Yesterday, January 06, 2017, many of use saw multiple sharks. They were about three to four feet in length. They were light gray, and smooth, in color. I thought it would be a little scary to see sharks swimming around me. However, it really wasn’t. They seemed so satisfied and not actively trying to cause harm. We learned that, typically, sharks do not attack, if they are not provoked.
Caption: One of three sharks spotted at the Great Astrolobe. (Photo: Flynn)
I don’t know about everyone else but yesterday, I saw three sharks! Two of the sharks were close together and the other one was swimming solo. The Dive Guide put his hands up on his head, palms together, to indicate that there was a shark present. Then, he indicated how many. One of the sharks came towards the group, but not too close, before swimming away. I hope that I have the opportunity to see many more sharks.
After we got back from two dives at Two Tree Island, showered and came down, we had an “informal” Kava ceremony with the resort staff and other guests. Kava is a root here that they essentially grind up and brew in water like tea. Traditionally, chiefs would drink it to discuss village matters, but these days anybody can drink it anywhere, anytime. It was also mentioned that in the village you actually cannot drink alcohol because it provokes fighting when two people who have underlying issues with each other, but Kava is available because it chills them out. It is a milky muddy color and tastes as Delphine put it “like spicy cardboard” (spicy as in spices not spicy as in hot), and numbs your mouth and tongue making it feel like you spread oral-gel all over your mouth, BUT is non-alcoholic.
Where the Kava Ceremony was held.
They mix it in a little bowl on the ground in a permeable bag, then use what looks like a grass skirt [ed: it’s part of the hibiscus plant] to soak it up and wring it into the cups. There is no taking a sip and passing it down. Everybody gets a little cone shaped cup full starting with the appointed chief and then the speaker (who says begin to begin brewing and serve in Fijian) then each person one at a time drinks a cup and its “bottoms up”.
Kevin making the Kava.
You clap once before taking it, drink it all at once, then everyone says “finish” in Fijian (kind of sounds like “matha”) and claps three times. If you forgot to clap before or do anything they deem “punishment worthy” (or simply are an experienced Kava drinker), you get the “high tide” cup and they switch you to a bowl shaped cup that’s deeper and holds more Kava (versus the “low tide” cone shaped cup) We did three rounds of this then headed off to dinner.
Erin drinks the kava!
“First view of fiddler crabs as we arrived at Matava! (Definitely not leaves).”
Within seconds of offloading the boat to Matava, we were introduced to some of Fiji’s unique marine wildlife. Wading through the water along a path of sea grass in low tide, we had a view of some of the creatures that reside on the shallow sea floor: particularly, Fiddler Crabs! That said, it was fairly hard to tell at first. From even a few meters away these tiny, bright yellow crustaceans could easily be mistaken for fallen leaves. The closer we got, the more they seemed to move, and by the time we were right by them, we realized what exactly they were; all in awe, before even getting into the water. Any time we come back from a dive at low tide, these crabs are out and about, all along the shore.
Male fiddler crabs each have a singular massive claw, roughly the size of the rest of its body. They wave it in the air (sort of as if playing an air fiddle), in order to attract a mate. Getting a picture of one of these guys was almost like playing a game of wack-a-mole. Even when surrounded by countless crabs by the shore, if I got too close, they would quickly scatter and scurry into nearby burrows. Luckily I happened to be near one that was too big to fit into any of its nearest burrows. After a brief staring contest (and a couple of great photos) we each carried on. It was pretty inspiring to see creatures like these crabs in their natural habitat, and was a great first animal encounter for the trip, making me all the more excited to see what else we’ll find!
“Close up shot of one of the fiddler crabs.”
As we sat after dinner recieving instructions for this assignment, I thought back to all the things I could write about. The plane and boat rides into Kadavu were incredible, the food was delicious, and the kava ceremoony was an amazing cultural experience. Of course, on top of all of that, the diving was spectacular. There was so many interesting things I wasn’t quite sure which one to write about. As it turns out, I’m not going to write about any of that, because while there’s 2 weeks of diving, kava, and food, I had a unique experience after everyone turned in for the night that I’d like to share.
I’ve always had trouble getting to sleep at night, so when everyone else decided to go to bed, I was still wide awake. To kill some time, I went down to the dock to check out the stars and the scenery. I sat there for about a half hour before I started back to my bule [ed: that’s Fijian for hut]. On my way there, I saw a crab on the ground pretty far from the water. I took my phone out to take a picture but it quickly retreated into its burrow. Disappointed, I decided to wander for a bit to see what else I could find. Eventually, I came across a tree with loads of crabs in the branches.
A crab sits in a defensive posture in a tree.
I began taking pictures and even found a massive hermit crab.
A hermit crab wanders around by the base of a tree.
While I was taking pictures, I noticed a light approaching from behind me. It was Kevin, one of the Fijian employees at Matava. We chatted for a bit, talking about our cultures and learning about each other. I found out he was 20 years old, from Suva, and had just started working here in December. I had a bag of kava that I bought in the Nadi marketplace, so we returned to my bule where he mixed the drink. We sat and talked and drank kava until about midnight before turning in for the night. It was a really genuine and unique experience to get to hang out with someone from Fiji and to learn so much about their culture.
Apologies for the delay in posting the student blog posts. The professors were underwater for much of the first week here in Fiji. And then a storm knocked out the internet access on the island so we only got back on online today. The student blog posts will start appearing 2-4 per day from now until we run out of them. The good news is that the blog posts will still be appearing when we return to NY next weekend, so we’ll be able to look back on our time in the wonderfully warm tropical waters of Kadavu!
Posts will start appearing monday morning (US time).
We departed the US on Jan 3rd and landed on Jan 5th here in Nadi. And it was only an 11 hr flight. So in addition to jet lag, most of us are trying to figure out what day it is, or is today actually tomorrow.
But Fiji is warm and sunny, and we’re waiting on our next flight to Kadavu. Thankfully all students and luggage made it to Nadi (which hasn’t been the case in some years).
Groggy, but warm, MAR 388 is here in Fiji.
We expect to see very little of this during MAR 388 this January.
And so another year of tropical marine ecology (MAR 388) at Stony Brook University begins. Through shear blind luck, we have managed to assemble at the Los Angeles airport before the winter storm arrived in Long Island. We still have a long ways to go: 11 hr flight crossing the dateline, a layover in Nadi, another flight, and a boat trip await us before we arrive at Matava on the island of Kadavu, Fiji.
So stay tuned for updates from the students, although were uncertain on our level of internet access on Kadavu, so the posts may be a bit irregular in their updates.
Stay warm everybody back in NY!
Profs. Warren and Peterson
The group is more tan (ok, sunburnt) and much more knowledgeable than when we got here.
As usual, our final day here in Jamaica began with flat calm seas and very little wind — it’s our very own annual tradition. Some people got one last dip in the water before breakfast and our trip to the airport for the flight back to cold (but not snowy) New York.
This year’s class had the worst weather in the history of the course. This presented real challenges to the students in terms of being able to get in the water and see the reef firsthand. Luckily, the seas calmed down the past few days and our new divers got to do some “fun” dives instead of training.
Both of us would like to thank the students for rolling with the punches the weather threw us this year. We had a really good group of students and despite their reduced time in the water there were as many eagle ray and turtle spottings this year as we normally get so our class got the most out of their time on the reef.
See everybody in the spring semester,
Profs. Peterson and Warren
View from the dock.
Can’t believe it’s our last day in Jamaica. It’s gone by so fast, especially these last few days squeezing in as much water time and dives as possible. Yesterday morning Bri, Tony and I went out on our first open water dive as non-DITs! Bri and I saw a sea turtle and unfortunately her GoPro broke at 30 ft down or we’d have photo evidence. But the memory for us is awesome.
Yesterday and today was mostly spent brushing up on our scientific names (Stegastes adustus anyone?) and trying to round out our collections with as much algae as possible. Rachel and I had to separate our voracious urchins from our algae sea table as they were rapidly devouring our collection. Jess, Alex and Juali managed to snag some brittle stars without them losing a limb and Bri and Tony were brave enough to explore the reef crest- the surge was pretty strong but they made it back with some stuff in their collection bags.
Sargassum sargassum floating dockside.
Precious is bringing out the Jamaican specialties for our last couple of days- we’ve had bammy, ackee with salt fish, and breadfruit so far, and today is patty day with the famously delicious cocoa buns. The food has been so good, but I know Colin and I at least are craving a big ol’ slice of pizza back in NY.
This morning the water was calm enough to head over to Rio Bueno for a dive. It was absolutely amazing. At around 20 feet the reef face drops off like a sheer cliff, and we went back and forth at 60 ft and 45 ft exploring the face. Dr Warren speared 3 lionfish (the only way to beat ‘em is to eat ‘em) and Bri thought she may have seen a caribbean reef shark down near the bottom. Mostly we got to float past huge sea fans, brightly colored fish and corals, and schools of gorgeous blue chromis that waterfall-dove over the reef face past us. That dive is definitely a highlight of the trip for me.
Tonight we have our final exam and are cleaning up the wet lab and packing for an early start tomorrow. The best parts of the trip for me were getting scuba certified and seeing 3 octopuses (no, people, it is not “octopi”). They’re one of my favorite animals and let me tell you I’m still kicking myself over missing that they were in the cephalopod family on our first exam- I blame the mosquito assault on my legs that was happening as I attempted to finish as quickly as possible. For awesome octopus facts and to learn more see The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery.
Octopus at night.
I think that’s all the octopus plugging I have for today. Thanks for reading mom!
It’s almost time to go back to the cold and dry weather in New York. The end approached faster than expected and most of us wish we could stay in here. All we can do is make the most out the next two days because we won’t be see this bright sun in New York for a few months. The weather is not the only good thing about this place, it’s also the people, the laidback lifestyle, the tasty food and the great view of the ocean from my balcony. Jamaica definitely met all of our expectation despite the unexpected winds of the first few days.
Going from an 80-degrees weather to shoveling snow will probably be the harshest transition ever. At least we can all say we had a great time, learned a lot and made friendships that hopefully will last a long time. We were also able to swim in a coral reef, which was a new experience for some of us.
Before this trip I had no idea the diversity of species that can be found in a reef. I also ignored its true importance and why we should take care of it. Most people describe reefs as an attraction for tourists, not knowing how important they are for the animals in it and for us as well. Reefs not only give a home for thousands of species but also protect our coastlines after big storms. I will use this trip not only to have great stories to tell, but also to inform people about the importance of coral reefs in our ecosystem and our daily lives.
Gone are my days, it is the end!