By Angelica Suris and Lauren Wallace
On May 20, 2019
Like many areas in the Caribbean, lionfish have invaded the coral reefs of Curaçao with no natural predators. In our dives in Curaçao, we would see this exotic, red looking fish hidden in the nooks and crannies of coral, under docks and buoys. We saw these a couple times and might have gotten a bit too close for my comfort just because we were extremely surprised to see them in the wild and see them in action. I specifically remember getting side tracked on our way back from a dive in Carmabi and seeing one hiding between the pillars of one of the docks. They are extremely distinct predators that are known for their venomous spines that are red, black and white. But, what makes lionfish unique is its impact to coral reefs and the diversity that surrounds it. Like many invasive species, they are extremely destructive to the environment because they have no natural predators. Because of this, lionfish overpopulate and reduce populations of native species by either eating them, taking their food source or their shelter. Second, their venomous spines protect largely protect them from local predators: if humans touch of their spines it can cause irritation, rash and burning sensations on the impacted area. This was always a constant precaution I would take while diving in Curaçao. I was always on the watch for lionfish so I could do my best not to touch it and risk injury. For marine biologists and environmental conservationists alike, reducing lionfish population in Caribbean reefs is a priority. Although it can be eaten raw, lionfish can be made to be just as tasty as any other fish you have ever eaten. If more people knew about how great this fish tastes, they would be helping the extreme population size of these fish in our reefs. Lionfish are interesting and dangerous predators people should be more aware of. With a lower population of these predators, our reefs will be in much better shape!
While it is unlikely that the population of lionfish will be completely eradicated, some residents of Curaçao have attempted to reduce their numbers by using them to turn a profit. Just like other fish, lionfish make a great meal when cleaned and prepared properly. But one resident has found a more creative way to use the lionfish she hunts: Lisette Keus has found out how she can use the fins and tail of lionfish to create jewelry. She catches lionfish by spear fishing and removes all the barbs to use in her jewelry. The remaining meat is not wasted and is sold to restaurants. Once removed, the barbs are still venomous until completely dried so she leaves them in the shade until they are dry enough to work with. Once they are ready, she cuts the fins and seals them with resin. She makes all kinds of jewelry including bracelets, earrings, and rings. The metal she uses in this jewelry is stainless steel. This has many benefits she explains, it is non-irritating, will not corrode in salt water, and is inexpensive. She wants to keep the cost of her products down. While I met her at the dive shop near Carmabi, I also visited her at her workshop in downtown Willemstad a few days later. While it is primarily a place for her to create jewelry, her workshop doubles as a store and museum. Along the wall were pictures and descriptions of how lionfish came to the Caribbean and how they have affected the populations native to the area. Her primary mission is to spread awareness of lionfish and their role on the reef. It seems like she has been successful as dive and souvenir shops all around Curacao sell her products. Being able to make a profit while helping restore the natural ecology of an area may be the key to helping ecosystems such as Curaçao’s reefs. It is innovators and entrepreneurs like Lisette that make a significant impact on reefs. Here is her website: http://lionfishcaribbean.com/
By Zachary Freeman and Alexis Marino
On May 20, 2019
Prior to this trip I had a good amount of diving experience, nearly 14 hours of time underwater. None of those 14 hours truly prepared me for the awesome adventure I experienced in Curaçao. My confidence was high coming into the first true scientific dive, writing cylinder in place and meter stick at the ready I began my first belt transect. Not even seconds after, I was fighting buoyancy, the current, and the many things attached to me. It would be an understatement to say I was humbled. I saw myself grow in these few days, not only in diving strength, but in knowledge of coral and fish, and my interests as a marine biology major. Indecision is a curse and blessing, a blessing because the things I like doing, I really love doing (like scuba diving). A curse because I struggled for a long time to really decide whether or not marine biology was right for me, whether I was truly interested in the topics I researched or years of telling myself I liked the ocean had finally caught up with me and I was stuck in a major I wouldn’t enjoy. As I held my meter stick and swam along the transect these thoughts raced, am I meant to do this, is this right for me, but the more I swam the easier it got. The more I studied the more I appreciated the reef. The more transects I swam the better my buoyancy became and I felt comfortable and confident that I could identify the fish in the Reef Visual Census and belt transects. The schools of grunts and damselfishes that surrounded me no longer confused me. If there is anything I’ve learned from this trip, it's not the names of the fish and coral, although I will definitely point out every fish I know to anyone in the immediate vicinity, but it’s the personal growth I acquired by putting myself out of my comfort zone and the confidence I’ve acquired diving that will follow me home.
This trip was somewhat of a challenge, as I and several others are fairly new divers, so while we were learning the various data surveys we were also learning how to comfortably dive. Some people only had their certifications for a couple weeks before the trip, and now they were task loading underwater. These surveys were pretty easy, once they were practiced a few times, and they all involved a 30-50m transect tape being laid out (I like to call it “The Almighty Tape”). For the Reef Visual Census we had to float above such glorious tape at certain intervals and count every fish that entered our “cylinder” (imaginary cylinder of water 10m in diameters and 5m in height). We also had to estimate the sizes of the fish, which was particularly tricky for me because I am not used to working in centimeters (or inches, as a matter of fact). Besides this, I enjoyed this survey type, because there were several times where I was surrounded by giant schools of Brown Chromis, Blue Tang, or Yellow Goatfish. It was also exciting to realize that I could identify the majority of the species I saw because of the fish identification practices we completed. The other fish survey is called a Belt Transect, and the main gist of it is that we swim along the length of the tape and tally every fish of certain families that swam in a 5m wide and 5m high area, along 20m of transect. This counted the rarer fish, however, and I often did not see these species, so it isn’t quite as exciting as the RVC. Of course, these are all personal opinions, and everyone enjoyed some survey types over others.
By Wei and Teddy
On May 16, 2019
Our study abroad trip to Curacao has given us the opportunity to explore the vast biodiversity of coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. There were three species of fish that we observed with particular interest: the Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus), the Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans), and the Western Atlantic Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus). The three species we observed each had their own behaviors that emulated patterns discussed in the textbook.
The observed Peacock Flounder was interesting for camouflaging itself within the sand. Its blue rings stuck out, making it easy to spot. However, the rings were most likely used to blend in with rocks and abstract light reflections in the water. According to the textbook, Peacock Flounders are ambush predators that tend to defend their territory from other males. If threatened, they will attempt to hide underneath the sand or remain stationary, hoping for the threat to go away. With our encounter with the fish, the textbook’s description was similar to what was seen. The fish was not alarmed by our presence most likely because it did not want to give away its location.
The lionfish also ambush their prey but the behavior is nocturnal. They move slowly through the water column by gently waving their fins, conserving energy in the process. It was interesting finding the fish hiding at the bottom of coral rocks, enacting behaviors as described in the textbook. A recently introduced invasive species from the Pacific Ocean, it is difficult to remove the lionfish from Atlantic coral ecosystems due to the lack of natural predators. Its defensive, venomous spines and slow mobility made the lionfish secure enough to be in our presence.
The Western Atlantic Trumpetfish are slow, docile creatures that also boast similar feeding methods to the previously stated fish. They spend their days facing their slender bodies towards the sand bottom, waiting for the moment to strike when an unlucky fish swims below their vacuum-like mouths. However, they also need to change locations to gather the most food possible. The Trumpetfish we observed showed behavior that deviated away from our knowledge about the fish’s feeding methods. Swimming along the water column, the trumpetfish we encountered was possibly searching for a new area of corals to continue gathering food. As we approached the fish, it grew more anxious, eventually fleeing as we reached an arms-length distance.
Being able to study and observe these fish in their natural environments makes the understanding of marine organisms immersive and interesting. The trip so far has made our learning experience of the coral reef environment more personal than a lecture could ever teach.
By Mina Piot and Richard Marin-Millan
On May 18, 2019
The start of this amazing opportunity to go diving and see jaw-dropping scenery was only a slice of the whole pie. During the dives we practice scientific research through a series of different methods. Even though these different data collecting techniques seem like all you have to do is swim, write, and float, that is actually just the bare minimum. When I mean we are learning, we are LEARNING. Some examples of what we do are Reef Visual Cense data collecting (RVC) and this is where we float 15 feet above the reef, at the center of a 10-meter diameter cylinder of water column (centered on a particular meter mark on the transect), and record the amount of reef fish we see, including their size. My dive buddy is Richard Marin and just like me he is far from perfect. During this RVC collecting I can see my dive buddy 10 meters away doing the same thing. But soon after, he slowly starts moving closer to me as he swims in circles looking at fish. Once he realizes that the next thing he sees is not a fish but in fact my face, he looks down and notices the meter mark that he is not supposed to be on.
Another data collecting we’ve done is photo transects. This includes a 0.5m by 0.5m square (called a quadrat) make of PVC pipe, a ruler, and a camera. During this research we take pictures of the PVC pipe at every 2-meters, and not just any picture, but one that includes the transect tape on the outside and an even, close picture of all four edges inside the square. Richard likes to wear these gloves that somehow find their way into many shots. Not to mention when I’ve somehow placed the square pipe and lined the transect tape at a perfect spot while trying to not destroy anything in my path and I know this won’t hold long, hoping Richard takes the shot quick. I look up and see him in position, ready to take the picture but he keeps floating past and starts slowly tilting forward as he attempts to take the shot. Most of the other data collecting includes a slate to write down information, transect tapes, and PVC pipes which Richard likes to forget.
Most of the material seems easy to handle but control is what it comes down to. But in some cases that isn’t always possible especially in fairly strong current waters. This has happened to Richard as we sampled coral for research and all he needed to do was place a dull-edged knife on the edge of a coral (Montastraea cavernosa) and hit the knife with a rock to chip off a piece. As he went to do this he got ready to hit the knife wedged in a corner but as the current went one way so did Richard.
During my dive experience with my dive buddy Mina Piot, I noticed some of the issues that she encountered with the research data collecting. For one, she always tried to carry the quadrat we’d use over her head, which resulted in the quadrat coming apart half of the time. When we started taking pictures of the photo transects, Mina at first thought that our pictures were supposed to be taken every 2 feet instead of 2 meters. After her moment of confusion, I flipped the transect tape and signaled at the 2 meter mark to let her know that was the right measurement. While taking coral samples, Mina had a knack of completely missing the corals we were sampling. Half the time I had to pull on her or tap her leg to let her know that she completely missed a coral that was directly below her.
Another form of data collecting was the point intercept transects, in which we mark what we see every 10 cm along the transect (long measuring tape). You’d think writing things down on the slate would be quick and easy, but this was not the case. When doing these, you constantly have to look down the transect line while also looking up to make sure you’re not about crash into something. However when we first did this, at one point Mina kept on swimming while I was still marking things down. I had to pull her all the way to where I last was because she had missed a whole 2 meters worth of data. Transect tapes are also a hassle and not Mina’s best friend. While rolling up the transect tape, sometimes a knot would form and Mina would keep rolling before noticing the egg-shaped roll of transect that would abruptly stop her. She would also have the transect tape attached to her while swimming back and leaving behind her a trail of transect tape. At the end of the day all these clumsy moments, struggling with underwater tasks, equipment, and self-control, we still pulled through every time. The laughs along the way are worth it and the improvement is rewarding.
By Alyssa Reis and Patrick White
On May 19 2019
While here in Curaçao, we were instructed to collect coral samples during some of our dives for Josh, one of our TA’s. Josh is pursuing his PhD in genetics and epigenetics of coral reefs. He is collecting coral fragments from two different species, Colpophyllia natans and Montastraea cavernosa, at each of the dive sites that we have been visiting. Once we return to Carmabi Research Station, he takes each sample from seawater and transfers the samples into a vial of 96% ethanol. The purpose of the ethanol solution is to keep the DNA in the coral tissues from degrading. Josh keeps the coral samples separated by not only species and location but also by the depths that they were collected at. The purpose of him keeping track of the depths that the samples were obtained from, is to see if there is a population shift at 5 meters to 10 meters and below 10 meters to 15 meters. The reason Josh is interested in these different depths is because the temperatures of the sea water is different as well as the sunlight that reaches the coral which could result in an epigenetic variation in the coral DNA that could facilitate in their survival. After Josh obtains his data from Curaçao, he plans to compare it to data that was collected in Florida Keys. He also plans to collect samples from across the Caribbean.
I have always thought all corals would be soft and squishy. The pictures of them would portray corals as seemingly jelly like structures that would have you bounce off of them if you were to ever accidentally run into one. Of course, I have never touched a coral either, as this was strictly forbidden. “It will kill the coral” I would hear from people at aquariums or even fish stores. The combination of all those factors equals me never touching a coral for 21 years believing that corals were squishy and soft the whole time. This of course is not the case. Corals are hard, at least hard corals are hard, like REALLY hard.
I came across this discovery while getting coral samples in Curacao. I was in a dive group of four with one TA. I was given a knife, a rock, a test tube, and instructions to smack a small piece off. Josh, the TA, went first to demonstrate how to do it. Making it look very easy me and my dive buddy were next. This was when I first touched the coral which is basically just a slimy rock. All of my preconceptions on coral went out the window. My dive buddy and I had to really hit the corals with the knife reinforced with a rock smack to the back of the knife’s handle. In a coral colony the part that is alive is very thin, but the bulk of the coral’s mass is the calcium carbonate structure that the animal produces, which is as hard as a rock!
By Alexx Noumena and Mark Walker
On May 18, 2019
Carmabi, the Caribbean Marine Biological Institute right here on the shore of Curaçao is the largest field station in the Southern Caribbean Sea. Each year, Carmabi helps approximately 250 scientists in their research and education related to coral reef ecology. For the last seven days, our group of University of South Florida students have been learning the basics of scientific diving and have had the absolute pleasure of sharing our knowledge and experience with local students from KAP Kolegio Alejandro Paulo, the only public higher-level secondary education school on the island.
On Friday morning, myself and my diving buddy, Mark Walker, along with our teaching assistant and four other students greeted a room full of 45 students in the classroom at Carmabi. For this introduction, we put together and presented a slideshow highlighting some of the projects and skills that we are working on while in Curaçao as well as photos of reef fish, corals, and other wildlife. We discussed some basics of ecology, introduced a few common coral species, and emphasized the negative impacts of pollution. We then talked about scientific data collection techniques used for estimating fish and coral populations and shared some images from our diving excursions. One of these techniques involves laying a transect meter tape down onto the reef and recording the life that is seen directly beneath the tape. To get the students involved, we organized a game where four volunteers lined up in the front of the room and were given underwater slates to write on with underwater pencils. We then dropped a myriad of different colored pencils down the isle and had each student write them down in order without stepping on them, stopping to write, or bumping into their peers. This activity was a simulation of what it is like to move along a transect tape and record data without damaging the reef by kicking or stepping on corals. The student that was able to complete this task first was given their very own personal slate and underwater pencil as a prize.
The second half of our presentation focused greatly on what a scientific diver’s schedule looks like day-to-day and why this type of research is important. It was at this point that Abigail Vivlamore, our teaching assistant took over and shared her personal experience working at USF’s College of Marine Science mapping the Gulf of Mexico and identifying fish species. This presentation was especially interesting because she was able to share videos and images of the vessel that she works on and the cameras and monitors used when scanning the sea floor. At the end of her presentation, I quickly suited up and surprised the audience with a full dive gear breakdown. Dressed head to toe in a wetsuit, boots, BCD, regulator, and air cylinder, I walked down the isle to the front of the room where I explained what each piece of equipment was and how to put them together. Many students volunteered to try on the gear while I demonstrated some of their functions including inflation, air release and regulator use. The students had many questions about diving at this time, especially regarding cases of emergency and what to do when one arises. This portion was especially fun because it gave the teens an opportunity to feel what it’s like to carry the weight required for SCUBA diving and prepared a nice segue into action-packed details of emergency procedures.
After the presentations were completed, our group had a chance to talk individually with the students and learn more about their background and upbringing on the island. To our surprise, the vast majority had shockingly little interest or passion for marine science. When asked as a whole if any of them would choose marine sciences as a possible career path, no one raised their hand in reply. Many students said that they were interested in the medical field and that that particular career path was highly encouraged to them by their mentors. One of the students’ teachers even said that he was unsure that marine biology had many job openings and that it did not appear to be a “sexy” field. In response, our group explained individually how our strong love of the natural world influences our desire to learn more about marine ecosystems. We emphasized our own personal perspectives on this statement, making sure to choose at least one example of career potential. We stressed that working in a field we are passionate about is integral to our lives and that all types of technological and medical areas of expertise can be applied to conservation and biology. After this, a few students stated in conversation that they found marine biology interesting but had limited knowledge of the subject.
A large portion of this meet and greet involved an abundance of questions about life in the United States and particularly, U.S. colleges. One student had a strong attraction to software development and wished to gain some advice as to how we selected USF for our college educations. Others wanted advice on making friends in a new country and what career path they should choose. One of the most recurring themes in conversation with the high school students was that many of them spent their whole lives in Curaçao and felt it was too small and quiet, and in their experience, limiting due to its small size. Many wished to travel overseas to the U.S. or Netherlands and gain new experiences attending university. In Curaçao, there are only about 171 square miles to explore and a local language, Papiamento. Interestingly, the local students and teachers seamlessly switched from English to Dutch or Papiamento in their conversation with us and one another. However, some students did not know all three languages and did not appreciate being required to learn all three. One student had even chosen not to become fluent in Papiamento and instead studied German because it held greater interest to him.
Overall, presenting to the Curaçao students was an incredible learning experience and we unequivocally gained greater knowledge and appreciation of the culture and society here. We wish the best for these young minds and hope to spread our passion for the ocean to many more in the future.
By Brooke Anderson & Angela Fadil
On May 17 2019
Today, our group collected data on the juvenile coral presence in Boka Sami East and Carmabi via photo transects. We laid a quadrat to the left of a transect tape at 2-meter intervals. We took a picture of the quadrat at each sampling point and looked to see how many juvenile corals were present inside it. Any corals between 1 centimeter and 5 centimeters in length were treated as a juvenile. If they were inside the quadrat, we would take an up-close photo of the juvenile along with a ruler for a size reference. These pictures were later used to identify the species of the juvenile. We sampled along two 50-meter-long transects at Boka Sami East and one 30-meter-long transect at Carmabi.
The results of our photo transect will support SECORE research efforts. SECORE is an international non-profit organization focused on coral reef conservation. In order to understand the current state of coral ecosystems in Curaçao, they conduct an analysis of new coral recruits in the surrounding waters. The research initiative is being spearheaded by Dr. Valérie Chamberland, an accomplished marine biologist who has been working in Curaçao for the past seven years. After our final dive today, Dr. Chamberland presented an overview of SECORE efforts to our group and specifically discussed the use of our photo transect results in her research. We spent a great deal of time learning about how SECORE executes coral restoration efforts, which involves creating coral embryos in a lab, cultivating them in a nursery, and placing the coral in the wild once they have matured. By understanding coral recruitment, SECORE can fine tune their long-term coral restoration strategies. As Dr. Chamberland pointed out in today’s presentation, there are unfortunately some coral species that SECORE struggles to restore. Due to limited funding, SECORE’s efforts are best aimed at restoring coral with a high likelihood of successful restoration.
Although this was our second consecutive day executing the same underwater project, our team enjoyed the work. Dr. Chamberland’s presentation reassured us that our work in Curaçao has meaning beyond learning scientific diving techniques. Even as students freshly exposed to the world of scientific diving, we are capable of collecting data that shape ecosystem restoration efforts both in Curaçao and abroad. We took pride in our work and look forward to continuing our research throughout the trip.
By Megan Moore and Lily Sikes
on May 17
Curaçao has a huge diversity of Caribbean reef fish, from parrotfish to trunkfish to angelfish. On most dives, regardless of the dive site, we have seen various species of parrotfish, surgeonfish, eels, and damselfish.
Parrotfish are a group of marine fish found in tropical waters, usually around coral reefs. Their parrot-like beak is a defining characteristic and they reach up to 50cm. Parrotfish have a variety of colors and patterns, even changing based on gender of the species. The most common parrotfish we have seen has been the female stoplight parrotfish, which has a red, black, and white scales with red fins. The male parrotfish is slightly larger and is turquoise with a yellow and blue tail and blue face. It has pink and green scales.
Surgeonfish encompass the commonly found ocean surgeonfish, doctorfish, and blue tang. Blue tangs, aka Dori from Finding Nemo, were the most common surgeonfish found on the reef and are found from pairs to large schools. They are characterized by their thin oval dark blue bodies and bright blue fins with a yellow or white spine. The ocean surgeonfish an ovular light blue fish with dark blue fins and crescent. The doctorfish looks very similar to the ocean surgeonfish but has dark stripes on its side.
Eels are a non-scaly, elongated, narrow fish that come in a variety of colors and sizes. The most common eel we have seen in curacao is the spotted moray eel, usually seen hiding in coral or rocks. The ones we have seen have been relatively small in size. Eels have a long anal fin used to propel them in water.
In Curacao, it’s easy to get lost in a school of Chromis. Brown Chromis are found everywhere and in large schools in the hundreds (good luck counting them in fish surveys). They are a small fish with large presence in curacao. Brown Chromis are a type of small damselfish. Other types of damselfish commonly seen are the blue chromis (same as the brown chromis but blue with a black spine and not found in large schools), longfin damselfish (a dark brown, small fish characterized by its fins being longer than a typical damselfish), sergeant major damselfish (yellow and white small fish with black stripes), and yellowtail damselfish (a fish with black body, yellow tail, and blue spots on the spine).
Although these are the most common fish, there are a wide variety of other fish and other marine life you will see on your dives such as lizardfish, Caribbean reef squid, flounder, sea turtles, and scorpionfish. These species may be less common but are equally important to the reef’s overall health and sustainability. Coral reefs are one of the most productive ecosystems and have a variety of life. Through research and conservation efforts, we will hopefully be able to prevent further damage to reefs and be able to preserve these beautiful environments.
By Morgan Behrmann and Madison Weiss
May 15 2019
While on this scientific diving trip we encountered a variety of unique corals. These corals varied in location throughout the reef. As a scientific diver it is of paramount importance to establish perfect neutral buoyancy, so that we maintain a respectful distance from the coral and not damaging the reef. At shallower depths of approximately 8 to 15 feet the brain corals (Colpophyllia natans, Pseudodiploria strigosa, and Diploria labyrinthiformis) and fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) were more prevalent, and at deeper depths Undaria, Porites, and Orbicella species were prevalent. Although the reef has adapted to forming life on some forms of litter like glass bottles, most of the litter is incredibly detrimental to the reef's health, and unfortunately litter is very widespread throughout the reef. For this reason, it is very important that researchers repetitively survey these reefs so that they can observe the fluctuations in the reef's health. Certain techniques were used to sample the diversity and trends across the reefs. Students conducted point-intercept transects which entailed laying a measuring transect at a specific length and then recording diversity that fell directly under the transect. The group also did belt transect sampling where diversity, either fish or coral, was recorded by laying the transect tape and then observing and recording species that swam within two feet away from the tape and five feet above the tape. These types of sampling were imperative for determining how species diversity varied and what types of factors potentially caused these variations.
After the three dives each day, students were able to spend the rest of the day exploring the shore, snorkel at the beautiful reef located right at the Carmabi Research Center, or simply relax on the beach. At each individual dive location students utilized the time of their dive interval to enjoy the picturesque locations—my personal favorite was the swing in the water at Kokomo beach. The days thus far have provided the students with a wonderful opportunity to learn what scientific diving is all about, obtain crucial knowledge in species recognition, and also enjoy amazing reefs. Some of the highlights of this trip thus far were seeing a sea turtle, moray eels, lionfish, and many other exotic marine organisms.
By Becky Hines and Teah Garrison
May 15 2019
Contrary to what you may have seen on our Instagrams, we are not spending 10 days laying around on a lush, tropical island in the Caribbean.
Twenty students from USF, all biology-related majors, flew out to Curaçao on May 12 for 10 days to learn about coral reefs, Caribbean fish and marine conservation. This involves learning a bunch of new fish and coral species as well as various types of invertebrates. This trip is giving us all a unique opportunity to learn on a coral reef—we are even taking tests underwater! We are also learning reef surveying techniques which involve taking pictures of the reef, and recording what types of corals and fish are in the reef. Additionally, we are taking coral samples for genetic analyses. Learning coral and fish species is key to being able to identify them on the reef for surveying. All of these techniques are giving researchers a better idea of the what lives on the reef and if conservation efforts are successful. There is a graduate student helping on the trip who is collecting data for his projects as well. The class is going to include talking to groups of high school students in Curaçao about our class, surveying techniques and marine ecology conservation.
Landing in Curaçao was a shock for some people. when you think of a Caribbean island you imagine it kind of like a rain forest, but Curaçao is actually a drier island because of weather patterns. It lies outside of the hurricane belt, which means it is very unlikely to get hit, but more importantly it doesn’t get as much rain because it is a low-lying island which does not generate orographic rain. Many of us are a little surprised to see sparse vegetation, as opposed to green everywhere. The weather is pretty sunny all year around, the wet season doesn’t see as much rain as many other Caribbean islands. It is very windy this week though! Which makes the hot weather not as bad, because we have a constant breeze.
We are staying right by the ocean, at the Carmabi research center. Carmabi is in Piscaderabaai, near the middle of the island, on the southern side. There are fringing reefs right off the coast so a short surface swim brings you right above them pretty much everywhere along the coast, including off Carmabi. As soon as we got to the research center many of us went swimming right away. The water is so clear we couldn’t resist. We went right to business identifying the few species we already knew. There was a small eel, tons of fish (mostly parrotfish and grunts) and a few different species of coral. We came back to the research center to eat at 6. Which if I didn’t mention, is RIGHT ON THE BEACH! A few of local women cooked for us and it was perfect after a day of travel. After dinner we put our snorkels on and grabbed flashlights to see what it looked like underwater at night in the Caribbean sea. We saw 3 more eels and a decent sized lobster along with a sea urchin. Seeing the reef at night, made us all more excited to see what it looked it in day time, since we could only imagine what we’d be able to see with more light.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. During these courses, students learn scientific diving techniques over a 10-14 day period and carry out research and monitoring of coral reefs at various sites. Many of these courses are done in partnership with local environmental organizations, like the Union Island Environmental Alliance and the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.