12 Jan 2019 – Conquering A Fear

As a person who grew up in the warm tropics of Ghana, swimming has always been challenge that I struggled to learn and perfect, but my experience in Jamaica has helped me overcome this obstacle. I was able to overcome my struggles with swimming by interacting and learning from all the supportive people that embarked on this with me. For the first time in my life, I was able to swim with a school of fish and snorkeled in the open sea tens of feet deep.

First time snorkeling with buddy Lucas. Photo taken by Lucas

My first experience to snorkeling has also taught me different life skills. There were multiple occasions that my fear of drowning discouraged me from jumping into the sea, but the support from my new friends encouraged and emboldened me to take my first paddle. As a result of my first paddle, I was able to experience unbelievable and beautiful sceneries of different colorful corals, sponges, anemones, fishes etc. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to pet and swim with an upsidedown jelly fish (Cassiopea frondosa).

First day snorkeling and finding an upside jelly fish (Cassiopea frondosa). The jelly fish has a symbiotic relationship with an alga called zoozanthellae. These algae undergo photosynthesis and supply the jelly fish with nutrients whereas the jelly fish provides habitat and protection for the zoozanthellae.

This entire experience wouldn’t have come into fruition if hadn’t believed in myself and had the support of friends and professors. I have enjoyed every moment at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab so far and I hope to stretch my snorkeling skills and acquire more knowledge on the different marine organism sustained the coral ecosystem.

Paul , Pie

12 Jan 2019 – Senor Barracuda and El Rio Bueno

When I first applied for this study abroad, I did not expect to swim in water meters deep accompanied by great foot-long barracuda. I have done both! Yesterday morning, I began with a power run. I woke up at 6:43 am, meanwhile I’d agreed to be at the dock by 6:30 am. Oops! Imagine this, running by the dock to get my gear while I zip up my wetsuit I hastily put on while running down the stairs. Nothing beats the feeling of having a whole class cheer you on while the sun begins to rise. After getting my gear, and having a wet suit plastered onto my body, I boarded a boat and was taken some meters west to Rio Bueno. Rio Bueno is this small seaside village which overlooks a diverse coral reef. Here, I got to see beautiful tropical fish: such as fairy basslets, blue tang, and the infamous lion fish. Fun fact: Lionfish tastes amazing! (Thanks Joe!)

A picture of the caring fisherman, Joe, with cooked Lionfish. Yum!
[Prof note: Lionfish are an invasive species in Jamaica and divers are encouraged to spear them to reduce their population.]

What about the barracuda? Well, you see, I didn’t really know it was a barracuda. I’ve seen some really cool looking silvery long fish (ie. Needlefish). When I saw a foot-long fish, I had to snap a photo of it. When I got closer, I was like hmmmm… seems familiar. So, I took a photo of it. I am very glad I saw it right after lunch, the fish was able to pose for me. Needless to say, it was a great barracuda! When I realized that I chased a foot-long barracuda for a photo, I was shocked. Being able to see this amazing fish up close and personal is breath-taking and I can’t wait to see what else Discovery Bay’s coral reef has to offer.

A picture of the barracuda.

Signing off,
Nectarine Nick

12 Jan 2019 – Waterfallin’ for Jamaica

Today, in a beautiful turn of events on a rainy Saturday, we were all allowed to sleep in until breakfast at 9:30am. After breakfast, most of the class, including myself, played a few games of volleyball outside the dorms. After each point, our supportive teams would clap for the player who won the point. It was nice to see how close we’ve all become as friends in just six days. Soon after the volleyball games, we all rushed to lunch. Excited murmurs and wild laughter fill the cafeteria as we were all pumped to go on a trip today, specifically to the Dunn’s River Waterfall. We all packed up our stuff, and headed on a bus to right outside Ocho Rios.

The class starting to climb the waterfall at the very bottom.

We started at the bottom of the waterfall, right at the ocean. After taking a photo, we began our trek up. Through slips and slides, deep pools, rushing water, and slippery rocks, after about an hour of climbing over the 10-12 tiers and pools, we finally made it to the top of the Dunn’s River Waterfall. Feeling triumphant, some of us took a rest in the top pool, while other went again for one last climb up. Honestly, this was the most beautiful waterfall I’d ever seen and quite possibly the most fun I’d had in my entire life. I’m so glad I came to Jamaica. But wait- the fun wasn’t over yet. We hopped back up on the bus and ventured to the city of Ocho Rios!

The finishing sign of completion at the top of the falls.

In Ocho Rios, you will find a straw craft market that is much larger than it seems, where you can haggle for crafts and traditional Jamaican souvenirs. You will also find restaurants, clothing stores, a beach, and a lot of culture that most of us hadn’t experienced before. I spent most of my time buying crafts and souvenirs with my friends, walking all over looking for a haberdashery to no avail, and eventually sitting down to a rushed dinner with a group of us right before we had to go. All in all, I’d say we all had a pretty successful day.

The craft/straw market.

-Juneberry Jessica S.

11 Jan 2019 – Mangrove Mood

After breakfast, I suited up and swam to the mangroves. I slowed down to prevent sediment from getting kicked up from my fins, as I approached the mangroves. The cold water rushed from my head and down my body as I got closer. As I approached the first clump of mangrove roots, I explored the crevices in the rocks looking for anything small that would like to hide in it. Peering over the corner of a rock, I can see a small frillfin goby perched in a concave part of the rock. It didn’t scoot away as I approached it. I stuck my finger out and gave it a little pet on the head.

Frillfin goby perched on a rock.

It scooted away as I tried to pet it again. I tried to look for it again but instead of finding the goby, I found a common comet star. Andrew B. went back and got a bucket to bring it back to the wetlab for further observations.

Common comet star on the side of a rock.

The mangroves are filled with many species of fish and invertebrates, a diverse environment that I can spend hours exploring and swimming through.

– Lemon Lucas

11 Jan 2019 – ID Mania

Today our task was a scavenger hunt, we were given two and a half hours to go snorkeling and find as many things as we can so that we can come back and ID them with our group members. Within the first ten minutes I already had photos of at least 15 different things, many of which I didn’t even know what they were (I figured it out later). The real excitement kicked in when I swam over something that looked unusually lumpy so I dove down and saw it was an octopus (Octopus vulgaris). I was so excited I could barely keep my hand steady enough for a picture, but I ended up getting some pretty good shots. [Professor correction: GREAT shots!] I was able to get a picture right when I got close to it, another when it realized its cover had been blown, and one where it started to swim away; a pretty good succession. This was by far my favorite moment of the day!

Right when I got close.

When I was getting too close for comfort.

And when it decided to flee the scene.

Then I ran into a big barracuda (Sphyraena) and that enthusiasm turned into panic because of all the shiny things I had on (they are attracted to shiny things) so I quickly took everything off and shoved it into my wetsuit just as a precaution. I saw numerous amounts of other organisms, and ended up taking about 400 pictures just in those two or so hours. Then I spent another two hours with my group trying to ID everything we had gotten photos of, and the specimens we had collected and brought to the wet lab. Overall it was a very busy and exciting day, and I definitely have a bunch of species names embedded into my brain for good!


11 Jan 2019 – The Little Mermaid

My son and I after a nice snorkel! Photo creds: Kelly

The water has always been a big part of my life, and being on this trip to Jamaica has just amplified my love for everything in the ocean. Although I am a certified diver, these past two days I have been snorkeling instead of diving. Although you may not get as up close and personal with some marine life as you would diving, I have come to appreciate and really enjoy the relaxing activity of snorkeling (and I have been seeing some really cool stuff these past two days). Yesterday most of the class ventured over the reef crest. It wasn’t hard going out over the crest but coming back was whole other story (and I’ll get to that later). It was fun to dive underwater and try and get close to the coral and see all of the tiny fish that live inside. I was able to live my dream of being a mermaid and swimming in the big ol’ blue.

Getting back was hard, though. It started to become low tide and there were so many sea urchins all along the coral so it was kind of like going through a maze with sharp spines everywhere. You had to be really careful where you swam and you had to time it with the wave crashes so there would be enough water for you to actually make it over the rocks and urchins. It was nerve racking! But once we were over it was smooth sailing back to the dock. On the way back, I saw some really cool organisms. We saw a Yellow Stingray and someone found a small two-spined sea star, which I took back to the wet lab with me (I love him so much, he is my son). Today we snorkeled as well, and I saw a really cool Chained Moray Eel, which was the first eel I saw since I’ve been here. So overall, snorkeling has opened a world of amazing creature to me and I can’t wait to se what else is under the sea!

Signing off!

11 Jan 2019 – A Sense of Self

There are two definitives of the human psyche that exist outside the realm of age and ability. The first is the gnawing need to feel a sense of purpose or be useful. The second, one fewer people will admit to, is an undeniable urge to play. Although as we age, we are gradually tapered off the latter, the section of our brains devoted to it remains unchanged. We are simply socialized to ignore it. The activity that myself and my classmates participated in today was a rare one, in that it stimulated both of these.

In the early afternoon, with our stomachs still full of the day’s lunch, we were given an agenda. However, this agenda surpassed expectations when we were told its’ form: a scavenger hunt. The rules were simple. We were split into groups, given a sizeable list of aquatic organisms, told to take pictures (or when applicable, take the physical creature back to the nearby wet lab) and identify them. At the end, a winner would be selected, and a prize would be given. With that incentive in mind, we had a task to fulfill, our need to feel purposeful, which can often be intensified by the relaxed “island time,” was quickly being fulfilled. On the other hand, our often childlike nature was immersed in the game like setting and the competitive nature of it all. That being exemplified by the first question that echoed through the dining room, “What’s the prize?”

With no definitive answer in mind we headed down to the water where we spent the next hour collecting our data, diving down into the clear blue to get better shots of our organisms. Even though I emerged from the water freezing, I was also laughing. And I saw quickly that I was not the only one. As my group sat in the shade flipping through pictures and fish identification books there was a sense of unity that was unparalleled. We finished a mere five minutes before the deadline and quickly hurried off to our lecture.

When we presented our information, as the day turned softly to night, I knew for certain that this would be one of the memories I would handpick when I wanted to look back on this trip. Although I no longer cared who won the mysterious prize, I was given a chance to slip back into feelings that I, and I am sure many of my classmates, have missed out on for too long a time.

Study abroad programs are characterized as an opportunity for the monotony that has become higher education to be challenged, if only by a change of scenery. Although Jamaica has provided its setting as a beautiful backdrop, my classmates and I have discovered in situations such as these, the setting is equally as important as the ability to convey information in a way that speaks to us all, to our most basic levels of humanity, to the children that we have been, and the adults we are, and will continue to be.

The early morning sunrise the next day provides a perfect opportunity for similar forms of self-reflection.

-Gillian (Grape)

10 Jan 2019 – Dive! Dive! Dive!

The DITs (divers in training) can finally call themselves certified divers. We woke up at the crack of dawn to embark on our last portion of the open water dive test. The previous morning, we put our skills to the test to prove we were capable of completing essential dive procedures. Today’s dives would give us confidence in venturing out on our own aquatic adventures. The dive instructors, Mr. Trench and Mr. Oneil, were pumped to get us out on the water to explore Eco-Reef.

As we slowly descended to the depth of 60ft for the first time I spotted a Sand Diver. He tried to remain completely motionless as he watched the ten of us loom over him. The sand diver’s labored “breathing” was an indicator he was feeling quite uncomfortable with all of the attention. I can’t blame him, we should have told him we were dropping by.

Photo of the Sand Diver (Synodus intermedius).

We all succeeded in completing our certification and took a group photo at one of our safety stops. It was quite difficult to balance ourselves to stay still long enough for a photo. We must of looked like a bunch of teetering bowling pins. I am excited to encounter more tropical creatures on future SCUBA dives and put my certification to good use.

Group photo of the DITs taken by O’Neil.


10 Jan 2019 – Deeper and Deeper

Today us DIT’s (Divers in Training) finally completed our PADI Open Water Certifications! The morning began with another sunrise at 6am, and training and tests at 6:30. This morning consisted of our third and fourth dives to 60 and 40 feet, respectively. All went well, and we came back to shore water logged and proud.

As great as the bottom floor is, so is the reef itself. Later in the day, some of the class ventured to the reef barrier for a look. Tropical reefs are hotspots for biodiversity all over the planet, harboring life from microscopic algae to hammerhead sharks. After diving with air, it was time to start free-diving… And take some really amazing pictures! All thanks to the reef itself of course.

Exploring the outer reef of Discovery Bay!

The reef was covered in fish of all shapes and sizes, as well as algae, sea urchins (Diadema antillarum), numerous corals, as well as a friendly balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus). I have grown up in a family of fisherman and divers, but never have I had the opportunity to see such a diverse reef. It really is amazing to see a few of the things this ecosystem has to offer up close and in person, like octopi and sea turtles. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has to bring!

-“Starfruit” Sascha

10 Jan 2019 -A different world

Hello from Discovery Bay Jamaica! Yesterday on the 9th I was officially SCUBA certified and able to fully explore the underwater world. My first breath underwater in the ocean was truly “breath taking.” It’s hard to describe the actual feeling, but it is almost as if you feel like you are an astronaut in outer space. Both the equipment needed to remain underwater and not having -the best- control over my body and buoyancy, really did make me feel like I was not on Earth anymore even at 60 feet below the surface. Although I greatly enjoy snorkeling, something about the ability to remain at a location and not have to surface for breath is very convenient.

Red mangrove roots (Rhizophora stylosa) that are unique to the plant with algae growing on them among many other various organisms.

Aside from being certified, my favorite experience thus far was snorkeling in the mangroves. To the left of the docks there are red mangroves and corals and the diversity in them is astounding. Learning as I go, I realized it’s much better to explore in small groups – just me and a partner- so there are not so many disturbances in the sediment and fish aren’t frightened. Because the water is so shallow it is difficult to navigate but after some practice I was able to really explore and venture over corals and through narrow coral pathways. I went into an area that I was able to see cave/tunnel like structures and found both a juvenile and parent blue tang swimming together! I am looking forward to exploring the reef and mangroves again on my remaining days.

Both adult (blue) and juvenile (yellow) blue tangs (Acanthurus coeruleus) with other various reef fishes. It is interesting how the bright yellow juveniles change to be a deep blue in adulthood, which is a common example of many reef fishes change through adulthood.