So I'm proud to announce that I did wake up in time for the morning snorkel session today. Saw a large Black Tip Reef Shark, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, lots of fishes, and hoards of sea cucumbers. Then Pat made brekky, we cleaned up the place and played card games, and then we departed Heron Island via the Heron Islander. I was a little sad to be leaving the island. This class was a unique experience.
Now it's time for the flights. Two down, two to go. My next flight is across the Pacific Ocean back to the U.S. I haven't gotten the chance to explore mainland Australia while I've been here. Haven't seen a kangaroo yet either. I guess that just means that I'll have to come back here someday.
Today is the last full day on Heron Island. It feels a little strange leaving. I've started to get a bit too comfortable here over the last two weeks. Mostly, I'm wondering how I'll fare in a post-Pat world. Pat is a chef here at the research station, and the food he makes is AMAZING! The next meal is always a surprise, but the one thing to count on is that it will always be super good. Packed up my things to get ready to go tomorrow. Will be taking a ferry off the island and then taking four plane flights back to the U.S.
Went snorkeling today. Saw a massive Green Sea Turtle up close and munching on algae and some kind of large red octopus. Hoping to wake up in time tomorrow morning for one last snorkel session on the Great Barrier Reef.
I was late for breakfast this morning. Again. But the day got better because I was the first one to lunch!!! It may be a one-time thing, so I made sure to take a photo of the full bin of food before a scooped from it.
This afternoon our cucumber crew set off cucumbering once more. And we found a bunch! Counts of our rarer taxa increased drastically, and we found two more species which we can't identify. Then back to the research station to shove the data through R and return our results. How did that go? Well, it's 1:30 in the morning, so even with most of the code put together beforehand it took the night to finish. But I'm pretty happy with it. We observed a total of 639 sea cucumbers between our five known species, and I think we discovered some cool stuff. Glad we did our project on sea cucumbers. Our species are easy to spot and usually cooperate. Twice during this project I my hands got covered with super sticky Cuverian tubules from angry cuces, and several times one of the species released a red toxin into the water when I touched it. But other than that, the cucumbers tolerated us well. It's late again. I'd love to wake up in time for the morning snorkel session, but I doubt that's gonna happen. No little gecko in the library tonight. I'm heading to sleep.
Sea cucumbering continued today. Cucumbers was all today was. I met with my group this morning to work on our cucumber writeup and presentation, then worked on getting some code put together for cucumber analysis, then went cucumbering, then ate dinner, then worked on cucumber code again until just after 1:00 in the morning. At least the code is done now and should be good to use the additional data that we collect tomorrow, too. I'm tired. Watching a tiny gecko sit on the library wall. Really tired. I've been sleeping through the optional morning snorkel sessions because I've been up too late most nights. Like now. Hope I wake up in time for breakfast. I'm usually the last one to the table. People are nice and save food for me, but they shouldn't have too. And I should be going to sleep on time so I can wake up on time. Not tonight... Won't have much time tomorrow after collecting the last of our data to finish up the analyses, writeup, and presentation for our sea cucumber project. So had to get the code done tonight. Done tonight. I'm tired...tired. The gecko moved.
Today was scuba and sea cucumbers. I took a brief refresher scuba course in the morning, then went diving with three others from the crew in the afternoon. I was a little nervous about diving after not having been for a year, so I skimmed through my diver certification book over the last couple days. I didn't die, so I'd say everything went well. I also didn't have a camera. Didn't think bringing a research station GoPro would be appropriate for a recreational dive. And not having a camera on the dive was a shame, because we saw some massive Green Sea Turtles, another species of sea cucumber, and a Manta Ray! The Manta was huge! It was circling above a boulder, and we settled down next to the boulder and watched it for a while. It didn't seem to care that we were there. Two massive turtles were hanging out in little crevices at the boulder's base, and the cool new sea cucumbers weren't too far off. A very cool boulder indeed. As the boat took us back to the jetty, we saw a bunch of Spanish Mackerel hunting smaller fish. The Mackerel were shooting out the water, and there would often be a smaller fish that would be launch out of the water with them. Or the smaller fish would be in the Mackerel's mouths.
And that was the day. Since I didn't take any photos today, here is a photo of buff-banded rail from some days back. It's a bird that roams the ground on Heron Island, and it knows how to effectively beg for food.
The day began with a coral health lab, in which we were supposed to swim around and score corals by their colors. After a few classmates and a professor got in the water, a Tiger Shark, one of the more dangerous sharks, appeared just meters away from our professor. Everyone was called back in to shore, and the lab was effectively cancelled. Later in the day, we headed out to the outer reef once more. There were lots of fishes, lots of sea cucumbers, and a massive Loggerhead Sea Turtle!
I've been taking photos of a bunch of sea cucumbers during the snorkel sessions so I can get a better idea of what kinds of feeding substrate might be important to them. Have also been reading through a library book on the life histories, biology, and ecology of the cucumbers we've observed here at Heron. There's a lot to learn... I'll be working on a small sea cucumber feeding substrate study with two other students in the class, and we got our ideas for our project passed off by our professors today. I appreciated our professor's practical knowledge and advice, and the project got simplified a lot. I'm kinda sad because I put a good bit of time into trying to figure out how to stratify the study's analyses by distance categories from shore, which we thought might have on influence on how cucumber species interact along with their feeding substrate preferences. I played around with some practice datasets and learned some limitations of the stratified analysis, mostly that the stratified analysis really shines with fewer factor levels than our study demanded. It would still work fine, but it would just be less informative, providing less in the output. Additionally, under certain conditions, the test may require another test to test that test's assumptions, and that test of assumptions ONLY works on data with fewer factor levels. I found another test of assumptions that does the same thing but also requires fewer-level data. According to my Googling efforts, it turns out that the test of assumptions I needed doesn't yet exist. I find it weird that the test itself has been extended to work with higher-level data, but that the test for its assumptions has not. From what I could understand, the test of assumptions was only required if conditions arose in the data which I felt where very unlikely, but I concocted a crude qualitative approach to judging if the assumption was met well enough without the use of a formal statistical test. Just in case, but I didn't think that I would have to use it. We were also considering collecting at least some length-weight data to see if size, biomass, or body condition of cucumbers changed with distance from shore, which we thought would go well with our data on available foraging substrate and substrate preference, both previously planned to be stratified by distance categories from shore.
So everything was planned to be stratified by distance from shore, and now it's not. And no length-weight stuff either. And although I feel that this change was for the best, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed that I won't get the chance to try these new tests. A few of my previous nights were wasted, but at least I learned things, I think. I feel that there is a danger in trying to teach yourself new tests. That you can teach yourself the test wrong, and no one is there in the learning phases to correct you. Also, people online can say things that aren't true, and for tests that aren't as widely used, there are fewer sources to check information against. Consider sources. Google diligently.
Today was a quiz day. A paper identification quiz on a list of Heron Island marine critters. I really should have started studying the list of critters before arriving on the island, but things turned alright. Everyone in the class got an A.
Today's focus was conducting camera-based visual surveys underwater. For fishes. At high tide this morning, we donned our fins and followed transects away from shore looking for our truly-finned friends. We held GoPro cameras below the surface as we snorkeled along. There were lots of fishes. Lots of smaller fishes. I was glad I had a camera 'cause there's no way I could have kept track of all those fish in the moment. Once I finished my transect, my partner informed me that I had the camera in some kind of photo mode and would have to redo. More fishes to see!
Low tide was much different. We simply walked through shallow water trying to avoid bumping the camera into coral and rocks. The patch reefs appeared virtually fishless. One of the professors found a pipefish. I didn't get to see it in person, but I'd love to find one.
Today, we talked about fish and then went snorkeling on the outer reef, where the water is deeper and plate corals rule the place. And that was pretty much the day. Got to use a GoPro for the first time, so I have some underwater photos! The highlights...
Twas a breezy day, and the morning snorkel session was murky. After hitting the water shortly after 6:15 am, we promptly returned to dry land having seen nearly nothing. But the day was not lost, because we soon got a lecture on marine invertebrates. For lab, we hit the water again, crouching down in the shallows to collect sediment cores in the shifting waves. My partner and I collected the cores wrong the first time, and we walked down to beach to take cores again at better spot.