18 Jan 2019 – And we’re back…

By the time this blog posts, all of the students and instructors will have left Discovery Bay Marine Lab, our home away from home for the past two weeks. Prof. Peterson and myself would sincerely like to thank the staff and personnel of DBML for facilitating our experience here. We come back here every year because it’s a great place to run a course and we’ve developed good friendships here. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Discovery Bay Marine Lab (which interestingly enough was established (in part) by a scientist from Stony Brook University – Dr. Thomas Goreau !), and the Adminstration of DBML presented our group with a plaque celebrating our more than 10 year relationship of running the course here.

I asked, but unlike my local coffee shop punch card, coming to DBML for 10 years does not get us a free visit next year! We sincerely appreciate the recognition from DBML as part of their 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2018.

But even more importantly, Brad and myself would like to thank the students of the 2019 MAR 388 course for joining us in Jamaica to spend a lot of time underwater, learning lots of common and latin names, seeing how field science works (or sometimes doesn’t work), and learning more about each other’s lives. There’s been a little bit of rain and a lot of sunshine (both meteorologically and emotionally), but I think I can speak for all of us when I say, we’re not quite ready to leave Jamaica yet. Most of us also need to try to find where we stashed our pants as NY is about 60F colder than Jamaica so shorts aren’t going to cut it at JFK…

We started this year’s blog with a “before” group photo and we’ll end it with the “after” — same students but a bit more tan, a few sunburns, some scrapes and bumps, a LOT more knowledge about coral reef ecosystems and an ENORMOUS amount of fun memories.

Here’s the class after all the exams and nearly all the assignments are done (final due date is tmrw at 930am). I have no idea why Paul decided to stand directly behind Gillian for every one of the six photos we took…

Profs. Peterson and Warren

17 Jan 2019 -A Salty Success

Yesterday, us Jamaican Seawolves (Ow! Ow! Owww!) took our final exam for MAR 388. After finishing our exam, one of us had the radical idea of jumping into the water. However, almost none of us had our bathing suits on. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So, we jumped into the water in our clothes. I was a little late to the party, I took extra time to finish my final. I leave the testing site, and what a site to see. I take those 20 steps to the dock, and hesitantly look over. At first, I am somewhat skeptical and question whether or not I should join. Michelle, the honorary Jamaican, looks at me and asks, “When next will you take a final and have the chance to jump into the ocean 20 feet away?” At that moment, I instantly knew I had to jump in; she was right. To paraphrase my response, I said “Yeah, you’re right”, ripped off my shirt, and jumped in. It was great being able to laugh and rejoice with others after a long night of studying for our exam.

A group shot. YA MON!

Picture this, a group of college kids all laughing in our clothes, in the water. What better time to jump into the water, together than after a long night of studying. We line up, and jump into the water… well most of us. I just laugh as they jump. What comes next will shock you! Another sea wolf, Siobhan joins the party and teaches me how to belly flop. Naturally, we belly flop into the water and had a grand time laughing, enjoying the water, and just taking in the experience. Afterwards, we decided to dry off by spending time with a sea turtle. While were next to the mangrove nursery and we watched the turtle swim around for a bit. The turtle is a little sick, so the nice people here in the DBML are doing their best by catching jellyfish, and leaving these little turtle snacks around the pen.

The DBML turtle!

Overall, we definitely are leaving with more knowledge than we came with. This morning, a group of us decided to stay behind and look though the dock at all the little fish. Today we saw three huge princess parrotfish, adorned with the adult blue coloration. What a majestic sight to see. They swam around a lizard fish who just lazily laid there, as to say, “it’s my day off, don’t bother me”. My favorite site this morning was most definitely the school of juvenile butterfly fish just swim on by- as their eye spots stared back at me. This study abroad has been life changing. I have matured my sense of adventure, and more importantly, my appreciation for marine life and the ocean.

Mi ah guh guh,

17 Jan 2019 – De-stress Fest

All of us have been pretty darn stressed the past few days, but today we took our last exam of the course! Needless to say, all of us can finally take a chill pill and breathe. One by one we stepped out of the wet lab we took our exam in feeling a little lighter…mostly because we were actually floating. First it was Michelle, Andrew B. and myself that decided to jump in with our clothes on to celebrate, and then as we saw people exit the wet lab we called them in to join us. Definitely a great start to the day!

A few of us taking a dip seconds after our final.

Our day of excitement didn’t end there. We all dried off, ate lunch and then headed to Green Grotto Cave. We had a great tour guide that took us through the crevices of the cave, he even told us of some stories, one being about a little girl that drowned down there back when they did boat tours in the waters of the cave; people claim that she still haunts parts of the cave. He also told us about the escape routes that led down to the sea, and at one point he even turned off all the lights to show us what it really felt like navigating the cave in complete and utter darkness. I have no idea how anyone managed to make it out of there but it was super cool nonetheless.

The water was so clear it didn’t even look like it was there.

After the cave, we crossed the street to the Ultimate Jerk Center where we had some good jerk chicken while we all enjoyed each other’s company and shared a bunch of laughs. It felt really good to get away from the grounds and de-stress on one of our last days in Jamaica! Unfortunately, tomorrow is our last full day here, and our last dive for those of us who are SCUBA certified. This has been a beyond amazing experience and I’ve met so many awesome people, if I could do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat!

The ultimate jerk center ft. Michelle power-walking to the counter.


17 Jan 2019 -Up With Our Grades, Down In The Caves

On our second to last day, we reluctantly took our final exam with much stress behind it. After some of us had a quick little rendezvous in the water (see Nick’s blog), we were surprised after lunch with a trip to Green Grotto Cave system! After lunch we hopped on the bus and made a quick ride to the caves.

The roots around the entrance to one of the caves

Most of us were greeted by visiting a boa constrictor in the female restrooms at the Grotto. A fun start to our journey! We all put on our yellow hard hats, along with our tour guide Dwayne, and entered the cave. We first entered an old festival area in the caverns, complete with a stage, bar and picnic tables- all made of stone. As we ventured further on, we learned about the history of the island, from runaway slaves to runaway Spanish governors- and a secret escape route! Emily Richters was chosen to travel along it, but Dwayne chose the wrong person as she actually wanted to go further than was allowed.

Some of the stalagmite in the caves.

We were taken to an underground lake 40 feet below the surface, down steep steep stairs. We learned stories of a girl who drowned in the lake and haunts the cavern to this day, where we saw her poltergeistly shadow on the cave walls. Suddenly- the lights went out! Some of us screamed before eventually the lights were turned back on. We ventured on, tossing Jamaican coins into the Wishing Well cave (most of us not hitting the water- although I did!), and coming back to the original cave of the 3-4 we were inside through different routes. There, we were shown a rock that makes music when you bang on it like a drum. At the end, a few of us ventured into the wild cave, seeing bats flying around and something not so stomach-able that will remain unmentioned.

The spooky underground lake with the poltergeist girl

All in all, it was an eventful, exciting day. We were all glad to be done with our final, and experiencing Jamaica.

-Juneberry Jessica S.

17 Jan 2019 – Exploring…

Yesterday was one of my best days in Jamaica. We embarked on a trip to the Ultimate Jerk restaurant, the Grotto and had a night boat ride. Grotto is a network of limestone caves. At the grotto I learned and explored various Jamaican history beginning with the English and Spanish conflict, the dark slave history of Jamaica and the significant role the Grotto caves played in these histories. At the Grotto we learned that Spanish general used the cave as an escape route without light to escape British soldiers who sought to kill him. Also, we learned that most slaves used the similar tunnels to tread for freedom. The mini lecture on slaves moved me and informed me more on the dark history of the island. We ended our trip to the Grotto on a sweet note at the Ultimate Jerk, a restaurant to eat delicious Jamaican cuisine. I had the opportunity to try jerk chick and rice & pea.

Standing in one of the caves tunnel a Spanish military general used to escape from British soldiers

As if our day couldn’t get even more better, we had the opportunity to boat around the surrounding bays in the night. Whiles speeding on the boat, we saw different fish jumping out of the water. Yesterday will forever remain one of the best days in my life and I am so glad to come on this study abroad trip to Jamaica.

Paul , Pie

16 Jan 2019 – Examination Day

Growing up, the true genius of the short story “Examination Day” by Henry Slesar, was almost completely lost on me. It details a young boy, in a not so distant future, preparing for a government mandated intelligence test. The twist comes in the final paragraph where it is revealed that the people are being ruled over by a totalitarian government and the young boy was deemed “too intelligent” to be able to continue to live. As I got older, this became a story I continuously came back to, admiring the subtle world building skills and drawing parallels to our own everyday lives.

The time had come to have an examination day of our own. Several similar variables immediately stood out as my classmates and I walked through the ever-present haze of stress. Like in “Examination Day,” there was a deep fear of a larger force acting upon us negatively if we scored a certain way, as well as the small flicker of determined optimism brought on by continuous studying, and finally, the inevitability of the whole situation hung over us like the shadow of a noose.

That shadow dragged on and took on equally terrifying new forms as the designated time for our exam passed. Then fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour. Worst-case scenarios popped in and out of our minds like bubbles, and among those floated in the occasional best case scenario, “if our professors aren’t here there’s no way we can have this test”.

Both professors and our graduate level teaching assistant were somewhere out in the great wide ocean, furthering the knowledge of the scientific community. We, on the other hand, had been left to our devices. Those devices appealed to logos at first, with myself and my classmates using our extra time to cement the necessary scientific names into our brains. However, as the hour stretched into two that appeal faltered. Soon we wandered aimlessly, still with that burning fear in the back of our minds but somehow, that hypothetical failure was no longer enough. Just as soon as we had gotten comfortable the familiar sound of a boat rudder overpowered the light breeze. They were coming back.

My classmates and I gathered together down by the docks and did our best to appear intimidating as our professors shuffled out onto the hard sand-colored rock. Our best reasoning for why we should either postpone or outright cancel our exam was quickly shot down, and fifteen minutes later we all sat in our classroom, pencils in hand, anxiety rising in our chests.

The tale of our first examination day in Jamaica ended on a more positive note than in the story of the same name. I did not lose any of my fellow classmates because they scored too far on either end of the spectrum. Instead, after the ordeal was over and we were given our results, we gleefully passed them around over dinner. The average had been much higher than expected. And our white papers wasted no time putting smiles on their owners faces.

We do not yet live in a world where intellectual ability in annihilated on the basis of sheer fear. Even though our own fear had spread like the plague throughout the halls of the laboratory earlier in the day, when the cool of night settled in, we praised each other for our abilities. For our shortcomings. For the recognition of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and the sheer awe of how much we had committed to memory in the span of less than a day.

One of the many species my classmates and I had memorize the names for. This particular one is a Casseopiea frondosa, an upside-down jellyfish.


16 Jan 2019 – Almost There…

Sadly, we are nearing the end to our trip. Things are really picking up here in Discovery Bay, and everyone’s feeling the heat. Despite our school stress and sunburns, most of us have found that working in such a beautiful environment has really helped anyone from blowing their top (yet). If you take a moment to walk down the boardwalk, watch the lizards, or wake up for the sunrise, you can sit for just a moment and appreciate that you’re here in Jamaica, and not braving the 20 degree wind chill back in New York.

A 6am sunrise over Discovery Bay

Despite the tensions and studying, Brad offered (convinced) us to venture out on a dive in the afternoon to a canyon about 20 minutes away. Once I saw the flying fish gliding along past the boat, I knew I had made the right choice to go. We had been studying all day for other tests we needed to take a break. Sometimes its hard to look past the coursework backbone and take advantage of being here when you have limited time and lots of work to do. We are Stony Brook students of course; we are expected to go “Far Beyond” and do so fervently.

The ride was rough, but the dive was probably the best we have taken so far. Besides the impeccable variation of wildlife, swimming over a canyon is like jumping off of a cliff, and floating across. Peering down into a 200 foot drop, I couldn’t quite grasp that the bottom was in fact down there somewhere. It made it a lot more believable to me that we know more about the stars in the sky than the bottom of the ocean.

-Sascha Starfruit

16 Jan 2019 – Night Snorkel

Tonight, a couple of us went night snorkeling. The mangroves and the crest can barely be made out from the edge of the dock. Looking down with my flashlight, I can see the diadema crawling along the side of the dock at the surface of the water. I quickly put on my snorkel gear and jumped into the water as Nick followed right behind. We both moved slowly with our flashlights on because it was very dark. The silversides were darting back and forth through our lights as we moved through the dark. It was another world at night. The urchins and squirrelfish were more active. The diadema and lytechinus were crawling about munching on algae. There were a bunch of worms about one foot or more crawling about. As we sawm to deeper water, we began to come across more beautiful creatures. Hiding in crevices were a couple of spiny lobsters, one big and one small.

Two spiny lobsters under a rock

A couple of meters away from the lobsters was a big yellow stingray sitting on top of some Thalassia. I shone the light on top of it and it didn’t move, giving me the perfect opportunity to take a photo.

Yellow stingray laying on Thalassia.

Before departing the ray, I gave it a little pet on the nose. The ray was not the only thing we saw. We saw many small common octopus. When we shine the lights on them, they change colors. They change to a blue, green, and brown mix. They put on a fantastic display changing colors as we got closer to look at them. Going on the night dive has been the best experience I had here. I plan to do one more night snorkel before we have to leave.

Lemon Lucas

16 Jan 2019 – It All Comes Down to This

The Balloon Fish just hanging out by the docks. Photo Credit: Lucus

As the last few days come and go, we are all preparing for the end of this trip and of this class. These past two days we have mostly been working on some group project Dr. Warren and Dr. Peterson gave to the class. One having to do with transects and the other having to do with sorting through sediments and finding how much diversity there is in even small sections of the ocean. We also had out Identification test yesterday. We were all pretty nervous at first but it was not as nerve racking as we thought it would be and now I know that a Donkey Dung Sea Cucumber’s scientific name is Holothuria mexicana. After the test today, everyone mostly just relaxed and started to study for our test on the course material, which is today. While studying together on the dock, a group of us saw a cute Balloon fish (Diodon holocanthus). It wasn’t scared of us and even came up to our hands when we would lightly splash the water. It even let us pet it. It was a good break from all of the stress and anxiety placed on us these past few days.


15 Jan 2019 – Stressed Spelled Backwards is Desserts

Today is the culmination of everyone’s stress and fatigue; some of us are suffering from mental breakdowns, bone injuries, accidental soiled wetsuits, and even bloody noses, however, we all continue to laugh and dance it all off with a smile. Today we started off the day getting up at 6:30am for early snorkeling and dives which was a blessing compared to previously getting up at 5:30am. Then after breakfast, we finished any missing data for our transects by measuring diadema, parrot fish, surgeon fish, and bottom cover. Following data collection, we had lunch and a couple of us went on either research dives, contributed to organization of data sites consisting of seagrass or clams, continued to study for our ID test tomorrow until dinner, and played with a sea turtle near the mangrove nursery.

A sea turtle eating a jellyfish, Cassiopea frondosa, which was found by divers and placed into the nursery because it was blind.

At dinner, those who had been participating in dives, snorkeling, or ID presentations were overwhelmed with the lectures and ID’s they had to catch up on. The ID project entails that students remember the Phyla, Classes, Genus, and Species of invertebrates, plants, and algae typically found in Discovery Bay, Jamaica. We’ve managed to survive this stress by playing jeopardy, using funny pneumonics, singing songs, doing pushups for wrong answers, and playing hangman. However, I don’t think we would have made it through this trip without our kitchen cooks, Mrs. Precious and Mrs. June, because they always lightened up our anxiety with DESSERT! It’s the perfect way to end to the day and it always keeps us going. Thus, although we are experiencing overwhelming stress right now for our ID test tomorrow, we will eventually look back on our stress as rewarding and prize ourselves with Dessert at the end of the day.

– Sydney