I love this island. Today was the last day: we presented reports, cleaned up, packed up, played hide and seek, snorkeled the conservation side again, free dove the wreck again, Josh walked us through the tank area and explained the importance of long term predictive analysis of coral health, went for a night hike through the forest and back down to the beach, finished blogs and reflected on experience. Simple the best class ever!
Heron Island is split into two sides, the research side (which we spend most of our time in), and the resort/conservation side. I took my first snorkel out into a conservation area today, which is extremely protected, both physically (from the prevailing winds) and regulatory (no collection, no fishing, no muckin about)! I was flabbergasted by the density of the coral structure, the species diversity, and abundance of all the fauna. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books growing up, "One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish". Everywhere I looked more fish, more colors, all shapes, all sizes. It may only be a 40 acre island but the 30,000+ acres of reef structure just keeps on giving. Within an hours time I saw three distinct species of puffer fish, sharks, a blue ringed octopus, clams, coral, grouper hunting, parrot fish munching on coral, cleaner wrasse of all shapes/colors parasite cleansing, three different variants of Nemo, star fish, eels, eagle rays, sea turtles, and on, and on, and on! Sensory overload to say the least, another experience of a lifetime to say the most. My only regret was not wearing a thicker wet suit so I could stay out there longer. The best part was watching the whole group chasing down individual species they where interested in then instantly seeing something else, and switching their focus to their new target of interest and off in another direction they went. Well that, and watching everyone inverting themselves, plopping their heads on the ocean floor, and contorting their bodies to get the best possible shot of these unique creatures.
Today we switch gears and focused in on our own research projects. Audree and I have collected a vast amount of data over the past few days and now we have gotten the opportunity to work on analyzing it. The first few hours of watching our videos where quite enjoyable, but at a certain point staring at a screen identifying fish, in a library, on a tropical island where the vast amounts of biodiversity and reef structure right there started to become torturous. Forever the Masters, our professors on the trip sternly suggested taking a break and getting is back in the water to help clear our heads. Not everyone went because the wind was still pretty bad but it was an opportunity to go and dive the ship wreck. Getting there was fairly interesting in the sense that due to the weather conditions we where all swimming out at a 45 degree angle. Once we where on the channel side of the wreck it severed as a great current and wind break. The best part, all of the mega fauna decided it was a good place to get out of the storm as well. Dozens of sea turtles, massive groupers, eagle rays and sting rays, parrot fish, and hundreds of beautiful small herbivorous fish as well. What and experience. It was like we where all seeking refuge from the stresses in our own life.