Coral Health in the Caribbean
By Helena Johnson:
During the first four days that we have lives on Union Island, we have dived a total of six times, and we were able to assess the health of some of the corals in the area. In most locations the coral is healthy and expanding. Although there was a pattern of healthy coral, as of today, when diving in a location called Petit Tabac we were given a view into some of the sicklier coral in the area.
Some common coral ailments or disease known to affect Caribbean coral include bleaching, stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), and the black band disease. Bleaching is the process by which corals are exposed to abnormally high temperatures, causing the animals to expel their zooxanthellae, leading to the striking white appearance. Black band disease, caused by Phormidium corallyticum, kills the coral flesh and is usually found during times of high stress for the coral. SCTLD is a disease is caused by unknown means but is a quick killer and treatable through amoxicillin paste.
Particular to the area, it appears as though the majority of the unhealthy coral were affected by bleaching. This means that the corals still have a fighting chance! They are likely still alive, particularly in areas that have recently lost their coral. In the end, this should give us hope for the future of coral, that they still have a chance at coming back stronger than before.
Trash on Paradise
By Johneil Ferguson:
During the short time we've been here, I quickly realized that Union Island is a close-knit island with beautiful flora and fauna. Despite their amazing wildlife and friendly people, the island is clearly nothing like the USA. Trash on the island is a huge problem though. While on the docks the last few days I've seen a lot of plastic in the water that washed up to shore, plots of land with scraps and trash and gutters on the road filled with food wrappers. Keeping things sanitary here is a major problem but, there are people on the island who are trying to make a change to the cleanliness of the island. On the other side of the island, small organizations here have made giant strides to help this pollution issue by providing trash pickup to areas that have struggled with trash pollution. Steps like this are slowly but surely leading the island to towards better sanitation and an even more beautiful island!
By: Evan Worden
Since arriving in Carriacou, I have been amazed by the sloping mountain sides and great hills that cover the Island chain of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The ferry we took offered great views of the deep sloped mountains here. The island chain itself is all made of igneous rock, or cooled magma that arose from the sea floor. This is evident in the many layers that are seen in the mountain sides, a product of many eruptions over multiple years piling on one another into neat lines.
The magma source responsible for all these islands lies under the Soufrière volcano. As tectonic plates move land southward, new islands are formed by the unexposed magma vents. Eventually, the older islands will corrode and succumb back into the ocean. A lot of this is visible on the islands, many of which have gullies and streams formed by erosion. Thankfully, the Soufrière volcano is still very much active and producing the next generation of islands to explore and appreciate. Union island, being one of the farthest South in the chain, is one of the older islands in St. Vincent and Grenadines and has begun to lose its land mass and give way to sloping hills over tall mountains. It has been a pleasure exploring the islands and learning about their rich natural history, and I am excited to know more!
Arrival to Union
By Allison Charland:
Union Island, a small part of the St. Vincent and Grenadines islands, is not easy to get to; however, upon arrival the mesmerizing view makes you forget the difficult trek. Starting in Grenada, the first ferry to Carriacou was a few hours and required lots of Dramamine. The large ship rocked back and forth after leaving the main island of Grenada due to the influx of trade winds. Yet, we were still granted with a breathtaking sunset unlike any other I have experienced. After leaving Carriacou to head to Union, we were faced with another ferry, but luckily this one was much smaller and did not rock as much. It was about an hour ride, which passed by quickly because of the many views we were granted.
After going through immigration once again, Union Island was immediately worth the trip. Locals are beyond friendly and helpful, not to mention the island’s dogs that are always willing to join in on a walk. Although their beaches are strongly affected by the brown macroalgae called sargassum, it does not take away from the island’s natural beauty. Unfortunately, as it rots, it gives off a strong odor due to hydrogen sulfide, but this can easily be ignored as you adjust to the island. Aside from this problem, their waters are crystal clear and offer several activities. From scuba diving to kite surfing, there is something for everyone!
My Last Day in Curacao!
May 18, 2021 by Sophia Kaercher
The last day in Curacao started with an early wake up call for our third and final Covid test at 7:00 a.m. After we all got our noses swabbed, we went straight to the last dive site at Snake Bay. Since my dive gear was drying, I decided to sit out the last dive and watch my friends enjoy their last dive of the trip. I relaxed on the beach and enjoyed some quiet time. It was nice to have a relaxing moment after all of the awesome activities that we had already done on this trip. After the dive, we stopped to see some flamingos and then headed back to Carmabi to grab some food and to refuel on energy for the rest of the day. For our last day, we went on a tour of Curacao and saw some of the well-known spots that people visit. We first tried to see a lagoon where sea turtles were known to congregate, but we were unfortunately turned away by the police because of some of the Covid restrictions that are still in place here. Of course, today is the last day of restrictions as well as our last day here. Even though we didn’t get to see any turtles, we got back into the vehicles and went to the blowhole on the edge of the island. We got all kinds of pictures and saw the sea water shooting up through this small blowhole. It was pretty awesome. Then, we went on an hour hike to do some snorkeling in a secluded bay where there was a great colony of Acropora palmata. The water looked beautiful and a few of us suffered mosquito attacks. The tour around Curacao was an awesome way to end our adventurous trip. Know we are all back at Carmabi and we are getting ready to have a trivia night with the dive shop next door!
This trip has been one of my absolute favorites that I have ever been on. I felt like I learned so much about scientific diving and marine research on this trip and I can’t wait to put it to use. Dr. Begin and the TA’s have been an awesome source of information, and I feel lucky to have been able to experience this adventure. As we are getting all packed up and ready to go home, I have mixed emotions. I feel happy that I experienced this trip, but I’m sad to say goodbye to all of the friends I made and the beautiful island of Curacao.
The Final Data Dives....For Now
May 17, 2021 by Ryan Shelby and Caleb
May 17, 2021 7:30 AM, we loaded into the vehicles for our final dive to collect data for this research trip. It was bittersweet, bitter because the blisters really did not want to do another dive and sweet because now that it’s over, I can finally rest for a few minutes. The reef at Double Reef wasn’t the nicest we have seen this week and I have to wonder if the cruise ships that dock nearby have had anything to do with that. However, several species of fish and coral were observed living their best lives so it can’t be all bad. Urchins were not seen anywhere except for one on a single transect. A golden tail moray was the most interesting part of my dive. It peered out from its hole and I took some videos of it. I also saw some unusually large surgeonfish, which was interesting. A yellowheaded wrasse swam very close to me and it seemed like he was checking me out and I was able to get some great footage of the situation.
2:00 PM, we load into the trucks again, but this time we get to take a trip to town. Everyone was excited to see some part of the island that wasn’t a reef. Not that anyone on this trip dislikes coral reefs, but after eight days they all start to blur together. Several places were closed, and the locals seemed very excited to see some fresh faces around. One shop owner expressed how desperate all the local businesses are since the community is only just coming off of a lockdown. Overall, it was nice to just have a drink, this time at a place called Brown Lady, somewhere other than the normal Tomatoes by the CARMABI. I went to a restaurant and got a cheeseburger with a fried egg on it as well as a drink with blue curaçao. The floating bridge in Willemstad was very interesting and it made a few people a bit queasy at the same time. I liked Willemstad a lot, however I am still trying to find the lionfish store to buy a late Mother’s Day present. I did buy everyone in my family a hat though, which I am hopeful they will like.
The greatest thing about today? No pain looms in the early light of dawn tomorrow…. oh wait, another covid test.
Photo by Abigail Vivlamore
May 16, 2021 by Taylor Zook and Shane
Cock-a-doodle-doo! A new day in paradise had begun. Today marked the last 3-dive day here in Curacao as we plan on visiting the city of Willemstad tomorrow afternoon. With that in mind, it was hard not to be a little emotional knowing our final dives here are approaching, however our gloominess quickly passes as soon as we stepped out of our rooms and into the perfect Curacao air. Ahhhh, ready for another great day of science!
Our first two dives of the day were at a place called Daaibooi, where fish surveying, photo transects, coral juvenile cover, and urchin population were the tasks at hand for the dive groups. Things got a little interesting, though, when a meter and a half long Southern Stingray decided to fly on by at about 20m. We had seen a ray before – a couple days ago – yet never this close for this long. Those animals are some of the most majestic looking marine animals there are in the ocean. The way they swim can really only be described as flying. Rays and Sea Turtles are the coolest looking creatures underwater solely based on the swim technique they use. Nevertheless, totally ecstatic to be able to witness that up close and personal.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the Tugboat dive site to have a fun dive. No tasks, no transects, just some good ol’ fashion exploration. The sunken tugboat itself was very cool to see since I don’t think many of us had never dove a wreck before. Overall, it was a very relaxing dive and I’m glad we get to sprinkle in fun dives here and there.
Tonight ends like every other night: a fresh daquiri in one hand and a beautiful sunset over the Caribbean Sea. This trip has been more than anyone could ever ask for and we feel incredibly lucky to have such a flawless group of people to experience it with us. Thank you Chantale, Boomer, Zoe, Abby, Sierra, and all of the other students here. we surely will never forget this trip.
A Day at Playa Hundu
May 15, 2021 by Harlie Falzone and Kennedy
We started off the day entering data into the computers, and then went diving at Playa Hundu where we did two dives in the afternoon. Today I, Harlie, did two fish surveys called RVC. This is where we hover in the water column, a few meters above the transect, for fifteen minutes covering a total of 15 meters. I cover the full 15 meters by positioning myself halfway between 0 and 15 meters and create an invisible cylinder, where fishes can swim in and out. i then record the fish species, size and how many I saw. I, Kennedy, followed Boomer as he laid down transects and then took photos of the benthos using a meter stick. Almost everyone saw at least one green moray eel which was awesome. Some people saw five different green moray eels in one dive. I wonder what makes them so prevalent at Playa Hundu. It was shocking and kind of freaky how fat and large they were. While seeing a lot of fish, I, Harlie, also saw Caleb get wrapped up in a transect tape which was quite interesting to watch. After coming back, we broke down all of our dive gear, washed it, and got ready for dinner. We also had a quiz on fish ID, where no one did as well as we thought...thankfully we had extra credit! Overall, it was a pretty good day!
May 14, 2021
Part 1 by Brianna Perino
6 AM alarm goes off, and once again an early morning wakeup call to begin our busy day in Curacao. After putting on my suit and grabbing my gear, I headed down those dreaded stairs to load my gear and eat breakfast with that beautiful ocean view. By 7AM (seriously I am so jealous of morning people) we were headed off to our first dive site of the day, Water factory. This was a loaded dive, lots was happening. This dive was not like our others, there was a photographer there to take our picture underwater. That may not seem hard but trying to get a group of 20 divers together to take a picture underwater is exponentially more difficult than on land. Factoring in the extra time and air spent, along with our data we needed to gather from our surveys there was so much to do in a 45 minute time span. After our photo at 20 ft underwater, which was quite the experience, we began to lay transects, or measuring tapes, for our data measurements. This was my first-time laying transects, and with a group of ten people watching me flower it out like I had never seen it done before, the embarrassment was real. But, as in life “ya live and ya learn.” Once the transects were laid properly, we began to collect our data using a fish biomass survey. This entails hovering couple meters above the transect at 7.5 and 22.5 feet and tracking fish species and density within a 15 meter circumference. That sounds simple but staying in one place for fifteen minutes under water looking out into the blue abyss makes its easy to lose track quickly! There are so many species that we have remember, that after the fourth day it all seemed to jumble in my head. But, one of the most important things is to remain calm and collected. Looking at all the species and realizing that I actually know what they are from all of my nights studying at the beach bar made me feel so accomplished and like I was a real scientist. Watching them dart in and out of the beautiful coral is unlike anything I have ever seen and could ever imagine. Each dive seems to get easier and more beautiful,
Part 2 by Emily Carr
In lieu of the infamous Advanced Coral Quiz scheduled tonight, Dr. Begin offered a more interactive testing strategy: an underwater scavenger hunt. We were given a list of eleven coral species to find and photograph, of which ten counted for points. The dive was at a new location offshore from an abandoned resort and featured an airplane crash. As we began the dive, camera in hand, we were met with another beautiful coral reef. Immediately we started pointing out species on our list and soon my buddy and I had snapped a pic of all but one. We looked at each other, confident in our 10/10 grade, but the 11/10 was enticing. With only fifteen minutes left in our dive we started scouring the reef for the last species, a digitate coral that looks like fingers reaching towards the surface. Right when we were about to turn back, we saw it! My buddy and I cheered with excitement, overjoyed that the long swim had been worth it. This style of quiz was a hit for everyone, with excited chatter starting as soon as our heads were out of the water. No test can ever beat this one! Oh, and the extra credit point doesn’t hurt either!
Photo by Abigail Vivlamore
One Rooster Down
May 13, 2021 Part 2 by Savannah Rhoades
Today was the first set of dives away from the research station! Yay! The dives at CARMABI were awesome but we were all really excited to get out and see more of the island. The first planned stop was too choppy and there were too many swimmers in the water, which was surprising for an island with such strict COVID rules. I assume someone, maybe the coast guard flying overhead, reported them. The real first dive spot was called Boka Sami, and it was pretty nice. I was in the urchin collection dive team. So it was our job to go along with 4 transects and count urchins. Two buddy partners were at 30 feet and the other two were at 45 feet. We switched depths for the second dive. I did the deeper, 45 foot, dive first and we saw no urchins, and we saw very little at 30 feet. This data was still useful as it gives us an idea that there may be a decrease in urchin populations or maybe urchins like different depths. This all could be used to plan a future research project.
At the second dive site, the water factory, we only did one dive and we continued our urchin count. My buddy team was on the deeper transect line and once again no urchins. The surface was choppy and there was a current that made swimming just a little harder, good thing divers have fins and learn how to handle these situations. We managed to do the dive efficiently and effectively and everyone felt great after. This was definitely the most scenic dive as the reef seemed healthier and teemed with life.
Once we came back to CARMABI we put our dive gear in the dive locker and all had about an hour to shower, study, or chill. Then we went to the restaurant nearby and enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed half-priced specials. I and a friend came back for a moment to do some studying and there was a big commotion outside. One of the local strays, who we all come to lovingly refer to as dingo, was attacking a rooster. I can’t say we all weren’t a little glad to have one less 2:00 AM caw to wake us up. It was interesting to watch and a funny experience that I’ll love to tell my friends about. Honestly, none of us know whether the rooster made it or if it’s just dead in the bush, but we will find out. Then we all went to dinner, which was sauerkraut and mashed potatoes with sausage and not to many people were digging it. So it had most of us returning to the little restaurant for a quick meal. After dinner, we had our nightly meeting and gathered our data into spreadsheets. Then some of us went to walk on the beach, some went to study, and some went to hang out in the upstairs area by the room. I chose to take the opportunity to study by the beach and enjoy the view of the moon and the sound of the waves. Overall, it was another great day in Curacao and I’m glad I was able to make it to the trip.
Photo by Abigail Vivlamore
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. In 2019 and 2021, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.