11 Jan PM – Divers in Training

For some of us at Discovery Bay Marine lab, Jamaica, we are scuba diving for the first time under the supervision of Fruity the dive master (pictured). Fruity, a certified member of PADI Scuba, is here to teach us the great fun and excitements of scuba diving. For the group of new divers pursuing their scuba license, there was a three day course of open water learning. This experience has been amazing and breathing underwater has now become our new hobby. When we first arrived at Discovery Bay, most of us were skeptical of going in the water, afraid of being stung by something unpleasant. We are now a week into the trip and most of us can’t stay out of the water.

Fruity, DITs, and some students taking a short break from their research projects.

Today is our last day with Fruity and after our afternoon dive we become certified scuba. This morning we took a short test with Fruity to bring us a step towards our certification. After our test we will be heading out in the water to do some short exercises, before we head to the depths for our final dive. Those tests include maneuvering underwater with a compass and also clearing our masks underwater. At this point I feel that I am a competent diver and am ready to dive for real. This was not always easy for me to dive. On our first dive with Fruity it took me a while to acclimate the depths of the water. When I reached about 15 feet of water my ears began to hurt from the great pressures generated from the water. After a few moments of pinching my nose to equalize the pressure in my ears I was fine. After that moment of short delay I became one with the ocean. Seeing all the fish swim by you and hearing all the bubbles cascade from everyone’s masks was an amazing feeling. The tranquility of being underwater is incomparable to anything thing else I have done. Well , am off for my final training dive now, wish me luck!!

An underwater seascape

Chris Pellicano


11 Jan AM – First Day of Diving!

Since we’ve all spent the last couple days cramming the plethora of information we’ve learned into our brains, it was a great stress reliever to find out that we’d finally get a chance to go diving! I was especially excited, because although I was only a DIT (diver in training), I had been anxiously awaiting my first chance to go diving since I first began the certification process over Thanksgiving break. With the academic and pool sessions done, I could not wait to finally experience diving in the ocean as I began completing my four open water dives. It was the last step necessary before becoming a completely certified diver!

Boats at the dock, recently returning from a diving trip.

The regular, already certified divers, had their check out yesterday morning at 7AM. They took the boats out near the reef crest to complete their check out dive. Then came time for the DITs, and after a quick review, it was time to get in the water!

Diving instruction Fruity reviewing how to put scuba gear together with some DITs [Divers In Training]

Although I was a little nervous not to forget any critical information, all my anxiety vanished as I took my first breath underwater among the fish. We stayed near the reef flat with our diving instructor and went down about 10-15 feet. It was absolutely breathtaking to swim past the coral and observe all the fish and other organisms that we’ve spent the last 5 days studying! Common names and scientific names flew through my brain, as I was able to recognize a lot of the creatures we saw.

The experience in itself was definitely worthwhile. Although all us DITS still have 3 more dives to complete before becoming completely certified, I would definitely say that the process so far has been very rewarding! It is even more than I imagined it would be when I first began learning the material this past Thanksgiving break, and I don’t regret it for a minute. I can’t wait to go diving again!

– Bianca


10 Jan PM #2 – Jammin’

Its our 6th day in Jamaica and a lot of stress has been relieved from all of us because we had our practical exam yesterday which ended with a Jamaican style BBQ due to the class from Wisconsin leaving this morning to go back home. The BBQ entailed some delicious food and a band that played right by the water.

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Our evening entertainment.

Yesterday was also the first of my four required open water dives to finally get my certification for SCUBA diving, our second one is today. Before we go diving today we had an early start to go on a boat trip to a nearby area where one of our graduate teaching assistants had a research site to go snorkeling, while those with their certifications already got to dive. We still got to see the coast line as we travelled and see all the fishermen out checking their traps. It was nice getting to go somewhere new and to see the differences that each area have in coverage of corals, sponges, and the fish present. The snorkeling trip, however, was cut short because a couple people got some motion sickness on the ride over. I can’t wait to be able to swim down deep in the water and be able to see everything in detail and not have the restrictions of needing to go to the surface for air.


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Squirrel fish

– Kyle

10 Jan PM – Post Exam Relief

We have finally taken our exam and species id section of the class, and to say the least it feels amazing. The stress all just disappeared and now we are going to start our research projects. After our test we had an amazing night. We got to have a BBQ with the other class we were sharing the lab with, and unfortunately it was their last night. I met people I would of otherwise never have known existed because we had a common interest that led us here. I myself will miss their class, and seeing as how we all seemed to get along last night, others may as well. I feel at home here, it is an amazing place.


My first ever tropical dive was done yesterday, and it was something I will never forget. The water was 81 degrees 40-60 feet down! Compare this to the water in Maine and you’ll understand just how different this is for me! It was like diving in a giant bathtub. I cannot wait to do more diving and travel to different spots to see more.

– Trever

10 Jan AM – It’s Crunch Time

Squirrel fish out in the mangroves

It is crunch time at Discovery bay Marine Lab for our group. Everyone is studying and working hard on their species identification slides. Yesterday it was nice and sunny and I was able to study and work on that Jamaican tan at the same time. Since we have gotten here a lot has happened. We wake up early every morning to the sound of a bird running around on the roof. We have gone snorkeling many times. I have gone to the mangroves several times and have seen many different fish.

Brooke and Fardina working on the ID power points in the wet lab

I still have not caught a fish, but I have had several matches with the damsel fish have so far it is damsel fish 3 Susan 0. The second day of snorkeling Kyle and I swam out to the turtle grass meadow and Kyle spotted and caught a sea horse. My group has not gone out to the reef crest yet, and I am excited to go during my free time in the next few days.

School master juvenile in the mangroves

In the wet lab it has been difficult to find and take pictures of all the organisms we have collected. Our brittle star continues to hide inside the pipe in our area. Our seahorse is happier now that we put some turtle grass and other algae in the tank. The damsel fish has now claimed our conch shell as its home. Yesterday we all had our meetings with the professors to discuss our ideas for our research projects. Bianca and I will be teaming up and looking at Damsel fish aggression towards its own species and towards two other types of fish. While studying it was hard to talk in the wet lab because of the extremely heavy rain at 3. Today is our exams and most people are anxious and worried about all of the identifications. This morning the divers went out and did their checkout dives and the DITS , divers in training, went and did their open water dive. Hopefully tonight we will be able to relax and enjoy ourselves while writing our research proposal.

Our sea horse (Hippocampus erectus) in the wet lab   

– Susan


09 Jan PM – Jamaican Me Crazy!

Today is our 6th day in Jamaica! We have done so much work since our arrival that it feels as if we have already been here for several weeks; meanwhile we haven’t even spent 1 full week in Jamaica.

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Fish swimming by its home, the coral reef!

Today will be a little different because we will be taking our exams for the course, which includes a written exam and a species-identification test. Thus far, we have learned about various marine vertebrates (different fish), invertebrates (sponges, sea stars, urchins, and coral) and plants (turtle grass). The information was interesting, but memorizing the scientific names of all of the organisms we encountered was a difficult task. Learning a course-load of material in a matter of days was very difficult for myself, as I am not a marine biology major. However, it was great to learn about something unfamiliar for a change.

So far, my snorkeling partner Trever and I have collected 2 balloon fish (a personal favorite), a scorpion fish, a boxfish, and several other small organisms. I kind of have to admit… Trever did most of the work in terms of catching fish as well as picking up spider-looking brittle sea stars off the ocean floor (a personal least favorite). I finally faced my fears and, while on the verge of screaming, held one of the creepy-crawly brittle sea stars in my hand, but I can guarantee that that certainly won’t be happening often! 

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Trever catching a balloon fish (round fish to right of fish net). Swatting at him so many times caused him to “balloon up.”

From now on, most of our time is going to be spent doing our own research projects. I find this very exciting because now that we have a little bit more freedom we have more time to really experience the marine life here in Jamaica and focus on what catches our interest (I know what I will be researching, but I’m not telling just yet =] ). We will be leaving the facility as a group today after our exam to see a little bit more of Jamaica. I’m very excited and hope that it won’t be our last trip off campus; marine biology is great but I also want to experience the Jamaican culture!

Until next time,

Brooke Learned

09 Jan AM – Information Overload

I am currently having an information overload. After 5 hours of lecture every day since arriving in Jamaica you can imagine how our brains are feeling right now (even though it hasn’t been that long)… Maybe it’s just me but it is a crazy amount of information for such a short period of time. However, after having a major study session last night and identifying every species in sight, I feel a bit more confident in my knowledge of marine ecology.

On 1/6/12 we were given our partners/groups for “collection and identification” of marine life, I was paired with Mike and we’re pretty awesome partners. We initially stayed by the mangrove due to poor visibility and collected some green, brown and red algae, but then were able to explore out by the reef crest and saw some pretty neat stuff! As we were exploring the reef crest I noticed a small silver fish that kept darting past my mask and following me, I brushed him off and kept going but then no later did I see him following alongside Mike as we moved onward. I notified Mike of this little guy and soon enough Mike was on a mission to catch this fish, this was possibly the funniest thing I have ever seen. Mike was flying and darting trying to capture this fish. His first attempt at catching this fish failed and we thought that the fish had left us, but then he was back again! This time Mike won and caught him! Immediately we named him Skippy, he was and still is our little pride and joy… We quickly brought him back to the wet lab so we could identify him, and so the search began.

It took us until I had to have my ear cleaned the next day to identify him… So I have water in my ear, and while everyone else was out exploring the reef I was stuck lying on my side trying to fix this ear problem… As soon as the hydrogen peroxide was administered my ear was fizzing and popping. Instead of just lying there staring at the wall I figured I would be productive and try to find the identity of our little fish. So here I am lying on the bed on my side with hydrogen peroxide exploding in my ears awkwardly holding a book trying to find his identity… Finally, I found it! Little Skippy is a yellow jack, Caranx bartholomaei!

Needless to say this trip is amazing and I am loving every minute of it! I’ll keep you posted on any other crazy events that occur while here in Jamaica. (:


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Our little Skippy!

– Steph

08 Jan PM – Some Pretty Awesome Stuff

This fish is the Stoplight Parrotfish that we saw snorkeling on Friday. When we first tried to identify it we thought it was a Snowy Grouper but upon closer examination we realized it had to be a Parrotfish because of its large scales.

On Friday, January 6 we were assigned our collection groups and I was partnered with Celeste and Gary. The water was perfect for snorkeling and we were able to take about 150 pictures as well as collect some pretty cool things. My favorite picture was of the Stoplight Parrotfish juvenile (Sparisoma viride) and the coolest creature we were able to collect was a Comet Star (Ophidiaster guildingii) which is a species of sea stars. After dinner Steph and I studied for our ID’s. We came up with some crazy sayings to remember which common names go with which scientific names. For example to remember the scientific name for a Sergeant Major we can up with the saying Adolf Hitler plays the saxophone. The scientific name is Abodefduf Saxatilis.


Nicole_Comet Star
This is our comet Star trying to hide in one the filtering tubes in our tank.

On Saturday, January 7 we had the pleasure of seeing a peacock flounder. Celeste took a video of it and then we attempted to catch it but our net wasn’t big enough. Even though we didn’t catch it we saw how it can change colors as we chased it from a sandy area into a patch of coral. After we were done with lecture and snorkeling for the day Steph and I talked about potential project ideas but we still have no idea what we are going to do so we’re going to go work on that now!

Nicole_Peacock Flounder
This is the peacock flounder hiding in the sand flats.   


08 Jan AM – Snorkeling by Day and Night

On Friday we made several snorkeling trips in order to collect specimens for our tanks. In the morning the water was pretty rough due to high winds. This made the visibility much lower than usual, and we weren’t able to find very much. When we went back in the afternoon, however, the water was much clearer and we were able to get going on our collections, grabbing most of the more common algae and invertebrates that we have studied so far, including an upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea frondosa) that for some reason seems to prefer to stay “rightside-up” in our tank and we caught a suckfish. Several of the other groups had the good fortune to catch a few fish, but they all managed to ellude us.

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An electric ray photographed during the night snorkel by Billy Lake

Tonight several of us went on our first night snorkel of the trip. It’s amazing how different the lagoon is after dark. Balloonfish (Dioden holocanthus) and Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis), which I have only seen a few of during the day so far were everywhere. I would have loved to have gotten some pictures with my new external flash, but unfortunately my camera has been fogged up, and the flash unusable since we got here, which is a shame because I have no evidence of the Peacock flounder (Bothus lunatus) I spotted in a sandy section of the lagoon earlier. Even so, I was able to see some interesting species for the first time tonight. We saw several octopi (Octopus vulgaris), and a few rays which we have yet to identify. I also gathered a few Spotted seahares (Aplysia dactylomela), though one somehow managed to escape from the closed collection bag on the way back to the lab. Hopefully we will have more opportunities to explore the various parts of the bay during the rest of the trip, including the deeper sections once we get to start SCUBA diving. Anyway, off to bed, there’s lots to do tomorrow.

-Kevin Maritato




07 Jan PM – My First Snorkeling Experience

Shortly after coming on this trip, I found out that I was the only person out of our group of sixteen students who has never snorkeled before. This naturally made me a little more nervous than I initially was because I didn’t want to slow down or deter anyone from what they wanted to do just so they can teach or monitor me. My first time in the water I was definitely NOT used to the snorkel mask and breathing out of my mouth and I would involuntarily breathe out of my nose which would just make me choke in the water that was leaking through my foggy mask. Also my wet suit was extremely buoyant and it was very hard for me to stay in one place. Needless to say it was not a great first experience.

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View of under the rocks by the mangroves (photo by Kyle)

But a few hours later, we went snorkeling again and although I was not looking forward to it, our wonderful grad TA Amber took me by the hand and slowly led me through the water stopping periodically to point all the cool organisms out and making sure I was okay. We reached the mangroves on the side of the dock of the Marine Bay and I could finally see what all the hoopla about snorkeling was about. I was seeing giant schools of fish, algae, coral, anemone, and so much more, it was simply breathtaking!

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A red Rock Boring Urchin (Echinometra lucunter) on the rocks near the mangroves (photo by Kyle)

I remember thinking; whoa this is even better than the Discovery Channel! The next morning I went into the water again still a little apprehensive but much more confident with my group members to do some more exploring and collecting organisms. We took some pretty cool pictures and they even collected a seahorse! Even better, there was a beautiful rainbow over the bay in the afternoon. I still am not the most comfortable snorkeling but I am looking forward to improving every day and feeling very confident in the water by myself in the upcoming weeks.

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Beautiful fish near the mangroves called Slippery Dick (Halichoers Bivittatus) (photo by Kyle)

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The beautiful rainbow above the bay BEFORE the rain!

– Fardina Miah