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.