Well, today was our last day on the island. Come 9:00 tomorrow morning, we are officially no longer residents of the Heron Island Research Station. It was definitely a day to remember though, so it's a very bittersweet feeling.
We started the morning with an early breakfast, then quickly headed out to a final snorkel at the outer reef. I have to say that today's snorkel was the best one we've had this whole trip. The boat ride out was essentially the six flags of the ocean. There were huge swells, and our boat driver had the pedal to the metal. It was a blast. The area where we were swimming had so many incredible colors, shapes, and sizes. I tried to absorb the sight of it into my brain so that I can remember it forever. I hope it works, because it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Halfway through our snorkel it starting raining, which was a surprisingly magical experience. Water above, water below. We also spent a good amount of time doing underwater party tricks, including some lovely dance moves.
After lunch, our research team ran through our presentation one final time. We also spent some time just trying to relax and enjoy our final day here. I read a book, sat outside, and generally tried to forget the fact that they're kicking my sorry butt out of here first thing tomorrow morning. We also went on one final evening swim over the reef flat and into the boat channel. We saw tons of turtles! They must still be sheltering near the island because of the storms we've been having. They're so friendly and adorable. Let me tell you, there is nothing cuter than a turtle breaching for air. Especially when said turtle is a baby.
Pat cooked us a heck of a meal (I'm not sure exactly what he called it, but in my mind it was pork tenderloin with ratatouille). He also made the most amazing fruit and nut pastry with chocolate mousse for dessert. I hope he takes us up on our suggestion for him to open his own restaurant in Logan, Utah. It seems like a wise investment.
After dinner we finally put all of our hard work to the test. Each group gave their twelve minute presentation in front of the rest of the class. It's amazing to me that I've only known these people for twelve days, and yet I felt so proud of every single person. We've all worked so hard and really thrown ourselves into this class, especially our research projects. We've discovered some really cool things about coral reefs and marine wildlife, and I feel like I've definitely grown as a person.
The presentations were followed by a humorous awards ceremony put on by Edd and Trisha. We all got little awards for things we've done throughout the class. Mine was "The Oprah Winfrey Award" because I guess I did a decent job talking into the camera yesterday for the promo video. It's yet to been seen whether the footage will actually make it into the video....
We cleaned basically the whole island (just kidding, it was only the labs and the library), and then we played cards for hours. I feel like I've never laughed so hard in my life. Holly discovered poop on her shoe, and somehow that led into a string of events that included Holly's creepy stare in the window and me getting the privilege of watching both Josh and Susie spit large amounts of water out of their mouths at the same time. It was a hilarious few hours, and we all got continuously more loopy as the time went on. We ended up calling it at about one in the morning (which is essentially the equivalent of 4 a.m. here because we go to bed at 9 every night).
Tomorrow morning we'll finish packing up, clean out our rooms, and hop on the ferry to get out of here. That'll start the basically 36 hour journey home.
Heron, you've been a dream, and I will miss you.
Trying to channel my inner H2O mermaid self^
Today was spent doing a few different things, mostly with my research group. It's really kind of weird how dispersed the students are as a group now compared to before. In the beginning of the class we were together all the darn time, but our individual research projects have made it drastically different for the last few days. Don't get me wrong, I'm still having the time of my life, but it's a new feeling. Luckily I can usually convince a big group of kids to play card games with me at night, so we still spend some quality time together. All of these kids are amazing, and I've had the opportunity to really get to know all of them because there aren't many of us and we work so closely together. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I started the day with a morning swim. It was really hard to roll out of bed this morning, and I almost didn't go. I'm glad that I did though, because we ended up having a really nice time. I saw my first puffer fish, and it was all puffed up!
After breakfast, my research group and I worked on our presentation and put the finishing touches on our lab report. Things are really starting to come together nicely, and I'm hoping that the presentation will go well tomorrow night. Fingers crossed!
Before lunch, Holly and I decided to explore the forested middle of the island. We took plastic bags with us and picked up garbage along the trails. We had a lot of success, which unfortunately means that a lot of people weren't very careful with their harmful waste. The ocean needs us, people! We reached a dead end in the forest and decided to walk along the beach for the last bit of the trek back to the station. It was a surprisingly nice day today, given the recent weather. We enjoyed soaking up the Australia sun while we still can.
After lunch I did an interview thing for Edd's promo video for this class. A bunch of us talked in front of the camera. I can't say that I'm sure it went very well for me, but that's okay. Who knows? Maybe I'll become Youtube famous.
We also went back out into the lagoon to help Aimee and les garcons with some videography stuff for Aimee's virtual field trip project. We basically took videos of a whole bunch of quadrats and corals. It was fun! And the results of her project are going to be awesome. She's putting together a really cool video slash beginner's science experiment based on coral reefs. It's aimed at elementary age kids and will be completely free for teachers, after-school programs, and anyone else who wants it. I think that's pretty darn cool.
Here's what just barely happened my friends, and I'm sure my dad will get a kick out of this: I was typing up this blog in the lab, and I guess I fell asleep. Edd came in and found me sleeping at 11:30 on my computer. I was kind of confused when I woke up, so I got up and went to bed (where I am now). Gotta finish the blog though. Blog or die.
Today was windy as all get out. In the photo above, I am not wearing any kind of ponytail. Wind only. The picture really doesn't do it justice. The wind is practically nonexistent at the station because the trees act as such an effective barrier. Unfortunately, we were forced to leave said barrier multiple times today, and we almost got blown into (or out of) the ocean. It was super fun.
I decided to participate in the morning snorkel before breakfast today, which was beautiful. We swam straight out to the edge of the reef to look at the drop-off. We saw a big guitar shark (which are super cool, you should look them up) and lots of other things.
Later in the afternoon we (my research group--our name is Shark Bae) grudgingly tromped out to Research Beach to take out final set of data. We thought we were done, but Trisha and Edd gently suggested that more data might be in our best interest. It actually wasn't bad at all. The water was warm and there was no rain or anything. The only bad part was the wind. The waves got pretty big, and there were definitely white caps on the water. It wasn't dangerous or anything, but it was extremely inconvenient for data collection that required us to hover in one spot for minutes at a time. It only ended up taking us about 1.5 hours though, so it wasn't nearly as long as yesterday. When I tried to get out of the water, the rock on the shore was so slick with algae and the waves were so big that I kept getting knocked over, even though I was only like two feet from dry sand. It was pretty funny, and honestly it was still really fun. I never regret getting in the water here.
When we got back to camp, we rinsed off and started working on our lab report. We made some quality graphs, which I will include for your edification. Our project was based on sand burrows of fish. Basically, there are two main types of fish that burrow in the lagoon here, so we tested to see whether they had different burrow patterns in relationship to the corals. Our hypothesis was that the sandperch, which has a pointy nose, would burrow closer to the coral, where sand grains are bigger. We confirmed our hypothesis in two of the three areas where we took samples, so that's cool I guess.
We walked to the jetty to watch the sunset, and the wind was totally insane. The picture above honestly does not do it justice. It was the type of wind where you can lean into it and it will support you. It was also fun to watch all the turtles come in for shelter. We saw six turtles from the dock, but I guess Josh and Edd (who were snorkeling) saw a whopping 18 turtles, which is bonkers.
After dinner, Trisha and Edd, being the super nice people that they are, sat down with a group of us to talk about what it actually takes to get where they are. It was nice to have someone actually lay down facts about possible career paths in research. I can't believe there's so much that no one really ever told me. There are two different types of Master's degrees!
Most of us spend a couple of hours playing cards after that. I'm really glad that card games have caught on with the group, because I seriously love both card games and these people. I'm starting to get kind of sad that I'm leaving in just a few days.
Overall, today was another excellent day. We've got a good start on our project, I didn't drown in the ocean, and I still haven't caught the nasty cold bug that's traveling around the girls' room. That's an accomplishment, considering how close we all are all the time!
Well, the rain finally came today.
It poured rain all night but dried out in the morning, giving us hope that it would be a relatively dry day. It was a lie. My research group (Holly, Riley, and me) headed out right after breakfast to practice our new technique of data collection in Data Collection Round One. Halfway through our snorkel, the rain decided to make a triumphant return. We decided to go back to shore and dry off a little bit for lunch. Luckily, the very worst of the rain storm took place during lunch, so it was only sprinkling when we went out to the beach again for Data Collection Round Two. This time we went to North Beach and Shark Bay, where we were fighting one heck of a current. The wind was pretty gnarly. Even so, we swam (slowly) onward. We ended up staying out there for about three hours. By the time we got out of the water, all of our lips were pruney (and my tongue as well??) and we had seemingly-permanent mask marks on our faces. It was definitely nice to shower and dry off after that.
We spent some time in the lab looking at our data, mostly to make sure we had enough. We do! Yay! We spend the rest of the evening chilling out. We played a lot of card games. I'm so glad that I've finally convinced people to play with me! When it got dark, a group of us went walking along the shoreline to search for bio-luminescent buddies in the water. We didn't actually find any. We had fun taking a walk though, and we "rescued" a lot of crabs (we mostly picked them up and put them back down). It was a fun day!
Also Holly pretended to be a boy, complete with her "guy" walk. It was pretty funny.
Today was not another day of sun.
It was a pretty good day, though. We all had a pretty late start today (8:30, wow). We had an awesome lecture on megafauna, which includes large marine animals like sharks, turtles, whales, etc. After lecture and lunch, Holly and Riley and I headed out to Shark Bay to begin data collection for our research project.
We've decided to test whether sharp-nosed sandperches or long-finned gobies are more likely to live near a patch of coral. Both of those fish are little sand dwellers, so we're thinking there could possibly be some burrow competition going on there. I'll keep you guys updated, even though I'm fairly certain you don't really care all that much. We are collecting data by basically finding a burrow with a fish in it, identifying the fish, and measuring it's distance to the nearest coral patch. Once we've got what we deem to be "enough" data (an amount yet to be determined), we'll analyze the distances and see if any significant differences exist.
We collected data at high tide, which would be ideal on a beautiful, sunny day. Unfortunately, today has been darn windy. We were really struggling to stay in the correct places on the reef, so we gave up after about three burrows. The really unfortunate realization that we later had is that the weather tomorrow is supposed to be even worse. It's the only day we really have to collect data though, so we'll make it work! It's just possible that the three of us will have rock-solid calves by the end of the day from swimming so hard.
This evening was really relaxed. I taught a bunch of the other peeps to play a card game called Wuge, which is fantastic. It's essentially just cutthroat Uno. We stayed up pretty late (honestly, it was only until just 9:00 p.m., but we're all pretty pooped) playing card games and laughing until I almost peed my pants. I'll definitely miss these guys when we go our separate ways.
I also bought a pretty dope Heron Island Research Station cap today. It's definitely a winner.
That's about all that happened today! Here are some pictures of the sunset from the jetty tonight:
To start things off today, I need to take a survey based on a VERY heated dinner argument:
Now that that's out of the way, here are some things I did today:
1. Breakfast at 7 ~ Honestly, 7 a.m. does not feel early here. My sleep schedule is super healthy. Mostly because we're all tuckered out by the end of every day. I think it's because of all the salt water, but super delayed jet lag could possibly play a part of it.
2. Low tide fish surveillance in the lagoon ~ We set transect lines (basically weighted measuring tapes) on the lagoon floor and took video footage of the entire line. Then we went back to the lab and watched the videos at a near-excruciatingly low speed to identify every fish that swam in the video. We can do that now because we proved our fish knowledge during the test yesterday.
3. Walk around the perimeter of the island ~ Holly and Riley and I followed the beach around the entire island. It's beautiful from every angle! It only took us about 40 minutes, and that included several stops to admire the fish and take cliche photos like these ones:
4. Lunch! ~ Incredible as always. Pat takes good care of us.
5. High tide fish surveillance in the lagoon ~ Same as low tide, but we did it in snorkel gear! It was really windy so we all bundled up in lots of swimsuit layers, but luckily the water wasn't too cold. They're actually predicting that we might get some rain tomorrow. I can't actually figure out how they predict the weather for a tiny island in the middle of a forgotten spot in the ocean.
6. Write a lab report ~ Classic. This was actually our last lab for the trip, I believe. Bean and I were partners today, and we did a pretty good job. Also we have matching rash guards, so that's pretty cute. After today, we're all working on our own research projects, so no time for labs! I really like labs though. They've all been really fun.
7. Dinner ~ Mmmmmmmmm
8. Not much else ~ It's been a really low-key kind of day. We spent some good time in our "book club", in which we all sit by the kitchen door and silently read separate books. It's a good time.
9. Wash my hair! ~ Honestly, it's become one of the highlights of my day. It's just so clean! No salt or ocean beasties to be found anywhere in these strands.
10. Bed time! ~ This is pretty much the end of the day for me. We are currently watching a movie, but I'm ready to hit the sack. It's been a good day for sure. I can't believe there are only six days left on the island! Time flies when you're constantly swimming.
Today was pretty chill. I slept in late (7:00!), and we all ate breakfast together. It was divine as usual. After brekkie, we spent a couple of hours studying together for our marine species identification test. The test went pretty well! Weeks of studying finally paid off, and now we don't have to worry about it anymore.
After the exam, we took another trip to the outer reef (aka the drop-off). It was just a quick boat ride out, and then we swam along the edge of the reef. The current was going against us for the first half of the swim, so we were all exhausted. I didn't feel like I was gaining any ground, and my legs and feet starting cramping up. Luckily we eventually made it out of the strongest part of the current, and it was pretty much smooth sailing from there. I even attempted to dive down a couple of times....mostly unsuccessfully. I saw a couple of turtles hanging out together, and a crown of thorns as well. Mostly there were millions of fish. We swam through multiple gigantic school of them, and it was breathtaking.
The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. A few of us watched the sunset from the dock (stunning as always). We saw a massive sting ray and a decently sized black tip reef shark from our high vantage point. After that, we celebrated Susie's birthday! Pat, the chef, made her a birthday cake, and Bean brought decorations and a card and things. It was fun. Afterwards we watched a movie in the lab room on the projector. Every movie option fell through, so we ended up watching a DVD from the library's tiny collection called The Island. As a professional amateur movie critic, I'd rate it 4.5 out of 10. It was fun though.
I'm up about an hour later than usual, so I'll probably regret this tomorrow during our early morning activities. I guess we'll see! Here are some mediocre pictures I took today:
Bean actually took this one^. I feel pretty cool. This is probably the only time I made it under water though (insert crying laugh emoji here).
I'm the derp in the back left here^.
Okay so I actually only took two of the photos. The idea is the same though.
P.S. to my family, I love you guys! Sorry I'm missing all of your birthdays!
Today started off with a beautiful early-morning swim. Josh and I were the only students who wanted to swim this morning, so Edd took us out to the boat channel at 6:30. The water was crystal clear and we saw a lot of fun things. There were sting rays, an octopus, lots of fishes, and my first shark! Josh even saw a few squids. We got back and ate a quick breakfast with the group, and then all of us hopped on a little boat to take a trip to the outer reef (also known as the spot where Nemo touched the butt).
The outer reef is absolutely incredible. It has hundreds of colors and is completely full of life. I don't think talking about it can ever do it justice. I would upload some photos, but every single video I took on my GoPro was unusable. I need to practice my underwater videography skills for sure. I did capture the turtle buddy above though!
After lunch, Edd gave us a turbo-speed lecture on ocean invertebrates. There are so many of them! They're seriously so cool. Post-lecture, we walked over to Shark Bay to do some coral color identification for Coral Watch (coralwatch.org, check it out my dudes). That was really fun. We just walked around during low tide to catalog the colors of different coral patches. Coral Watch will use the data, along with data from volunteers around the globe, to assess coral health. It's pretty neat.
In the evening most of the group went for a sunset swim, but I decided to sit it out because I was feeling pretty hammered. Trisha and I watched the sunset from the end of the dock instead, and we watched the beasties in the water below.
Dinner was incredible, as always. Pat outdoes himself with every meal, I swear. I always think he won't be able to do any better than the day before, but somehow he always does. Every meal is a delight, and I've been eating way too much here.
After dinner a group of us walked down to the beach to look at the stars.
Oh. My. Gosh.
Let me tell you, I've seen plenty of night skies before, but none like this one. Heron Island is so far from any sort of civilization that we saw the milky way across the entire sky, and the stars were brighter and more plentiful than I have ever seen. I could have stared at them all night. It's so dark here that we could actually see the glow of the coast of Australia in the distant west. It's also really fun to see all the new constellations. This might be rubbish, but I swear my brain can tell that the something, aka the constellations, are different even though I don't have the Utah night sky memorized by any means. The photographers came to the beach with us and captured some really astounding photos. I got some excellent pictures of black nothingness, so that's almost as cool.
Today was amazing, I'd say. We're heading to the outer reef again tomorrow, so I'll try to get some better footage. Cheers!
There's nothing better than a pair of boobies"
I'd have to say the first day of June was a success. We did a lot of things and saw a few neat sea friends! As usual, the day started with an early morning swim in the boat channel. We swam along the edge of the coral where lots of creatures like to hang out. The water was beautiful and clear this morning! We saw a few massive loggerhead sea turtles, some sea pancakes, a little octopus friend, and a wobbegong shark. Well, I saw its fins. It was hanging out in a cave. There were some huge schools of fish, and I'm proud to say that I could name a lot of the things I saw! Surprisingly, one of my favorites was seeing a massive fish get cleaned by the little cleaner wrasse. Just nature at work.
After we returned, we ate breakfast and immediately went back out again, this time to Shark Bay. Don't worry Mom, it's just a name. I didn't see a singly shark, although it's actually got a surprising amount of sting rays in it. Shark Bay is on the other side of the island, and it's STUNNING. The water is insanely blue, crystal clear and teeming with life and with coral.
We were out there collecting sediment cores for a lab. Sediment cores are basically just tubes that you stick all the way into the sand, then pull out to collect a vertical cylinder of sediment. This turned out to be quite the task for Susie and I. We were working together in about four feet of water, and we could not for they life of us stay under water for more than .2 milliseconds. I like to think that it isn't our fault because we had wet suits and things on, which make you float very easily. There was also a decently strong wind, so every second spent on the surface resulted in about 4 feet of distance between us and our sample site. Anyway, we basically ended up with her holding me underwater while I dug the cores out of the lagoon floor. We definitely whooped and hollered when we finally finished the first sample. It was so much fun!
We took our samples back to the lab where we meticulously picked out every single near-microscopic worm and bug. I'll skip the recap of all the data calculations and just inform you guys that the number of bugs in the sand decreases as you get closer to coral. The more you know.
In the evening we went for a reef walk. The tide was so low that many of the coral patches in the lagoon stuck out of the water. We used big orange tube things with glass bottoms called "seascopes" to look around at all the cool creatures hanging out on the lagoon floor. There were hundreds of sea cucumbers, lots of sea stars, and a couple of epaulette sharks (cute little "walking" sharks). I'll never get tired of watching the sun set over the ocean here.
We had a lecture after dinner on corals, and I learned a lot about them even though I fell asleep just a tiny bit (sorry Trisha). Here are some facts you may not have known:
~Corals are living creatures (maybe you already knew this)
~Coral reefs have existed for millions of years
~Corals are actually made of thousands of tiny little individual creatures called polyps
~Each little coral polyp has an cute little mouth for munching on snacks
~Corals have some chill friends called zooxanthella that feed them and keep them happy
~When corals get stressed out (aka when humans do stupid things to ruin the planet), they let all their zooxanthella friends go and they die. If corals die, scientists predict that we'll lose a significant portion of the human population because of the loss of many fish and other species that depend on coral. Keep corals in mind when you do things, friends!
Anyway, I'm pretty knackered (that's what they say here), so I think I'm going to hit the hay. Goodnight all!
Day two on the island was a bit more eventful than day one. At 6:30 in the morning we were already decked out in our wet suits and making our way down the beach for our first reef outing. I learned a lot of things about snorkeling this morning, like the fact that you have to walk into the water backwards because your fins are longer than the plane ride across the pacific ocean. I learned some other things, but the biggest one, and I feel pretty stupid about this, is how salty the ocean is?! Like, it's reaaaally salty. Saltier than when you prank your sibling by dumping a half cup of salt in their water glass. Saltier than my brothers playing board games on Sunday afternoons. The high salinity means that humans float really well, so it's actually a bit harder to get down under the water when you want to look at things. We're all adjusting to it though, and I'm starting to get slightly better in the water. It was pretty choppy and murky this morning, but we still saw a couple of turtles and lots of fishes. Half of the group spotted a little reef shark, but it was gone by the time I arrived. We swam all the way out to the shipwreck where lots of creatures have established their homes. All the fish are so colorful and beautiful! I'm beginning to appreciate the fish flashcards they made us memorize before we flew out here.
After rinsing off, several of us walked down to the beach to explore a little bit. We found a few tide pools and saw a lot of chitons (prehistoric trilobite-looking things). It's kind of wild that the only thing you see in any direction is blue. I feel so secluded. I don't know if this will continue, but so far I really love how disconnected I am from the rest of the world. It's making me realize how often I reach for my phone every day. It's so much nicer to take a walk, read a book, explore, or just sit and bask in the sun.
We spent the afternoon working on a benthic cover estimation lab. That basically means we used PVC pipe squares to estimate how much of the bottom of the lagoon is covered in coral (as opposed to sand, rock, algae, etc). We got to use real techniques that scientists in the fairly recent "olden days" used to estimate stuff like that. The technique is this: 1) Place your square. 2) Make a random guess as to what percent of the square is filled with coral. It's actually surprisingly hard to maneuver around the shallow water with all the equipment and cameras and snorkel gear. We all ended up with some cuts and bruises. It was so much fun!
In the evening we went swimming again. It was much warmer than the morning swim, which was nice. The water was pretty murky again, but we saw a couple of huge loggerhead turtles. They're not shy at all. We also spotted a sting ray and lots of fish. The rest of the group saw a shark, but I was late to the game once again. I think I'm the only person who hasn't seen one yet. I'll probably see one eventually......
Also, people keep confusing me with Holly. I guess we look alike? I'm taking a poll so you guys can tell me what you think. Here are some photos of us:
P.S. If you're wondering why the horizon is curving the wrong direction, it's because everything is upside down in the southern hemisphere.