I lie on my back on the hammock, swaying gently side-to-side in the breeze. My eyelids float down after a busy morning and afternoon. I witness deep oranges and rusty reds shifting, bursting, and intertwining on the backs of my eyelids, luminescent projections of the intense tropical sunlight. Needless to say, these entrancing visions were enough to lull me to sleep.
This morning I felt quite different – energized and adventurous. Soon after breakfast, my classmates and I measured the sizes of the urchins we caught yesterday at the Marine Protected Area (MPA). We then snorkeled at a non-MPA and carefully collected urchins there. Interestingly, the urchins tended to be larger and more numerous at the MPA. However, the non-MPA was home to the largest urchin we found, a long spine sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) that measured 5.8 cm in diameter.
With its mounds of different corals, the reef visited today was teeming with a plethora of diverse colorful creatures. Some notable sightings included a green sea urchin (Lytechinus variegatus), spiny brittle stars (Ophiocoma paucigranulata), and numerous ctenophores. The green sea urchin was about 4 inches in diameter and found on the seafloor. The spiny brittle stars, found under rubble, had central disks of about an inch in diameter and arms about 3 inches long. The brittle stars would try to move back under the rubble when exposed. None of the echinoderms were visibly interacting with other organisms. Today’s most spectacular sighting was a spotted trunkfish (Lactophyrus bicaudalis); its dynamic black and white speckles contrasted with the mellow blue backdrop of the ocean.
After spending the afternoon discussing my class’ data collected and observations noted, I was exhausted. We had an hour until dinner, so I lied on my back on the hammock.
Today we woke bright and early and headed out to a patch reef in the lagoon on a boat. We laid out transects with partners and used quadrats to gather data on the live stony coral cover on a reef located in Glover’s Marine Protected Area. We also did another experiment and gathered as many sea urchins as we could in 25 minutes. We repeated all of our experiments on other patch reef that was outside of the MPA.
So today I did see some new corals. I saw an Acropora cervicornis!!! It was very beautiful and I was thrilled when I saw it. I also noticed that some of this coral was infected with white band disease. There was a patch of recently dead white skeleton on a branch and also old dead skeleton that had been overgrown with turf algae. I also saw a Montastraea cavernosa today, which does in fact look like a mat of zoanthids but I could tell the difference between the two.
That’s all for today. Tomorrow we are learning about reef zonation and heading to the reef crest. Hopefully I will not get seasick.
I think that I am starting to get a much better grasp of how to maneuver on the reef. While I don’t think that I will every really be able to get over my sensitive ears. Depth does still hurt quite a bit. Anyway, I found today’s activities much easier than yesterday’s.
We had two projects to do today. First, we did a similar transect method as we did yesterday to estimate total coral cover on patch reefs inside and outside of the Marine Protected Area of Glover’s Reef. The second task was to collect as many urchin species as we could in 25 minutes for species ID, abundance, and diameter of test.
This has been one of my favorite days on the reef so far. The diversity that we saw was at the perfect depth for both quadrat measuring and for personal observation. I keep seeing so many examples of my taxonomic group, an encouraging sign. Today I saw a couple more examples of sea whips. I also noticed a lot of different sea plumes. I don’t know what exact species they are, but I believe that my taxonomic sheet has them.
Tomorrow we go to the fore reef, a more densely packed area. I hope to see even more soft coral and hard coral. These are encouraging to see because of their high contributions to reef framework growth. However, I’m sure that we will see lower levels of cover and diversity in the non-protected area. All will be revealed in the data tomorrow.