By Mina Piot and Richard Marin-Millan
On May 18, 2019
The start of this amazing opportunity to go diving and see jaw-dropping scenery was only a slice of the whole pie. During the dives we practice scientific research through a series of different methods. Even though these different data collecting techniques seem like all you have to do is swim, write, and float, that is actually just the bare minimum. When I mean we are learning, we are LEARNING. Some examples of what we do are Reef Visual Cense data collecting (RVC) and this is where we float 15 feet above the reef, at the center of a 10-meter diameter cylinder of water column (centered on a particular meter mark on the transect), and record the amount of reef fish we see, including their size. My dive buddy is Richard Marin and just like me he is far from perfect. During this RVC collecting I can see my dive buddy 10 meters away doing the same thing. But soon after, he slowly starts moving closer to me as he swims in circles looking at fish. Once he realizes that the next thing he sees is not a fish but in fact my face, he looks down and notices the meter mark that he is not supposed to be on.
Another data collecting we’ve done is photo transects. This includes a 0.5m by 0.5m square (called a quadrat) make of PVC pipe, a ruler, and a camera. During this research we take pictures of the PVC pipe at every 2-meters, and not just any picture, but one that includes the transect tape on the outside and an even, close picture of all four edges inside the square. Richard likes to wear these gloves that somehow find their way into many shots. Not to mention when I’ve somehow placed the square pipe and lined the transect tape at a perfect spot while trying to not destroy anything in my path and I know this won’t hold long, hoping Richard takes the shot quick. I look up and see him in position, ready to take the picture but he keeps floating past and starts slowly tilting forward as he attempts to take the shot. Most of the other data collecting includes a slate to write down information, transect tapes, and PVC pipes which Richard likes to forget.
Most of the material seems easy to handle but control is what it comes down to. But in some cases that isn’t always possible especially in fairly strong current waters. This has happened to Richard as we sampled coral for research and all he needed to do was place a dull-edged knife on the edge of a coral (Montastraea cavernosa) and hit the knife with a rock to chip off a piece. As he went to do this he got ready to hit the knife wedged in a corner but as the current went one way so did Richard.
During my dive experience with my dive buddy Mina Piot, I noticed some of the issues that she encountered with the research data collecting. For one, she always tried to carry the quadrat we’d use over her head, which resulted in the quadrat coming apart half of the time. When we started taking pictures of the photo transects, Mina at first thought that our pictures were supposed to be taken every 2 feet instead of 2 meters. After her moment of confusion, I flipped the transect tape and signaled at the 2 meter mark to let her know that was the right measurement. While taking coral samples, Mina had a knack of completely missing the corals we were sampling. Half the time I had to pull on her or tap her leg to let her know that she completely missed a coral that was directly below her.
Another form of data collecting was the point intercept transects, in which we mark what we see every 10 cm along the transect (long measuring tape). You’d think writing things down on the slate would be quick and easy, but this was not the case. When doing these, you constantly have to look down the transect line while also looking up to make sure you’re not about crash into something. However when we first did this, at one point Mina kept on swimming while I was still marking things down. I had to pull her all the way to where I last was because she had missed a whole 2 meters worth of data. Transect tapes are also a hassle and not Mina’s best friend. While rolling up the transect tape, sometimes a knot would form and Mina would keep rolling before noticing the egg-shaped roll of transect that would abruptly stop her. She would also have the transect tape attached to her while swimming back and leaving behind her a trail of transect tape. At the end of the day all these clumsy moments, struggling with underwater tasks, equipment, and self-control, we still pulled through every time. The laughs along the way are worth it and the improvement is rewarding.
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.