We went out to the fore reef this morning. We got on the boat and went outside the reef crest, and the current was pretty strong. The waves were making it difficult to swim, but Scott and Javier said that the conditions were surprisingly tame. I now understand the importance of atolls and corals on wave movements. I was exhausted swimming and keeping up with everyone, but I got to see a yellow tail sting ray before it quickly swam away.
In the afternoon we went out to the reef to collect sea urchins! At first, I was scared of getting their spines in me because I’ve seen my friend get a spine stuck in his foot, and it looked painful. I found so many sea urchins but I only used the tongs to pick them up. I got to put them in my hand while counting the urchins and measuring their length. We then moved outside the Marine Protected Area (MPA) to collect urchins and I got more comfortable picking the urchins up, so I got a few with my hands. They were so cute and didn’t stab my hand except my thumb got scraped up. I used the tongs to catch the Diodema Antillarium, which was absolutely ginormous compared to the others. I had no idea that their spines are venomous so I’m glad I used the tongs. While swimming in the afternoon, I managed to get hurt by a fire coral though. While navigating my way through the coral, I made a sharp turn and the small patch of skin on my ankle that wasn’t covered by my water booties or lycra dive skin hit the fire coral. I was glad that it was only a small patch of skin and how much better my ankle felt after Javier, the water safety officer, poured vinegar over my ankle.
At night we finally got to do our dermit (hermit crab derby) race. I cheated and caught a Caribbean blue crab instead of a hermit crab. I named mine Rihanna. Rihanna was very feisty and had a hard time not attacking me and staying on the race course. She ended up trying to climb the wall of the dining area in the second heat and eventually escaping, ultimately disqualifying her. She’s still a winner in my heart though.
“Preservation of wildlife populations depends on changing human behavior.” Alex Tewfik, an expert benthic biologist, had this quote on one of his final slides during a presentation he gave our class.
A change in human behavior can mean many different things. I made an active choice to disrupt my busy summer work routine to engage in an explorative field biology trip, something that strongly deviates from my status quo.
This change has been engrossing. Through today’s endeavors – exploring a nearby seagrass bed and a patch reef accessible by boat – I immersed myself in the rich aquatic diversity only tropical marine ecosystems can offer.
I encountered a variety of species, including a beaded sea cucumber (Euapta lappa), about six inches in length, concealed by seagrass and a large West Indian sea egg (Tripneustes ventricosus) resting on a seagrass bed. Neither were in motion nor interacting with other animals. At the further patch reef, I came across a small chocolate brittle star (Ophioderma cinereum), a large-polyp coral (Eugmilia fastigata), and a donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria Mexicana), just under a foot long. The brittle star was found under rubble, and the donkey dung was found in deeper water on the seafloor. Today’s most noteworthy site was a school of surgeonfish (Genus Acanthus) swimming in a school of about one hundred fish.
My class also collected urchins from the reef. Urchins often hide under ridges or rocky overhangs, making them difficult to spot. After scouring for an urchin, I noticed an odd juxtaposition of hues – tiny white rings encircling fiery orange spines projecting from a dark fleshy body. This was the first of three (Echinometra viridis) I collected from the reef. Tomorrow, my class will be recording each urchin’s dimensions and returning them to the sea.
I realize my participation on this trip will not accelerate the “preservation of wildlife populations.” However, for my own personal commitment to preservation causes and my proactivity to advocate for them, this trip has been transformative.
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.