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.
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.