09 Jan 2019 – My First Dive in Jamaica

My exhaustion from both morning and afternoon dive training, lectures, meetings, and snorkeling finally hit me last night, but the species of sea life that I have been able to observe these past few days on my adventures to the lagoon, down to the blue hole, and the Eco-Reef were priceless. I was extremely horrified about diving yesterday because I had some trouble finishing my training and after breaking a part of my snorkel, my fin, and scratching part of my eye on a tree. Thus, I thought my first open water dive would end in either vomiting, nausea, or death. I’m not the best swimmer so I prepared myself the night before by refreshing my memory with the PADI dive training videos, but even then, I was extremely nervous. Luckily, I had the best roommates, dive buddies, and instructors to make me feel more comfortable on my dive yesterday morning.

Yesterday at 6:30am was the first open water dive for all the “DITS” or what Professors Warren and Peterson call “Divers in Training”. All eight of us woke up yesterday at 6am and we all made our way to the dock to gather our BCDs, Regulators, Air Tanks, and scuba gear while we watched the sunrise. After our gear was all set up, we walked to the picnic tables to go over a lesson on the hand signals and tasks we would be performing under water for open water dive #1. Then we finally made our way to the two boats which would take us to Eco-Reef, but unfortunately one of the boats wasn’t working so we all shoved into one boat which delayed our trip. Once we finally all got onto the boat, we took off with the sun beaming on us around 7:40am. The gorgeous scenery of aqua/green colored water was breathtaking and got my mind off the fact that I would be diving into the ocean at 45 feet doing exercises that I struggled with in a 6ft pool during dive training. After jumping into the water at 8:10am, we did some exercises above the water and then again around 10 feet under water before slowly progressing to 45 feet down the reef. It was difficult focusing on my surroundings while trying to master the exercises, but I did see some awesome corals and fish that I had not seen snorkeling. After getting down to 45 feet, it didn’t feel as deep as I had thought and my only issues were clearing water out of my mask, equalizing the pressure from my ears, and controlling my breathing so that I would not float back up to the surface (at one point I ended back up to the water surface because I was breathing too quickly and had separated from the group). I was proud of all of us “DITS” for surviving our first dive today and doing so well. After our first dive finished at 8:45 am, we rushed to breakfast and then quickly jumped back in the water for open water dive #2. We were definitely more confident the second time around and were able to focus on the sea life more; some of us touched sea cucumbers and a couple of other students accidentally got close to a stingray and saw angel fish.

The sea cucumber we had learned was Hollothuria mexicana.

After our final dive for the day, we headed back for a quick lunch then lecture where we had our first quiz. Then we had a couple of hours to study or snorkel before out next quiz and lecture. I had been extremely busy these past couple of days with dive training on top of our other activities, so I decided to spend my free time catching up on lectures to cram for our first quiz right beside the water.

The view I had while studying.

Finally, to end the day, we enjoyed fish, chicken, salad, and ribs for dinner before our final meeting to fuel us for today for our open water dive #3 and #4 which we will be completing today at 6:30 am again. I hope all goes well today because we will all finally be certified!

Name: Sydney
Fave Food: Pizza

09 Jan 2019 – Loyal to the Coral

As we’ve learned in class, corals are very important for building habitats for numerous species. This makes them very valuable to an ecosystem. One of the many contributing factors to this reef building process is a very important mutualistic relationship that coral has with zooxanthellae, an endosymbiotic phytoplankton. Coral are living organisms that have hundreds of corallites which contain polyps that obtain food via suspension feeding. Zooxanthellae reside within the corallites of lucky corals. Through this relationship, zooxanthellae receive shelter and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the coral which help to efficiently photosynthesize. In return, coral receive a local oxygen supply, which is important in maintaining and growing its exoskeleton, carbon, and amino acids.

It has been shown that corals possessing zooxanthellae grow faster and are much healthier. However, when corals experience temperature stress, they expel their zooxanthellae. This phenomenon is called coral bleaching. When this happens, corals grow much slower, are unhealthier, and many times do not survive. Due to climate change, coral bleaching events are occurring more frequently and are having disastrous effects on ecosystems. These problems must be ­­­­­­­­addressed and mitigated immediately.

This is a photo of staghorn coral, a branching coral which possesses zooxanthellae. This photo was taken by me.

-Emily (Egg)

09 Jan 2019 – Welcome to Jamaica!

Hello from Jamaica! The weather today was a nice 80 degrees and it’s been a much needed break from the cold, muggy weather in Buffalo, NY. This has been an amazing experience so far, especially since it’s my first time outside of the United States.

Shoreline at Discovery Bay Marine Lab

Today was also my first time snorkeling. At first, it was a pretty daunting experience being under the water yet still able to breathe, but after an hour it turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. One of the best parts about snorkeling is the ability to pick up certain wildlife and hold it in your hands. Today I held a Variegated Sea Urchin which is also known by its scientific name as Lytechinus variegatus. I was so scared that I was going to get stuck with the barbs, but after holding it the urchin just rolled across my hands and tickled me. I can’t wait to see what else I encounter on our stay. Keep tuned!

My first time snorkeling!

– Andrew

08 Jan 2019 – Scientific Spells

Snorkeling is the absolute best in the early morning. Since we were all up for breakfast at 7:30, going out to snorkel at 8:30 was no big deal. By 9:45 it felt like midafternoon and we were all still full from breakfast with tons of energy and motivation to identify and spot marine life. Due to the fact that we all were in the water well before 9:00, we were able to see many more fish of all different varieties. This included coral, eels, puffer fish, barracuda, needlefish, jellyfish, and sea stars! Our lecture of that same day included some initial identifications of marine hazards in the water to be aware of. This included many scientific identifications of certain marine plants, invertebrates, and fish. That being said, during our morning snorkel we actually saw phylum porifera, Cassiopea frondosa, Polyplacophora, Strombus gigas, Linckia guildingii, Ophiocoma paucingranulata, Diadema antillarum, and Holothurian mexicana.

Fay holding a sea star and a sea urchin. Also known as a linckia guildingii and a tripneustes ventricosus.

The complexity of these scientific names is definitely one aspect of this study abroad that will be of specific challenge to me. In fact, as a group of us were studying these scientific identification names, it almost sounded as if we were casting spells. It is reassuring that all of us on this trip are in the same boat and therefore each have about 18 other students to help each other study. Part of the cooperative studying today included a small group of us heading out to the water. While by the docks some people went in the water and others stayed on land. People in the water were responsible for spotting fish, giving a description of the fish to people on land, and the people on land were responsible for identifying and providing the common and scientific name of the specific organism. This was a very useful studying method because we were able to enjoy the water and the weather while also learning about the things we were seeing. I look forward to continuing the learning here, and I know I will need all the time possible to practice these complicated, “Harry-Potter-esq” names.

– Fay

08 Jan 2019 -The First Days at DBML!!

So far, it has been an adventure here at Discovery Bay Marine Lab, Jamaica. From arriving and seeing the sites, to finding a Crested Gecko in our bathroom, already this experience has been unforgettable. Today, we started what we all had been waiting to do since arriving on the island: snorkeling. With our class, we finally entered the water to see all the marine life located here. After, a couple of my friends and I went out by ourselves for the first time since we were so excited. This second trip was exhilarating as it was the first time in the water on our own, within bounds and regulations of course.

Me with the Cushion Sea Star at the end of our adventure. Credit to Siobhan. 4:00 pm 1-7-19

During this snorkel, we found a few fun organisms, including a Queen Conch, Strombus gigas, and a Cushion Sea Star, Oreaster reticalatus, towards the end of our swim. Holding the sea star in my hand and feeling its tube feet on my hand was incredible. Although these are ‘typical’ organisms one would think of when searching the waters of a tropical island like Jamaica, finding these animals and holding them in our hands was such an amazing experience and it definitely made me excited for the next two weeks.

-Ann Marie

08 Jan 2019 – A Problem With Vision (Or Lack Thereof…)

So far on this lovely Study Abroad Trip, I am having quite the experience here in Discovery Bay Marine Lab. I have as of this writing been in the water a grand total of three times, and that number is sure to increase by the day. I have had wonderful experiences with my new friends here, and have seen many wonderful creatures in the ocean. However, there seems to be just one problem: my mask keeps fogging up, more often than it usually does. This seems to be every time I clean it once it leaks underwater, and this leads to me not being able to see much for a solid few minutes. This even prevented me from getting a more than decent look at a juvenile Spotted eagle ray on my checkout dive yesterday morning! I did see it for maybe a few seconds, but it is quite unfortunate I didn’t see it any more. I will look into what I can do with the mask today and tomorrow when I inevitably go out into the ocean to have even more fun!

A visual representation of the inside of my mask at times.

Andrew (Asparagus)

07 Jan 2019 – Star Struck

This morning, we all woke up early around 7am to the sound of turkey vultures running around on the roof— which doesn’t sound fun but, it helped us all be on time for breakfast! After breakfast we got our snorkel gear out, suited up and went out in small groups to discover the bay, at Discovery Bay. Many of us got into the water not expecting to see things other than sea grass or coral, and in just minutes we found all sorts of creatures.

Around 5 minutes into our trip Kaitlin, a graduate student on the trip, told us to put out our hands and she put two spectacular organisms in our hands— one of which, you can recall from Finding Nemo, sticking to the surface of the tank, and another some may know from Freddie The Fish (a CD-Rom game from the 90’s). Well, if these clues didn’t help, take a look at these pictures we captured.

Lucas and a starfish.

Sea urchins.

That’s right, we saw Starfish and Sea Urchins. The first picture is of Lucas holding a Starfish (also known as a Cushion Sea Star, scientific name Oreaster reticulatus from the class “Asteroidea” which live in shallow sea grass beds and sand flats), while the second picture is two different species of urchins. The spiked urchin toward the middle of the picture we didn’t touch, while the blob looking, white spiked urchins we held onto for a little. While I held onto this, I felt the tiny little spikes suck into my skin a little almost like velcro. These are called West Indian Sea Egg, scientific name Tripneustes ventricosus. We also saw anemones, sea cucumbers, some students saw a barracuda (yesterday), and all sorts of corals, fish and plants.

We’re all excited to see what the next day brings, as most of us are going to be headed to finish part of our SCUBA certification in the days ahead and go out past the reef barrier.

-Cookie Kelly

07 Jan 2019 – Artificial Reef Initiatives!

Artificial reef- “Dockside” AIR modules with Staghorn coral growth.

During our first day we were able to learn about various research projects and restoration initiatives here at Discovery Bay. Posters are displayed throughout the grounds explaining the details and purpose of work being studied and completed. Learning about the artificial reef design for coral restoration had me so excited to get in the water and check it out!
Artificial reefs are used to encourage new growth and allow reef recovery. They are constructed using iron rebar which are placed in shallow waters, where divers then transplant coral fragments with hopes for them to survive and flourish. I was able to identify where in the bay the artificial reefs were located using the research poster and took a swim out to snap some photos!
As you can see in the photo, the iron rebar was created to mimic the branching growth patterns of certain coral species. Those who developed this technique call these AIR modules, (Acropora Iron Reef). I was able to identify Staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, growing from the iron reef module. They are easily identified by their antler-like racks of cylindrical branches which are what you can see growing on the modules in the photo! It was found in their research that the modules attracted species like goat, surgeon, parrot, damsel, and trumpet fishes. It was amazing to see these artificial reefs first hand, as the world-wide initiative to use artificial reefs has become a very hot topic.
[Prof Note: We play a “name game” the first night to help all of us learn each others names — each student picks a food or beverage that starts with the same letter as their name, and we go around trying to remember them. It works really well — but it may produce some not-so-common sign offs on the blog posts.]

07 Jan 2019 – First day, first time snorkeling!

Making friends with a sea biscuit. Photo by Gillian.

This morning, my classmates and I woke up at 3am or earlier to catch our 6:30am flight. I should have been tired, but on the plane I just couldn’t sleep. It was a four-hour flight, but it felt like a few minutes. I was running on my excitement the entire day. After a tour and orientation at the facility, I joined Dr. Warren and a group of students. It was my first time snorkeling, and my first time seeing a reef outside an aquarium. We only swam inside the reef to get used to our gear, but it my first brush was breath taking. Since our swim was at 5pm, the visibility wasn’t great, but it was amazing. There’s life in every corner; the more closely you look the more you see.

Some things I learned about snorkeling: One. No one looks dignified in snorkel gear and it’s a great equalizer. Two. You will get very, very familiar with the taste of salt water. Three. You will never want to get out of the water.

That night, my classmates and I crashed once our heads hit our pillows. And I couldn’t wait for the next day.


06 Jan – Arrival !

The Caribbean water is a lovely shade of blue.

Hello Friends and Families,

Welcome to the 2019 edition of MAR 388 Tropical Marine Ecology course. We have left NY to spend two weeks in Jamaica at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab. We arrived this afternoon (with one more student coming in this evening), so we’re ready for our lab orientation and also dinner! (and maybe even getting in our first snorkel before dinner).

Waiting for our vans at the airport.

Check back here regularly as well have 3-5 posts per day from the students.

Profs. Warren and Peterson