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.
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, 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.