Yet again, another year of MAR 388 has come to an end. Like previous classes, there were sunburns, sightings of amazing underwater creatures, stress over the exam(s), and a lot of fun for both the students and the instructors. Changing the course this year from the Caribbean to the tropical waters of a remote island in Fiji was a really extraordinary experience for all of us. And Brad and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the students (and their parents and family) for allowing us to travel with this group to one of the most unique places we’ve ever been to.
As we left the resort, we were given traditional flower garlands as well as powder on our cheeks (thus we look slightly different in our group photo as we depart than when we landed in Nadi).
The group is definitely more tan (and knowledgeable about coral reef ecosystems) than when we arrived two weeks ago!
The flight back to Nadi was picturesque and we had several hours to explore the crafts markets, produce and fish markets, and buy some souveniers. A long flight back to LA, then a not-quite-as-long flight to NY. The freezing temperatures were a shock to our bodies, but the memories of the class will do a good job of keeping us warm (mentally at least).
Hopefully, we’ll be back to Fiji sooner rather than later!
Profs. Peterson and Warren
All good things must come to an end and this “Winter” class was definitely a good, life changing “thing” for our class. With our final days in tropical paradise the cramming has begun; finishing our identification project, studying for our ID quiz and our final has begin to make our stress levels rise. Many of have taken our final day for diving off in order to finish and study just as a precaution.
Getting our studying done to prepare for tomorrow.
Tomorrow (January 18th Fiji time) we will be taking our final exam and our identification quizzes both in water and out of water.
Some identification books we have been using to study.
Wish us all luck with our final days here and our lengthy venture back to the states where winter is actually cold.
The last couple days have been one big storm. It has been day after day of clouds, rain, and wetness. Miraculously, Fiji has blessed us with sunshine during our last days here on the resort.
Erin and Ashley laying in the sun during a study break.
With the sun returned we can all enjoy the beauty of Fiji for a few more moments while we study for our exam. Having the sun again is the perfect way to end our time here in Fiji. We are all soaking in our last bit of sun before return to snow struck New York.
On today’s dives I saw many cool organisms but one that stood out to me was this really big sea cucumber. Everyone swam past it but I stopped and picked it up. It was as long as my arm, the biggest I’ve seen while on this trip. Upon picking it up, I noticed that on its underside there were some shrimp latched on to it so seeing that was cool as well. It was a really unique experience because I rarely ever see sea cucumbers. I also saw some sea stars which was really cool. My favorite are the cushion stars but I’ve seen many different types on this trip and always want to pick them up.
Me holding a sea cucumber.
Me holding a cushion star. Photo by Joe.
Leading up to this trip, there was thing I was most excited to see: a manta ray. When we arrived in Fiji I had not been Open Water Certified just yet, so I had to miss out on the first trip out to Manta Reef, where supposedly the mantas are usually seen feeding. I was worried that the class would have seen the mantas, and we would not have another opportunity to see them for the rest of the trip. However, no mantas were seen, and we had one more chance to visit Manta Reef before we left.
Having finished my Open Water Certification and only two days left to go diving, I was certain that today would be the day I see a manta ray. Our first dive of the day took place in Manta Reef, and unfortunately there wasn’t a single ray spotted. The second dive took place at a passage away from Manta Reef. Thinking that all of our chances were blown, I was not really expecting to see a manta for the rest of the trip. During the second dive my dive buddy, Madeleine, pointed at a field of spotted eels, and seconds after I looked at the field, she pointed behind me and I could hear her yell “Greg!” through her regulator. I turned around to find a massive black mass which slowly spread its massive wings. I was looking at a manta ray. After its wings were spread, it slowly and majestically swam away while my heart felt like it was about to burst out of my chest with excitement. Even after surfacing, I felt as though I was on the verge of tears. It is an experience I will never forget, and hope to experience again one day.
A sequence of still photos of a manta flapping by.
Staring at a fish the size of your head with a mouth full of sharp teeth as it stares right back at you is, to put it mildly, terrifying.
Titan triggerfish, when they aren’t zipping around at a couple meters per second, are actually somewhat silly looking. They’re brightly colored, a light green body clashing with orange fins. They have strange proportions, too: their dorsal and anal fins are oversized, dwarfing their tail fin, and they are strangely diamond-shaped with large lips. Most triggerfish share these odd proportions, but on a much smaller scale. Titan triggerfish are called titans for a reason.
As our diving group approached a nest – a shallow bowl in the sand, in which light pink eggs could be seen – our dive guide signaled us to stay back. He needn’t have bothered; we could all see the two aggressive titans fending off an endless stream of scavenging fish. One swam above the nest and chased away anything that came too close. The other hunkered down directly next to the clutch of eggs, lunging at fish that managed to get past the guard. Occasionally, they switched positions. None of us had any doubt that even an impact from one of the parents at top speed would be enough to bruise. To say nothing of their bite.
A titan triggerfish. Credit to Alex for the photo.
The drive to reproduce and pass one’s genes is the ultimate, primal goal for all life on the planet, and it shapes complex behaviors. Watching the titanic parents in their endless quest to keep their eggs safe fascinated me. Each chase or lunge cost energy, energy that might have been spent getting food or maintaining bodily processes, both things which would better ensure the survival of the individual triggerfish. But it would not do anything to ensure that its unique genetic code survived.
And so the titans defend their most precious treasure, a group of pearly eggs you could hold in two cupped hands
Today was my last day diving. We went to Manta Reef, in hopes of seeing Manta Rays. Although I did not see any, (some students did) it was an amazing experience. Today’s sandy bottom dive was thrilling. Many of us saw a few Pipe fish and many new types of algae. The first dive was relatively deep. At its deepest, it was roughly 70ft. Many students enjoyed diving close to the sand, to look for shells, while being careful not to stir the bottom and ruin photo-ops for other people.
Me, holding my mask so it doesn’t fill with water when I laugh.
It is disappointing that this is my last full day of diving but I am thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to go diving twenty-one times in the last week and a half. On the 45 minute boat ride back from Manta Reef, I thought about all the marine life that I have gotten to see during this trip: sea turtle, Grey Reef shark, blue and black nudibranch (aka Hammy) and many different types of fish, coral and plants.
Everyday right after breakfast we go out for two to three dives. During this we not only observe the underwater world because we enjoy it, but we also are collecting photos every day for one of our class assignments, and then we have to identify the common and scientific names of each organism. For this assignment, we have to collect photos of roughly 33 vertebrates, 33 invertebrates and 33 plants (algae, sea grasses, etc…).
One of the plants my partner and I had to identify.
Between each dive we have to take a surface interval for one hour, where we eat biscuits, tea and coffee, snorkel if we want to and just hang around. For me, the surface interval is one of the most fun aspects of the day socially because we all mess around with each other so much. Our dive master Iso has this really fun habit of pushing us (mostly me, I feel) off the side of the boat. This has escalated so much so that we have begun turning against each other. Yesterday Tracey, one of the graduate students on this trip, tried pushing me off but I had latched on to her, so she sacrificed herself and jumped off just to take me down. This is all in good fun, and its honestly going to be one of the things I miss most when our trip ends.
On our second dive yesterday, a few of us got to go to a sandy patch reef to check out a big bommie (a large coral head). This bommie was the size of a large boulder, and served as a cleaning station. Schools of fish resided here and gathered around the bottom and sides, as in the bommie’s crevices were dozens of cleaner shrimp. I counted at least six different species. These shrimp wait for schools of fish to come by, and then they proceed to pick off parasites, bacteria, or dead skin. It’s like an underwater car wash for fish.
A banded coral shrimp waiting in its hole, scouting for a fish to swim by to clean for a meal. A great opportunity to see symbiotic relationships at work!
There is so much to see in even a square foot of space that its easy to just pick a spot and lay still for a while, observing all the interspecies interactions go on. This was my second dive at the spot, so it was a great chance for me to hone in on some close up underwater photography skills (which I’ve been enjoying improving each dive). I’d overheard that Professor Peterson had his hand cleaned the first time we got to check out the spot, so I was curious to try it for myself. A little nervous at first, I placed my hand by a rock with a few Dancing Shrimp on it. After a few moments, they hopped on and began picking at the skin around my nails. Their pinching was certainly…thorough. I stayed for a few seconds as the shrimp went to work, and took some photos. It was truly an unforgettable experience, and just one of the many ways of feeling immersed in the environment around me.
A dancing shrimp climbing onto my hand to begin picking away. If only I could always wash my hands like this.
When getting your dive certification one thing the instructor will warn you about (or at least mine did) is the importance of equalizing or clearing your ears and other “air pockets”. Over the past few days there have been some of us who have been getting sick or have had difficulty with equalizing; this can cause not only discomfort during your dive but can potentially result in having a ruptured eardrum or other types of injuries caused by the water pressure.
Thankfully everyone who has been having some form of equalization troubles have been able to overcome the oncoming colds and congestion with plenty of sleep or antibiotics; myself and a few others have only had to be out of commission for a days worth of diving at a time, and completing the dives at our own pace. Just a few days remain in Fiji and none of us want to lose out on this experience.
Bubbles released from regulator.