Tag Archives: coral

Day 10: Snorkeling is Probably My Favorite Thing Ever

I like a lot of things. Actually, I’m a little too obsessed with many things – I’ve always been the type of person who enjoys many hobbies and who uses said hobbies to procrastinate doing my actual work. But I think my actual favorite thing in the whole wide world is snorkeling.

We snorkeled for 3 or 4 hours today, and although I was soooo physically worn out, I could have gone for more. (Also, do you understand how amazing that is for me? I did rigorous physical activity for MULTIPLE HOURS and I WASN’T EVEN MAD AT IT?!?! I swear, if I lived on an island I’d have the beach bod of all beach bods.

The day started off with an excellent breakfast of cheese, fresh avocado, johnnycakes (biscuits but better), and fresh fruit. I think we’re all getting a little spoiled on the food here because it has been consistently delicious. AhhhHH

After filling up our fuel tanks, we met to practice a data collection technique that is commonly used by field ecologists to obtain random samples along a straight line section of an area. We used devices called quadrats, which are basically square grids that we made of plastic tubing a string, to sample small chunks of the ocean floor. Before getting into the water, we practiced laying out the transect tape (a huge tape measure that tells us the line along which we will measure) on land.

When we’d become sufficient at conducting transects on land, we moved to the water to practice. And when we became used to snorkeling while carrying 1058593 pieces of equipment, Scott deemed us ready to go conduct some real life transects on some patch reefs at a nearby island.

Today’s project aimed to compare the live hard coral coverage between Marine Protected Areas and non- Marine Protected Areas. We first stopped at a reef inside the MPA. We hopped off the boat into water that was the absolute perfect temperature for swimming. It was maybe 30 ft deep, but rapidly transitioned to being 2 or 3 ft deep once we hit the actual reef.

A beautiful coral formation I found at the patch reef!

After conducting our transects there, we had a little bit of free time to look around. I spent the time looking under rocks and in crevices for sea urchins. I actually found so many! There were all tucked away in dark areas so I didn’t dare to stick my finger in to try to pull them out. They were sooo cute, like little sea hedgehogs clinging to the rock faces. I LOVE MY TAXONOMIC GROUP WOW.

Scott picked up a baby one for me to see at the second reef we stopped at today. I think it’s Echinometra lucunter, a rock boring urchin. It crawled across my hand and waved its little tube feet at me. I think I cried a little because it was so frickin adorable.

If you look closely at my hands, you can see a tiny sea urchin! 🙂

Anyway, if you couldn’t tell already, I thoroughly enjoyed myself today. I just loved watching the bustling ecosystem beneath me, with soft corals waving in the current and tiny colorful fish darting between them. This is insane. I can’t wait to get back out tomorrow.

 

 

 

Wrapping up

Our last day at Glovers has been bittersweet. We wrapped things up by collecting specimens from the backreef and bringing them into the wet lab for sorting and identification. While I did see several split crown feather dusters they are not the kind of thing you can remove from the reef without killing the organism because of how they attach to the substrate. However, we collected several fish, blue crabs, tiny brown crabs, all kinds of green, brown, and red algae, mantis shrimp, jellies, clam shells, and a huge hermit crab.

Yesterday we collected data on specific coral colonies for a long term study. We measured live coral coverage, and today we looked at the data for the same corals taken last year to compare the results. We found that coverage seemed to have decreased at the sites, but it was hard to tell because of discrepancies in data collection. Lastly, we dissected lionfish that were caught throughout the week to look at size, sex and stomach contents to get an idea of what the population of this invasive species looks like in Glovers atoll.

I wish I had more time on the reef and in this course. Middle caye and the surrounding reefs are beautiful and I feel like I could stay here for a long time. I may be salty, all my laundry is filthy, and I definitely have a whole new threshold for dirty, but I’m still happy as a clam.

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Sophia Streeter

5/30

Corals, Past and Present

Day 10 was our first real day at Glover’s reef atoll. We started out with a snorkeling scavenger hunt on two of the patch reefs near the dock. It was so fun! Some especially exciting finds included a small barracuda in the sea grass beds, many bluestriped grunts all over the reefs, a yellowtail snapper, and damselfish defending their “gardens”. We didn’t see all of the organisms or processes on the checklist, but hopefully we will in the next few days.

After doing some transect and quadrat practice on land, we took these to the water post lunch to try and quantify two genera of green algae: Halimeda and Penicillus. Lying out the transects and counting the algae in the sea grass beds was really difficult, but hopefully it gave us good practice for doing it on the coral reefs.

We saw some really cool species during our afternoon snorkeling. Two nurse sharks were spotted. One was small and swimming around the dock. The other was apparently much larger and farther out past the sea grass beds, but I was a little too slow to see it! We also saw some more barracudas, and another ray. Unfortunately, my camera died, so pictures might be a bit sparse after this (yes Papi I know, I should’ve brought the GoPro).

I can’t believe how much we did today! After our second snorkel, we headed to a coral graveyard on the other side of the island. There we found the ground covered in fossilized coral pieces, so well preserved that we could see the details of specific species. It was both beautiful and a little sad, as some of the coral species seen in the fossils are now very rare. It served as a good reminder of the work to be done in order to save these fragile ecosystems.

Fossilized stony coral
Fossilized stony coral

In Which My Brain Remembers

Today we started the day off with a morning swim/scavenger hunt where we took pictures of processes and organisms we could recognize on the reef. I was surprised by how much I remembered from Adrienne’s coral reef biology class.

During this swim I saw a flamingo tongue mollusc, a few queen conch, and one clam shell.

Later in the afternoon we learned how to use quadrats and transects together and surveyed green algae in the sea grass bed using these tools. It turns out free diving is very difficult while holding a clipboard and trying to find specific species in super thick seagrass cover. Who knew?

My favorite part of the day by far was he coral graveyard. This island is incredible in that it has thousands of dead coral skeletons lying all over the beaches and interior that are really well preserved. You can still see the coralytes in all of them and even the honey-comb building pattern of some.

Coral graveyard
Coral graveyard

Adrienne went absolutely insane with happiness while we were identifying corals on the beach. I was amazed at how much I remembered and could still identify which made me excited too. We got to see acropora palmata skeletons and I even identified an acropora hybrid species (acropora prolifera).

Adrienne's favorite place on earth
Adrienne’s favorite place on earth

It was amazing getting to see that much diversity in one place.

Patch reef

This morning we all improved our skills clearing our mask and snorkel without surfacing while on a reef scavenger hunt. There were many annelids around but you have to be looking for them because of their small size, and sometimes they were under corals or in crevices. I saw the same star horseshoe worms, but also a light orange-ish christmas tree worm and a brown and white social feather duster. They are beautiful little creatures. I also spotted some fire coral around the patch reef. Aside from the annelids and hydrozoans I saw corals, sponges, sea fans, fish, urchins, barracuda, and a nurse shark today.

This afternoon we practiced using a transect and quadrants to survey things on the reef or ocean floor. It’s tricky but I’m getting the hang of it. We also got the chance to walk to a part of the island covered with thousands of fragments of old, fossilized corals. This was really helpful in practicing identifying them based on their corallites and overall shape. I am ready for what tomorrow has to bring!

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Sophia Streeter

5/26