Today was our last full day on the island, and I'm honestly incredibly sad about it. It's day 11, but it feels as if it has been much longer than that. The people I have been here with feel like I've known them all for much longer than a week and a half, and I do feel that it's going to be difficult to leave here and not see them all day every day. We have made unofficial plans to hang out after we go back home and even plan a camping trip. I really truly hope that it does happen. I'm sure it will.
Anyway, today started like most others. I skipped the morning snorkel for a couple reasons. One is that I'm still sick, and the other is that I slept through every alarm in the room. I took NyQuil last night, so i was pretty zonked. If it weren't for this lurgy, I guarantee that I would have gone on every morning snorkel. I hope that looking back on this I won't regret skipping these snorkels, but I do think that I would be feeling much worse if I had gone. So oh well.
For breakfast, we had cheesy scrambled eggs with mushrooms and spinach. We've had it before, and I have to say, it's actually one of my favorite breakfasts. I know I say that for pretty much all of them, but you would too if you got to eat Pat's food every day.
After breakfast, a few of us played card games until we had to get ready for our last group snorkel. I was partnered with Katie, and we kept getting turned around because the wind was strong and affecting the current. We had a lot of fun, though. I'm going to miss these snorkels quite a bit.
After the snorkel we had lunch, which was a type of turkey salad sandwich. It was very similar to chicken salad, but warmer and better. I enjoyed it very much. After lunch, we played some more cards until our presentations of our projects. We each had 10 minutes to present, and I don't feel super great about our presentation. My group members did great, but I just felt that it was too short and lacking compared to the others. I shouldn't compare, though. Without comparison, I felt that we did pretty decent despite the time shortage.
After the presentations, Edd and Trisha handed out heronies! Heronies are awards that they give for certain things that we excelled at on the island. We all got one, which I thought was awesome. It was more than just a participation award because they were all unique. I really appreciate that Edd and Trisha took the time to notice some of the things that they did. My award was the photographic magic award. I received this award because I have the best and most pictures on my blog. I also got it because, according to Edd, some people back home are taking notice of my pictures. If you're reading this and you told Edd that you enjoy my pictures, thank you! I mostly post them so I can look back later in life and see them, but I'm more than happy that other people enjoy them as well. Makes me really happy to hear that people are taking notice of my blog and are supporting my adventures.
After the heronies, we cleaned up some of the equipment that we used for projects. After that, we headed to the jetty for our last Heron sunset. It was relatively unimpressive because there were storm clouds covering the sun (it's been raining off and on since yesterday). The storm clouds, however, were pretty amazing. I was pretty bummed that the island didn't send us off with the best sunset yet, but I have to say that the storm clouds almost made up for it. Almost.
After the sunset, we played more cards until dinner. Pat made us steak and potatoes, catering to our American roots. The steak was incredible, and the potatoes were to die for. I don't know how else to describe them because Pat's food is just beyond words.
After dinner, we decided to play a game called paranoia. We played it last night as well, and we loved it so much we wanted to play again. In the game, one person will whisper a question in the next person's ear. The person receiving the question will answer the question with the name of someone else in the group. The person whose name was the answer will then flip a coin, and if it lands on heads, the question is revealed. If it lands on tails, the question stays a secret. It's a ton of fun, and it can get pretty juicy. Highly recommend
That's all we did today! It was kind of a chill day. I'm glad because it's our last full day, and I wanted to be able to enjoy this time with the new friends I've made here. I will miss them, and I'm excited to continue to hang out with them after this trip. Goodnight from Heron Island for the last time.
PS: I will be writing one more blog post tomorrow so stay tuned
We're officially in the double digits of days on the island! Number 10 has been pretty good. We started with breakfast, which was mini omelette type things cooked in a muffin tin. They were pretty tasty, but as I mentioned before, the lurgy is taking away a lot of my appetite. It's truly unfortunate because I only get to have Pat's food for another 2 days. So sad.
After breakfast, I worked on some more samples for our research project, which was pretty tedious and boring. Not super surprising, though. It's a lot of the same thing for hours on end. Halfway through was tea time. (I LOVE TEA TIME) We had apricot and coconut muffins that were still warm. Highlight of the day, that's for sure. I've also been drinking tons of tea due to my affliction. I made a makeshift steam bowl with my morning tea and my jacket, so I'd say tea is the only thing keeping me alive and functional. I don't know why I got so much sicker than everyone else, but I'm pretty mad about it. Hopefully I'll be feeling at least a little better tomorrow because we have our last snorkel at 10:30. One way or another I'm going!
After tea time, I continued working on samples. Saw some pretty freaky worms, but those are the most common. We finally finished all the samples just in time for lunch. Thank goodness! For lunch we had pasta, which was pretty delectable, if I do say so myself. Again, though, poor appetite.
After lunch I decided to relax for a while. It was really nice, even though I was coughing up a storm the whole time. I also went to walk around the island with Nora, Hailey, ,and Katie. We wanted to walk a complete circle around the island since it's so small. The bit by the resort, though, was really tricky because the tide was a bit too high. We had to scale a bunch of slippery rocks, but we did it! I was feeling pretty gross, though, so I went back a bit early. I think I got really close to making a full circle, so I'm gonna count it.
After the walk, I went back to the library and helped write the written report for our research project. We got it done and I got to relax a bit more before we all headed to the jetty for class pictures. It was a lot of fun, and we were there around sunset time. The sunset was about as impressive as yesterday until the end. Some of the sun's rays poked through the clouds, reminding us that it was still there. It was pretty cute.
After the jetty, I played cards with a bunch of my buds until dinner. We had rice pilaf with coconut curry chicken. It tasted amazing, but it was nothing compared to dessert! Pat called it a smash, and that's really what it was. Coitus in your mouth. Was easily the best dessert. He even made his own whipped cream, so I don't think there's any debate on how out of this world it was.
After dinner, we all started on our blogs, and I'm willing to bet we'll play more cards after. We're having a blast with each other, so it's gonna be real sad to leave and not hang out with each other all day. At least we still have tomorrow!
Well that's it for the day! I hope everyone had a good day and feel healthier than I do!
Hello! I'm here at the end of day 9 on Heron! Big news: I've joined a gang. Unwillingly, however, as it's the leper gang. You see, here on the island, we have had sickness going around the group. When it first struck, the infected were quarantined to their own group for labs. They were thus dubbed the leper gang, which stuck. I thought I was going to be in the clear since everyone has been starting to get better, but in the words of Edd, I have caught the lurgy. Luckily it's only a cold (a nasty one), and it explains my extensive ear troubles yesterday. At least I know that I'm not just really bad at diving. Plus, I get firsthand knowledge on why they advise you not to dive with a cold. Granted, I didn't know I was sick then, but it just makes sense.
Since I woke up sick, I skipped the morning snorkel and slept until breakfast. For breakfast we had omelettes, but my appetite has actually been suffering since yesterday. Sorry, Pat. It's not your food; it's my disease. I have been drinking copious amounts of peppermint tea, though. We've been going through it real quick for two reasons: some of us are sick and it's delicious. Really some of the better mint tea I've had. Plus it feels real nice on my throat.
After breakfast, we had time to work on our projects. My group, however, wasn't able to do anything because we had to wait until low tide to take samples. Low tide today was around 4 pm, so I relaxed most of the day. I'm really lucky that I got sick after the busier days of the class and could laze around. I mostly read my book and occasionally tried to nap. My body doesn't let me take naps during the day, but it was still nice to rest my eyes and not need to worry about anything.
For lunch we had ham and salami quesadillas. They were yummy, but again, my appetite has been really low. As a result, I didn't enjoy it as much as I probably would have if I had been healthy. Bummer deal!
After lunch, I relaxed some more until we went out to collect more samples. This time we did two transect lines, but since we had gotten the hang of it yesterday, we busted them out real quick. We came straight back and started working on analyzing the samples, which is what we've been doing since then, with a few breaks of course.
The first break was to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, however, it was so cloudy that we didn't even really see any sunset colors. The clouds were a nice color of blue, but that was about it. Plus, it was so windy and cold (the windiest and coldest that it's been since we got here) that I didn't stay very long. It didn't seem like I'd miss much anyway, which was true.
After sunset, we analyzed samples until dinner, which was roast and potatoes with veggies. It was real tasty, and I'd have to say that my favorite part was the potatoes. They were cooked very nicely, so the texture was perfect. They were yukon gold potatoes I think because they tasted creamy and buttery. Yukon gold potatoes are the best potatoes. Try to change my mind.
After dinner, I analyzed another sample before I decided to write my blog! It's only 7:15, but I think I'll take a nighttime decongestant (again, thanks mom and your foresight) and go to sleep early. Maybe I'll read some more before bed. As much as I've loved all the things that we've been doing here, it's been really nice to have a mostly chill day even if I have been sick for it. Plus, I got to see a rail (one of the common birds on the island) bathing itself in one of the foot baths outside of the bathrooms. If I could post videos here, I would post a video of it because it was ADORABLE. So, even bad days here aren't that bad!
Well, that's about it. Not much to report today except my affliction. I also don't have any pictures since the sunset was meh. I did take a couple of an annelid I found under the microscope, so I'll share a bit of the science life. And with that, good day and good night!
Hello all! It is day 8 on the island, and it was alright. I started it with an early breakfast because I was going scuba diving through the resort with Hailey, Zach, and Russ. Breakfast was good. We had eggs on English muffins with fruit and bacon. Pretty tasty!
Scuba diving was pretty fun. This was the first time I've been diving since I got certified in April of 2017. I forgot how tricky it can be, and boy, did I struggle. I had the basic gist of things down, but my buoyancy was all over the place. One second I'd be almost crashing into coral, and the next, I'd practically be at the surface. The diving guide ended up giving me one more weight, and I didn't seem to have much problems after that. I was also having an extremely hard time equalizing my left ear the entire time. My theory is that I have a scopolamine patch applied behind my left ear, which may have interfered with proper equalization? I'm not sure, but it was very unpleasant. It was painful, which made the dive overall less enjoyable for me. I was hoping to see something that I haven't seen yet to make up for all of that, but we didn't see anything new. We saw a black tip reef shark, some turtles, and a lot of fish, but nothing new.
After getting out of the water and onto the boat, I noticed a few more problems. My ear continued to hurt, and I had a nosebleed. The nosebleed was super minor and stopped probably before I even got on the boat. It was the first I've had since I was about 10, though, so still alarming. The bigger worry for me is my left ear. Even now, about 10 hours later, my ear still hurts, and it feels like it's full of cotton. I researched a little bit, and I think that what I'm experiencing is called "ear squeeze." It's pretty common among divers, especially if equalization wasn't done correctly or even if it was too forceful. I just happened to do both while I was diving. Apparently, what happens is the pressure will push the eardrum into the middle ear, which results in pain. It can lead to a ruptured eardrum if the pressure continues. Luckily, nothing ruptured, so the only thing to do is rest my ear and not go diving for a while. Decongestants also help, so I'll keep taking those. Thank goodness I brought some! (thanks, mom <3). It feels better now than it did earlier today (I was miserable), so that's a good sign. I will update the situation in tomorrow evening's blog, so stay tuned!
After the dive, I rested for a bit until lunch, which was burritos. I didn't have much of an appetite, though, considering this was when the pain was at its worst. I ended up finishing the burrito, but I can't say I enjoyed it quite as much as I would have if I weren't in pain. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious. I just wasn't feeling food in any form.
After lunch, I went to check out the Heron Island Research Station store with Zach, Hailey, Sean, and Clark. I purchased a sweatshirt and a mouse pad, but not after quite a bit of scrounging for cash on my part. You see, the HIRS store doesn't accept card, only cash, but I didn't have any Australian cash, nor did Zach. We asked Trisha about it and she told us there was an ATM in the resort's bar. First we asked Russ if we could borrow some of his cash and venmo him the money, but it turned out he only had American money, despite his previous claims of having a fat stack of Australian dollars. Next, we tried the bar's ATM. Temporarily out of service. Then we tried the resort's reception. They don't do cash back. Then the resort gift shop. No cash back. Eventually, we were about to give up and try the ATM another day, but Sam's blessed soul appeared, and we asked if he had any cash. He had quite a bit, so Zach and I were both able to purchase our things and go about our days. What a saint, that Sam.
After the store, I went out to collect sediment cores with my research project group. My ear was still bugging me, so I was the data recorder and baggie holder. It was nice, and we were able to gather the samples much quicker than we had expected. We then brought the samples to the lab and began going through them until sunset.
I probably shouldn't tell this story, but it really adds to the representation of how today has gone for me. Before sunset, I went back to my room to grab a jacket. To get to the dorms, there is a small staircase of about 4 steps that I have walked up hundreds of times by now. This time, I just so happened to catch my foot on one of the steps. Now, I have done this many, many times during my time here and always manage to catch myself before I fall to the ground. This time, however, was different. I fell down pretty hard and probably gave myself a decent sized bruise. I've accepted at this point that I'm probably one of the clumsiest people that has ever lived, but it doesn't make a full on fall any better.
Sunset was probably the highlight of my day. It was breathtaking, and it only kept getting better and better as it continued. The sky had so many colors that it looked like playdough ice cream! There was blue, purple, pink, orange, and even red. As I always say, the sunsets here will never get old. This time, though, I stayed behind a little longer with Clark, Hailey, Russ, and Katie. We had a bit of an impromptu photoshoot, and I have to say, it was a lot of fun. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The people I'm here with are a lot of fun to be around, and I really enjoy them all. Here's even a little side story to demonstrate my point. Clark had said to us that he'd marry the ocean if he could. Edd said that he'd have an affair with Utah Lake. Clark agreed and said "she's dirty, but she gets the job done." We have a real good time here on Heron.
After sunset, I worked on samples some more until dinner time. We had a penne bolognese dish, and it was delightful. I'm a true sucker for pasta. Dessert was also one of the absolute best so far. We had a "semi-frozen" chocolate coconut muffin with frozen chocolate mousse, maple syrup, and cream. Before I knew what dessert was I had been thinking about how much I wanted some ice cream, and Pat delivered. It wasn't quite ice cream, but it'll do quite nicely. I'll probably dream about that mousse. Thank you, Pat.
After dinner, I worked on even more samples, and once we finished all of the samples, I came straight to my room to write this blog. Today was honestly pretty crappy for me, so I'm glad it's over. Luckily, though, I have the oceanic views to make my bad days seem less bad.
So, day seven on the island has been pretty wild! It started with breakfast, which wasn't as wild as you'd expect from that first sentence. We had a frittata, which is basically a quiche without the crust. Pretty fabulous.
After breakfast, we went to the beach for a coral watch lab. In this lab, we would go to 20 different corals in each group and assess its health based on a chart developed for a worldwide coral health project. It was high tide, so we got suited and booted and ready to snorkel to the patch reefs. A few groups had started swimming out when Trisha and Edd mentioned there was a big shark. Then they realized that it was a tiger shark. Their voices raised at least one or two octaves, and panic was pretty clear in their yells to the swimmers to get to shore quick. Since the beginning of this trip, Trisha and Edd have told us repeatedly that tiger sharks are the ones to be afraid of, especially around here. I'm honestly really bummed that I only saw the shadow of it from above the water. I tried to get below to see it, but the visibility wasn't great, and I wasn't about to swim closer to it. I've been told, though, that it was about 10-12 feet long. Like I said, WILD.
Obviously, the lab was cancelled, so we came back to the research station and had a lecture on threats to coral reefs. As always with these types of lectures, it was pretty depressing. Edd was really good about making it seem hopeful, though. Pretty nice not to feel like the world is falling to pieces. I mean, it kind of is, but at least there are things we can do about it.
After the lecture, we had lunch. Pat made us pumpkin and quinoa patties that he put into sandwiches with a side of sweet potato salad. The sandwiches were pretty massive, so not many of us finished them. It was sure tasty, though. You'd think that a potato salad wouldn't work with sweet potatoes, but I sure enjoyed it.
After lunch, we had another outer reef snorkel. I don't think I'll ever get sick of those. You see a lot of the same things, but it's just so amazing that it never gets old. This time, though, we saw a giant loggerhead turtle. These are one of the largest species of sea turtle, after leatherbacks. To see his head, you had to dive pretty deep, but it was worth it. The head had to be at least the size of a basketball, maybe even bigger. It was even big enough that there were a couple remoras on its shell! It really amazes me that something like a turtle can get to be that huge. The world is an amazing place.
After the dive, I got to sign up to scuba dive! We are going either tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon. It depends on how many resort guests sign up, since they take priority over researchers. Kinda lame, but I'm just glad we get the opportunity to dive at all. I finally get to really use my certification! I'm really excited to be able to go deeper and stay deep for a long time. That's where all the really cool things hang out.
We also proposed our personal research project topics today, which is really exciting. My group is going to research the pattern of invertebrate abundance related to water depth. We will be taking about four transects of 30 meters and start at the water line of low tide. We will be taking sediment cores at each 5 meters along the transect and record the invertebrates found in the cores. It's going to be awesome. I'm excited to live a day in the life of the career I'm aspiring to have.
Before dinner, we went to watch the sunset, as per usual. Tonight's was probably my favorite sunset so far. The wind was up, so the clouds look like brushstrokes in the sky. I'll put a picture in my slideshow, but just remember that pictures can't come close to doing it justice. It was a real-life painting, and it was magnificent.
For dinner, we had tomato and thyme chicken with cous cous. It was one of the better dinners we've had. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and we were practically fighting each other for seconds. Pat is a magic man.
That's about it for today! I'm pretty exhausted, surprise, surprise, but I'll leave you with pictures!
Hello, blog reader! Thanks for joining me for the end of my sixth day on Heron! Today I had the remnants of yesterday's headache, but I've been much more functional, thankfully. The day started out with me skipping the morning snorkel in favor of extra sleep since I woke up with a bit of residual headache. It was helpful, so as much as I missed out on, I'm glad I didn't push myself too much and end up miserable the rest of the day. Though the remedy for these types of headaches is really simple (water), they sure take their sweet time going away, no matter how much I drink. Luckily it wasn't too bad today.
Breakfast today was awesome. Pat made these pancake-type things that were cinnamon tasting and crispy. They weren't the same texture as pancakes, but they were awesome. They reminded me of the almond flour pancakes my mom makes sometimes. It was very nostalgic for me, and I did feel a bit of homesickness. Now Pat's food is evoking real emotion. Amazing!
After breakfast, we had our dreaded fish ID test. We have all been studying for this test since before we came to the island, so nerves were high on Heron. The test consisted of roughly 70+ species of fish, sharks, coral, turtles, echinoderms, and mollusks that we needed to be able to identify from a picture, match the scientific name to the corresponding picture, and know the common name by heart. About 19 of the fish weren't required for full credit, but if we got 100% we could receive 3 points extra credit for the class. Unfortunately, I didn't get extra credit, but I did get full marks! I only missed portions of a few of the common names, so I feel really good about it. I definitely neglected the common names sometimes because I was more nervous about the scientific names. Overall, I remembered all of the common names, I just left out parts of some of the names, like instead of putting Blue Streak cleaner wrasse, I just put cleaner wrasse. A little disappointing, but I feel that it's fair. All in all, not too shabby.
After the test, we had a bit of free time, so I went to the resort gift shop with Nora, Zach, and Russ. We got some awesome dad shirts, and I also got a whale tail coaster and a little trinket for my best friend, Meg (shameless shout out, love you girl). Russ and Zach's shirts were the same pattern, but I decided to be the odd one out and get the green Hawaiian shirt rather than their gray ones. No ragrets.
We had lunch after we returned from the gift shop, which was pizza. Pat manages to make even pizza better. He's super great.
After lunch, we went back to the outer reef! I took a GoPro last time, but the results were disappointing. This time, however, I learned from my mistakes and got some pretty good pictures and videos! I can only post pictures on here, unfortunately, but they're pretty cool. One thing that I found surprising is the color of the coral. I expected it to be extremely vibrant, but the water seems to dull that a little bit. Don't get me wrong, the reef is absolutely beautiful. It's just a little bit duller of colors than I had thought it would be. No matter what, I'm amazed by it.
Once we got back from the outer reef, we all took showers and had a bit of free time until dinner. I took this time to go through my GoPro footage, which took quite a while. I ended up with about 647 files. Most were pictures, so luckily I didn't have to sit through 650 minute-long videos.
In the middle of going through the footage from the snorkel, we went to the jetty to watch the sunset. While there, I finally got to see a spotted eagle ray jump from the water! I've been hearing about it happening or only seeing the resulting splash every night since I got here, but this time I wasn't too slow! It was easily one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life. Apparently, this particular jump was higher and more impressive than a lot of the other ones, so I feel pretty satisfied. Of course I would love to see more jumps, but at least I can go home and say that I've witnessed firsthand a spotted eagle ray jumping from the ocean. The best part is it was probably only 20 feet away from where I was sitting! It was seriously incredible.
Shortly after going through my GoPro footage, we had dinner. It was pork with cheesy vegetables and seasoned rice. I have to say the vegetables and rice were my favorite part. I honestly probably could have done without the meat. It was really tasty, but I think I just wouldn't have a super hard time being a vegetarian. Maybe I just wasn't in the meat mood today. Could be either; could be both. Who knows?
After dinner, I played a new game that Jeni showed us today. It's called coup, and it's a card game where you're trying to be the last player left with at least one card. Each card allows you to do something different like stealing, assassinating, or exchanging cards. Some can also block things like stealing. You can also lie about what card you have. If someone calls you out and you're lying, you lose a card, but if you're not lying, they lose a card. I really enjoyed it, and I might try to find it at a game store when I get home. The art on the cards is also very beautiful, so win win.
We also had a night-time lecture, which was kind of tough to get through. The saving grace is that the lecture was about megafauna (large animals), which is something that I'm extremely interested. A few of my favorite marine animals are humpback whales and sharks, so I stayed awake because I was so interested. I'm lucky that I have a class like this in a topic that I'm so passionate about.
Well, that's about it for today! I'm pretty pooped, so sleepy time, she comes. Thanks for reading and supporting me in my Australian adventure!
Heluber, goobers! Day 5 on the island is coming to a close, and it's beginning to sink in that we're almost halfway done here. Time flies when you're having fun! Today was pretty tiring, as is the pattern around here. I'm not complaining, though! Today started off with an extra early morning breakfast. We had eggs on top of sweet potato hashbrowns. We currently have three people in our group that are sick, so we all stocked up pretty heavily on oranges as well. It's a small island, though, so we're probably fighting the inevitable.
After breakfast, we started the first part of our fish lab. For this lab, we went to Shark Bay at high and low tide and laid 30 meters of transect line (fancy measuring tape). One of the partners in the group would slowly swim or walk a GoPro along the length of the line. Later, we would watch the videos and count how many fish we see and categorize them into their respective families. Sounds simple enough, except that it's shockingly difficult to identify a fish's family when they're swimming or hiding in a brief GoPro video. We got some good data, though, and I got to see a grouper hiding in coral. Groupers are neat. Nature is just neat. Neature.
In between high and low tide, we had lunch: chicken salad sandwiches. I'm a sucker for a good chicken salad, so Pat, you done good.
Around this time, however, I started to notice the beginnings of a pounding headache, which later manifested itself in its entirety. In the meantime, before it got to bad, we worked on our lab reports until the sun began to set. We went to the jetty for our daily sunset watch. It was spectacular, as usual, except that the scUber boat decided to take that time to dock. If you don't know what scUber is, it is a form of Uber that is a submarine. I had never even heard of the concept until I came here. I remember sitting near the owner of the company on the plane and thinking that it was a really cool thing. Then I looked it up and realized that a ride in it costs about A$3000. That's about US$2080. Then I later realized that the boat holding the submarine is actually the worst. For example, yesterday during our outer reef swim, we had to completely change our snorkel location because the scUber boat was using the buoy. They also are such a nuisance that they aren't usually allowed to dock at the jetty. Heaven knows why they were docked today during our sunset. Rude.
After the sunset, my head was pounding up a storm, and I realized it was probably due to dehydration. Snorkeling in salt water can really dry you out, and the sun doesn't help. It's really important to keep drinking, more so than you normally would. Too bad I hadn't been following my own advice. Part of the issue is that the drinking water on the island is desalinated sea water. All I'll say is that you can tell it had once been sea water. Pretty nasty. I suppose I'll just have to get over it if I want to stay headache free. I've already choked down about a hydroflask and a half of it and still going somewhat strong, so I think it's doable.
That was about it for today, except for dinner! How could I post about my day without praising Pat three times as he deserves? Today we had braised beef with potatoes and broccoli. It was great, but the true star was dessert. We had mini apple tarts with caramel custard. Truly otherworldly. I am very blessed to be in the presence of such an artist.
But anyway, that was my day! The headache is sticking around for a bit, so my post isn't as detailed as usual. At least I can say that, even though my day wasn't the best I've had since I've been here, it definitely wasn't bad! It's pretty hard to have a bad day in a place like this learning about the things you love.
Good evening! It's about 7:30 pm on my fourth day on the island! It was a decently busy one, so I think it's safe to say that I will be going to bed right after I finish writing this. We're all pretty pooped here on Heron. The day started with an early breakfast: 7:30 am, in fact. I skipped the morning snorkel again since breakfast was early, and we wouldn't have been able to stay out for very long. Breakfast was yummy; we had something that Pat calls breakfast parcels. It's a sort of filling in a tortilla that is then baked. There were two fillings, which were both equally delectable. Pat has done it again!
After breakfast, we originally were going to boat to the outer reef for a snorkel, but the height of the tide changed our plans. Instead, we had a bit of free time until our 10:45 lecture. During this time, I walked to the beach with my classmate, Clark. We were hoping to find inspiration for the topic of our final projects. We didn't come up with much more than a few beginnings of an idea, but that's better than nothing. Every great idea has to start somewhere. I'm really excited to get deeper into this project and conduct my very own research project from start to finish (within my group of course). While we were out there, we also saw a great deal of egrets. The island is covered with sea birds, and I have to say the egrets are some of my favorites. They're incredibly beautiful, and they look as if they're guarding everything beneath them. It's also very fun to watch their neck go from non-existent to the entire length of their body. An egret's outstretched neck is a power pose if I ever saw one. During the free time was also 10 o'clock tea time. We have this every day, and it consists of tea (of course) and muffins. This is a practice that I am determined to establish back home.
At 10:45 we all met for a fish lecture. As a fish girl, I was fortunate enough to know a good deal of the information in the lecture. There were, however, some new taxonomic names that I hadn't needed to memorize for my practical exam this past year. The practical was mostly freshwater fish, so it makes sense. I still feel that my experience with the practical has prepared me a lot for the ID test in this class. I complained a lot and struggled with the practical, but now I'm grateful, as much as that pains me to admit. Maybe there's a life lesson in there? I don't know. I'll just let you interpret that as you will. This is a blog, not a soap box.
After the lecture, we had lunch, which was a beef and sweet potato burrito, except it was wrapped in puff pastry instead of a tortilla. It was delightful, but it was too big to finish. I felt bad, but I didn't clean my plate, even though I wanted to. Sorry, Pat! We also had coleslaw, which is arguably the best side dish in existence. That is, if it's done correctly, which Pat's, of course, was done very well.
After lunch, we had the outer reef snorkel that had been postponed. As incredible as the lagoon snorkels have been, they were nothing compared to the outer reef. The outer reef has more diversity in coral and fish species, and it's about a million times more expansive. The sheer magnitude of the reefs themselves is truly mind-blowing. Once you get past the awe of the reef structures, you begin to see all the life within them. Cleaner wrasse stations, huge schools of snappers, and countless parrotfish were enough to take my breath away. Literally, even. I had to surface shortly after I first looked because I gasped so hard that I inhaled sea water. After snorkeling for a while, there were even schools of fish that stopped being afraid of us, so we were able to swim straight through a groups of hundreds. You'd think that I'd get used to the sight of fish and life in the ocean, but I don't think that I ever will. I probably will always be awestruck at every aquatic sight.
After the snorkel, we had dinner: pasta bake. I'm a real sucker for pasta, so of course it was amazing. Plus, it's from Pat, so what do you expect? He will never be anything short of a culinary genius.
Which leads us to now! It sounds like we didn't do much today, but I actually don't think I've been this tired since I got on the island. Looking around, I can see the same on the faces of all of my classmates. Sleepy time, she comes! And with that, until tomorrow, goodnight!
Hi friends! My third day on Heron is coming to an end. Not much happened today, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a full day! In my last post, I talked about going on every morning snorkel, but today I did not. I regretted that decision a little initially, but it actually ended up being the right one. You see, today was windy. Really windy. Not only did this mean it was cold, it also meant that visibility was poor at best. Those that did go on the snorkel told me that it wasn't worth it, and I got to lounge around in bed. I see this as an absolute win! I did miss the part of the snorkel where Russ chest bumped a turtle. I'm sure it was quite the sight. Although, if he wasn't my buddy, I doubt I would have been able to see it through the turbidity anyway. Either way, I enjoyed hearing the story.
Instead of the snorkel, I decided to take a shower, which was nice until I had to get in the ocean only a few hours later. I had assumed that we were just going on a reef walk and would be able to keep my head above water, BUT I'll get to that later. Now, however, is time for the first Pat appreciation paragraph. You knew this was coming, I'm sure. Today for breakfast, Pat cooked us cheesy eggs, mushrooms with spinach, and toast served with fruit. A boring, everyday egg dish, this breakfast was not! They were creamy and cheesy and just plain delightful. Pat's awesome.
After breakfast, we had our invertebrates lecture by Edd. Just like the coral lecture, it was mostly review from Trisha's Oceanography class, but I actually didn't mind at all. The topics are extremely fascinating to me, especially when as applicable as they are on Heron. We focused mainly on a few phyla of invertebrates that are found in the ocean: annelids (segmented worms), echinoderms (sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins), arthropods ("jointed leg," crustaceans, terrestrial insects), mollusks (snails, octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, clams), and cnidarians (coral, jellyfish). It's crazy to think that every day here, I get that much closer to my goal of becoming an aquatic ecologist. Every new fact I learn and lab I complete, I am becoming that much more qualified in my field of passion. Amazing.
After the lecture, we began the corresponding lab. (In case you were waiting with bated breath for the reason I had to get my hair wet, here it is.) In this lab, we took sediment samples from the surrounding areas of a patch reef. In barrier reefs, the reef itself is separated from the shore by a deeper lagoon. There are patches of coral that are surrounded by mostly sand, and these are called patch reefs. We tried to find a reef that was isolated with 20 meters of surrounding sand. This sounds simple, but I assure you, it is not. We spent about 15 minutes searching until Trisha helped us spot some coral with about enough space, but it wasn't as isolated as we would have liked. It worked well enough, though, so we got samplin'! We used a 60 mL syringe with the tip cut off to collect the samples. We sampled at 0 meters, 5 meters, and 10 meters away from the coral. To sample, we jammed the syringe in the ground and worked to push it into the sand far enough to get a 60 mL sample of sediment. We then scooped the sediment-filled syringe out of the ground and put the sample into baggies. The tide was falling from a high tide, so the water was about mid-thigh height. Hence, the wet hair. It was fun, though! The water was high enough that I was able to swim a bit! However, the wind was blowing hard enough that I lost my footing at one point when I was getting ready to start swimming. Instead of gracefully floating and swimming, I fell and got a coral cut on my hand and a few on my left shin. I'm glad they weren't bad cuts, but deep down, I hope they scar. How cool would it be to tell people that I got scars from the Great Barrier Reef? Freaking awesome, that's how cool! I am concerned about the coral, though. I sure hope I didn't cause damage to them. It's not their fault I'm clumsy!
After my little tumble, we brought our samples back to the lab and changed into dry clothes. To analyze our samples, we poured some of the sediment and seawater into petri dishes and placed them under a dissecting microscope. A dissecting microscope is used for seeing things just barely smaller than can be seen by the naked eye but cannot zoom to microscopic levels. We rummaged through the sand with tweezers until we came upon a living (or recently living) organism. We classified the organisms as mollusks, arthropods, annelids, or other. We tallied how many of each we found in each sample and brought together everyone's data. It was really interesting to see life at such small scales. I mostly came upon annelids (segmented worms), which seemed to be a common trend. My favorite beastie that I came across was an annelid called a ragworm (do NOT google this. trust me). It was only a larvae, so it wasn't creepy like the adult ragworms. One of the members of my group was playing music, and the ragworm would wiggle enough that it looked like it was dancing to the jams. Who would've thought a worm could be cute? I sure didn't. I thought it was real exciting when I found something in my sample. Surprisingly enough, I wasn't even disgusted by the worms, only excited to find them.
In the middle of our analysis, we took a lunch break and had some pretty rocking pulled pork sandwiches. If you know me, you know that I'm a sucker for a good pulled pork sandwich. Well, this pulled pork sandwich has probably made my top 5 pulled pork sandwiches that I've had. Pat is a magic man. Put that man in a kitchen, and you'll eat better than royalty.
The invertebrate analysis was long enough that we went to watch the sunset at the jetty. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to really see anything. However, the colder weather brought out quite a few rays. When you read that, you're probably imagining about 10 or so, right? Wrong. There had to be about 40 just in the area that we were standing. We don't know why, but they seemed to be gathering in one spot. They weren't eating because the sand wasn't getting kicked up, but we couldn't think of any other reason they'd gather so close. It was an amazing sight to see the least. Pictures can't do it justice, just like everything else on this island.
I didn't stick around on the jetty for very long because it was still windy and cold. When I got back to the research station, I started chatting with my classmates, Clark and Janna. We had a great conversation about literature and poetry. It might have even been one of the highlights of my day. I love that, even though we are science majors, we still enjoy intelligent discussions about the arts. What a well-rounded group of people.
About 30 or so minutes of this, dinner was ready, which was braised beef and sweet potatoes with veggies and mashed potatoes of a sort. Need I say this again? DELICIOUS. I can't praise Pat enough. We have decided to recreate 'The Last Supper' as a class with Pat in the middle.
After dinner, I was walking toward the lab to write this post when I came upon a shearwater just sitting by a pole. It flinched when I passed but didn't move, which I thought was weird. One of my classmates noticed and told me that the bird had flown straight into the post and was probably disoriented or concussed. We checked to see if the bird was okay and noticed that it still had some down from when it had been just a chick. The bird looked terrified, but I didn't know how to help it, which was sad. Pat noticed us checking out the bird and came over to tell us that it was practicing flying and hadn't done much of it. It had just left the nest and needed to develop the skill if they were to survive their time over the ocean. Apparently shearwaters don't see land until they return to Heron Island to breed. They spend the majority of their lives over the ocean, which is why even adults are clumsy and uncoordinated on land. During this conversation, we actually saw a second bird fly into the side of a building. Not even five minutes later, the very same bird nearly hit me square in the chest. It had to have missed me by just centimeters. The birds in Australia are really something else. I still think they're adorable, though. Except seagulls. Stupid seagulls. (Pat told me that what happened with my muffin is common in the summer months but rare this time of year. Lucky me!) Pat also told us about some of the trees here that are incredibly unique. They get most, if not all, of their nutrients from the decomposing of dead birds on the forest floor. To ensure they get enough nutrients to survive, they produce a sticky fruit that will trap birds and chicks as they fall to the ground. The bird will eventually suffocate or starve, and the tree will get its nutrients. If, for some reason, they don't get enough nutrients during a season, they will actually bloom twice so they can get enough to survive. Pretty interesting that one of the most brutal nutrient gain processes would come from a tree! Crazy cool!
Well, that was my day! I'm truly having the time of my life here, and I wish it would never have to end!
Hello again! Our second day on the island is coming to a close, so here's a day in the life of a student on Heron Island. The day started pretty early; 5:30 to be exact. Yes, it wasn't fun getting up so early. Yes, it was intentional. Yes, it was worth it. Every morning on the island Edd (one of our wicked cool instructors) leads an early morning snorkel session. This morning was mandatory, but from now on, they will be optional. Regardless, I will be going to all of them. It's incredible how many living things are out and about in the early morning. Upon first entering the water with my buddy, Nora, I immediately saw multiple green sea turtles, which, again, were adorable. As we continued in the water, we noticed that we were surrounded by cow head stingrays. They like to bury themselves in the sand, so there had to be about 45 or 50 of them in any given area. We swam along and eventually came upon the famed shipwreck off the coast of Heron Island. It was swarming with fish. It was a sight I never thought I'd see in my life. Mother Earth took something man-made and destructive and turned it into something beautiful and full of life. She never ceases to amaze me. Around the shipwreck, we were able to see a type of shark called a wobbegong. These creatures are able to camouflage themselves extremely well due to their rock like pattern and texture. If it weren't for the dorsal (top) fins, it would have gone completely unnoticed. It was an indescribable experience. I was also fortunate enough to see four spotted eagle rays. They are extremely beautiful and graceful fish. All of these sights plus black tip reef sharks and two guitarfish satisfied my need for shark sightings. However, only for a little while. I'm dying to get back out there bright and early tomorrow morning to see more sharks and rays.
After the morning snorkel, we had a lovely breakfast prepared by the one and only Pat. Pat is amazing, and I think it's safe to say we would all die for Pat. I wish we could take Pat home with us. Oh, and the breakfast was great too. We had eggs and bacon with fruit and cereal. What a great way to start the day.
After breakfast, we had a lecture on coral morphology. I was fortunate enough to have taken Oceanography from Trisha this past semester (she's the other wicked cool instructor), so the lecture was all review for me. I appreciated the review, though, especially since I can apply it to real life this time. It's a fun experience to attend a lecture on a topic like coral reefs then walk 2 minutes to see it in action. I'd be in college forever if every class was like this.
After the lecture, we had a bit of free time. I read my book off an on while chatting with a few of my classmates. The people here with me are all very pleasant, and I very much enjoy the conversation. After a while, we were called in to lunch. (Again prepared by Pat. We love Pat.) We had nachos, chili, and salad. What I'm about to say shouldn't surprise you after all the Pat talk: DELICIOUS! Pat rocks. His food is even so good that I was attacked by a seagull for one of his muffins. I should have known better than taking a yummy pastry outside where the hundreds of birds on the island can see it, yet here we are. I left the kitchen with an apple cinnamon muffin and had only taken one bite before I noticed a seagull flying less than a foot from my head. It was eyeing my delicious muffin. It landed somewhere else and I thought I was in the clear. Next thing I know, a bird is flying straight in to my head and my muffin is gone. Where is it, you ask? In the dirty beaks of sky raccoons, AKA seagulls. It took them less than 10 seconds to devour my poor muffin, leaving only crumbly remains. Filthy bastards.
The next part of the day was the most exciting: Lab 1! This lab was very simple. We took transect lines (basically large tape measures) and measured 30 meters away from the shore using the water line as the starting point. Every ten meters we dropped something called a quadrat. Essentially, a quadrat is a square of PVC pipe measuring about half a meter on each side. There are 4 strings tied on the edges running in each direction. This results in 25 squares within the larger square. We would use this to determine the percent cover of the seabed within the quadrat. Each square represented 4% of the larger square, so if a square was mostly covered by coral, that square would represent 4% coral cover. Each transect line had 4 trials each (0-m, 10-m, 20-m, and 30-m), and we did 3 transects each. The tide was fairly low, so it was really interesting to see what some of the seabed looks like up close without needing a snorkel. It's mostly sand on the dry part of land, but in the shallower water, there are countless sea cucumbers and a few sea stars. Edd and Trisha also found what's called a sea hare. These creatures are essentially giant slugs. It was so massive that they caught the sea hare in a bucket and made the rounds to show everyone. There were also little sharks in the shallow water called epaulette sharks. These are tiny sharks that have some fascinating characteristics. Since they like to hang out in shallower water, they sometimes get stuck on land during low tide. This usually means certain death for a fish, but the Epaulette is able to slow its breathing, heart rate, and brain activity enough to survive on one breath for about an hour. If they are still stranded, they are able to use their fins as makeshift legs and walk on land towards the water. Epaulette sharks are shy, so it's difficult to spot them, but every so often, they can be seen zooming through the water when they're spooked. I was lucky enough to witness the shark zoom when I was taking the transect line out to 30 meters. The ocean is wild.
When everyone had finished their transect lines, we met back in the lab and worked on the analysis. We tested two hypotheses: 1) coral cover would increase as the distance from shore increased, and 2) algal cover would initially increase before being dominated by coral as distance from shore increased. We proved hypothesis 1 correct, but we never saw a decrease in algae cover after the initial increase. There are a number of reasons for this trend, but that's okay. Science is variable, which is why it's so exciting!
Once we finished our analyses and write-ups for the lab, we headed to the jetty to watch the sunset. This is going to be a daily activity, and I have to say, I'm more than okay with that. The sunsets on Heron Island are spectacular, and I don't think I will ever tire of them. They happen quickly, but during that time, the sky looks like a true painting. It's unreal.
Once the sun went down, we had a bit of extra time before dinner, so I set off to Shark Bay with a few of my classmates: Nora and Clark. Shark Bay is aptly named. It's fairly sandy compared to the rest of the shallow water on the island, and the sharks like to hang out in the sand. Even after the sun went down, we easily saw 35 to 40 cow head rays just off shore. There was also a guitarfish, which is one of the coolest sharks. It was an unbelievable sight, and I wish I could have stayed to take it all in. We had to leave, though, since dinner was soon, and you can't miss a meal from Pat. On the way back to the station, we walked through the forest, which was noisy and smelly from the hundreds of birds that had flown in to roost for the night. Eventually we made it back to the station and got our last meal of the day: Moroccan chicken and quinoa salad. As per usual, it was delightful.
That's about it for the day! Heron Island is truly paradisaical, and I'm continually in awe of its beauty. Until tomorrow!