Since getting certified last week, I don’t think I’ve gone a single day without diving. Richard, Lucia and I lay down transects, take pictures, and try as hard as we possibly can to avoid stepping on any urchins, fire coral, and other quasi-dangerous things. All of this takes place roughly 30 feet under water and would be near impossible without scuba diving. We’re hoping to find a positive correlation between number of coral and the number of urchins within a given area. All that means is that we spend a lot of our time in urchin filled waters. Still, I’m enjoying the opportunity to be out doing research like this. Every night when trying to fall asleep, I feel like I’m floating underwater… as if I’ve been shifted right back to the 7 AM dive from that day. After a long day of doing something both exhilarating and physically exhausting, it’s kind of cool to see your body echo phantom sensations from that day.
Bright and early, going out on a dive (That’s Megan next to me)
Last week we started our own research projects. My partner, Danica, and I decided we wanted to do something with the mangroves. Our original idea was to see how burrowing isopod abundance changed when the prop roots were in or out of the ground. We were going to attach something to the ones that were not touching the ground to make them touch the ground and see if the benthic predators (crabs) would consume them. The time limit made this impossible so we took a sample from one of the roots and literally picked through the algae to see what we found. We found amphipods and only amphipods. We then changed our project slightly.
Now we are trying to see if there is a difference between amphipod abundance on prop roots that are touching versus those that aren’t. The same idea applies where we thought the benthic predators would be unable to get to the amphipods on the prop roots that weren’t touching the ground, therefore leading to greater abundance. We have been collecting algae in 6-inch sections from the prop roots. So far we have collected 15 samples and literally picked through algae to find amphipods. On one root we got a different type of algae than we usually collect and we found many more things such as baby brittle stars, sea cucumbers, and fire worms. We are still working and basically we live in the wet lab bent over small dishes. So far our data shows an opposite trend from what we expected, but that’s alright.
Samples of the amphipods we found. Pictures were taken by my ipohone through the awesome DIY microscope that John Carrol built. We have yet to identify them, but that will happen eventually.
[Ed: Fun fact: The monster in the Alien series of movies is based (in part) on a hyperiid amphipod. That's a different species than what Megan and Danica have found here, but you can see some similarities. Amphipods are the kind of zooplankton you don't want to run into at night in a dark alley. Look at their raptorial claws!]
The supplies we are using to go through the algae and count the amphipods.
The past few days have been just as busy as the first few days we have been here. Since I last wrote, it has been a roller coaster full of ups and downs and some “if at first if you don’t succeed, try, try again”. The research portion of the course officially started on Tuesday and boy it’s been a bumpy road. Who knew working with Sea Stars and Brittle Stars would be difficult? I sure didn’t! After a few hurdles here and there we are on a better direction. The few setbacks we had, allowed us to revaluate and consider things that we didn’t foresee happening along the course of the research.
I can honestly say, that over the past week and a half I have learned so much. Not only have I learned about marine science and coral reefs, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself. In such a short period of time, I’ve realized that I am very open to trying new things and pushing myself to be far better than I think I can be. The program has been fantastic overall, full of memories and experiences that I will never forget. One memory in particular, I will cherish, is climbing Dunn’s river falls (I actually climbed the hardest trail on the waterfall)! It was quite hard, but I did it. Before coming I was somewhat scared to snorkel. However, since arriving I have snorkeled almost every day, including one night snorkel. The night snorkel was awesome and even exhilarating. Just as much marine life comes out at night as they do during the day. To be able to swim and even just observe marine life is something I never even would have dreamed of. I can go on and on about so much more, but there’s research to be done!
Our experimental set up for running trials.
Our lovely sea table for our Sea Stars and Brittle Stars stay.
I was all smiles at Dunn’s River Falls!
Jan 17th 2014
In the last couples of days we have being doing many good things. We went for our day trip to Ocho Rios and Dunns falls. A lot of tourists that come on cruisers around the Caribbean stop at Ocho Rios. Also, we are having a lot of fun playing night volleyball. I am the superman rescuer when the ball gets lost in the bushes. We already stared working on our researches and everybody looks like they are enjoying it, some of us are diving, others snorkeling, and others counting cells. Something else that called my attention of being at Discovery marine bay and learning from Duane one of the guys that drive the boats is that Discovery Marine bay actually was a place where Christopher Columbus landed in one of his trips. This place was called before Dry harbor until adopted the name that actually has now Discovery Marine Bay.
If you guys have the opportunity to try a fresh Caribbean drink you guys should try Sorrel. It is not a alcoholic beverages, but it contains a fruit that luckily is harvested during this time of the year. This juice contains with a little bit of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and I guess a lemon or orange juice.
Sorrel juice a drank 1,2,3 or maybe 4
We started out the day with a morning dive, our most crowded yet with the DITz on board. Fourteen people [ed: hmm, I guess instructors don't count as people! There were a few more of us onboard.] total piled onto the two boats at 7:30am, some bringing normal dive gear, while others brought research material. Several groups stayed by the boat and gathered data while others broke off on their own and had a fun dive. Afterwards, it was back to the dock where everyone dried off for a late breakfast, so kindly kept warm for us by Precious! Some jumped right back into the water to gather more data, while others relaxed for the first time in a while and did some online (yes, the wifi is back!) research. No matter what we were doing, we waited in anticipation for our first night dive to come. As we went about our day, we all convened in the classroom for one last guest lecture by Dr. Dayne Buddo, a professor at the University of the West Indies. We learned about alien and invasive species, as well as a new program that is going to be hosted by UWI and Stony Brook alike. It was a really enlightening experience, and a great distraction from our overwhelming research. After that, it was a few short hours until we jumped in the water once again, 16 divers, 12 flashlights, and a whole bunch of nerves. At some points, we spread very far apart, at others we crowded on top of one another, and at the end, our navigation was more than a bit off, but the majority of the group had fun on their first night dive, and everyone can at least check that experience off their bucket list!
[ed: The photos below are from the morning dive.]
Hand feeding fish by breaking open some sea urchins
Our Dive Master, Snow, free diving and messing with us during our safety stop
A couple of our divers waiting to get in the boat: (left to right) Danica, Sal, and Taylor
After a late night game of volleyball after dinner the previous night, I was not sure how I was going to wake up for my very first not-in-training dive before breakfast this morning. Luckily I managed the getting up part and let the water do the actual waking. Megan and I had the pleasure of having Snow (one of the dive masters) show us around dive site LTS. We saw a moray eel, a lionfish, and I finally found a flamingo tongue!
Cutest little sea creature, second only to…
…Benny (Taylor named him), the lettuce sea slug in our collection.
Later, we finally got to go on the night dive. I was pretty nervous because we were told that we would probably get stung by the jellyfish that hang out at the surface and I only have a shorty and also because we only had about eight lights for 14 divers. It was pretty cool though. It was a full moon, so even at 30ft, while we were waiting for everyone else to descend, we could see each other without any light. I didn’t see an octopus or a sea turtle, like when I went on the night snorkel, but it was fun seeing the bioluminescence every time we moved around under water.
As for the research project, it is going well. Jose and I are studying the mutualistic relationship between Upside Down Jellyfish and Zooxanthellae, which are photosynthesizing organisms that reside in the Jellyfish’s tentacles, and how that relationship changes in the absence of light. After a slow start in trying to figure out our methodology, we were finally able to extract the Zooxanthellae and start counting them.
So many Zooxanthellae for us to count.
Now that the lecture material is over, I am getting started on my research project. It is going slow but steady and data collection is a top priority for me. My partner and I have worked out most of the kinks in our project but there is still much to do. At night we play volleyball sometimes and we usually go diving early in the morning. The days are busy and fun, and I will not be happy when this is all over. We went night snorkeling a few nights ago and I saw so much. I saw squid, octopi, rays, lobsters, and awesome fish.
Here is a little octopus I saw on the night snorkel.
[Ed: This post is from 5 days ago. It somehow managed to get lost on the thumb drive the class uses to turn in assignments. My apologies to Jose. And now journey back in time with us….]
The days go by and we are getting ready for start our group research. We (The Dits) have been going to a different area called Runaway bay, where there are many different hotels and touristic area. Fruiti our scuba professor pointed out different cultural customs, and local information about Jamaica in each trip. Some of us got certified for scuba diving, we are not Dits any more. We graduated by diving between a canyon of coral reef that perhaps goes to a depth of 100ft. The other guys already had their certification to scuba. I would describe this place as a great experience for appreciate and observed the marine life. We have seen many vivid colors, living things to see, places to go, and pictures to take. We review with our professors for our test playing marine live jeopardy and this helps us to remember part of what we have learned in previews days. Something cool is that everybody had studied together and had a funny way to remember scientific names. Also, I wont never forget our professor Joe’s favorite fish blue hamlet “Hypoplectus Indigo”.
We the Dits scuba for the second time, thanks to Danica for the picture
After hours and hours of planning we have finally started our experiments in the wet lab. Kaitlyn and I rounded up what seemed like hundreds of West Indian Sea Eggs and Variegated Urchins, which we actually now need more of, in order to conduct trails on interspecific and intraspecific competition of the two species. During collection from the Bay, the urchins were shaken up a bit which sent them into spawning mode releasing orange colored eggs into our holding tank. Just for fun we decided to make a slide of the eggs to look at under our make-shift microscope, made from the cameras on our phones, and see how the eggs looked. Surprisingly the eggs could be seen pretty clear and were interesting to look at. We have about another 24 hours to go in our first test trials and to see if our data is working. Hopefully the urchins will continue to cooperate!
A few of our tanks set up to begin trials.
Trial of Variegated urchin consumption on Turf algae.
Orange eggs that were released from an urchin we had collected.
A view of the urchin eggs under our make-shift, smartphone camera microscope.
Recently (after being a part of this trip), I learned that the organisms that I have been calling ‘starfish’ my whole life actually have another name that they should be called: ‘sea stars.’ This new piece of knowledge has definitely been a struggle to get used to. I am studying various species of sea stars and brittle stars as my research experiment with my partner and occasionally, I still catch myself calling the fun, little organisms ‘starfish.’ Nevertheless, it is quite amusing to watch them move around in our sea table although sometimes I do feel bad taking them out of their natural territory. We try our best to make them comfortable whenever we can! I’ve already noticed that their different functional morphologies affect their movement or gliding speed in relation to each other. My group’s research is mainly on which class of Echinoderms (sea stars or brittle stars) reacts the fastest to the stimuli we present. Although it is a bit nerve-racking if things in the experiment don’t go as planned, I am looking forward to learning new concepts about these critters. As with everything else I have come across in the water, there is so much more to know than meets the eye. This trip has not only opened my eyes to many new identifiable organisms in the water, but it also has taught me that I am quite compassionate about them and want them to be able to live in a healthy habitat.
These are some of the sea stars and brittle stars I am working with for my research.
This is a shot of the sea table, where we are mostly working with the organisms. We are using the two tanks with bright flagging tape for our setup in order to test our hypothesis.