Leaving honestly feels more unreal than getting to Heron did. I decided I needed to write one final post to wrap everything up while I'm sitting here at the Gladstone airport.
Yesterday, Nora, Katie, Sean, Zach, Clark, and I all got up early to watch the sunrise on the north beach and I'm so glad we did. It was beautiful and a great last sun show since we've missed the last few sunsets. We finished packing up and had "The Last Supper" with Pat, another fantastic breakfast. After everything was packed and ready to go we all hit the research station deck for some more cards and music.
As we pulled away from the island onboard the "Heron Islander" my eyes welled up with tears. For anyone who really knows me, this is the equivalent of crying because I hardly ever cry. A week and a half was just enough for Heron to feel like home and the people to feel like I've known them for years.
Speaking of which...I'm jumping on the bandwagon to write a bit about everyone:
Zach: Zach and I saw the tiger shark together and having a life threatening experience like that really just brings you together haha. But honestly Zach's humor kills me. There were many times that I had me crying laughing. His laugh is amazing too.
Russ: Russ has great music taste (something I highly appreciate). He's always got a song and a little dance for ya and I love it. He and Sean gave me great performances many times. Also a super caring person.
Kenen: Kenen may quite honestly be a fish himself. He was honestly the hardest worker and one of the smartest people on the trip. I aspire to be as cool as Kenen. He's really gonna go places.
Janna: Janna and I didn't talk a whole lot but when we did she was always super sweet. From what I can tell she also totally pushed some of her boundaries and was a total go getter. I totally respect that.
Katie: This girl. It took a few days but once I really saw the real Katie I knew we'd be total pals. She seriously says the funniest things not even meaning to. Her laugh is also SO contagious, you can't help but laugh along. A great snack dealer as well.
Clark: Clark is such a perceptive and down to earth guy. He's super friendly and really easy to talk to. He gave me plenty of crap and I gave it right back. I always enjoyed talking with him.
Cat: I really like Cat's outlook on life and her spirit of adventure. She seems to be the kind of person who's always doing something cool. She's going back to Alaska right now! She also has some pretty cool stories and fully embodies the "Cat nap."
Sam: I thought Sam was pretty quiet at first but when he talks his sarcasm and dry humor is quite honestly some of the best I've heard. Everything he says is a surprise (absolute gold).
Nora: This girl is adorable. She's super sweet and always looking to start conversation. She says she's shy but she did a really great job of getting us all to talk about the most random but highly interesting topics. She also asks SO many questions (I love it).
Jeni: Jeni is quite honestly one of the coolest people you'll ever meet. She's been traveling around Australia, camping at national parks and such, by herself. Her sense of fashion is stellar and she has a love for games (heck yes). Her poems and art are great and I just love her vibe.
Sean: Sean probably wins the gold medal for making me laugh the most. His voice impersonations are literally my favorite thing. He always gave me crap and totally dealt with my sass as well. A total sweetheart.
Brynn: Brynn's just one of those people that you can joke with constantly and never get tired of it. She's another sweetheart that I feel like I could be friends with forever. Her, Clark, and I also always know the vines that we quote to each other and I'm here for it.
Pat: Pat is an amazing cook. His food is great and always colorful and creative. He's also a super friendly and cheery person. Great music was always on in the kitchen. He also has a great laugh like so many people on this trip. 10 out of 10 will miss his food.
Trisha: Trisha was my oceanography professor last semester and I loved her class but this one was even better (obviously). Getting to see her personality out here has been great. She gives everyone crap and you can't even get mad about it because she's always right and you can't help but laugh along with. There's so much I can learn from her.
Edd: Edd is honestly such a dad. The dad jokes, the animal impersonations, the great stories for every situation, and his cheery attitude. He has so many phrases I love (zonked was the latest I heard when we all passed out on the boat back to Gladstone). He gave us great advice on all of our labs and he's got a lot he can teach me too.
I'm honestly so grateful for all of these people. These past two weeks have been a blast thanks to them. I'm so glad Edd and Trisha ended up at Utah State and started this class. The whole experience was amazing and has only encouraged my amazement at the marvels of the ocean.
So long Heron Island! I'll be back.
See you soon Utah.
This morning I got up for our final morning snorkel and I'm so glad I did. We didn't see many of the big beasties but we all had a blast anyways. I spotted a small hawksbill turtle tucked under the ship wreck. I also admired the colorful giant clams inside the wreck. There's a really pretty turquoise one that I love looking at.
After breakfast I updated our presentation a bit more. Katie and I practiced a bit and a bunch of us sat down to more card games (they've been a common theme the past few days). I taught Brynn, Zach, Clark, and Katie how to play hearts which was really fun. I felt so proud when they caught on to the strategy.
We all took one final snorkel as a class. We headed out to the north side of the island where we haven't really gone. We snorkeled around to the jetty side and had a blast doing it. I saw a really cool anemone with a family of clownish, tons of blue sea stars, giant clams, and pretty corals. All of this while messing around with Nora, Sean, and Russ.
More free time meant more card games before presentations. Kenen, Clark, and Jeni really blew us all out of the water for our projects but I was pretty proud of Katie and I. After presentations, Edd and Trisha handed out "The Heronies" awards. Mine was the "What do we say to the God of death? Not today." Award. Zach got one for being Captain America for looking back at me while we swam for our lives. Still not sure if he deserves it but I mean whatever (just kidding Zach;) you're my hero).
Pat made us steak and potatoes for dinner. I swear, I eat better on this island in the middle of the ocean than I do when I have four grocery stores within a five minute drive.
After dinner it's back to paranoia, the game that ruins friendships. We figured the end of the trip would be a solid time to destroy all of the relationships we've made out here. (Sean and Russ are on my hit list but it's chill). I seriously have grown to really love these people and I'm determined to stay in touch with them. We've got a really "fin"tastic (I had to) group and I'd be sad to lose all of these friendships made over tiger shark sightings, laughing till we cry, and all of our island struggles.
We've also been working on a really bomb collaborative playlist
Check my spotify: hatchhailey
Today I woke up and walked like the dead to the bathroom to put my contacts in. After accomplishing this I saw that the bathroom floor was covered in leaves. This is how I judge the wind in the mornings-how much crap is on the floor. So I took myself back up to bed and passed out for another hour.
After breakfast Katie and I got to work on our project and finished it before lunch. Our report is a little extra because I started working on the APA format before Edd and Trisha told us not to go too hard. After all that work I refused to get rid of it because if I'm being honest it's quite beautiful (I'm a nerd like that).
Once the project was done I lowkey didn't know what to do with myself. But Nora, Brynn, Katie, and I decided to take a walk around the island. My years of going to Sanibel Island have trained my eyes to look for shells while walking beaches so I had no success picking up plastic for the Pat Plastic Challenge.
After our walk I took my book out to the rotunda. I read for a few hours and after getting super close to the end I gave up. There were just too many surprises and my brain was hurting.
We took some class pictures tonight in front of the again nonexistent sunset. At dinner tonight I realized we always laugh until we cry at meals (Zach and his loggerhead bench press) and I'm really going to miss that. The class pictures really made me realize how close to the end we are.
As Edd would say, it's been blowing a hoolie all day. This morning, Katie, Nora, and I were the only ones up for the morning snorkel. Edd checked the visibility and we all took a step into the water from the jetty. Last night Nora dropped her phone in the cracks of the jetty while we were out watching the stars. So this morning we were on the hunt for it. I spotted it covered in sand and dove down to grab it. We also saw the sign on the dock that has been slowly falling more and more every day at the bottom of the jetty. Even though it was windy we had a successful morning snorkel with a few turtles, a blacktip, and a really pretty royal blue butterfly fish.
This morning as I was headed to the bathroom I nearly stepped on a baby sea turtle and later we saw another one in a seagulls beak. We couldn't figure out how they had gotten so far turned around to make it up to the research station. Later once Katie, Edd, and I were about to get into the water to start data collection for our project Nora came running down the beach. She led us to about half a dozen more baby greens that were struggling over the rocks to make it to the water. A few ladies from the resort were shooing the seagulls away. The first one to make it to the water got munched by a seagull. After protecting them on the rocks for a bit we decided we really needed to get going on our data so we left the ladies to watch the turtles. As I was getting into the water one made it and headed out just before me to only get scooped up by another bird. I was determined to protect the next one that came up to the edge so I jumped into the water off of the rocks and kicked hard to keep up with him. As I saw alongside him in hopes of keeping the birds at bay one dove down and carried him off (that was the greatest tragedy of all). I don't think any of them made it but we weren't surprised. Normally all the nests hatch together and overwhelm their predators but these late bloomers barely stood a chance.
Out in the water Katie and I got to work taking footage of coral patches and identifying their health codes. After a delayed start, lots of waves and current, and a bit of a search for varying branching coral healths we took longer than expected. We were back right before lunch and made it in a bit late to devour some quesadillas and pico. That pico man.
After lunch Katie and I opted for a bit of a breather before settling down to analyze our videos. We counted all of our fish and rated our corals healths. Tomorrow we will finish up data analysis and write our report and presentation. It shouldn't be too hard (not as hard as swimming was today at least). Hopefully we'll have some free time for me to do some more reading and be a beach bum (if the weather cooperates).
The sunset tonight was nonexistent but we still managed to have fun out there with a Celine Dion serenade from Sean and Russ. I'm absolutely exhausted but I still plan on staying up to play games and hang out because I'm really gonna miss this place and these people when I'm gone.
This morning I finally got to scuba dive in the ocean! In the Great Barrier Reef no less. I was a little nervous knowing that my ears had a hard time equalizing during my certification and that I've only ever dived in the Crater. Zach, Russ, Brynn, and I were ready to go at 8 and headed over to the resort. We collected our gear and let me tell you...I am SO glad we have half wet suits for this class because getting into a full wetsuit was a joke. Getting all my gear set up felt just like it did for certification but taking a giant stride into the ocean was where it all got real. As Zach and I descended down the mooring line we were both pleasantly surprised by our ears (he's been sick-hence the phlegm in the last post). We didn't go super deep but it was a completely different experience from snorkeling. While snorkeling you have an amazing birds eye view of the coral. But scuba diving gives you the amazing view of coral towering around you as you just skim the bottom checking for little beasties poking out of the seafloor. We saw a blacktip and a green sea turtle (who I think I woke up from a nap...sorry buddy). I also saw a few feather stars which I was stoked about. I don't know what it is about them but when I first learned about them at the aquarium I've been obsessed ever since. I tried to get close to see if they would swim away because the videos of them swimming are mesmerizing. They didn't cooperate though. Speaking of not cooperating...apparently Edd and Trisha saw a manta ray on their dive in the afternoon and I'm offended. The manta should know better than to show up for the ones who've already seen them before. Animals these days. But really, I will never forget the first time I got to dive on the Great Barrier Reef (keyword here is first).
After my dive I got cleaned up and Pat made us burritos for lunch. Man I've missed tortillas. Same with pasta, which was for dinner. All of the above where completely gone before I remembered to take a picture. I've earned "white girl" status with the guys apparently because of my food pics. Only the best for Pat though so no regrets.
After lunch we played some card games. I crushed in a game of scum and a game of BS crushed me (this is not surprising). Then, Clark and I threw on our swimsuits and headed to north beach to read our books for a few hours. I've really missed reading and wowza, Angels and Demons is intense (not tiger shark intense but it's up there). After some quality beach bum time I headed back to the lab to get started on some computer work for my project with Katie. Tomorrow morning we'll head out at high tide to collect data.
The sunset tonight was the gift that kept on giving. Brynn, Russ, Clark, Katie, and I were out there for nearly an hour because each time we turned to leave the sky would teach us some more colors. We had a solid photo shoot and let me tell you, Clark and Russ really know how to work a camera (model status).
Last night on the jetty, Zach, Sean, Russ, and I realized that we haven't seen the moon this whole time. Well tonight she showed herself above the trees on the way to dinner. I imagine she'll give us a show tonight on our nightly star watch.
Ah yes, a beautiful but chilly morning for a coral reef health lab. *duh nuh* With a sudden battle cry Zach and I were the first ones into the water at shark bay this morning (this is called foreshadowing kids). With morning vigor we swam out to the coral line and began assessing coral health with our nifty coral watch charts. *duh nuh* After successfully diving down to assess a branching corals health we prepared to swim to the next patch reef. With our ears near the surface of the water we could hear a hell of a ruckus coming from shore. *duh nuh* Zach and I poked our head above water to be greeted with a jumble of absolute nonsense besides one word, "SHARK!" We got the message. *duh nuh duh nuh* As adrenaline kicked in we turned to face the shore and swam like hell. Zach was just ahead of me splashing up a storm but hauling like only a true Michael Phelps could. *duh nuh duh nuh* And there he was, the 10 foot tiger shark that had strolled right past Trisha while she was entering the water. As we saw his tail disappear into the gloom we kicked harder than we've ever kicked before, trying not to imagine him circling around behind us (keyword trying). As we finally hit the shore we looked up to Trisha and Edd's relieved faces and everyones else's shock. Pretty soon Zach and I were joking and talking about how cool it was on the safety of dry land (moist sand-but who's actually paying attention). Turns out Zach had been chumming the water with some bloody phlegm, sounds like attempted homicide to me honestly. I think the greatest part of this whole thing was the fact that in our megafauna lecture last night Edd told us all how tiger sharks are rarely seen around Heron Island. Today also may have cemented in my mind thoughts that I may be a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Thanks for looking back for me while you swam Zach. You're a real solid near death experience buddy.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful (as uneventful as a day can be on the Great Barrier Reef). We went out to the outer reef again today for quite possibly the last time because the weather is supposed to get rough again. Jeni and I about lost our minds over the schools of fish around the bommie. The coral on the outer reef, as usual, was completely stunning. It reminds me, in a strange way, of the amazing formations around Zions and Bryce. But these formations are alive and underwater so I can basically fly through them. It really is magical.
The next three days are our time to work on our personal research projects. Katie and I are going to research the affect coral health has on fish abundance. We'll combine techniques from our fish abundance lab and todays very short coral health lab. I'm pretty excited to do some field work of my own design and dig into some research about corals. The more I see of them the more interesting they become. Tomorrow morning I get to go out on a dive and I'm super excited. I'm a little nervous considering I'm still new to diving and only got certified last week. But the new found adrenaline junkie and long been there marine bio nerd in me are SO pumped.
Now for my nightly ritual of laying out to listen to the waves and watch the stars in what seems like never ending darkness.
I had my first morning where I had to fight myself to get up because I was up "late." I was up until 9:45 so I could finish up a bit of studying after watching the amazing stars again. All is well in the world again once you get into the water and your wetsuit warms you up. During the morning snorkel we saw all three species of turtle here at Heron, green (tons of them here), hawksbill (today was my first one), and loggerhead (I've only seen them at night from the jetty while watching stars). Two little greens we saw were still itty bitty and adorable. We also saw a spotted eagle ray which I've yet to swim with as well (I've only seen them from the jetty as well). I also had a grand time quizzing myself on the fish that I swam over.
There's something really great about a refreshing snorkel while the sun rises, a warm shower, and delicious breakfast that really starts your day off right. After breakfast we all hunkered down to cram all the last of the mnemonics we could come up with to remember all the fish. At 9:30 we walked in to take our test and it flew by. I was amazed how easy it was. Of course when I got my test back later though I facepalmed when I realized I'd called the giant sea cucumber just a sea cucumber and the cowtail ray (which we learned was a cowhead) a cownose. I mean come on! I can remember a two lined monocle bream and it's scientific name (scolopsis bilineatus) but I can't remember the ray that I see on every venture out to the beach? *depression*
After finishing the test I threw on a swimsuit and marched my butt down to the beach to read some more of my book. I can happily say that reading a book on the beach in Australia is just as satisfying as it is in Florida. I know you were wondering. Lunch was pizza. But not just any pizza, this was Pat's pizza. For anyone who knows me, you know I think cheese or pepperoni pizza are abominations. When you have glorious creations like combo pizza with all the delicious toppings why would you settle for less? Anyways, Pat's pizza was loaded with veggies as most of his meals are and I was in hog heaven.
The weather completely cleared up today. So "suited and booted," we all headed off to the outer reef for another beautiful day on the water. With clear skies and sun on our backs we could easily see the coral canyons of the outer reef. For the first part of the snorkel I didn't see any large beasties like turtles or sharks which was honestly great. We're always enthralled by the charismatic beasties and tend to miss lot's of the finer details. Today I got the chance to really explore the coral and check out all the cool fish that I had just tested on. I honestly can't even begin to explain the feeling of swimming through perfectly blue water with colorful coral walls on either side while fish dart in and out. It's just like you see in Blue Planet but I'm really here in the water with all of these amazing animals. At our second stop I had the pleasure of seeing a black tip and some weird red blob that Trisha pointed out but couldn't identify. In one particularly interesting coral canyon a green sea turtle came out from underneath the outcropping I had been filming. While trying to maneuver out of his way without hitting the coral around me a white tip shark also darted out.
I'm completely beat, but after a clear sky for sunset and another amazing meal I'm ready for our megafauna lecture. Hopefully I'll also get a chance to watch some GoPro footage tonight in between shenanigans and star watching.
Today was the day for the fish abundance lab. After another meal fit for kings, we met up "suited and booted," ready to tromp our way through the bird cemetery to what Trisha called David Attenborough point. This was at what we've been calling shark bay. There's a crest of rock that reaches out into the water where apparently David Attenborough filmed one of his first and also one of his latest movies. For a Blue Planet nerd this was highly exciting to learn. I may not fangirl over boy bands. But apparently I might lose my cool over the voice behind the movies that take me to the place I can't quite reach from landlocked Utah.
For our lab our job was to lay a 30 meter transect line and video using the GoPros as we swam along the line. Katie and I successfully made our way over David Attenborough's point and took some fairly decent videos for swimming through waves. On the way back however we must've been an absolute sight doing our most graceful imitations of seals climbing back over the rock. Edd told us that he and Trisha have taken it easy on us by letting us have our last two labs during lower tides. They've both told us how much of a laugh they've had over the other students in years past trying to successfully lay transects and take samples in deep water. I like to think that we're just a much more agile and graceful group but the truth tea is probably that they just like us more. *shrugs*
Back at the lab we scrolled through our videos to count the fish and identify their families. This was a good reminder that our ID test is tomorrow. Honestly it was quite difficult at times considering the video wasn't always Blue Planet worthy. After lunch we repeated what we did in the morning but in low tide. This time we had a grand old time walking about the reef squatted like penguins while we attempted to take smooth videos and avoid dashing coral to pieces under clumsy feet.
After a hard days work we all headed out to another beautiful sunset. I was glad to see that some of the cloud cover had cleared enough to give us a colorful sunset Bob Ross would've been proud of. Unfortunately the ScUber crew had docked their noisy boat at the dock and ruined our peace and quiet. It honestly was kind of cool to see the ScUber up close but I was bothered that their loud generators kept all the beasties away from the harbor. Apparently they've been told they can't park at the harbor overnight for just this reason so we've mostly seen the boat from a distance while it's anchored far offshore. From what I've heard it seems like the ScUber isn't particularly loved by the Heron Island residents, unfortunate considering this is where their marketing has placed its home.
Another day ending in a tired body, full tummy, and inspired mind. Now to study for the test that Edd and Trisha should know I'm COMPLETELY prepared for;)
I have so many things I'm excited to talk about but I'll go in chronological order as usual. I tried to sleep in today and was moderately successful. I was awake around 6:30 and my alarm was for 7:15. Breakfast was amazing as usual but today I couldn't finish it all. (This was the first time I haven't finished and gone back for seconds.)
Originally we were supposed to go to the outer reef this morning but the weather was still iffy and Edd and Trisha decided we'd go out at low tide so the reef would be closer to us in the water column. We were given a few hours of free time so I took my binder out to the jetty and enjoyed listening to the waves while I caught up on the scientific papers I needed to read. I also spent about an hour creating mnemonics for the fish ID test. I've almost got one for every common and scientific name at this point. I really hope I can learn them all.
After lunch we met up "suited and booted" at the jetty. Tom, our boat driver, took us out to the first location where Brynn and I rolled back into the water ready to go. I immediately got some shots with the GoPro and after a few minutes of awe at the seascapes in front of me I ran into a blacktip. At first I didn't notice him near the surface because I was so focused on the small coral canyon below me. Of course this was right where I decided to end the clip I was taking. And of course this is where the camera decided to die...apparently you need to charge them right before you use them. So I don't have much footage of the snorkel today but it was amazing nonetheless. It started raining while we were out there but who cares when you're underwater in a warm wetsuit anyways right? I loved swimming through the schools of fish. They don't seem to care much that we get so close. Edd joked about them figuring out were useless pretty quickly after spotting us. As usual I was drawn to all the parrotfish and their bright colors. Today I also noticed quite a few fish being cleaned by cleaner wrasses which we learned about in lecture today. They basically make little car wash pit stops for bigger fish to come to when they want to be cleaned! And the bigger fish know not to eat them while they clean because the other wrasses will remember them and refuse to clean them if they come back. I thought that was the coolest.
After we finished at our second stop on the snorkel we headed back to shore for warm showers. I checked out the few clips I got today and looks like I'll need some pointers on taking smoother videos. Edd says we will have to take videos for the lab tomorrow so we'll learn how to take better videos which will be awesome.
Around 5 I noticed the time and hurried out from the lab to the jetty to see if I could catch the last rays of light. The baby blacktips were back and once I made it to the end of the jetty I found Clark. We were the only two that went out for sunset tonight because it was so cloudy there was hardly a sunset. But I'm sure glad we went. We sat on the edge and watched about a dozen spotted eagle rays circle the harbor. They're really such graceful creatures. I imagine it would be fun to be a ray on a coral reef. Once the sun was gone I was left alone to listen to the waves and my music by myself. Right before I was about to leave an eagle ray jumped out of the water right in front of me and sped underneath my feet and the dock. It was an awesome end to a great day on Heron Island.
This morning was the start of our optional morning snorkels and I promise myself last night that I would get up for it. Well I did but I probably shouldn't have. When I woke up I knew it was really windy and that the water wouldn't be great...but I promised myself. So downstairs to the wet suit I marched. Wet suits really are magical if I'm being honest. Edd, Nora, some of the guys, and I all headed down to the jetty and we soon realized we wouldn't be seeing anything in the water. The visibility was about a meter or two if we were lucky. Getting up early to get wet and cold for no reason is something that would normally put me in a bad mood but I really felt great. I was nice and awake and ready to shower off and eat some breakfast in warm clothes.
Because of the poor weather we changed out plans for the lab. Edd gave us a lecture on invertebrates and then we headed out to shark bay. The tide was going out but it was still up to our thighs once we got out as far as we needed to. The wind pushing us and the water around wasn't helpful either. For this lab we took three sediment core samples and I was in a group of three so we each got to do one. Clark, Brynn, and I had a ball out in the water while we tried to be very professional scientists. Taking a sediment core in fairly shallow water is harder than it sounds when you have the wind and waves against you. We finished in fairly good time though. Back at the lab we started sorting through our samples under microscopes to find invertebrates. We counted up the annelids, arthropods, and mollusks that we found and then got to work on our data analysis and write up. Sorting through all that sediment took us forever but we turned in our lab at 5, just in time for sunset.
Because of the weather the sunset wasn't as dramatic as it has been but as we walked out along the jetty we saw three baby black tips as well as the usual cow head rays and green sea turtles. Once the sunset time was past we started to head back and that's when the sky really decided to show off a bit. The horizon line was a bright pink and the water went from turquoise on the shore to almost purple out at the horizon. It's amazing how different every sunset is.
Dinner was another show stopper thanks to Pat. Zach, Russ, Clark, and Sean had me cracking up the entire time. We were all talking about how sad we will be when we have to leave and go home to making our own food. I said we should all recreate "The Last Supper" with Pat on our last night here since we're all gonna probably cry. I currently feel like I'm pregnant with how much food I ate tonight. The potatoes were the best potatoes I've ever had. Oh and I don't normally like mousse but Pat's changed that.
I don't think we'll get to watch the stars tonight since it's cloudy but I'm excited for tomorrow. Trisha says we're gonna head out on a boat to the outer reef where the coral gets super diverse and architectural. I think it's about time I take the GoPro out.
Fun story: Today while I showered I noticed a teeny tiny spider on the wall and just ignored it since I have to walk past huge ones on the way to my room. Well as I grabbed my stuff and left the shower I noticed one of the giant ones like by our room was sitting in the corner and I about cried. Spiders shouldn't be as big as a golf ball. They shouldn't be in the shower either. Guess it's a good thing I didn't notice him until I was already clean and clothed.