Today was a big day for Scyphozoa and Ctenophores, otherwise known as true jellyfish and comb jellies respectively. When we unloaded at one of our experiment locations, we had to quickly get back into the boat when we realized Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) were everywhere (they can deliver a painful sting), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take a picture first.
There were also a lot of comb jellies (unknown species). These jellies look similar to jellyfish but are actually from a completely different phylum and use sticky cells called colloblasts to catch prey rather than stinging cells like jellyfish. This is why Amanda was able to safely hold one in her hand.
Eventually, our marine safety officer Herbie found a reef that wasn’t infested with jellyfish. While he was checking the area, he said he saw lots of squid and lionfish. I didn’t end up finding any squid myself, but I did get to watch Herbie spear one of the lionfish – they’re invasive to the Caribbean and eat a lot of important herbivorous fish populations.
Later, we went to the forereef, which was much deeper than the patch reefs inside the atoll. I got to see some living elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), a nurse shark, several southern sting rays, and a very linear group of small squid.
This morning we loaded up the boat really early and travelled a short distance to the reef crest and fore reef near Middle Caye. I took Dramamine an hour before we left and I will spare you the wait and just tell you that I in fact felt queasy out on the ocean. Once we got to the first site, we all got off and it was quite deep, around 50 feet. I was able to dive all the way down and stay long enough to get some really cool photos. After that we moved to the reef crest, where we saw a few stingrays and an eagle ray (which was humongous!) I saw a new coral, Agaricia tenufolia and also spotted quite a bit of the Orbicella faveolata and O. annularis, as well as Montastrea cavernosa.
I tried to be the last person on the boat, but even then I still felt crappy due to the swells. We headed to the second site and jumped in. All of a sudden I hear people exclaiming that there was an Acropora palmata! This coral has been nearly wiped out in the Caribbean due to White Band disease and so I had really wanted to see one. I think I saw about six different colonies during this snorkeling adventure. I can only imagine how magnificent the reefs must have looked over one hundred years ago when A. palmata was a dominant reef builder that loomed over the reef like trees in a rainforest.
I was happy to get back to shore and immediately collapsed into my bed with peanut M&M’s, plantain chips, and oreos all by my side. That afternoon we went over our results from the reef health assessment experiment (coral cover and urchin data). Then we explored the backreef and that was really awesome. I saw so many interesting things, such as a coral with a tumor, a recently dead skeleton of a Siderastrea siderea that was of mysterious origin, and another giant lobster. Scott and our water safety officers were also simultaneously catching lionfish. We caught four and at the end of the week we are going to measure them and then prepare and eat them.
I feel very tired at the moment, most likely from all the swimming from today. Au revoir.