Here I am diving the Rio Bueno site this morning. The reef face was spectacular.
This morning was the first time that all the divers, newly certified and certified before arriving here, got to dive together. I must admit, it’s been lonely down there without everyone. The DITs (divers in training) barely had any free time to spend in the water this previous week while juggling their intense daily training schedule and drills. Now that they are all happily certified open water divers, we got to celebrate with a full group dive/snorkel trip this morning at the Rio Bueno site. The ride out to the site was beautiful and peaceful as we glided over the glass- like waters that early morning brings. We passed green rolling hills and lavish shore houses as we motored to the site on the boat, “Seahorse” with our captain Scarlet. I’ve been a certified diver for a little over three years but I don’t think getting to the bottom of a dive site and taking that first look around will ever get old. The visibility had to be over 100 feet and the combination of coral structures and schools of countless fish almost took my breath away. I say almost because it is definitely not safe to stop breathing while at depth. My dive partner Suzie and I trailed our group and took pictures of anything we found to be interesting. Today is the last day that we can add photos to our identification projects, so everyone is making sure their collection is unique and well put together. Will, Horia, and Frankie were in our dive group today as well and, with some pointers from Joe Warren, attempted to spearfish for lionfish – to no avail. However, it was cool to see them learning and handling the weaponry. I hope to see them get a lionfish on another dive soon because I know it will absolutely make their trip. It was such a pleasure to finally be able to dive with Suzie DiGioia. She is a prime example of why this trip is more than just a class – it’s a gift and an experience. To be able to bond so closely with such remarkable people on this trip makes it worth every dollar I spent to get here. I love everybody here for who they are but I just figured I’d give a shout out to my buddie Suzie for, as always, sharing so much laughter and light with me today on our dive. Even under water we were cracking up.
Here are Suzie and I in your typical dive partner selfie.T
-Peace, Sunscreen and Neoprene
The whole class working on the photo project
Today was a very busy day at Discovery Bay Marine Lab. Late night we worked very hard on the identification project. Our time spent in Jamaica has been spent learning about the marine life of the island, observing them in their natural habitat and taking photographs of different creatures. This project is a culmination of these efforts in which we compile all the pictures that we took and identify the species in the photo. Also, I have to study for two quizzes today so today is jam packed but, at least I am getting everything done. A big update from my last blog post is that I am now a certified diver.
Will diving at Rio Bueno this morning trying to spear some lionfish.
Well, the workload has definitely picked up but I think we’re starting to get the hang of things around here. Every morning I’ve had the chance of diving at 6:30AM when the water is still calm and we’ve been exploring some pretty captivating places including M1, the Dairy Bull, and Rio Bueno. I have found a hobby for life in scuba diving. Learning everything in the classroom and collecting and identifying organisms has helped us to appreciate everything we see in the water so much more. We can now go beyond the individual organism and look at life underwater as an ecosystem and understand the interactions at work. We’ve got a lot of research and schoolwork ahead of us this next week here but we’re all having the time of our lives here. Now that the DITS (divers in training) have finally become certified, we’re able to partake in all class activities and research including deploying and collecting the BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Videos). I think our professors might be losing their minds being forced to spend so much time with us but I think we’re a pretty fun bunch. [Ed: The professors concur.] For now, enjoy some pictures of our adventures and to our families: I’m sorry we don’t call often but you’ll be hearing plenty of stories and seeing plenty of videos upon our return!
Some classmates and Dr. Warren diving at Rio Bueno this morning perfecting their neutral buoyancy along the wall.
A picture of me diving. YAYYYYYYY
Today, January 17 was our second Sunday in Discovery Bay. We woke up at 6:30 am to meet by the dock to start our diving trip. At 7 am, we prepped our gears and loaded the boats to go explore the creatures of the ocean. The boat ride took about 20 mins and finally we got to the designated area. We put on our gear, fins, and masks, and started our descent. Lila (the awesome) was my dive buddy today, so we had to go down to the bottom as a team. I had a little trouble equalizing so I had to descend slowly today. We went down with Professor Brad and a group of almost 10 students to a depth of almost 60 feet!!!! The awesome part was that we were exploring sponges and corals located on a slope, so we couldn’t see the bottom of the ocean and had to stay suspended in water and swim around without standing. What a great adrenaline rush! It was a great practice for buoyancy control and a great view overall! We saw brain corals, sergeant major fish, blue chromis fish, and lost of different and colorful sponges. After spending 32 mins under the water, we ascended back to our boats and left back to our docks. I took a nap for the first time here since I was so busy getting my certification for diving and trying to keep up with all the assignments. We had lunch and then we worked on our photo collection assignment, which is due today at 6:30 pm. We are basically putting together all the pictures of all the awesome creatures we found in the ocean together, and we are naming them with their common and scientific name. Our lovely TA Colin left back to the states today. Colin you will be missed! On a final note, I want to thank Lila for being such a great dive buddy, Will and Sebastian for being awesome group project members and helping me keep up with everything I have missed in the past week. Love yall.
A picture of the best group partners WILL AND SEABASS.
Today marks the eighth day of our trip to Jamaica. After being here for eight days you learn a few tips and tricks to help you get by. So here are some things that I’ve learned from my experiences over the last couple of days:
- Tired of rinsing off with cold water after going snorkeling or even a cold shower? Don’t fret! Use the hose water first during the afternoon or get into the shower by the docks before your snorkeling buddy. The sun warms up the water a little bit so you’ll get a minute or two of warm water. Sometimes there’s even enough warm water for two people!
- Feeling a little sea sick on the boat? Smell some peppermint oil to calm your stomach while riding rough waves. ~ Thanks Marissa for the oil!
- Is your mask still fogging up? Use some Johnson’s baby shampoo, then rinse it off in the water and walah you can see! People also have cleaned their mask with white toothpaste and antifog spray. Also Professor Brad’s spit is quite effective. Gross? Maybe, but hey your own spit can clear up your mask too and it’ll give you a much better experience in the water rather than looking through a foggy mask and seeing only the outlines of fishes and coral. ~ Thanks Nikki for the shampoo – it works like a charm!
- Not enough excitement on your boat trip? Spice things up with some lovely karaoke with some awesome people or brace yourself for some rough waves during the BRUV retrieval (you’ll get that sinking feeling in your stomach like you’re on a more scenic rollercoaster ride). It also helps when you have an amazing boat driver, Scarlet, and some standup comedy from Professor Joe.
Starring the amazing singers who happen to be talented divers too: Lila, Professor Brad, and Nikki. Missing: Scarlet – who has a lovely voice, good song recommendations, and is the best boat driver/guide ever! Gabriel – who refused to share his lovely singing voice with us.
- Now when it comes to seeing wildlife you always have to be prepared with a camera (preferably one that is fully charged, waterproof, and has a strap so it’s easier to hold when you are snorkeling or diving). Also it may help to have your camera on for most of the time since you never really know when you’re going to see something cool, but only if you have spare batteries.
So those are some of the tips that I’ve learned over these past few days and now here are some things that you’ll just have to man up and learn to deal with/things not to do.
- Mosquitos are EVERYWHERE! They will eat you alive! Or well more like they are eating me alive. So you better sharpen up your ninja skills and be prepared to battle them every day with lightning fast swatting skills and spray bug repellent to spray everywhere on your body. Don’t even forget the back of your hands because they will get you! It is inevitable that you will get bitten so just try not to scratch.
- Do not feed the stray cats cough Gabriel cough. They are so adorable! However, they are not welcome in the dining hall. Once you feed them they will never leave and they will be your best friends for the rest of the trip. So don’t give in to their meowing and cuteness.
This kitty came to investigate my camera after she noticed I was taking a picture of her and she meowed at me for food.
- Don’t call your professors by the other professor’s name. If you do try to save yourself by playing it off, if possible. If not then apologize and well… good luck to you (or I should say good luck to me) – wah such a fail boat on my part of hey what can we do we are all human. Sorry Joe!
- Be fast at turning on your camera, unlike me, so you can get an awesome picture of a sea turtle! Sigh… by the time I got myself steady on the side of the boat to take the picture of the turtle it was already diving back under the water. So I got a lovely picture of water. The one rule we have here is if you don’t have a picture of it then it didn’t happen. So I guess I’ll enjoy my “imaginary” sea turtle in my memory.
The lovely picture of water that I got instead of the sea turtle. Joe, Gabriel, and Scarlet are my witnesses who saw the “imaginary” sea turtle too. Sorry to disappoint so there’s a picture of the two lionfish.
Okie dokie well I think that’s enough tips for now. Oh and if you couldn’t tell the highlight of my day yesterday was seeing the sea turtle!!! I also got to see two more lionfish and got up close and personal to another barracuda. Final update from me will be in three days so until then enjoy these pictures and good night!
Osteichthyes in the coral reef benthic.
Today I went on a snorkel with comrade Justina Mark. We saw and collected a plethora of fish, invertebrates and algae. The highlights of the snorkel included a sharptail eel and a lionfish. We also flipped over many rocks in the hopes of finding a flatworm but to no avail. However, we did observe many echinoderms, arthropods and colorful Porifera.
Invasive species in the mangroves.
My favorite snorkel companion.
Sometimes, you don’t have to go too far for amazing things.
Today I got to see a fully grown sting ray that measured about five and half feet. I was very impressed when I saw it, but I kept my cool and snorkeled at a safe distance from it. I was glad Marissa was my snorkeling buddy because she has a lot more experience in the water than me. So that made me feel a little more confident around the sting ray. It was a truly amazing experience. In the same spot, we also got to see another big fish that was about two feet long. We did not know what it was, but we were determined to figure it out. So after lunch, we went to the classroom and search for it in the reef fish identification book. It turns out that this fish was a Mutton snapper. We concluded this based on the size/color of the fish and a distinctive black spot on the midbody line of the fish: among other physical characteristics. It was a really fun experience, and it all happened a few feet away from the docks: near the helicopter landing site.
Sting rays aren’t that scary if you don’t get too close.
Diving group beginning the descent into the canyon. (Photo credit: Will Wied)
After a long week and full days of diving training, the time finally came when I was able to call myself a certified PADI open-water diver. Feeling very satisfied with myself and the hard work I put in to receive this certification, my first opportunity for a recreational dive came when Dr. Brad Peterson announced at dinner that day that he would take me and a few others to a ‘secret’ diving location [Ed: The other professor had to put out baited videos, not that he’s bitter about missing this dive…]. Here we would have the chance to see a larger variety of marine life than we had previously experienced while snorkeling in the immediate area of Discovery Bay surrounding the Marine Lab. Not knowing what exactly to expect, Dr. Peterson my dive mates and I boarded the boat with Master Diver Snow at the wheel.
Upon arriving at the site, Dr. Peterson went through the dive plan and explained to us that, after a brief stop, we would be diving through a canyon that extended well over 60 feet deep. Everyone followed the usual diving procedures and met a location about 30 feet deep where we then swam over to a location where a table had been set up under water with benches and [seawater filled] bottles of Red Stripe Jamaican beer. After a short photo shoot, we began our journey to the main attraction.
Will Wied and I posing by the table with [seawater filled] Red Stripes in hand
As we descended into the canyon I soon found myself surrounded on both sides by enormous sponges and corals of all different types and colors. Giant schools of dark colored fish that Snow told us were called “chub” were very abundant, along with larger versions of the vibrant fish that we had already identified swimming in the lagoon by the Marine Lab. After spending about 20 minutes on a self guided dive, my buddy and I followed the proper procedures for surfacing and returned to the boat. Needless to say it was quite an amazing experience that I only had a greater appreciation for after thinking that the photo of us in the canyon looked like something out of the James Cameron movie “The Abyss.”
Chub and the variety of sponge and other marine life covering the canyon wall.
First dive of the day.
For about half the trip I have only been able to experience coral reefs through my mask and snorkel. And although the surface world has given me many unforgettable memories and experiences, I knew nothing will ever compare to entering the marine world myself and seeing everything I learned about eye to eye. So when my dive master finally asked me about my open water dives you can say I was more than a little excited. From the crack of dawn, we set off on our boats with brains full of curiosity and eyes full of wonder. And boy were we in for a treat, I saw everything from massive sponges to elegant princess parrotfish (sorry for the lack of pictures, no cameras were allowed on the dive). One of the dive masters accompanying us on the trip even managed to capture a nice lionfish that liked to follow us around. And best of all by the end of my final dive I was a certified SCUBA diver and was free to do this again whenever I wanted. I can’t wait to explore more dive sites and enjoy everything Jamaica has to offer.
The killed lionfish.
After giving birth in the morning, and hunting down a mouse for breakfast, Preggers [Ed: We have no evidence that this is the cat’s name] joins us for lunch.
During our trip to Jamaica, we’ve discovered and have learned an abundance of things, in a very short time. From our education in the classroom on coral reefs, to the beautiful creatures that dwell in them. In addition to the ocean life, we’ve discovered an abundance of land animals. One of these creatures we have dubbed as the class pet. From Phylum Chordata, order Carnivora, the elusive Felis catus, also known as the domestic house cat, christened with its title Preggers McGhee. We’ve learned to love Preggers, who always joins us for every meal, inviting herself to our small family. Preggers has now become one of us. Meowing at us at every moment she pleases, which I can only determine is her hoping our success in our journey.