22 Jan AM – Diving the Wall

Day ten on the island and I still love every second of it. We have been quite busy over the past few days with Ocho Rios, Rio Bueno, and Dairy Bull, the latter two being dive sites. But even with all the fun we are having, research has gone into full swing. I'm doing my project on damselfish, and whether they stay in their territory when their algae is taken. So far, I have only seen one site where the fish did in fact go.

Matthew_Our fearless leader Joe Warren, wearing his critter cam and taking pictures
Our fearless leader Joe Warren wearing his critter-cam and taking pictures.

During our dives, I now find myself poking and prodding at damselfish territories until they come and attack me, it is rather entertaining. The more we dive the more cool things we keep running into, today we dove near a 100' drop off that was simply amazing to witness. Swimming up to the drop, you can be somewhere that the bottom is at 20' and a few feet forward, the bottom is 120'!

Matthew_This was right after our Rio Bueno dive, our boat driver gave us all oranges. They were quite tasty!
This is right after our Rio Bueno dive, our boat driver gave us all oranges. They were quite tasty.

Yesterday we stumbled upon a line of z traps that the locals use for fishing around here. One of the traps had about half a dozen lobster, a balloon fish, and a pretty big lionfish. Out of the water is just about as enjoyable as in, at night we have started daily volleyball games that can get rather intense. The rest of the time is usually devoted to our research projects. I have 12 sites that are spread out around the bay that I have to visit once a day, sometimes I wish I had one of those little water scooters that would just carry me across the bay to my different sites.

Matthew_It rained a little today. In case you forgot, that’s what happens to precipitation when it gets warm.
It rained a little today. In case you've forgotten, that's what happens to precipitation when it gets warm.

I'm actually about to go out and observe my sites right now, so I thought I'd leave you with this wonderful screen shot of the weather forecast down here to think about while you shovel your selves out for the umpteenth time this month. [Ed: Matt, this is called tempting fate. If our flight back is delayed, we're blaming you!]
-Matthew J.

21 Jan PM – Dairy Bull Dive


Searching the reef of Dairy Bull
It was an early start today, I woke up around 7:30am to eat breakfast and hurry down to the dock to go diving.  The destination was Dairy Bull, a reef bottom just a small ways east on the ocean side from the Marine Lab.   I, my professors as well as a few of my class mates wanted to take the journey so we could do work on our projects while experiencing another great Jamaica diving spot.  The ride out was as calm as can be since the wind had died down substantially from the day before.  When we reached Dairy Bull we put on our equipment and jumped in.  Although it was shallower and only a small ways from the last diving spot at the fore reef in front of the Marine  Lab, I couldn't believe how many new things there were to see.  My partner, Kasey and I swam around looking for barrel sponges that we could use in our project to put in our fish tank.  We want to see if there is a particular species of sponge that Sponge Brittle Stars prefer in the wild so collecting these specimens was very important for our research. 


Gathering sponge samples.

Even though we were "working" it was still a fun and exciting experience.  The trip was only about 
30min since my ability to regulate my breathing is not up to par.  It seems God had seen fit to give me a pair of  iron lungs so I could maximize oxygen intake on land, it doesn't quite work if I'm suppose to conserve air underwater.  Eventually the rest of the crew mad it back to the boat and we headed back for lunch.  As soon as lunch was over a group of us took another trip back to the boat but this time we went to the fore reef in front of the Lab.  Me and my partners mission was to find as many Sponge Brittle Stars as possible for our project, an easier task said than done.  The area we were searching in had very little barrel sponges which is where most if not all the stars like to hide.   After 45 minutes (did much better this time!) we had to return to the boat empty handed.  It was a bit discouraging but there is still hope that we will be successful tomorrow when we dive Rio Bueno.  In the mean time, I'm focusing on getting the tank set up and getting some sun.

– Brooks

21 Jan AM – Post Exam

Well exams are over and research projects have begun here at Discovery Bay Marine Lab. Many of us are busy collecting test subjects of various shapes and sizes to poke and prod in the spirit of science. Others are out in the bay or diving on the reef making observations. I think we are all realizing that a week is no where near enough time to troubleshoot all of the inevitable problems that arise in a scientific study, and to get usable data. But, it teaches you to be patient, creative, and ultimately to pick yourself, or your sea cucumber up, dust it off and try try again.


I, for example, decided today, with ideas from Brad, to start a totally different project. My original idea was looking at coral disease and coral damaging sponges. It involved entirely field observations, snorkeling and diving. I learned after 2 attempts that I am not so great at multitasking in the water. Having to dive down, look, think, ponder, scratch head, identify, second guess myself, and write down my findings all at once, especially while still learning to control my buoyancy and breathing on a dive, proved to be too much. So now I will turn my effort to sea anemones and the critters that live in them for protection from predators.

Picture 1

An example of a sea anemone I will be see a lot of in the next few days. The brown and white chunk in the center is a tiny crab using the anemone’s stinging power to avoid becoming an afternoon snack.

Yesterday, we all got a break in the morning and afternoon from our work and the daily rhythm of the marine station as we piled into our teal green mini bus and headed out for an adventure. The first stop was Dunn’s River Falls, referred to by some as the Jamaican Splish Splash. The thing to do is climb them, stopping along the way to take pictures. A few of us ran around to the bottom 2 more times to race up. The place was overrun with tourists pouring in off the cruise ships, which only added to the challenge, darting in and out of their silly lines in which they held hands to ensure that if one was going down they all were.

Picture 2

 Dunn’s River Falls.

After the falls we went to the town of Ocho Rios to explore, eat, and shop in the straw market. I fulfilled my dream of owning a steal drum and, with a mini guitar, we attempted to serenade ourselves amidst some late night volleyball.

Picture 3

These are the weirdest of the creatures found at the bottom of the ocean (Left to right: Matt, Me, Kasey, Brooks, and Brad).

Going on another dive tomorrow morning so I need to get some sleeping tonight. But, there’s still time for a night snorkel/anemone hunt.

Picture 4

An eel that poked his head when I was poking at an anemone outside his hiding spot.



20 Jan PM – Post Exam Relief

Meghan's dive buddy.

Today was a welcome break from studying and exams. There was somewhat of a celebration last night after the last exam ended. Almost everyone stayed up late playing volleyball, or basketball, listening to music, and enjoying a ginger beer. Only two people showed up to breakfast this morning as a result, not including Brad, Joe, and Amber (our lowest attendance rate yet). Everyone met with them, later in the day to discuss their project proposals, and after lunch met in the wet lab to work on our class project, which involves the growth of epiphytes, in areas of groundwater discharge in the bay.

The freckled sea hare.

I missed that meeting, as some wires got crossed with the dive instructor, and she thought we weren’t diving today. When she arrived at one, Kathleen and I were given the okay to go diving instead, as we’re still DITS (divers in training). I only have one dive left before I’m SCUBA certified! When we got back nothing group related was scheduled, so Kathleen and I went back out (snorkeling this time) to collect enough spotted seahares for our research project. I only found four or five seahares, but Kathleen had nets full of them, probably fifteen or twenty total. I’m still not quite sure where she found them all. We’re using the spotted sea hares, as we have only been able to find two of the freckled seahares, but have almost thirty of the spotted seahares.

Annoyed sea hares.

While we were collecting them, the majority of the hares decided to ink us, turning the water purple for a moment or two. Tomorrow we’re going to Dunn’s River Falls, and Ochos Rios, so I probably need to start my project, by identifying, sorting, separating, and weighing our seahares tonight. Today’s schedule was a little more relaxed, and though the water was a little rough, the dive was a lot of fun.



20 Jan AM – Pinnacle

Although it’s been only a mere four days since our arrival here in Jamaica, project ideas have been discussed and developed—research set in motion. Proposals have been written on topics ranging from sponge diversity and coral diseases to inking of spotted-sea hares (Aplysia dactylomela) and the notoriously aggressive Dusky damselfish.

1_sneak attacking and snapping a shot of a Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus)

Sneak Attack! Snapping a photo of a Dusky damselfish (Stegastes adustus)

After a whirlwind of lectures on different types of algae (Rhodophyta, Chlorophyta, Phaeophyta, and Turf Algae), ecology, oceanography , reef inverts, tropical fish, sponges, coral (Phylum Echinodermata, Class astroidea), global warming, and history of Jamaica’s reefs in the past four days, we’ve finally made it through ‘spurs’ of stomach squeezing studying. We’ve learned the secret behind Wendy’s mouth-watering thick milk shakes lies in *Carrageenan, a thickening substance derived from some of the oldest eukaryotes in the world: red algae aka Rhodophyta. We’ve made our collection presentation powerpoints. We’ve taken our first, and last exam-practical. We’ve cleared out our wet lab species collection tank.

We’ve cleared our desks of index cards, highlighters, and species identification books.

2_effects of captivity
(left) Our festering long spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) after four days in our wet lab collection.

(right) After studying over 987 lecture slides in four days

Just as the King Helmet (Crassis tuberosa), Variegated Sea Urchin (Lytechinus variegates), Sea Cucumber (Holothuria mexicana), Indian Sea Egg (Tripneustes ventricosus), and Common Comet Star (Linckia guildingii) anxiously await escape from the muted halls and back into Discovery Bay, as do we.

3_Great Escape 'Mon

Great Escape ‘Mon: (top left clockwise) King Helmet (Crassis tuberosa) snacking on a Variegated Sea Urchin (Lytechinus variegates), Sea Cucumber (Holothuria mexicana), Indian Sea Egg (Tripneustes ventricosus), and Common Comet Star (Linckia guildingii).

We release them in hopes that they will recover much like we had after our study escapades (ie. volleyball). The sun is shining, the waters are calm, and the tide is low.

4_Discovery Bay shallow reef 'Atlantis'

Shallow reefs of Discovery Bay: mythical mini realm of ‘Atlantis’

—Mei sigining and diving off into the marine world, a whole new world—waiting and beckoning our attention, curosity, and research.

*side note: [This phycocolloid Carrageenan, specifically found in the red algae species called Eucheuma cottonii and Eucheuma spinosum, is not only used in ice cream, pudding, and food, but toothpaste as well. Some other phycocolloids from red algae include agar, which can surprisingly cost up to $1200 per ton.]


19 Jan PM – Busy, Busy, Busy!

Today is one of our most stressful days in Jamaica (yes, those were the words 'stress' and 'Jamaica' in the same sentence). We're taking all of our quizzes and tests covering the massive amount of lecture material we have had so far, as well as species identification. The only thing keeping me sane right now is that at least by tomorrow it will all be done.
Up until this point however it has been a superb experience. I've spent more time in the water than I even knew was physically possible for a human being – to the extent that even when out of the water I still feel like I'm swimming. It's a very odd sensation. So far we have done a great deal of snorkeling in the reef so we could collect animals for our wetlabs and take pictures of the ones we couldn't catch. I've gotten a variety of organisms including pufferfish, urchins, sea cucumbers, plants, and a baby stingray. 
  Baby Yellow Stingray

<<Picture: Baby Yellow Stingry (Olophus jamaicensis).>>
My favorite animal so far has been my friend the Spotted Sea Hare (Aplysia dactylomela). I named him Steve. Sometimes when I need a break from work, I wander over to the lab to pet him (and occasionally poke him until he squirts out his purple ink).

Steve releasing ink

<<Picture: Steve releasing his purple ink in the tank.>>
By far the most novel thing I have done here to date was begin my training as a scuba diver. I've gone diving twice now (halfway to certification!!) and it is the greatest thing I have ever done. I felt like it would be strange breathing under water with the regulator, but it actually feels oddly… natural. Like I was meant to do it. It's also helped me be more comfortable in open water. I often got very paranoid and felt like posionous/dangerous things were all around me. I always knew it was a silly thought, but now I don't feel that way anymore. Even when swimming by the barracuda, I know he will leave me be as long as I leave him.


<<Picture: Barracuda in the mangroves.>>
After today, things will be a lot more relaxed and I will get to enjoy my surroundings a bit more, as well as get to see other parts of Jamaica. I'm certainly looking forward to it. Until next time, this is Kathleen signing out!

19 Jan AM – Crunch Time

With one day left before the exam and a couple lectures to go it is nice to think about how much knowledge we have gained over the past few days. Four days in and a month worth of lectures, names like Chaetodon capistratus and Abudefduf saxitilus no longer sound like randomly slurred speech. Instead they evoke a mental picture of the many sea creatures they describe. I can’t say it hasn’t been a painful process trying to remember these things, but being able to see them in our backyard, along with study methods like group snorkels and “Jeopardy” has made it quite fun.

One of our nocturnal buddies
            One of our nocturnal buddies.

Aside from the studying, simply exploring the reef and collecting various species has been a blast. I have to say one of my favorite activities so far has been night snorkeling. The amount of nocturnal creatures sharing the reef is amazing. Not to mention cruising around crevices and grass beds with a single beam of light is as close to being on a different planet as I’ll ever get.

Volleyball anyone
            Volleyball anyone ?

After the exam I’m sure everyone’s mood will lighten up and we will begin conducting our own experiments. Taking my own experiences into account I could not think of a better place to be doing school work than in the warm sun and calming breeze of Jamaica


– Jake

(This post was erroneously attributed to Brooks by Prof. Warren. Sorry about that Jake.)

18 Jan PM – First Dive

I arrived in Jamaica late Thursday night. I really did not know what to expect. The next morning, we had to be at breakfast at 7:30 am, then lecture, then snorlekelling, then lunch, then lecture, then scuba check out dives, then lecture, then lecture, then dinner, then lecture. I was completly wiped out from the traveling the night before. I was not a happy camper the first day. But, then after a good night's sleep I was really able to appreciate the oppurtunity of being here, and looked forward to what our professors planned for us.


Jamaica really is the best of both worlds. It has beautiful green mountains, and crystal clear blue waters thriving with life. The water is filled with life from plants, invertebrates, and fish. You are able to see a lot of things by just looking off the dock, but when you get into the water it is a different world. Yesterday, we were able to snorkel on our own past the algal reef, and into the ocean. It was there where I had an experience with a Damsel fish. Damsel fish are algae farmers, so when I was trying to collect an algae sample, this fish was defending its grounds. It repeatedly kept waving its fins and swimming up down as it came after to me.

Kasey in the water.

Today was our first time taking the boat to a dive site. At first I was nervous, since it was my first 60 foot dive. But everything worked out, and it was truly amazing. I was able to witness the native people catching lion fish with a spear. It seemed like the dive went so fast. As I was ascending I failed to realize that I was far from the boat. When I arrived at the surface, I was in for a suprise. The swells were enormous, and the current was strong, but with the help of a good dive instructor I was able to make it back to the boat. Thats all for now, looking forward to the rest of my trip!!


– Kasey

18 Jan AM – Fish out of water

Every time I close my eyes now I feel like I’m floating over the reef and some new sea creature is swimming towards me, at which point I’ll try and spit out its scientific name with questionable pronunciation. It becomes gratifying when you can swim in the coral reefs of Jamaica and be familiar with whatever you’re seeing. The best part is, there’s always something new to see, or something else you’re looking for. Yesterday’s journey over the reef crest definitely epitomized that, and was by far the best exercise I’ve gotten in a long time. The anxiety of what we’d run into after going over the reef crest into the fore reef kept me kicking harder, until the point where I couldn’t help myself from diving down 15 feet and taking pictures of all form of life.

Odedblog #1 reefcrest

Swimming over the reef crest covered in brain coral with Aron.

 The trip out to the forereef took longer than expected because each time we agreed to turn around, we found ourselves chasing a new species of fish or trailing a school of cuddlefish to get a good shot.

Odedblog #2 foureyedbutterfly 

A damselfish playing tag with a four-eyed butterfly.

After losing track of how far we swam after crossing the reef crest, we came to realize that the tide dropped in our time exploring. We decided there was only one way back – sucking in our stomachs and floating along the 6 inches of water left over the reef. We quickly realized our mistake, as I couldn’t help but laugh seeing Aron sprawled over mounds of algae like a fish out of water, while gasping trying to hold myself up and avoid the fireworm right under me.  Luckily the waves gave us a generous boost after our struggle to crawl over what would have been a great photo. After numerous bumps, scraping and salvaging whatever algae we could that we gathered for our collection tank, we were in clear water and preparing for the trek ahead of us. To lighten up the mood, we ran into gorgeous schools of French grunts and my ever-so-anticipated Christmas Tree Worm, which burrowed at my touch.

Odedblog #3 frenchgrunt

School of French grunts snacking on porites coral.

Odedblog #4 christmastreeworm

Where’s the presents (since this is a Christmas tree worm) ?


I’m hoping the next time we go out there, I will have found myself a nice pair of gloves, just in case.



17 Jan PM2 – At the Crest.

At the Crest.


An Upside-down Jellyfish, Cassiopea Frondosa.

Since my arrival at Discovery Bay Marine La, or DBML, I've seen things that I'd never even seen before. things like "Upside-down Jellyfish", Fireworms, and Sea hares, to name a few. Everything is so intricately designed. Corals of every color of the rainbow, fish with tiger stripes and polka dots. These things may seem like mere decoration to us could mean the difference between getting eating or being left alone to them. Today we decided to take a swim out to the reef crest. As we neared the crest we noticed that it had gotten a bit rougher than when we had first left.


The reef crest, with waves crashing.

The water was getting shallower and the current was getting stronger, and I had to use all of my energy not to get knocked into a Long-spined Sea Urchin. Once we got ove the crest, there was an immediate drop-off. Right away I noticed organisms that don't, and couldn't, live closer to the DBML. Brain coral was there in abbundance, along with Elk-horn Coral and long chains of Saucer-leaf algae. Large schools of fish darted through and around the large mounds of coral, the coral providing pretection against large predators. On my swim back I was confronted by a large Spotted Eagle Ray, but as soon as it saw me it lazily swam in the opposite direction. It truly is amazing to see the enormous biodiversity that can occur in such a small section of reef.