few games were played. As we waited for dinner to be ready Chris, Tyler, Steve, Ashley (Asparagus), Andrea and I took turns coloring in this psychedelic pattern from a coloring book, other students played ping-pong or joked among themselves.

We had a delicious dinner of stir fried chicken, beef and vegetable along with mashed potatoes and fresh tomatoes. For dessert, rum-raisin ice cream and cherry jello…I mean it doesn’t get much better than that. Afterward a group of lovely Canadian girls asked the guys if we were interested in joining them to see a Jamaican band, but we told them we had lecture that night and could not attend. However they insisted on talking to our professors claiming they would like lecture to be canceled so that they could take the "American boys" with them. Even though they promised to teach us invertebrate zoology themselves, Dr. Peterson sent them back on their way without a single "American boy" to be taken . The lecture proceeded as planned, after having the lecture slides fire past us (a lot of information in a little time) at 10:00 pm the van arrived to pick the guys up to return to the villa we are staying at. With such a full day behind us, it was only shortly after arrival we quickly feel asleep.

— Adam

Let The Lectures Begin

End of Day 2, January 3, 2008

All through the night the winds howled!! I don’t think I’ve ever heard winds like that on Long Island before. Some people were kept up by the banging of windows, others slept right through it all. Breakfast was scheduled for 8:00 in the morning, so by 7:30 I was up and looking at the water. Since we got back to Discovery Bay well after dark last night, I hadn’t got a chance to see the water yet! This morning it looked glorious, but the winds from last night had made quite an impact. The water was turbid and the waves Brad speculated to be around four to six feet high on the reef break!! Diving was completely out for the day, and snorkeling looked questionable.

My breakfast was unbelievably delicious. Scrambled eggs infused with scallions and other spices, bacon cooked to perfection, toast, jelly, juices, and blue mountain coffee. After breakfast, we were given a tour of the facilities. Discovery Bay is a wonderful place in that it has a great amount of freedom and accessibility, yet it is also quiet and unpretentious. It feels safe and protected on the first day I already feel at home. The lecture/computer room, library, and offices on one end of the building are separated by a Breezeway (which offers a phenomenal view of the water,) while the Marine Wet Lab is on the other side. The Breezeway is my favorite place. It perfectly frames the water like a picture, and like the name implies, the wind races through and hugs your body. If you have ever been anywhere with tropical wind you know what I mean.

At 9:30, we had our first lecture from Brad.(The first of three lectures we would get today!) The topic was Ecological Theory and we covered everything up to and including diversity, autecology, succession, facilitation, tolerance, inhibition, equilibrium theory, density (in)dependant principals, commensalism, ammensalism, and numerous other biological interactions! (If that sounds like a lot, you really don’t even know the half of it!!)

After than, we proceeded to our well-earned lunch! I was excited to see spaghetti with a phenomenal meat sauce and fresh grated cheese. The Kitchen (with a capital K) is sensational. American, Jamaican, whatever they make just tastes perfect! Full and satiated, we were greeted by Peter Gayle, head of scientific activity here in Discovery Bay. He told us a lot of interesting history about the island’s reefs (including that the lab was affiliated with Stony Brook University when it was initially begun), as well as history of Discovery Bay itself. These reefs have been more heavily researched than any other reef in the world even more so than the Great Barrier Reef!! Next, Anthony, our Dive Master introduced himself and instructed us on the basics of water safety. We discussed our options of either snorkeling or SCUBA diving, and what each activity entails. After that, I was ready to get wet!!

While Ashley, Stacey, Chris, and Constance and Joe went into town to get some extra provisions, Steve and I jumped in the water. It was still really windy and turbid, but I was dying to jump into that 75 degree water. We swam around for nearly an hour and got to see some exciting creatures. Some sea urchins (which in a couple days I know I will know the names of), anemones, a few coral structures, and a wide smattering of different fishes. My favorite was the damsel fish which when approached would ‘defend’ the territory and try to chase me away! Visibility wasn’t too good, but the initial experience of snorkeling in tropical waters is something I’ll never forget.

At 4:30, once everyone returned from town, we had our second lecture of the day. Joe spoke about coral reefs, coralline algae, distribution factors, nitrogen fixation, productivity, and the many human uses of coral reefs. We also learned about the different physical features distinguishing fringing reefs, barrier reefs, and atolls. I learned something that I found unbelievable. The amount of by-catch each year is great enough to fill Yankee Stadium 30 times FULL of fish! No wonder the world suffers from over fishing, since that is only the fish we ‘accidentally’ kill!

By 6:30 our lecture was done, and we all relaxed ’til dinner at 7:00. My dinner consisted of rice and carrots, as I wasn’t fast enough to grab some of the roast pork or curried shrimp! With two school groups eating together, you have to be fast if you want to get dinner! Still, it was delicious, and I didn’t find myself in want of anything else!

Would you believe we were in for yet ANOTHER lecture?! Thankfully, the subject material was stimulating and relevant to what we will be working on for the next two weeks! Brad extrapolated on Equilibrium theories, primarily resource portioning, circular networks, and compensatory mortality. Conversely, we also looked at non-equilibrium theories such as the intermediate disturbance hypothesis, equal chance, and the gradual change hypothesis. We looked at examples of predation, through examining the infamous studies of Carl Huffaker, C.S. Hollings, Murdock, Paine, and Menge. Needless to say, after nearly six hours of lecture, we were all pretty much ready to call it a night.

As of now, the plan is to meet at the dock at 7:00 (before breakfast) to get in some snorkeling and hope the waters aren’t blown out.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!!

— Rachel

Arrival and Karma

View_from_room_4   Looking north from the dormitory at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab. Breaking waves on the reef mean no boat trips for today, instead let the lectures begin!

Welcome to the MAR 388 January 2008 Tropical Marine Ecology blog. We arrived yesterday (Jan 2nd) in Montego Bay with all 19 students and two instructors (Brad and myself). We got to the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory after dark and in a pouring rain storm so we didn’t have much chance to see the campus. Overnight a cold front blew through which has given us some healthy winds and bumpy seas in the bay. That’s ok, though because a Jamaican cold front means it’s about 75 degrees or so and the view from our room isn’t too shabby. The breezy conditions have allowed us to concentrate on beginning the course lectures right after breakfast today. We toured the campus and then Brad jumped in with an introduction to basic ecological principles. I’m lecturing on coral reef origins after lunch and all of us are meeting with the dive safety officer at the lab to learn the regulations and rules for diving and snorkeling here.

Due to some shenanigans with the conveyer belts at JFK, several bags (including all of mine) got delayed en route to Jamaica. I believe Prof. Peterson tempted our karma when he mentioned in the line for immigration at Montego Bay that, really, the only thing that could go wrong now would be for his bags to not show up. Of course, his luggage was there, while mine (and a few other students) are still in transit and should be delivered to the lab this evening.

It’s almost lunch time, so I’ll sign off. Check back for daily (or near-daily) updates written by the students to hear about what they’re doing.

Prof. Joe Warren