06 Jan 2018 – Bula!

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.

– James

Wow. 12 days without internet is kind of awesome!

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).

Prof. Warren

04 Jan 2018 – What day is it ?

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.

Prof. Warren

03 Jan 2018 – Storm ? What storm ?

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

20 Jan – Winter is coming…

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

19 Jan – The Last Supper

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.

Mangroves.

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!

-Shannon

18 Jan PM – Nothing good lasts forever

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!


– Juali

18 Jan AM – Sunny with a chance of Rain?

We can finally say that the wind has died down compared to last week, but now it seems like we need to be concerned with the rain? This Jamaican weather is really messing with all of our emotions. Yesterday it was so beautiful all day, except for when our afternoon rainstorm came rolling in. I don’t know if it can really be considered a rainstorm if it only rains for 10 minutes and then stops, but that’s what we’ve been having. This morning I woke up to a downpour of rain, and when I went downstairs for breakfast, the rain had already stopped and the sun came out. But hey, if we’re already supposed to be in the water, who really cares about getting wet in the rain, right?

Yesterday we spent most of our day in the water and it was such a relief to finally be done with lectures and be able to spend all of our time actually looking at what learned about. The DITs (divers in training) went out yesterday morning to finish up their certification, so TA Collin took the snorkelers out and we saw a huge eel (it was huge in my eyes).

The “HUGE” eel!

Then after the lunch, the DITs had returned so we all went and laid out to soak up some Jamaican sun before it was gone. But as we’re lying there, it kept getting darker and the clouds were rolling in pretty quickly and it started to drizzle, but we were in denial and thought it was just some sea spray from the ocean. Once we realized it was actually rain and that it was going to downpour on us, we all picked up our stuff and ran in search of dry land! Then the rain stopped and we all went back out into the water and Shannon found a beautiful starfish that we all took pictures of, and then she collected it and put it in her wet lab collection (don’t worry the animals get released back after were done looking at them). Alex collected some pretty cool things for our collection also, but his favorite were the donkey dungs, and I think its because they were the easiest to catch… the poor things don’t move, they just sit at the bottom of the ocean!

Shannon’s pretty sea star!

I think its pretty safe to say we all had our fun in the sun yesterday, hopefully today well have just as much fun!

– Jess

17 Jan PM – No D.I.T.’s Left Behind!

After many hopeful mornings and a few not so hopeful mornings we are proud to say that all the DIT’s (divers in training) are now just D’s (divers)! In other words, we all passed our SCUBA certifications and with 2 days to spare. So now we can explore the hole, or maybe just hover at the bottom and take better photos but always with a buddy.

It was a little tricky getting here, some of us (only one of us) had some stubborn ear issues, but their stubborn anyways so I guess they were just SOL, maybe they’ll remember what that means later.

Sting ray.

The photo sadly is not from the dives because no cameras for DITs, so instead here is a cool photo of a Southern Stingray we saw snorkeling yesterday- yes it was big, and yes we followed it. Then we followed the barracuda; don’t worry mom I still have all my toes but the sun is definitely going to my head!

We stretched out the day with midafternoon Yoga taught by one of the fabulous grad students and I think everyone fried their brains in the sun even more- there are plenty of rosy cheeks to be found.

And now as everyone starts to figure out their final presentations between snorkel trips it’s a little bittersweet that the trip is coming to an end. I know for me at least, I’ll be coming back and hopefully the wind stays away.

– Rachel

17 Jan AM – Nothing’s Better than Swimming with the Fish

Hello everyone!

The water this morning before going diving.

Today is a great day because yesterday was our exam, which means, WE ARE DONE WITH OUR LAB PRACTICAL! Of course we’ll still have work for finding new species to identify and knowing their scientific names but it’s much nicer not having to worry about a huge exam all the time. I feel like this week is going to consist of a lot of water time to make up for the lack of water time we’ve had thus far. But what’s also wonderful is that, the wind had calmed down nearly right after our exam last night so my theory is that our stress from the exam was causing the wind. Yes, that is exactly how science and the atmosphere works.

So the exam happened but afterwards, a bunch of us went out last night to go night snorkeling! It probably would have been really amusing (but equally as sad…) because all of us were spazzing out. There were a few phases that each person experienced upon getting in the water to night snorkel, and they are as such:
1. Get all of your gear—cameras, wetsuits, fins, mask & snorkel, and of course, the all-important waterproof flashlight.
2. Find out what area of the dock doesn’t have Diadema (long-spined urchins) stuck to the wall—super painful to get stuck by one upon getting in the water.
3. Decide that the ladder is the safest bet and put your fins on before getting into the water, but be sure to look to make sure there are no urchins, scorpionfish or other terrifying things that can sting you.
4. Crawl into the water, terrify yourself with the flashlight, forget how to breathe with your snorkel, giggle at yourself, accidentally terrify someone by having your fins brush against them, and repeat.

After all of us learned how to be normal human beings in the water at night (I hope someone gets my Spongebob reference), we then carried on our way. We found two octopii, some lobsters, an eel, and more Donkey Dung Sea Cucumbers (please look them up) and Urchins than we would want to be around on a given day.

A small octopus that we found last night!

Today Rachel, Shannon, Alex, Tonny and I spent the first few hours of our day finishing our first two open water dives to finally become certified scuba divers! We were near a sand patch near the eco-reef in Discovery Bay but there weren’t too many creatures to get distracted by, which is good for this circumstance I guess. We did see a huge Southern Stingray, probably 3.5 feet in diameter, and Rachel saw a lionfish! All in all, if feels amazing to be in the water. Here’s to the next few days of exploring Discovery Bay!

Fair winds and calm seas,
Bri