20 Jan AM – Sea Turtle in Flight, Morning Delight

So our two and a half week stay at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab is coming to an end. It started with a frantic pace of lectures, some of which I was fortunate enough to present to the students. We tried to squeeze a large amount of info on tropical marine ecology into 4.5 days. The trip continued by then delving immediately into research. Every morning (very, very early in the morning), a team of us would head out to do some dives at various sites along the reef tract. We were helping graduate student, guest lecturer, and sponge extraordinaire, Amber Stubler, conduct some of her field research. In the afternoon, I found myself working with many of the students, helping them trouble-shoot their projects.

This has been the pace for the last week and a half, with the exception of a few weather days. (The weather has been beautiful, no rain, only “sky juice,” although we did have a couple days that were very windy so we were unable to head out to dive). One group in particular I have been working with, Kevin and Gary, were conducting a pretty interesting seagrass herbivory experiment, examining the impacts of nutrients and spatial setting on rates of herbivory. So I did a lot of diving with them in the lagoon. We also tried some other things – a fertilization experiment, measuring leaf toughness, and estimating grazing via shoot counts – so I am really looking forward to their presentation tonight. In fact, I am looking forward to all the student presentations tonight, since we had some very interesting projects conducted (stay tuned for those).

Another research project I was involved in was basically an extension of surveys conducted in the 1990s of coral cover, macroalgal cover, and sea urchin density, with some pretty interesting results! Luckily, it wasn’t all work. We went on two field trips, one to Dunn’s River Falls (which was awesome) and then Ocho Rios, a pretty interesting port city, where many cruise ships land with lots of touristy things to do. Then yesterday, we headed to Green Grotto, which is series of caves along the north shore of Jamaica, not far from the marine lab. The caves were awesome – many really cool rock formations, bats flying and hanging around, and a subterranean lake. Then we headed to the Ultimate Jerk for dinner, which was also fun. I had a half pound of jerk (read: spicy) chicken, with rice and beans, although in retrospect, I probably should have just went for the ¼ lb piece. I’ll remember that for next time. I was also able to go on a handful of fun dives, a few to Rio Bueno, some just on the Discovery Bay fore-reef and one at a site called Dairy Bull, where I could just “mosey” around, snapping photos and looking for shells. Today was the last day of diving, so a small group of us headed out to Rio Bueno at 7am. Good thing too, because no sooner were we in the water than we saw a school of jacks and a sea turtle. Now, I have been lucky enough to SCUBA at some very cool places, but I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen a turtle, and today I got a few good pictures of it. That was worth the 6:30 am alarm! Also saw some invasive lionfish, anemone shrimp, and collected some more shells. All in all, an amazing end to a very good trip (although I think I am ready to head home!)

Sea Turtle
The sea turtle we saw on our last dive at Rio Bueno.

School of jacks.

Anemone Shrimp
Tiny anemone shrimp hanging out amongst the tentacles.

John Carroll

19 Jan PM – Under pressure…

As this entry is being posted, the students are giving their final presentations of their research projects that they've been consumed with for the past week and a half.  Yesterday we took a field trip to the Green Grotto which is an area with several caves used by pirates, locals, rumrunners, and in the 1980s — a disco! Now this year's class will have been under water, under ground, and under pressure (of their projects).



It's hard to tell, but all the students are much tanner than in the group photo on the first day.

– Prof. Warren

19 Jan PM – Arrived as an American, leaving as a Jamaerican

 It was only 14 days ago when we were all lined up at JFK airport buzzed with excitement. Behind the excitement, I was feeling anxious for finally arriving to the moment of my life, which I have been anticipating for 3 years. Upon boarding our flight, new curiosities entered my head of what obstacles were ahead of me. I found it difficult to map out what I was going to accomplish, without knowing much about a place I have never been to before. It was not until my nerves had settled once we were in the air that I remembered a simple idea. This thought I recite time to time in my head to remind myself how to depict the present. I once read that right now is the youngest you will ever be, but it also is the oldest you have ever been. With that being conscious to me, I was enabling myself to make the best out of this experience.

Besides the fact that this class will satisfy a BIO lab requirement, the ultimate goal for me was to become a better person. I measure that in all the new knowledge I will gain from this trip, inside the classroom and more importantly outside the classroom. Also, I will become a more worldly oriented person knowing the ways of life for someone in a less developed country. I must say the people of Jamaica are loving and caring for the guests they welcome. They are not afraid of telling you many stories and teaching you the struggles of their lives. Before meeting any Jamaicans, it was hard for me to understand what they encounter on a daily basis in order to survive. Life is not as easy for them as it is for us because they do not have as many luxuries as us. It was a shocker for me to find out that most people do not own computers or own a car. I couldn’t imagine operating in America without these two “accessories”.

It is going to be sad for most of us to leave this beautiful island, but I must say I could never be happier. I am not implying that I dearly miss America for having hot showers or that I can access Wi-Fi anywhere on campus. I am happy because I have achieved my ultimate goal. I was able to immerse myself into the cultures of the Jamaican’s. When possible I talked to as many Jamaican’s as I could in trying to learn something about them. The most satisfying moments were when I was able to relate to them. It was amazing to be able to have gone through the same struggles as someone. In many instances I have shared similar experiences with them, even though we have grown up in different parts of the world. When I land back on American soil I am going to carry with myself many memories and new experiences that I will be able to share to others. Since I am bringing back a piece of Jamaica with me, I will consider myself an American with the understandings of the Jamaican people, a “Jamaerican.”


A view from our oceanside villa.

 - Chris


19 Jan AM – Smiling coral

Title: Not ready for goodbye


To start I would just like to express how amazing this trip has been. It has been the best time of my life, and I don’t think any of us want to leave. It has been our home here for two weeks and it’s starting to feel like just that. I feel at home here. We were all so welcomed by the staff here as well as the entire class getting along well. I know this trip won’t last forever, but the memories will. I would encourage anyone who wants to study abroad to just go for it. I admit I was nervous before this trip, I had never left the country and I didn’t know what to expect. I am more than happy about participating in this program. So for anyone out there who may be afraid to try something new, I’d say don’t be afraid to get your feet wet (literally).

From what we saw of the country, it seems amazing. The water is almost a constant 81 degrees, the sun is usually shining, and the people are usually shining as well. It is such a happy and relaxing place. I know I will miss it, and may even come back to visit. That all being said, I feel that above all we all made new friends, and I’m hoping these friendships all last. After spending two weeks with a group of people you get to know them fairly quickly and deeply. On a side note, I’m writing this in a nice warm breeze looking out over a beautiful bay, a sight I will soon long for. I feel like I took this for granted, my time here is almost up and I feel like I just got here. Well, that’s it for me. Peace mon!

Even the coral here is happy mon!


– Trever

18 Jan PM #2 – Going fishing

 I finished up the rest of my research today. Mike and I got some great data on fish predation rates within the bay area. I’m very happy I took bio stats last semester because it’s been helping me manipulate the data. We found one significant finding so far in our research and are looking to manipulate our data further. Jamaica became so much better once the rains stopped. Tried to tan but, ended up getting a little burned. I’ll live. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two weeks. The time flew right by. I’ll really miss this place and group of people. It’s been totally worth it

Wildcard blog 2 pic
One of the tiles we tied hooks to for our research. The idea is that predators will come in, take the prey, and get hooked. We haven’t actually caught any fish, but have had many prey items missing.  

– Nate


18 Jan PM – “Who’s that Pokémon!?!?”

Whos that pokemon
Who’s that Pokémon???

So word in the water column is that there’s a spotted eagle ray that’s been visiting the dock’s of the marine lab and the adjacent lagoon. However, this spotted beauty has yet to be spotted by a camera… Suspicions are high. The, supposed, five foot fish has revealed itself to but a select few here, who all back each other up in the allegation. For the past four nights now I have waited. Waited for this beast of a fish to come swimming my way. Waited with my camera at the ready to grab the photo. But to no avail. The creature is of mythical proportion and an eye uncatchable. The believability compares most closely to the ability or lack of, to catch such fabled beings as the yeti and the Loch Ness monster. So tonight, I set out once again, my camera filled with desire; for maybe tonight we can wrestle this mysterious being into the confines of a picture frame. Tonight I wait.

Its spotted eagle ray
It’s spotted eagle ray!

Billy Lake


18 Jan AM – HELP! We need more tiles…

Our time in Jamaica is slowly running down because we leave to go back home this Friday. Everyone keeps hearing about the snow and weather that we’re having back home and how hard it is going to be to leave sunny, warm Jamaica behind but we still got 3 days. These 3 days are going to be everyone doing their projects to get the most data and trials they can before we leave and Brooke and I are just starting to get progress with our Balloon fish.

Picture 1
These are our 8 Balloon fish. Their names are Puff Puff, Bubba, Pippa, Kingsbert, Spike, Airhead, Puff Daddy, El Diablo

 They started eating the newest urchins we collected which are the slate pencil urchins. While we wait for them to eat and check back with them throughout the day, we continue finding the force needed to crush the different species of urchins and its correlation with body size. This now involves about 60 of Amber’s tiles and it’s a game of jenga to keep them going and adding more on top.

Picture 2
Slate Pencil Urchin about to be crushed. 

Today, we’re leaving the facility to either go to the green grotto caves or the bioluminescent waters. I personally want to go to the bioluminescent waters, I mean how often do you get to go swim in tropical waters and glow as well? Buffalo is going to seem a whole lot colder coming from this weather.



17 Jan PM – Crunch Time

With only a few more days upon us, everyone is working hard to collect as much data as possible before our time in Jamaica runs out. From snorkeling to running trials in the wet lab, everyone is constantly busy.

Nicole and Steph working on their data in the classroom. 

Susan and I spend our day running trials and taking data every two hours throughout the day. Our experiment has been working a lot more smoothly since we switched topics from Damselfish aggressive behavior to looking at the covering material preference of two different species of sea urchins, Tripneustes ventricosus and Lytechinus variegates. We have run various trials in the lab where we have provided the urchins with bendable and non-bendable material in order to look for a covering preference. We have also been using both natural materials the urchins would typically come across in the wild, as well as artificial material they most likely are not familiar with.

Testing sea urchin covering preference in the wet lab. 

On top of these controlled experiments in the lab, we have also gone out snorkeling to do field observations in the bay. Yesterday was an especially difficult day! The scuba diving trip yesterday morning was cancelled due to the windy weather, yet nonetheless Susan and I made our way into the choppy water after lunch in order to collect another day’s worth of observational data. Writing down notes while snorkeling and being thrown around by waves is not a fun thing to do! However, it needed to get done, and we were able to obtain a lot of useful data that we spent the afternoon analyzing. With only a few days left in Jamaica, it is definitely crunch time to get everything done before going back to New York.

– Bianca

17 Jan AM – Success is….

…failing without losing enthusiasm, according to Dr. Peterson. So in his eyes, Kyle’s and my research project is a success.

It seems as if almost everyone has made at least minor changes to their research project after realizing that their ideas didn’t go as planned. Kyle and I began studying the eating habits of Diodon holocanthus (balloon fish) and seeing if it was consistent with the optimal foraging theory. However, it’s very hard to observe eating habits when your fish won’t eat. Although several sources have told us that D. holocanthus love to eat sea urchins, we’ve only gotten them to eat two since we’ve had them. We have four urchins of various sizes neatly placed in each of our two tanks. Day after day we check to see how many have been eaten, and everyday the answer to that question is zero. We tested the strength of various sizes of Lytechinus variegatus and Eucidaris tribuloides urchin to see how much crushing power it would take to flatten them, and then formed our hypothesis based off of the results. Smaller urchins are easier to break open than larger ones, therefore we hypothesize that if D. holocanthus were to maximize their net intake of energy, they would eat smaller urchin. Our experiment so far has been a whole lot of trial and even more error. We have a bunch of data on an experiment that just isn’t working. Right now we’re seeking alternatives, but we’re not giving up just yet.

Picture 1
 Kyle and I stacking tiles to see how many it would take to crush a sea urchin.

 We’re completely done with lectures and have been only meeting as a class once every other day to update our professors on how our project is going. Those of us who have had a lot of waiting time in our experiments have had the luxury of spending some time in the sun (although Dr. Warren picked on us a little bit for tanning). I’ve ditched the Banana Boat after sun for the aloe plant growing next to the dock, and miraculously I’ve yet to burn; it’s funny how much we overlook natural cures in America.

  Picture 2
The dock, where we do most of our tanning.

 After today, we have only 3 full days left in Jamaica! I’m really going to miss it and I definitely am not looking forward to the New York cold.

– Brooke Learned


16 Jan PM – Winding Down

Dunn's river falls
Dunn’s river falls (left to right) Fardina, Bianca, Laura, Susan

Since my last update a lot has occurred. We took our exam, started developing and testing our questions for our research project, went to Dunn’s River Falls, did some shopping in Ocho Rios, and went snorkeling in Rio Bueno. Our research project is the thing that weighs heavily on most of our minds these days.

Snorkeling at rio bueno
Me snorkeling at Rio Bueno (photo credit: Brooke)

Bianca and I started our project thinking we were going to be studying Damsel fish aggression towards other species. We tried several different methods of measuring and observing in the lab but nothing was working for us. After many attempts and many failures we decided to take our research and do a 180. We have now decided to look at sea urchins, Tripneustes ventricosus and Lytechinus variegatus, and what they prefer to cover themselves with.

West Indian sea egg
First trial of our project. Tripneustes ventricosus is covering itself with Udotea flabellum, leaves, and turtle grass.

We took samples from the mangrove area of the bay and also samples from the turtle grass area closer to the reef crest. Within the first 24 hours of developing our question and collecting our samples we had already done four trials with some interesting results. Today we started our field observations, Bianca in the mangroves and me out near the reef crest. Swimming out there was difficult because I was swimming against the current and the water was very choppy. I am slowly being able to manage a camera and a clipboard while writing down what I see. We only have a few days left here and we still have many more tests to run and soon we will be working on our final presentation. Hopefully we will have some success with our project and get home safely at the end of the week.