I really love starting off the mornings with a swim in the boat channel. Checking out the life there is just a refreshing way to start off the day. The cool sighting of the day there was a spotted eagle ray that just chilled out by us for a little bit. Not as cool as the turtle yesterday, but still a cool moment.
This was the last day of data collection! It’s kind of a bitter/sweet moment because I actually enjoy going out every day to the same spot and see how things have changed or how they are staying the same. I have grown very fond of a little white tail dascyllus that likes to sit by our reef one, zero meter spot. I think they are my favorite of the little fish. There is also a sharp nose puffer that likes to sit by that site as well. If you don’t know what these guys look like, I highly suggest looking them up. Sorry, I don’t have a picture of these guys yet, but I intend to get them from the footage from my project. Since today was the last day, we had to collect all of the gear from the lagoon. This was about 150-200 lbs of gear 200 meters out from the reef. Imagine swimming that in. Luckily, I have a wonderful teacher and classmates who kindly consented to helping us get all of this back. Thank you, Cassie, Camp, and Ed! We distributed all of the weight between three buckets. Honestly, you cannot tell how much weight it is until its starts sinking the bucket. Let me tell you, it feels like a million bucks to get rid of the bucket though.
The water was pretty rough today. There were even some white caps in the lagoon. This can be concerning because there is coral all around, luckily the tide was high enough that we weren’t getting bashed into anything. There was a kind of heart pounding moment on the way back, bringing the gear in. We swam into a whole school of frenzied large fish. It definitely seemed there was something after them. We didn’t see anything though, and just picked up the pace a little bit.
For my project, I have been leaving a go pro at nine different locations for three hours each day. We have done this for four days, so it is going to be a lot of fish activity to go through. Even in just analyzing the first bit, we have already seen two cowhead stingray, one spotted eagle ray, and a whole bunch of fish. Screen shots of these guys are soon to come! I am really excited to go through this footage this summer. It’s like Christmas because you just don’t know what you are going to get! I am sure my family will love looking over my shoulder at the footage while I am going through it.
Well, it has been a long, good day and I am glad that it is winding down. Field work is done for my project, so now it’s just lab work and video analysis. I’m excited to see what results we get!
This day started off with an early morning swim. The water was pretty murky so we had to get pretty close to things before you could see them. We did have a really special moment though. We looked up at one point and saw a massive loggerhead turtle swimming toward us. It swam about a foot underneath me. I turned around to swim with it and it was legitimately as tall as I am. Loggerhead get the largest out of all the turtles in this area. Later on, we were swimming down the other side of the boat channel and the same thing happened again! Two special moments for us!
It was fairly stormy today, so setting the go pros and lettuce out for my project was more of an adventure. On the swim back in, we ran into probably about 40 cow head stingrays. This was in only about 4 feet of water and these guys have huge spines on their tail – the kind of spines that killed the Crocodile Hunter. Granted, he was trying to hug one of these guys at the time, but it still unnerving. Their wing span is about four feet across, so these are definitely not small.
The rest of this day has been full of data analysis. The rest of the class started their projects today. It is cool to see what everyone else is studying. There are so many questions to be answered. One thing I noticed while swimming back is that the sand perches take their time to go back in their burrows when the live next a reef structure versus when the live out in the open sand. In the open sand, they dart into their burrows as soon as they come into view. The ones in the coral only dart in when you make sudden movements. There is so much to learn about the ocean, and I am glad that I get to contribute to this knowledge.
Here is to science!
The day started out with a wonderful trip down to the beach to see the sunrise. Tia, Kim, Sienna, and I took some beautiful pictures. I am in awe of the beauty of this place. There is just natural beauty everywhere you look. I am so blessed to be here broadening my research abilities and soaking in this ecosystem.
Today we had another great time on the outer reef. I have gotten pretty decent at free diving. It is so fun to dive down into the channels made by corals and check out the things hanging out there. One time I dove down and there were just three groupers chilling out down there. I got pretty close and continued to swim through the channel. When I came out, the most beautiful array of yellow and blue fish were before me. It was breath taking. When I decided it was time to come back up, I realized how far down I had gone. Once you get past a certain depth you don’t really notice how far down you are – that is until you need air. I was considerably more comfortable in the water today than yesterday.
The next major part of my day was data collection. Things are going much more smoothly now that we have the all of the gear out there ready for set up.
On the swim back, we saw a gigantic cone shell. It was about the size of a football. They are extremely venomous and it was awesome! Don’t worry mom, we kept our distance. 😉
Well this has been a great day. There has been some challenges with getting enough storage to transport all of the videos home for analysis, but we will figure it out. Here is a big shout out to Colt for being so great at solving problems. Ed and Trisha really are just phenomenal instructors and their experience is invaluable in knowing how to make things work. I am blessed to get to work with all of them. Life is good and I am lucky to be here!
uWhat a wonderful day this has been! My favorite part was going to the outer reef. The outer reef is what I imagined reefs to be like before this trip. Heron reef has three distinctly different areas – the lagoon, the reef crest, and the outer reef. In the lagoon, the water is more shallow and the coral are subject to large temperature changes. This means that the hardy coral live here. This is also true on the reef crest as this is where the waves break as the water become shallow. The outer reef has deeper water with larger fish and more vibrant corals. It was incredible to explore this area! Saul and I were buddies and we had a great time swimming around. Since this area was deep, you had to equalize pressure in your ears, which was the most painful part. My favorite part was diving and going right down by the coral. My favorite sightings were the grouper, the nudibranch (sea slug), the white tip reef shark, and the green sea turtles. I saw the sea turtles on the swim back to the boat. It was in the open water. I dove down to swim by them and they didn’t swim away, so I swam by them for a minute. It was one of the most magical moments! That was my tender mercy from the day.
I have a confession. I have a fear of open water. It is really unnerving because all you can see is blue. I have grown up as a competitive swimmer and have always had the comfort of seeing the bottom of the pool. I feel like I got over that fear a little bit today while swimming next to the sea turtles. I have decided I want to get a scuba certification because fear of open water has been what is holding me back. I am so excited to go to the outer reef again tomorrow!
I feel like I have been growing so much during this course.
Today was the first data collection day for my URCO project. We started out the day with a Coral Watch activity. They are a citizen science group. We learned how to check the health of corals and got to snorkel and do a bit of it ourselves. Camp, Cassie, Trisha, Ed, and I had to duck out early though to set up the cameras and lettuce for my project. We decided to do this at high tide because that is when fish abundance in the lagoon is greatest. It was a lot of work getting all of the gear out to the patch reefs. We had about 17 five-pound dive weights, two mallets, and 9 GoPro Cameras on large stakes to swim out. It was about a 200-meter swim in fairly choppy water. We used big tubs to transport all the gear out. The trickiest part was finding the patch reefs again. We had to do quite a bit of swimming around to find an area with no patch reefs near a 20 meter transect line. Once the transect was laid, we staked the cameras into the ground with the mallets and clipped a 2 by 10 centimeter piece of lettuce to a dive weight. We let the cameras sit for two hours before picking them up again. This part went by much more quickly because we could find them easily with the buoys. The tide was also lower and the water calmer. Hopefully I captured some statistically significant data. By the end of all of this, Ed’s watch said that we had swam about 5 kilometers.
This day has pretty much been full of my project. We also did quite a bit of coral watch stuff later in the day. I caught a picture of an amazing sunset. This place is amazing!
By the end of today, I feel like it has been at least three days of hard work. This morning, I really got to start my URCO project. We will be studying how fish species graze around patch reefs as distance increases. Ed and Trisha have been wonderful at pulling strings to get us time to officially start the project tomorrow. Colt is also enthusiastically helping me with this project. This morning, he, Cassie, Hanna, and I went out to shark beach to find some patch reefs that have at least 30 meters of distance between them. Previously, I had gone on google earth and estimated some suitable locations, but just to be sure, we had to go out and find them. The morning were in the water swimming by 6:30am. The water was rather choppy because of the wind, which made the swim a little bit more difficult. We did find some good areas to set the go pro cameras and the lettuce. The hope is that we will be able to find these locations again tomorrow.
While out there today, I swam by a small jelly fish. I know Cassie swam by a couple as well. I am continually amazed by the unique wonder of reef and all the amazing things to find here. I also got to see a moray eel which investigated my GoPro camera while I was recording it and a snail drilling into the head of a small pregnant crab. That was really sad to see, but it was cool because we had just learned a bit about the anatomy of mollusks in lecture.
For the lab today we examined the abundances of fish in the lagoon at high and low tide. We set out a 30 meter transect line which we swam along and videoed with a GoPro. However, at low tide, we had to walk, which was much more difficult as we had to maneuver around coral while bending over, holding the GoPro in the water and trying to keep it somewhat still so we could actually see fish swimming by.
This day has ended with getting everything ready to set out for tomorrow. This includes the weights and clamps to attach the lettuce, the GoPro cameras, and the buoys. I have really appreciated Ed, Trisha, and Colt’s help to get everything going for this. I am learning a few things about the research life. One – you absolutely, positively cannot do it alone. Two – it will never go exactly the way that you plan. Three – it requires a lot of self-sacrifice. The main thing that I have learned about marine scientists specifically is that they have the most difficult field of any scientists. The most difficult thing is that you don’t have gravity working with you. When you push down, you go up. This makes tasks such as driving a stake into the ground incredibly difficult. I count myself lucky that I have a swimming background.
The people I am around really have made this class enjoyable. If any of my class members or Ed and Trisha read this, just know how grateful I am for you friendship and help today. I feel like I have known all of you for so long even though it has only been a few days. Here is to another good day tomorrow! Wish us luck in setting the cameras and lettuce “sea grass”.
This morning began with a bright and early splash into the water for snorkeling induction. The first instruction was to hock a loogie into our snorkeling mask to prevent fogging. The most beautiful scene was the sun peaking over the island while snorkeling. It was amazing to see the marine life! I recognized many of the fish from my studying. I also saw green sea turtles, cow head stingray, and guitar sharks. A blue spine unicorn fish even swam next to me for a little bit. It was so magical!
We also did a benthic invertebrate lab. Dylan and I were partners and we had so much fun! We had to extract core samples from the sediment. To do so, we used a syringe which was enthusiastically driven, twisted, tramped, and stamped into the sediment. (Note: It is not advised to do this while wearing a wetsuit in shallow water. Let’s just say Dylan looked pretty silly trying to drive that think into the sand.)
While hanging out with Dylan to do the write up portion of the lab, we first tried to be productive in the hammocks, but that was just too comfortable. At one point, Trisha came up, and told us that there were baby turtles hatching! We ran through the sand and… didn’t see any baby turtles. They were all in the ocean when we got there, but we were on the same island as a bunch of baby sea turtles! That is close enough right?
It ended up being a great day in the greatest classroom on earth.
Ed and Trisha have opened a wonderful opportunity for a bunch of desert rats from Utah to experience the wonder of marine life. The living excitement can be felt from each member of the class. Each time a new bird or the shadow of an aquatic appears under the surface of the water, all come running to see as well. We are all scientists in training. I have never associated much with others who nerd out as much as I do at ecological processes and species identification.
The day started off at the Gladstone backpackers hostel – the most laid back place I have ever stayed. The night before, a few of us started a game of animal noises. One person sits in the middle of the circle with their eyes closed and is spun around until they stop. They point at someone and name an animal which the person they pointed at has to imitate. If the person in the middle guesses the person who made the sound correctly then that person goes in the middle. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time!
The boat ride to Heron Island was really a treat. We were told that we couldn’t go on the upper deck because we are part of the research portion of the Island, but we decided to go up anyway and experience the fresh air until told to return to the bottom. While up there, we saw a flying fish and a pod of dolphins! Laughing with new friends on the top deck was probably my favorite. There is nothing like the breeze of ocean air on your skin or the splash of sea spray on your face when nothing but blue can be seen all around.
When the island was eventually spotted, Trisha said, “Welcome to your new home for the next 11 days.” The ocean has had my heart from a very young age and I do feel as though I am coming home at Heron Island. This experience will likely shape all other research and educational pursuits for years to come and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.
After orientations and equipment checks, we ate the most delicious food. I normally wouldn’t mention meals in a blog post, but this caterer must be mentioned. Let me tell you what, I am excited for every meal I am going to eat on this beautiful island.
Once it got dark, the sky lit up. Cassie, Dylan, Saul, Bryce, Colt, and I went down to the beach to see the stars. We happened upon a star gazing group from the Resort. They were very kind and let us listen in on the tour. The tour guide told us about all of the different legends of the southern cross. It is amazing to think that the stars I gaze upon here are ones that I have never seen. I feel as though a whole new world is opening to me – both in the skies and waters. I also witnessed my first wild stingrays, shark, and sea turtle while stargazing on the pier. Here is to God, Heron Island, USU, and sea for all coming together to help me feel at home.