Hey guys, this is Apple/Arugula. When I left New York there was snow on the ground and now I find myself in this 80° Jamaican weather. Everything is so green and beautiful here.
The Discovery Bay Marine Lab we are staying at.
I came a couple days later than everyone, so my first days were a bit hectic as I learned what everything is called and what not to touch. I finally went night snorkeling for the first time yesterday, we found a couple octopuses and a sting ray. While everyone was scuba diving Joe shot a lionfish [Ed: an invasive species here that the government encourages us to hunt.] with his spear. When they got back to the lab, he cut the lionfish open and showed us its last meal.
Joe cutting the lionfish open.
Other than our normal schedule of snorkeling/diving and lectures we also find ourselves doing flips, splits, and handstands.
Jeff shocking everyone with his split.
In Jamaica the weather has been beautiful and we have started to snorkel. Some of us have gone out to the reef crest and the deeper waters. At first I was a little nervous going out far to the deeper parts and the reef crest. But I opened up and went to the deep part of the water and made it to the reef crest. When I got there it was worth going out there I got great pictures of fish, corals and urchins.
Blue Tang Clan.
[ryan_urchin1] Caption: This is an urchin message
Coming to Jamaica my main goal was to become a certified scuba diver, a goal which I have quickly accomplished. Although I was able to complete my certification in four days, this didn’t come without its struggles, ranging from not being comfortable with breathing through a regulator to acclimating to only breathing through your mouth (which is harder than most would think).
Diving into a new hobby.
Waking up at 6am everyday was well worth it as I have seen some incredibly vibrant creatures, while also being provided a firm grasp on the magnitude of the relationships many organisms have established with one another. So far my favorite find while scuba diving was out on the eco reef, uncovering a massive lobster tucked into an unsuspecting hole beneath some coral.
Brittle stars shine brightest at night.
– Jason L.
Prior to my visit, Jamaica was merely a word that all but aggravated my passion for ichthyology, and like anything else in life, lacked depth without a framework of experience. I’ve heard stories of Jamaica; of friends escaping to somewhere tropical during the colder months, and of all of the things I’ve never touched with my senses. Perhaps the biggest lesson that I learned, and keep learning with each new experience, is that I can truly never understand something without observing it for myself; without being able to feel it in my hands or see it in the sun’s natural light.
In spite of all that I just told you, please believe me when I tell you that there is not a single dumpier-looking fish than the Balloon Fish. I cannot explain how absurdly dumb this thing is. I absolutely refuse to believe that this species was able to outlive the dinosaurs. When the Balloon Fish and I first met, I was apprehensive, and it, a flailing idiot with a level of confidence that high school me could’ve put to good use.
A picture of our dear friend, the Balloon Fish
It greeted us, a large group of human snorkelers, unyielding, and lacking any consideration for itself and for its wellbeing, as though the fish received pleasure from being digested—as though evolution worked backwards to this fish, and as though fitness was defined by how many people it could bring down with it.
To say that I love this fish is an understatement.
With love and grace,
Jamaica has been good to me thus far; the weather is always nice even when its cloudy it’s still warm. However, the days here are long and exhausting, being here only a couple days has easily felt like weeks! The second day here we took a snorkeling tour of part of the bay and saw so many colorful fishes, sponges, corals and so much more. By the third day the certified divers were able to go out and do their checkout dives, which was SO fun because we went to 60ft and swam around Eco Reef.
I did not provide a caption for my photo so this is a request for Sandra’s mom to post a blog comment containing an embarrassing story about Sandra.
Later that night we were able to go night snorkeling for the first time and got to see all the nocturnal creatures that only emerge the waters at night. I was a bit nervous since there are many diadema (urchins) feeding at night, and my flashlight died 10mins into the snorkel when I was far from the dock and it is pitch black under the water at night. Luckily, we never snorkel or dive alone and my buddy’s light led the way for us both. I was also able to catch two balloon fish with my hands to bring back to the wet lab for my lab group and the rest of the class to see. The fourth day was also spend snorkeling in the morning and the divers were able to go out with Professor Peterson and see some new things, my favorite were the neon sponges that had bright blue fish around them.
Sandra’s temporarily captured burrfish in a wet lab aquarium.
The lectures here are interesting even though we have three a day and it is a lot of information it is in things we are got to see every day. The people here are also very nice and the ladies that cook our meals in the kitchen are beyond amazing and very accommodating. This has been a great experience so far and I can’t wait to see what is yet to come in the days to come.
In the morning, we had some free time to snorkel and collect species, so my snorkel buddies and I stayed over by the mangroves. I kept running into young adult Threespot Damselfish, which I quickly learned I really really don’t like. They’re territorial fish that come swimming towards divers, and everywhere I looked, there would be at least one just staring at me and getting closer. These fish aren’t threatening (the most they would do is nip), but I just don’t like having a fish so close up in my face. I guess these damselfish succeeded in defending their territory, though, because every time I saw one out of the corner of my eye, I swam in the opposite direction to avoid eye contact with them.
that side eye…
Deep within the mangroves are little nooks and crannies you can barely get into, and as I was exploring, I noticed a plastic bottle at the back of one. I swam to go grab it and held onto it for some twenty minutes until I found another one and grabbed it, too.
After our quick snorkel break, the certified divers set out for Eco Reef for their checkout dive to demonstrate some basic skills. Setting up the BCD was slightly different than how I learned when getting certified (apparently there’s a “Jamaican way” of storing the alternate air source”), so it took me a few tries and asking Snow questions to get it set up. One thing remained the same between gearing up in Hawaii and in Jamaica, though — I couldn’t lift the set-up gear off the ground myself, so I had Jeff hold it up for me as I put the straps over my shoulders. Once we all had our gear set up, we headed over to the boat to set out for the dive site supposedly 45 minutes away (it ended up being a ten minute ride). At the dive site, we got in and performed skills like flooding and clearing masks, replacing regulators, sharing air, and neutral buoyancy. I didn’t bring my camera with me because we were diving so deep, so I sadly wasn’t able to take any photos of the amazing organisms we saw. At sixty feet, it was the deepest we could dive down to, and it was absolutely incredible having the freedom to swim around wherever.
Until next time,
Elderberry Erin 🙂
[Ed: Dr. Peterson and I are happy to have Brad’s former Ph.D. student, Dr. Amber Stubler who is an alumni of this course when she was an undergrad and is now a faculty member at Occidental College here at Discovery Bay with one of her undergraduate students, Corrie.]
Today Dr. Amber Stubler and I continued work on my independent research project by deploying the algae and seagrass units that we built yesterday. I’ve been working with Thalassia testudinium, Sargassum spp., and Chaetomorpha spp..
Me (Corrie) holding a Thalassia testudinium (turtlegrass) and Sargassum spp. deployment unit.
We set out the containment apparatuses that would corral the sea water altered by my treatments yesterday and made some alterations to increase their stability.
Final result of the completed deployments.
The majority of my time here has been extremely busy. We’ve been having lectures three times a day, so the information has been on overload, but everything we’ve been taught thus far has been so interesting! And to be able to see and apply our learning to the marine environment right outside the research lab only makes this experience even better. I have definitely been valuing my sleep more than usual in my short time here. With the lectures, dives, snorkeling, and work being conducted on my research project, I’ve been exhausted by the end of the day. Very excited for all of the fun/new experiences that we are going to have between now and the 17th!
I am happy to report that my body’s thermoregulation system has finally adjusted to the abrupt change in temperature and humidity from New York to Jamaica. But I don’t think my hair will ever get the memo, apologies to everyone who has to see it over the next 11 days, the frizz factor is HIGH. My wild hair and new found friends headed off on our newest adventure bright and early today with our first open water dive, the next necessary step in our open water diver certification training! Our instructors (Camilo and Snow) ran us through skills that we had previously learned in our pool dive sessions. As my brothers know, all too well, I am completely and absolutely terrified of kayaking in any amount of water (most recently screaming that I was going to be swept out to sea in 3 inches of water and not on the ocean) but I was ready, willing, and able to dive 42 feet under the ocean’s surface without hesitation. Experiencing the ocean in such a new way has been dream come true. On our dives I held a sea cucumber (potentially identified using a Reef Creature Identification book as the Harlequin Sea Cucumber or Holothuria grisea). It was much softer and squishier than I expected, its little tube feet on its underside suctioned to my hand with surprising force, and its cone-shaped papillae (“spikes” on its body) were smoother to the touch than I had thought they would be. On our second dive our dive instructor removed an empty mesh concrete bag from one of the artificial reef structures and I picked up a banana chip bag to throw away. Keep your garbage out of the ocean people!
When we arrived back from our dive training, I nearly fell over carrying my gear it’s so heavy, still trying to find my sea legs I suppose. But alas, I made it. Lecture followed diving, and snorkeling followed lunch and lecture. The food is always delicious! My snorkel buddies were Ashley and Daeyla today, we stayed primarily around the mangroves and rocks since the current was a little strong. After searching through the sea grass for a while I stumbled upon a huge Queen Conch (Strombus gigas)
and a little tiny crab found under a rock
We have been instructed to over turn rocks (replacing them when done) and I seem to be having trouble just finding a rock to begin with…I’ll get it soon enough along with the true identity of said crab, don’t worry. Lots and lots of names of critters big, small, and smaller to learn and attempt to collect for wet lab observations! Wish us luck, these creatures either move fast, hide well, or look alike!
It me Lucy.
(NOT an indication of my skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB rays)
The past few days here have been amazing. We were lucky enough to get in the water and snorkel our second day here and I was amazed by the beauty that I was faced with. I unfortunately don’t have an underwater camera but the things that I am face to face with are unbelievable. Today, a few of us “DITS” (divers in training) went out for our first open water dive. After scuba diving on our own in the Bay and having some entertaining lectures about the local populations, sponges, corals, and other cool organisms, we were all looking forward to going on our first dive. We went down about forty feet, completed some skills, and did a brief underwater tour when we were done. We saw fire coral (not fun to touch), butterfly fish, and tiny jellyfish! The Tripneustes ventricosus (West Indian Sea Egg) are pretty common here but they are my favorite organisms so far. I love how they can sit on your hands and you can see their projection spines move all around. The only thing better than diving in Discovery Bay is probably the food, shoutout to Ms. Precious and the rest of the galley crew for never making a disappointing meal.
[Ed: Daeyla called this cheerio coral in her figure title, but she will not be getting credit for that name on the ID exam — better figure it out!]
[[One of these is an echinoderm, the other is a stony brook student who forgot to provide a caption for her photo so the poor professor had to write this.]
Today marks the first full day of the course, and with it came our first two snorkeling trips in the bay. The first trip was taken following a short introduction to what organisms we should avoid touching while in the water, and during the swim we split into three groups each led by one of the professors. During this first outing, we were introduced to the different locations and zones of the reef and bay, and we were able to take our first observations on the marine life in the area. The highlights that I saw while on this swim include a ray and an eel. I have not yet been able to determine which species they are specifically, but I plan on being able to identify which each is soon.
Eel that my group spotted during the intro swim.
Ray that my group spotted during the intro swim.
Following the intro dive, we had a lecture, lunch, and then a shortened introduction to the wet lab. We were then given our groups for the presentations and released to take observations on our own for the afternoon. During this trip I found how difficult it can be to take photos of fish, with one example being a barracuda that while I was able to see I was unable to take a clear photo of. As for what I was able to capture, in addition to a lot of sessile organisms like anemones and sponges, I was able to take a picture of a polychaete that based off this morning’s mini lecture on dangerous organisms I would assume is a fireworm. [Ed: Yes, it’s a fireworm!]
The Polychaete that I spotted during the second outing
Overall I really enjoyed the snorkel trips, and am looking forward to tomorrow. In particular I am excited for the open water certification dives I and the other not yet certified divers will be taking.