16 Jan PM – Reefs, Fire Ants, and A Whole Bunch More

Yesterday, our group had quite the schedule with activities ranging from scuba diving to a lovely sunset dinner. Our day began at dawn with a nice scuba dive at a reef called Pear Tree. One of our instructors took my small group out to explore the reef while our other professors had some work to do on the reef. Pear Tree was very beautiful because of the intricate valley ways that were formed between each coral outcrop. Due to strong currents and erosion, a large variety of valleys covered the entire reef. I love these formation particularly because I love to swim through them. These pathways were not as magnificent as the swim-through at Rio Bueno but they were very impressive.

Once we came back to the marine station we all split our time between a little sunbathing (for some people too much), tether retrieving and just snorkeling through Discovery Bay. At night however, we were able to walk down the road and get dinner from a jerk chicken restaurant. Jerk chicken is a heavily seasoned piece of chicken that is a trademark of Jamaican cuisine. Everybody pretty much got the same thing and the food was absolutely delicious (I honestly wasn’t surprised because all the food on this island is delicious).

After we had dinner we played our nightly game of “Hate Your Neighbor”. This card game is basically the game UNO but using regular cards instead of UNO cards. The game is always so fun and I was laughing so much that I quickly got very tired and was ready for bed. However, before I could get into my nicely elevated top bunk, I had to prep the defenses of my room against the impeding army of fire ants that had taken residence directly outside our back door. I highly dislike ants, so I took every measure possible to hinder their entrance into out rooms (particularly my bed since I’m closest to the back door). These included spraying bug repellent all over the back door, moving all my stuff inside, locking the back door (this just made me feel better) and of course, I slept on the top bunk. Thankfully they did not come into our room last night but they are still outside at the moment….to be continued!


A beautifully formed coral valley at Pear Tree Reef          

– Mike 

16 Jan AM – 5 Meters of Nothing but Coral and Algae

Today, we got down to business with some hands-on legitimate marine biologist work. As a group of determined snorkelers, we ventured out to a shallow spot on the reef to lay down transect tape. By laying down transect tape, we can measure what type of organisms inhabit that area of the reef. Each of us took a 5 meter section of the tape and with our handy-dandy waterproof paper (which is very strange to use: imagine writing on paper normally, but in the water!), we marked down everything we saw directly underneath the tape. Although this can be tedious, time consuming work, it is a lot easier to do while you’re actually in the water, than it is to watch a video and try to determine the organisms. Which is exactly what we had to do for practice before we could go out on our own. But, we were rewarded with some delicious Lionfish for dinner. For more info: check out Joe’s blog!


One of the stills from the video of the transect tape

  Photo 2

working hard or hardly working?

  Photo 3

Emma is determined to identify the species in the transect video

– Lea

15 Jan PM – The Food Life

Hey Friends!

For the majority of this post, I would like to at least attempt to convey the sheer excellence of something that everyone here on the trip has been affected by multiple times every day. Apart from the amazing views, both above and below water, the kindness of the people, and all the information thrown our way on a daily basis, one aspect of the course stands apart. The food here is, for lack of a better word, excellent.

Every morning, Precious and her helpers wake up before most of us to prepare our fuel for every morning dive, afternoon lecture, and night snorkel. While some dishes are entirely native to Jamaica, some are reminiscent of food one might find back in the States. From fried chicken with mac n cheese to plantains with rice and peas, all bases are covered here. While diving at a site called Rio Bueno, we [Ed: what's this "we" ?  I'm the one who shot it.] were able to bag a highly venomous and highly invasive Lionfish, Pterois volitans. After carefully removing the dangerous fin spines and scaly exterior, we brought it to Precious. Jerry tasted great.

– Joe


A typical breakfast: Pancakes with fish and fruit.


Pterois volitans not in its natural habitat

15 Jan 2015 – Beyond the Wall

Greetings friends and family from beyond the wall. No not the game of thrones wall but rather the coral reef wall at Rio Bueno. This morning the group met at the dock 7am sharp ready to set out for the reefs of Rio Bueno. After a short boat ride west we had arrived and were ready to go. Snorkelers took in the sights from above while Brad, Joe, and John led the divers below. We descended to about 20ft and found ourselves in what seemed like another planet. It was filled with fish, corals and all kinds of marine creatures you only read about in books. Once we were settled Brad signaled us to follow him through a sand trench. A few minutes later I looked up and saw nothing but empty ocean. That’s when I looked down and realized I was at the edge of what everyone had been referring to as “the wall”. Below me was a drop off into the abyss.

Down wall

The unknown beyond the wall.

Following Brad we began do descend down the wall deeper and deeper to about 60ft. Along the way I saw countless species of corals, fish and other marine creatures. By far the coolest thing I saw was a spotted eagle ray swimming off in the distance patrolling the reef. We stayed down there for about half an hour and made out way back through a beautiful trench and made our way back up to the boat. All in all a very cool site with lots to see. That’s if for now guys, see you in a week!


Through the trench


14 Jan 2015 – Wa Gwan!?

…or “what’s going on?” for those who are unfamiliar with some of the slang used daily here in Jamaica. Our lovely dive instructors, Dr. Buddo and Mr. Trench, have been teaching us some basic Patois phrases, a dialect that is influenced by English and West African languages. The more time I spend down here, the more I am amazed by the people and culture of Jamaica. Recently Shay and I went into town to pick up some things, and everyone in the store greeted us warmly and joked with us easily. The woman who offered her pool for us DITS (divers-in-training, that is) made sure we were more than comfortable, treating us like friends rather than the complete strangers we were. If someone says take your time here they really mean it, unlike in New York where if you take longer than 5 minutes to complete a task you risk getting annoyed looks and quiet complaints. We have all had time to stop seeing our days as a big to-do list and to start appreciating the natural beauty (we’re even starting to like the little lizards who get into our room!) and amazing culture that we are immersed in, and it has been amazing.

By now, my fellow DITS can shed their title in preference for PADI certified open water divers. Unfortunately, I have come down with a cold and the congestion has prevented me from being able to withstand the pressure diving puts on you. In a few days, however, I will get my chance to call myself an open water diver as well. Today we snorkeled at Rio Bueno where we saw a lush coral reef with a lot of the organisms that we have been learning about in class. I’m really enjoying seeing the behaviors and habitats we are studying first hand. Later we will be counting fish, invertebrate and algal populations along a transect line, an experimental technique we will use all the time later in our careers. More to come in a few days!


Our backyard.



14 Jan 2015 – Spooky Scary Sea Creatures Send Shivers Down Your Suit


Armed with our flashlights we set off into the unknown.


Here we see a lion fish. It bears the scientific name Pterois volitans and is often known as one of the more annoying, freeloading, invasive species.


Can you find the camouflaged Octopus briareus?


Well, here we are again ladies and gentlemen. I present to you the brave class of Discovery Bay 2015. We have a special treat for those for those of you watching/reading back home. Yesterday, while Anita volunteered to remain behind and ID our previously collected specimens, the rest of us bravely plunged into the waters to gather more photographic evidence of life beneath the waves.

Not good enough, you say? You say we have already discussed snorkeling? Right you are folks. So what if I told you six brave souls swum out to the reef crest…. at night. What? Still not enough? Alright, alright. What if I told you we, the students, went on a night snorkel without the professors! That’s right. All alone. So, now that I have your attention, let’s continue.

As soon as the sun set we grabbed our gear, a few cameras, and our trusty flashlights before kicking out into the darkness. Now I will admit, for the first half an hour or so we refused to break ranks. I myself was kicked several times and certainly kicked a few masks in return (accidentally of course). At first we found a few crabs, a surplus of sea cucumbers, and a plethora of puffer fish (who surprisingly do not mind people swimming up to them).

As the night wore on, we grew more adventurous and started to drift further and further apart. Only problem was that Joe and Stathi found an octopus eating a crab and drifted away from the pack. Man, it is really hard to find your partners’ flashlight beam out in the bay, even if your turn yours off. Eventually we found them, along with a sharptail eel (Myrichthys breviceps), a scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus), and so much more. Hopefully, on our next night adventure we’ll see a few stingrays and other interesting creatures… as a group!


13 Jan 2015 – Just Another Day

Today was definitely the most tired I’ve been since arriving in Jamaica, and this statement will surely change by tomorrows end. All of this exhaustion most likely came from the 5 hours our dive training group spent in the pool today. Our objective was to complete all 5 levels of confined water dive training (pool) by the afternoon so that we would have Monday to begin our open water certification dives. Unfortunately, our schedule was running slow so we only completed about half of the work we had to do in the pool. To compensate for being late, our group will be up and ready to dive at 6:00 A.M. tomorrow morning! Although today was tiresome, there were moments of laughter and relaxation. During dinner there are always two cats that try and steal the food off our plates or scavenge on our leftovers. This evening one of them got too carried away when going after leftovers in the garbage and tipped the can over on top of himself! He continued to do this multiple times while I assisted in lifting the can off his head. This was definitely the best part of the day. Got to go though, I have to be awake at 6:00 A.M tomorrow :/.


If you look closely there is a lionfish under this coral outcrop.  

– Mike

13 Jan 2015 – Fields of Blue

Hello blog readers! This is my second blog post, and I am finally getting the hang of informing and giving our lovely friends a snippet of our packed days here in Jamaica.

Monday was one of the most intense, interesting, and panicky days on the trip; I know it was for me. After the challenging workday we had this weekend, from snorkeling, to working two hours in the wet lab, and listening to lectures; and for three other students, taking SCUBA training. I think we were all ready for just a little relaxation on the dock. Personally, after spending the day snorkeling, studying and identifying specimens, relaxing with music playing in the background and having an entire stretch of the dock entirely to ourselves, did not sound bad at all. The sunny weather, and being surrounded by beautiful clear Caribbean water has been heavenly.

In the morning, we had a little scare, because one of my roommates could not find her passport, what a relief it was that we found it four long minutes later (whew!). Although we all laughed about it afterwards, we were all pretty shaken up and hectically looking around the room.

Later, after Lea and I were doing our I.D tasks in the conference room; while the other students were doing their first open water dive (very exciting!), we eventually all met up and studied for our third quiz.

The rest of the class around 8pm went for a night snorkel in the deep blue bay. However, I regretfully stood on the dock as they happily swam away. Admittedly, I will say that I am scared to go out for a night snorkel and I have yet to muster up the strength to do so. But hopefully tonight after we assemble after a delicious and flavorful dinner, I will put on my gear and head out. But I guess we will see?

Until my next blog post, stay warm!



  Beautiful weather and scenery

Beautiful weather and scenery!

  Picturesque nights

Picturesque nights

Shay and Mr. Jinx

Shay bonding with a cat (Mr. Jinx) while we were all studying in the conference room

Mustard Hill Coral

Took us a couple minutes (but we are getting better at it) Lea and I identified Mustard Hill Coral ( Porites astreoides) after snorkeling in the morning



13 Jan 2015 – Stony Brook? More like Stony Coral

Day four of nothing but warm weather, snorkeling, and Latin fish names. Fortunately, we just recovered from our hiatus of no Wi-Fi. But who needs Wi-Fi when you can go snorkeling and see a Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus) right in front of you? While the divers are out training, the rest of us have down time to collect and take pictures of various organisms in the Bay. Always using the buddy system when snorkeling, Shay and I discovered lots of exciting fish and invertebrates yesterday. We even brought back a sea cucumber that has cemented himself to the water chamber in the wet laboratory. Actually, we should probably check on him soon.

During the lectures we learn about various types of corals such as Alcyonarian corals (soft coral) and Scleractinian corals (hard/stony corals) and how coral reefs affect the ecosystem. Other than lectures, we spend a lot of our time during the day identifying the specimens we find or see. I’m sure we will all have a long list of algae, invertebrates, and fish that we have encountered by the time we leave. Once the divers are certified they can go on deep sea dives and observe new species for us to identify. We’ll keep you updated!


I spy a Bothus lunatus. Do you?


Anita and Shay are snorkeling buddies on this beautiful day in Jamaica

– Lea

12 Jan 2015 – Day Tree (Three)


Hey friends!

As our third full day in the Caribbean rolls quietly past, the dust of our arrival has finally begun to settle. Routines have formed, studying has returned, and the adversity of an unfamiliar environment has solidified the friendships started only a few days prior. As the group becomes more cohesive, we have been able to learn and experience more which is a great aspect of this course. 

A small update on my day:
As a diver in training, my day started with a bombardment of quizzes and exams as we completed the classroom portion of our Open Water course. Afterwards, we were whisked up the lush, bumpy mountainside to the locale of our first confined water dive. In a swimming pool overlooking Discovery Bay, we learned skills ranging from water entry to replacing and emptying a lost mask while remaining underwater. All the while, our instructors encouraged, helped, and teased us. After finishing the first two confined dives, we returned to the lab to hear lectures on ecology and fish before a long session of seagrass scraping and Metallica, a surprisingly good combination.

– Joe –


A snorkeler's eye view of DBML


Lesser Electric Ray (Narcine brasiliensis)