May 11, 2021 by Mélanie Stamper
The second day in Curacao started like the first: waking up three minutes before my alarm, fearing I would be late for the first dive of the day; getting brutally assaulted by mosquitoes while trying to butter my bagel in the kitchen; and drinking coffee by the shore while Table Cat eagerly waits for me to feed her. However, this was much different than the first day because today we had our first coral ID quiz, and it was all any of the students could talk about. At first, I felt confident about my abilities to identify the corals by pictures and description since I had taken Chantale’s Coral Reef Ecology class during the spring semester. But going underwater and physically looking at these corals, I knew my brain could barely distinguish Siderastrea siderea from Siderastrea radians when it had been the easiest corals in class to distinguish. And this doubt was definitely getting to me, but I brushed it off and waited for my group’s turn to go in the water to take the quiz.
Once we were in the water, we swam over several colonies of coral that I could easily identify: Montastraea cavernosa, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Colpophyllia natans, Meandrina meandrites, and a handful more. I felt much better about my abilities and continued swimming until Chantale stopped swimming and pointed at me to begin my quiz. I. WAS. READY. Or so I thought. Right off the bat she asked to identify the genus of coral that I had the most trouble with: Siderastrea. I panicked. Is it radians? Or would be it siderea? I thought about it too much and choose whichever one made sense to me at the time, and I chose wrong. No big deal, I thought to myself, I still know a bunch of other corals. And yet, the ones I was most confident about Chantale did not ask me to identify. Isn’t it funny how things work out?
Figure 1: The culprit of my despair. Left: Siderastrea siderea. Right: Siderastrea radians.
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.