27 Jan PM – Cranbrook – Take two.

Cranbrook highlight…

    “Is this edible Joe?”

                “Only one way to find out.”

                “It doesn’t taste like anything.”

                “Arsenic doesn’t either.”


Using our four other senses, we explored some more on the hike up Cranbrook—discovering touch-sensitive plants called Mimosa pudica. These plant leaves fold upon itself when touched, and spread once again after a while.  On the way down, we also learned the proper way to chop bamboo (burn a hole in it just enough to cut it down)—a survival skill that would come in handy if we ever found ourselves stranded in a forest, or wound up on the TV series LOST. I also learned to always bring bug repellant and an extra pair of flip flops.



Cranbrook: Swift currents that sailed a lonely flip flop down the brook as a klutz looks on in despair—wondering about the muddy hike back down.


Amber to the rescue (again)!


After she came to the rescue in a similar escapade (a pair of blue shoes that flew down Dunn’s River Falls), Amber was kind enough to lend her flip flops (as Joe fortunately had an extra pair in his bag). Thanks Amber and Joe!


After working up quite appetite hiking and swimming in an oasis in Cranbrook, we inhaled our weight of Jamaica’s infamous, mouth-watering, long-awaited, and past-due jerk chicken.


2_Mei_flower at Cranbrook

Flower at Cranbrook


Dunn’s River Falls highlight…


After some made it up Dunn’s River Falls in a record time of 6 minutes, some of us scattered off for food to Margaritaville (note to future MAR388 students: waterproof watches, waterproof shoes, waterproof cameras, waterproof everything). Others scattered into the straw market. We all bartered and bargained our way through. Some were naturals —making away with a hand painted drum for a mere $2 (although untentional). Others treasure hunters—finding steel drums (the beat of Caribbean melodies). 1 US dollar = 85 Jamaican

3_Mei_Climbing up Dunns River Falls

Climbing up Dunn’s River Falls (Note chain of hand-holding, toppling dominoes)

On our way back, our driver regaled us with a few interesting stories and fun facts. He segwayed into another tale, involving his fellow taxi driver:

“I was sittin’ on the left (driver seats here are on the right and traffic flows on the left in Jamiaca) and my buddy was drivin’ dese couple. ‘Ey,’ dey asked, ‘what kinda tree o’er dere?’ He said to dem, ‘A near tree.’ ‘Ey,’ dey asked again, ‘what ‘bout dat tree o’er dere?’ ‘A far tree,’ he said..” Our driver then imparted some wise words, ‘When ya don’t know, you don’t know.’”

Rio bueno highlight…


The ocean, still glazed over (as ice) without a wave in sight, made way for our motley crew of 15.



“Crepuscular” is a term used to describe animals active during twilight

Favorite time of day: dawn (matutinal) or dusk (verspertine).


Spotted by many on the way there were the usual parrotfishes, damselfishes, and sea anemones. But some rare sightings included the spotted eel, stone fish, DITs (divers in training) in action, and a Jake spearheading a lionfish.

-Mei (many more sea cucumbers to experiment on)


27 Jan AM – Cranbrook Gardens

The touch-sensitive plant.


Yesterday we went to Cranbrook Gardens, and afterwards the Ultimate Jerk for dinner. It was only the second time we have left the Marine Lab since arriving in Jamaica on the 13th. The first time being Dunn’s River Falls, and Ocho Rios. The Garden’s were beautiful, with a wide variety of plants, and a few peacocks wandering around. One of the most interesting plants we saw was a sensitive plant. Whenever you touched one of the feathery leaves, that particular leaf curled up, and pulled away from you. I’d heard of these plants before, but never actually seen one.

The river through the gardens.

We walked along a path beside the river, where there were many tree snail shells, just lying on the side of the path. At the end of the path beside the river was a small pool of water that most of the class decided to swim in. The pool was blocked at one end with a log to prevent anyone from being was downstream, and to help form the area of calm water. On the way back to the bus we collected more mud in our shoes (the path was muddy and very slippery), and when we walked through the field with the sensitive plants, found it had been taken over with insects. No one stayed very long after that!

The swimming pool at the top of the hike.

After everyone had washed the mud off, and/or changed, we got back on the bus, and went to the Ultimate Jerk for dinner. Most people had to wait for the chicken to be finished, as the delivery had been late that day. The wait was only about 20 minutes. I had a plate of jerked chicken, rice, and peas. It was delicious, the chicken was spicy, and fell off the bone. It was only $5.00 a plate, and more than worth it. I considered getting a second plate to take back to the lab with me, but didn’t. After dinner Mr. Scarlett (our boat/dive leader at the lab) recommended a place in town for dancing. Everyone went there, but Mei, Joe, and I stayed on the bus and slept. We could still hear the music from across the street though, it was fun and upbeat.

The world famous Ultimate Jerk restaurant.

We were back at the Marine Lab by 9:00 that night, as we have a lot to finish in the couple of days we have left in Jamaica. This morning I went on another dive. It was to one of Mr. Scarlett’s favorite dive sites, the Caverns. I didn’t actually see any caverns (at least not large ones), but it was a beautiful place to dive. Afterwards Mr. Scarlett poured water over everyone’s heads, to ‘baptize’ us at a new dive site. This was even the first time Brad, Joe, and Amber had dove there, which I think was the main reason we were baptized at all. It was a fun dive, but now it’s time to get back to work again, analyzing project results, and collecting more data.

Underwater at "the caverns".



26 Jan PM – The Final Stretch

Only three more days until we all return home to New York. People have been checking the weather for NY constantly to remind themselves of how lucky we are to be here. We're so close to the end now we can even see the weather for the day we fly home – so far looks like we shouldn't have any problems. Although I would much rather get stuck here than in snowy New York!


Right now we are all finishing up our projects which we have been working on non-stop since test day. Megan and I are doing our project on the effect of algal diet on ink production in the Spotted Sea Hare (Aplysia dactylomela – remember Steve?). We have caught a total of 32 Sea Hares and are feeding each of them a different type of algae (green, red, brown, and a group with all three). Each day we ink them and measure how much comes out. So far it seems like the red algae has the biggest impact since the Sea Hares that eat the red algae produce the most.


 Also since my last post, I have been officially scuba certified!!! I have gone on one dive since then (to the reef wall in Rio Bueno). I dove to my deepest depth yet – 60 feet. At first I was afraid to dive that deep but everything turned out great and our entire class was able to enjoy the day.


Scuba diving in Rio Bueno.


Later today we are going to a Jamaican Botanical Gardens and then are spending the night afterwards eating dinner at "The Ultimate Jerk", which is a well known Jerk Chicken joint around here. It will be nice to spend the rest of the day not worrying about projects and just enjoying what little more time we have here in Jamaica. Before I know it, I will be back home packing to go to Stony Brook again, bundled up in winter clothes. I am glad I was able to escape the winter to this tropical island for what little time I could, but it will definitely be nice to see my family, friends, and cat again when I go home.


Thats all I have to say for today. Until the last day when we all post an update about our projects, I'll be off working hard. Thanks for reading!



26 Jan AM – The Sweet Smell of Lionfish

The Sweet Smell of Lionfish


Bucket of Scents

Everyone out there has that one particular scent that they can distinguish right away if it comes by their nose, embedded in their memory because it reminds them of an extremely pleasant experience or a traumatic one. Well, for me, standing over dead lionfish hours at a time has led to development of the latter. The odor that they release is unlike any other I have ever experienced. It may not be too strong at first, but stick around a little longer and it will grow on you.



Aside from the steady supply of stank present simply due to having a dead fish in front of you, every individual I’ve cut open has been like trying to diffuse a bomb. Unfortunately it blows up every time. Each gut packs an extra punch of its own signature smell, at this point making me somewhat of a connoisseur.


Last Meals

However, enduring the torture has had its benefits. It has allowed me to collect a lot of different data regarding the feeding habits and digestion rates of lionfish and being able to go out and hunt for them has been tons of fun as well. Now with only 3 days left in Jamaica I’m filled with mixed emotions. I’m filled with joy that I will soon be free of these putrid odors. But on the other hand I will truly miss the beautiful weather, nice people and awesome experience that this trip has been.

BY Jake

25 Jan PM – One with the Reef.

So as our time in Jamaica approaches its end, the group is pushing to get as much out of their experiments as possible. Aron and I are getting a great set of data from our balloonfish and the effects of light and dark, and food consumption on their deflation rate. After scouring for whatever materials we could find to build our set up, our project is in full effect and making great progress (except for finding new balloonfish in the wild – we think we’ve captured the whole population…). Our hands are starting to hurt from trying to free an inflated ball-of-spikes from a net continuously, but some just refuse to inflate at all. In search for new subjects, I found myself at the reef crest once again.


Trying to befriend a school of fish.

Our efforts were almost futile during the day, but success was inevitable during our night snorkel. It’s hard not to get distracted from our search when we run into a sting ray that was more than 2 feet wide, and an iridescent octopus who gave me the battle of my life – he found his way out of the net several times to avoid a great Kodak moment. A new role I’ve gained at night is catching shrimp to feed to our subjects in the wet lab. We successfully caught a handful of shrimp of several species, from banded coral to grass shrimp, which the balloonfish seem to enjoy much more than the snails we glued to string to stop them from being runaway-dinner. In my time here at the reef, I’ve become closer with the environment, and have had much less anxiety about the consequences of touching everything bare-handed. I’m now able to find what I need and catch it if necessary – and I’ll give you the scientific name for it, too. That net has become a third arm of mine.


Up close and personal with brittle stars.

Trying to make the best of what time is left here on the island. I look forward to seeing what my data shows after the week and if we’ve discovered something new about our friend, Diodon holocanthus.


25 Jan AM – No problem man.

Jamaica is truly an amazing place. The people are so friendly, and happy all the time. "No Problem mann" Jamaicans really live up to the stero-type of living there lives in a chilled out, and relaxed manner. They are able to just enjoy life for what it is, and be happy no matter what life brings them. On Thursday we went to Ocho Rios which is a city filled with stores, clubs, restaurants, and supermarkets. It was pretty much like any other city.

Cropped straw market
The only place you can find Giraffes in Jamaica is in the straw market.

I went shopping at the straw market, which are individual four by four areas that are occupied with very persistent merchants. A Jamaican man recruited us from the ATM across the street, and lead us into the straw market. I would say I was an easy target since I bought a lot of everything. I was so overwhelmed with qoutes such as "Nice Lady please come see what I make" coming from everywhere. Then when you get suckered into their little areas they show you their arrticles in one hand, and fan you with their other hand. I would say the merchants scored a 10 out of 10 on the hustling scale, since I spent a fairly large amount of money.

Cropped straw market 2
The straw market has a little bit of everything.

Our research projects are in full swing. My partner and I are on our second species testing. Our project has become challenging since on our final trial of our test 1 our results were fatal, and fatal meaning 16 out of our 18 species were dead. We started our second test with a different species. We are crossing our fingers, and hoping for better results. Besides challenges with the project itself, when working with someone diligently for many hours a day, you might find yourself trying to drown your partner or trying to lose them in the deep sea while diving, but you work things out. I am dreading the idea of going home back to New York where -8 degrees celcius and the beginning of a new school semester awaits me. But, you can't have "no worries" forever. 🙁


– Kasey

23 Jan PM – Almost there.


The water here is crystal clear!

We've been here over a week, but it feels like it's only been a few days. We've gone to so many places, Dunn's River Falls, Ocho Rios, and Rio Bueno, to name a few. Now that the big test has passed us, we can focus on our research projects. I chose to do mine on sea sponges, and seeing if they are more productive in one part of the reef than they are in another part of the reef. By the term "productive" I mean how much water they filter.


Two specimens from my research project.

Sponges are filter feeders which means they get their food by taking particles out of the water and consuming them, but in order to do this they first need to produce a current. Tiny cells, called collar cells, line every pore of the sponge. These cells have tiny flagella attached which move the water through the pores and into the sponge. The filtered water then moves out of the sponge through the osculum. One way to test how fast they move water is to spray dye at the base of the sponge, and see how long it takes for the dye to pass through the sponge and reach a certain point outside of it. I'm going to repeat this process several times to achieve accurate readings.


The very intricately designed shell of the Kings Helmet (Cassis tuberosa.)

But aside from the research projects, everybody is doing very well. The weather is perfect, the water is calm, and everybody is in a good mood! It sure is going to be a bummer when we have to leave this week, but I'm sure this trip will be a great memory for all of us here.
– Tim

23 Jan AM 2 – Catching a Damsel(fish)


Memorizing fish names can be a tedious process.

Since my last blog post, we have been extremely busy here in Jamaica.  We crammed more than a month's worth of material into 4 days, learned over a hundred species names, collected as many of those species for our tanks in the wet lab as possible, and captured the rest on our cameras.  That led to powerpoint projects, two quizzes, and a lab practical.  We've all been such dedicated students!


A more fun way to study – Brad leading us on a scavenger hunt!
But since then, we've been able to relax a little bit.  On Thursday we were actually able to go to Dunn's River Falls.  I had been there before as part of a cruise, but this time was a thousand times better.  I absolutely loved being able to climb it without a guide, without holding a stranger's hand, choosing my own path and speed.  In less than the time it took for the cruisers took to go up once, we were able to climb it three times!  We would duck around the cruisers, and they'd stare off at us while they waited around, trapped in their chains of interlocked hands, looking confused or a little envious. 


Avoiding the tourists was very liberating.

But after all the learning and waterfall climbing, I think one of my greater accomplishments was catching a Dusky Damselfish on Friday!  I know, it really shouldn't be a big deal, but Paulie and I desperately needed one for our project.  We are testing the aggression levels of these fish, which our known to be very territorial.  But in order to do that, we needed to catch one to put in a clear jar, so we can place it in another Damsel's habitat as an intruder. We tried for hours to catch the Stegastes adustus, but it was proving to be very difficult.  I eventually had to set up a trap and chase fish into it.  Now that we've caught the fish, we have started to collect more data. 


Snorkeling in Rio Bueno!

So now we are able to balance work and play.  I'm really glad that we have a little more flexibility now.  This morning we went to Rio Bueno, a beautiful spot to snorkel and dive.  It was definitely the prettiest place I've ever snorkeled at.  The longer I stay here, the more I realize how truly lucky I am to be here.  It has definitely been a great, unique opportunity.

– Jenna

23 Jan AM – Over the Reef Crest

So the trip is in its final stretch and so far this trip has been a real blast. I can honestly say I do not miss New York in the slightest. The weather for our trip has been nothing short of fantastic and I am dreading going back to NY.


The slick trumpet fish that gave me a hard time to photograph.

We are currently in the middle of our final projects and I am quite happy with how my experiment is progressing. My study is on how the deflation rate of balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) varies due to differences in lighting, food consumption, and the deflation difference between balloonfish in the wild compared to ones in captivity. I am glad to say that night snorkeling is still the same as my last post, surprising and mysterious. I am still seeing an amazing amount of creatures in the bay, varying from creepy crawlers to mesmerizing fish.


The two lionfish I saw near the reef crest.

A couple of days ago Oded and I decided to go on a mini adventure, over the reef crest. On the way we saw the usual fish and creatures, varying from damselfish to stingray. It wasn’t until after we crossed over the very rocky reef crest that I saw some new fish that I was yet to see on this trip.Crossing the reef crest however is a formidable mission because I now truly understand the saying “fish out of the water” because when crossing the reef crest I was scraping against the coral instead of swimming in between them.


A lizard fish I saw on the long journey back from the reef crest

We finally made it through and as soon as we crossed the reef crest we found two lionfish. That was exciting for me because I was yet to see one in the wild. The next fish we stumbled upon was a trumpet fish. This guy was cool; he was slim and thin but had great speed. When snorkeling near the reef crest we also saw a lot more species of coral and many more fish out than in the bay. Over the reef crest Oded and I slowly realized that the reef crest was like a barrier separating two different worlds.

– Aron


22 Jan PM – Good Timing


A beautiful day out here in Discovery Bay. 

Now that our projects are in full tilt, I’d have to admit that my idea seemed so simple on paper. WRONG! On the second day, we’ve already encountered a few problems such as taking measurements for one of our variables (distance) and how to create our control. On the bright side, yesterday was a very productive day in which my partner and I were able to collect some data and best of yet, catch a dusky damselfish (Stegastus adustes) that only took us 3 days and countless hours in the water within those 3 days!


Now to talk a little about the fun part of the day ….


One of the few elkhorn corals and brain corals in sight

Today was an awesome day. I woke up, did my daily morning routine and waited for everyone to get ready to head out to Rio Bueno. It was beautiful outside. The sun was beaming down on my black speedo cap, got a little tan, jamming to Scarlett’s reggae music at 8:30 am– so far, so good. When we arrived at Rio Bueno, I was anxious to see how beautiful it really was. And I must say, it was a really great sight.


An Acanthurus bahianus feeding on some algae

I swam out to the wall where I was swimming about 20 ft above the bottom and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t see anything else below me. I saw a lot more corals, especially sea fans and also fishes in schools. A few fishes that I saw were the Spotlight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride), Bluehead (Thalassoma bifasciatum), Ocean Surgeonfish (Acanthurus bahianus), Blue Chromis (Chromis cyanea), large lionfish and plenty others including the territorial fish, S. adustes. After going under 20 ft countless times for 30 minutes, I was exhausted. Too bad I didn’t get to see a sea turtle!

Time to go back to work! And by the way, this is what it looked like on our way back. Good timing!


Upon our return, the sky looked like this …

 - Paulie