Monday, October 18, 2010

Get the Hell Off of my Boat!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while folks, the schedule got busy quickly, and it may not sound like it because I can hardly remember enough to post last week. But bear with me (*rawr*) and go back and read up on this week because it was an interesting one and there are pictures to boot!

Today was the last day before PROVO!!! Woo hoo! But we had a group project to finish. Aw...
This morning was one last snorkel before our classes in Provo and 5-day mid-semester break. We went out to a patch reef in front of East Bay Hotel that breaks mini waves a small distance from shore. Our boatman today was our new Argentinian Dive Safety Officer, Ricardo. He's a very enthusiastic, charismatic person with a boisterous attitude and a rapid-fire speech. His comedy is impeccable and likes to say things like "Ok, we get off the boat now. OK GO! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY BOAT! ha ha ha!" and "What are you doing overboard? DidISayYouCouldJumpOffTheBoatWithTheAnchor?? ha ha ha!" It's very Antonio Banderas. It was a drift snorkel today and we started at one end of the reef and drifted along the current to the other end, in a westward direction. It was fairly low key, since most of the topography was coral rubble and waving palms of Gorgonian coral, but it was the first time I was reminded of California underwater. The way the long stretches of Gorgonians waved in the current was resemblant of kelp forests swaying in the cold water of Cali. *sigh* Nostalgia. We saw a fair amount of angelfish, a relatively rare-to-see reef fish and a giant nurse shark sitting under a rock.

Tail of a really big nurse shark

Black Durgon up close. From afar they look just plain black. (Melichthys niger)

White spotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus)

Who says there are no palm trees on this island??

Queen Angelfish (Holacanthus ciliarus)

Rock Beauty (Holacanthus tricolor)

Coral rubble and Gorgonian fans

After the snorkel it was time to get down to business. Our group project on conch populations was due at 6 pm and we were aiming for 2 pm. I sat down to write my Materials and Methods section and was able to do that, skype Izzy in London, and have time to spare before lunch. I also found out that my flight was switched to come back from Provo 3 hours earlier. Normall, this wouldn't bother me if my roommates were too, but of course, I'm not going with them. They get to stay 3 hours later. This would not have happened if the lady at the airport had included me in the same group when she scheduled us, as I had requested. My roommates were in the 1st group, and got the 3 pm flight. But Air Turks and Caicos overbooked by about 20 people and switched us all to another flight, simply because I scheduled my flight one person late. Yay.

The remainder of the time until 3 was spent editing our paper, making milkshakes, editing our paper more and trading back massages. We were able to finish the whole thing stress free and easy. I packed until about 5 pm for Provo and then went looking for conch shells to clean and take home. Successfully, I might add. The rest of my evening will be catching up on the blog, watching some movies, hanging out, and sleeping early :) Can't wait for my 6:30 am flight out tomorrow. Ooh. But really, I am excited, it's going to be a fun break.

On another note, we FINALLY go a thunderstorm today, much needed for our water supply. But it's beautiful, as are all storms here:

Today's thunderstorm

Friday, October 8, 2010

Top 10 Day

Exam day! Thank god for having an hour before the test to study. My environmental policy test was today, but went fairly well, the concepts were easy to grasp. After the test I was exhausted and I took one of the top 10 best naps ever. Very cozy, very comfy, very restful. After lunch, I began studying for my Resource Management test tomorrow, and took my time leisurely reviewing lecture slides. Around 4, Leah and the hip hop group headed over to the proposed site for One World Day tomorrow to practice our dancing. One World Day is a island-wide celebration of culture and traditions from all the countries of the nationalities represented on the island. Theres music and dancing, some sort of performance from each group and food!!! Leah has prepared a cool choreography to a remix of American Boy and 9 of us are going to perform at the festival tomorrow night. I must say, it looks pretty good! I'll have someone record it and post it hopefully. We practiced for a good hour and went back to the Center.

I grabbed Chase to go for a snorkel before dinner, but I was unprepared for how fantastic the snorkel was actually going to be. The visibility was PHENOMENAL and there was absolutely no waves or surge or pulse or whathaveyou. It was amazing. There were so many fish out and right away we saw a cool porcupine fish just resting at my favorite spot, the anchor. Chase and I snorkeled all the way out to the jetty, where visibility is usually just "eh" at the point, and really terrible at the jetty shore (terrible meaning you cant see your toes). Today however, it was clear as a bell all the way in to the sand. We got to explore tiny cavities in the cliff face, swim amongst the jetty rocks and do so with precision. Theres a great sea glass collection location at the shore, but its usually so cloudy that you can't venture all the way to it. Today, we spent 20 minutes picking up really neat colored seaglass and we finally made it back in to dinner 15 minutes late, but totally worth it. Another top 10 event.

The fumes from the cupcakes being made in the kitched were absolutely intoxicating. The Center is making hundreds of cupcakes for One World Day and its utterly impossible to not be hungry. The rest of the evening will be spent studying and taking numerous breaks for tea, hot cocoa, bagels, and buying snacks for sunday when all the stores are closed and food is scarce at the center because students prepare it.

NOTE: zoom in on the damselfish and sharpnose pufferfish pictures to really see the coloring and patterns on the pufferfish and the damselfish. Way cool, great camera zoom :)

Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus)

GORGEOUS damselfish

Sharpnose pufferfish (Canthigaster rostrata)

Swimming over a sea pearl (Ventricaria ventricosa)

Porcupinefish at the anchor

Porcupinefish (Diodon hystrix)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Is This New Feeling?

Its the feeling of cold. WHAT?!?!?

Backing up a tad....
It's the day before exams start, so our morning schedule was a little different than usual. I was student of the day today, so I had to set out breakfast, restock the fridge, and come up with a morning game. All the CF's reading this, I made everyone play the viking game :D It was a lot of fun and took some stress off of studying for exams. We had an hour of class on field techniques and then a long 3 hour break to study or do what we want with. I went back to sleep until 11 or so at which point I had skype date with IZZY!!! :) After fiddling with the Internet connection for a while, we were able to have a decently long conversation and then I did my rain dance in the drizzle that was our morning. After lunch, we had to go out into the field again to do conch stock assessments.

Group Ochocinco was in the second group of the day, and the boats are supposed to come in between 3:30 and 4 to pick us up. Well, boat 1 came in at 3:30, not our boat, and we waited another half hour for our boat to finally arrive at the dock, and we were more than exasperated to finally be aboard. Our collection site was site #29, one of the farthest sites from the Center and the boat ride took forever. The winds today were extremely odd, coming from the complete opposite direction than they normally do, making the current flow the exactly perpendicular to their normal movement. This made the boat ride to the site very, very long, and cold, since ocean spray was coming directly at us. Upon arrival at site 29, we discovered that it was not 4 feet deep as all our previous sites, but 12 feet deep, with waves, strong current, and poor visibility. To add to the discouraging conditions, there were a lot of conch. And I mean, a LOT more than usual. Bad for me seeing as I was surveying the conch today. It was painful to dive down that deep to look at each individual shell, and it was equally difficult to stay at the bottom for very long to get a good look at the conch to see if it was knocked or unknocked, measure it, etc. To top it all off, most of the conch were enormous and buried, so it took two more trips than usual to unbury it and then dust it off to check for a hole in its apex. Needless to say, none of us were very thrilled to be surveying today. As we got back on the boat to move to our fourth location, already going to cut it close to coming back on time, the boat wont start. The starter died, and it simply would not go. No oomph. No nothing. So we waited. And waited. Aaaaand waited for Mike and Dave to come rescue us in the Zodiac chase boat, getting colder on the boat as it got darker and closer to dinner. Finally, we saw the Zodiac in the distance and as it approached us, we said, what the hell, lets try the motor one more time! The try didn't work. Then Lizzie tried it again, and it did. Go figure. We were able to make it all the way back in, with an escort from Mike and Dave, but the ride in was colder than we were all expecting. There was wind, ocean spray, and a setting sun, none of which made us feel any better about being late to dinner. Dave and I, the staff and student of the day were both late, so we didn't have to set up for dinner. But, that being said, I was freezing cold at dinner and had to sandwich myself between friends to warm me up. For the rest of the night, everyone on the boat with me was in long sleeves and pants, even though it was warm.

I took the rest of the night to study for my exam, during which I drank an obscene amount of tea and hot chocolate, to stay warm and awake, and then I skyped Quin at SCU for a good long while. It was great; we got to giggle about old inside jokes and I got updates on band, my friends back home, and I got to see a few of them on the computer screen. After that, I called Nick briefly before going to bed. I realized quickly that I didn't have sheets. They were still drying on the line, since I had put them out in the rain to get clean but a late night drizzle made them damp again. So, I am dressed in sleeves and leggings to go to bed. Not my best dress for bed in the heat, but Im still a bit cold so it works out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

If Bagels Were Female....

Practicality day!

I went to bed last night at 4:00 am or so, talking details with Nick and generally not being tired until then, but classes dragged by this morning. PLUS there were no cups or mugs by the time I really wanted tea, so I was out of luck until 11 am or so. I had to keep pinching myself to stay awake, but luckily we were talking about more practical techniques today. Since we are done with our horribly tedious Mangrove, Coral, and Reef Fish ID exams, it is now time to apply our knowledge to the field, and use our afternoons to collect data instead of identify scientific names of organisms. A nice change if I do say so myself. We spent the morning learning Queen Conch morphology, habitat, feeding habits and growth patterns, and then learning how to collect population assessments in the field. This is the part of the program that really drew me to this particular location: we are literally the only researchers collecting data around this island. The data we collect goes straight to the DECR to make fisheries management policies and suggestions for catch limitations. Our Center Director sits on the Fishery Advisory board, and gets to report our findings each season to the DECR. So we did a dry run of collection techniques on the volleyball court to learn how to do it on land before going underwater. Our group consists of Chase, Emily, Brendan, Kirsten and myself, group 8, so we named ourselves Ochocinco. We are responsible for 3 collections per session, 4 times in the next week or so. Our group learned how to measure live conch length and shell lip, and how to assess the substrate that we were to lay a 30 meter transect down. Easy said, not so easy done. We came out for lunch, once again complaining at the lack of bagels, and I applied our recently learned knowledge of conch density dependent reproduction to the management of the bagel stock, which went something like this:
"If there are too many hotdog buns (male), and not enough bagels (female) to match the male population, then there will be a distinct lack of new bagels appearing in the fridge (mini bagels?!?). If we could somehow decrease the population of buns and manually stock the fridge with bagels, we could increase the sustained population of bagels consistently available in the fridge to a economically and ecologically stable population. This would mean that the rate of bagels appearing would equal or surpass the rate of bagels fished out by the students (fishermen)." Nothing like an inappropriate scientific pun to get us through the day. If this answers your questions, YES, we are all nerds at heart.
BUT REALLY. If we just bought less hotdog buns, a COMPLETELY unnecessary fridge item, we could buy more bagels and be fine!!! But I digress...

When we actually got into the water after lunch, it was much more difficult to lay down a straight 30 meter measuring tape underwater against the current than it sounds. Well, maybe its exactly as hard as it sounds, but it was difficult. Its really hard to swim straight looking behind you, into current, along the bottom with the tape blowing all around and your scientific team right behind you. But I made it work. I got 30 meters out and had just finished the transect, when not more than 10 feet in front of me were 3 spotted eagle rays! They were a gorgeous navy blue with bright white rings and spots on their wings, flying a few feet above the bottom. Spotted rays are more birdlike than the Southern stingrays that I have pictures of, and they sail farther off the bottom. I shot up to the surface sputtering for anyone around me to share the sight, but alas, all of Ochocinco was at the beginning of the transect, 30 meters behind with their heads in the water, collecting data. I couldn't believe that I had seen them so close! I've only seen spotted rays at HDL, where they are 20 feet below me and 20 feet in front of me, spooking when any snorkeler makes a movement to follow them. These 3 today though, they let me follow them quietly for a good distance until I needed to rejoin my group. Spectacular! We cranked out the rest of the transect sites with ease, making quick work with fun conversation and light spirits. I have a good feeling about this week with this group. :)

(thanks google images...)

I caught Izzy, my best friend studying in London, online just before dinner and chatted quickly, making a Skype date for after dinner. But when I returned immediately after dinner before any students took up the internet bandwidth, Izzy was not at her computer, and when she finally did return, I couldn't even load facebook chat to let her know my internet was down. After a frustrating 20 minutes of fiddling and waiting to call her (at 12 am London time...), I wandered out, angry, to find several students using Skype unauthorized. Well, not unauthorized, but we do have a sign-up board so that there aren't more than 2 users at a time on a chat host. Clearly for the above reasons. I took a long walk with Mike to blow off steam and we meandered around the island for 3 whole hours, not wanting to head back to the Center on such a beautiful night. We talked about our track teams, exes, funny stories and such, our usual conversation topics. When it was finally time to head back inside the gates, we rummaged for some bagels, quite unsuccessfully before finishing our homework for the night. I don't understand our shortage of bagels. It's a scarce commodity around here, when there are only 6 bagels in the fridge at one time, we all want one. If it was just constantly stocked with bagels, we would A) eat them less frequently and B) eat less of the other foods at dinner because we would have snacked all day. Somehow, nobody seems to realize that, and we always get our bagels rationed in a few dozens at a time throughout the day. Plus, it really is the only snack other than hotdog buns and bread to munch on during the day. No wonder we all hoard them. I've taken to hiding them in the freezer for later consumption like some sort of hermit that needs to stockpile foods. However, people will take it from the freezer if they see it, like rabid dogs fighting for a scrap of meat, thus fueling our bagel shortage and stigma. SFS, JUST BUY MORE BAGELS!!!!!!!

In other news, I got a 99.5 on my coral test, bringing my collective ID exam average to a 98.2%. Go me! :)
And yet, the crickets still chirp IN MY ROOM. Cool.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

All You Do is Complain and Complain.

Sorry followers, I know I haven't posted in a while, but I'll try to back track as much as possible and post them under the day they actually happened. Shark pictures are FINALLY up so you can check out the "Shark in the dark" post to see them. They're pretty bloody though, yikes.

Today was slow, seeing as I woke up at 2 pm. There was nothing to do, nothing to commit to or miss out on, no homework that needed immediate completing so I just let myself sleep until I was too hot and not tired anymore.When I finally got up and got food, I recapped the previous evening for some of our more forgetful drunks, and we swapped stories about happenstances. We said our goodbyes to Eva, our Resource Management professor, as she left the Center for good on a flight home. Sway, Chase and I went snorkeling at about 345 which was high tide, and saw a lot of things that we had already learned. It's a completely different experience to snorkel and know everything you see. (Finally!) The corals, the algaes, the fish and the invertebrates. It's one thing to be awed by the mystery of new things, but a horse of a different color to know and pay attention to things that you have learned. Its much more fun to pay attention to detail or behaviors or interactions between species if you know what you're looking at. We took a good hour to swim the whole length of the swimmer's area all the way out to the jetty, where we met a few cute baby barracudas. They're so curious and undaunting at that size, that they're simply captivating. Each fish was about a foot long, clearly not going to take off my head, so there really was no fear factor. The 4 adorable barracudas came pretty close and I got to take a good long time to study them and enjoy their company. Later on in our dive, Mike attempted to kill a lionfish with a stick. Not his smartest idea. Chase and I politely (not) informed him how stupid he was and that lionfish charge when they're provoked. He promptly dropped the stick and the lionfish sway away, fairly pissed off at the threat to it's livelihood.

Fireworm (Eurythoe complanate)

Juvenile Slippery Dick (Halichoeres bivitattus), Juvenile Damselfish (Stegastes sp.), and Queen conch shell (Strombus gigas)

Adult French Grunt (Hamulon flavolineatum), and Adult Slippery Dick

Chase (Homo sapien)

Juvenile Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Symmetrical Brain Coral (Diploria strigosa)

Irritated Lionfish (Pterois volitans)
 Fun fact: the fireworm's name is complanate, also found in bladed fire coral which is Millepora complanata. So basically a bunch of scientists complained when they got stung for the first time and kept naming their animals that.

We came back in in time for dinner, which was made by staff and students today. After dinner, Hilary came over requesting my corkscrew on my swiss army knife. When I asked why, she said it was for opening a message in a bottle. ??? Apparently when Hilary and some other girls were snorkeling at Shark Bay today, she found a cute little plastic message in a bottle with sand, goldfish confetti and a plastic goldfish in it! Upon opening, we learned that it was a 10 year old boy from NY on a cruise that had dumped it at Grand Turk late June. He left his email address wanting to know who found it, where, and when, so we took a few photographs and Hilary is going to email the boy soon with the info. SO CUTE!!! After that, I went off to do some of our readings and edit some of the photos I took on our dive. I ended the night talking to Kate, our student affairs manager about team building, Marianne's ice cream, geckos and flying cockroaches, and sleep deprivation. Tomorrow we start learning how to assess conch fishery populations, as we are approaching the beginning of our directed research. Can't wait!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Exam in the Water? I Think So!

Long day!

Well, again, we have a test on Saturday. It's really starting to piss me off that we have cancelled two dives to take exams on Saturdays now, but its ok, at least I have one extra day to study. We got to sleep in this morning an extra hour, but we headed right into Saturday site cleaning. Our room got assigned to beach cleanup today which was far less back-breaking and time consuming as our previous Saturday activities. We only cleaned for a half hour since the small beach was fairly clean already and we got to enjoy another half hour of free time, instead of being the last ones back. I prepped a study guide to quiz myself on corals and spent the next few hours hitting the books hard in prep for the exam, while the first group was out taking theirs. After lunch I joined Mike our site manager, Allie and Ben for a cleanup at Long Cay, somewhat easier than teaching Excel, like last week. Long Cay (pronounced here like Long Key) is a 4 mile or so island across the channel from South Caicos. It is mainly rocky with few beaches but enough shoreline to clean up trash. Along the backside of Long Cay are most of our dive sites. We anchored at a small beach to start cleaning but ended up just manually towing the boat in the shallows as we walked the shoreline for an hour and half, picking up random trash. Most of the garbage on this side is trash from South Caicos itself, as the currents drag it onto the shoreline, as opposed to Shark Bay. On the eastern side of the island, the currents bring in global trash. We mainly found beer cans and bottles, gasoline containers, netting and foam, and plastic utensils. Long Cay is relatively untouched by humans, as it is uninhabited, which is a good thing. The island is home to lots of iguanas, native animals not found on the main island due to the infestation of feral cats and dogs (MOM WE NEED TO TAKE HOME THE CUTE BLACK KITTEN!! ITS ALREADY PREPPED FOR OUTDOORS!!!!!!) We were also on the hunt to remove Australian Pine trees, an invasive species that outcompetes native trees and shrubs. We mainly talked amongst ourselves about the beauty of this island, the theories of Aqua-apes (the theory that humans were once close to evolving into water animals...way cool and makes sense...ask me about it later), Mike's real world college experiences at 40 years old, and his mink tattoo. It was a fairly easy task and when we were done, we scaled the 20 foot dunes to look over the other side at a fantastic view of the cobalt blue drop off on the other side.

We got back to the Center and prepped for our coral exam. The exam was out at HDL, and it went very smoothly, another test I will have aced, meaning 30% of my Marine Ecology grade is a very high A, a comforting thought. After our snorkel exam (and YES I do have exams IN THE WATER) we went straight to dinner and then prepared to hit the town in the evening, finally free of exams and scientific names. A few of us went to the hotel for free appetizers but didn't stay long, seeing as the bugs were once again, voracious. Of course, Money and Goochie Man were there to keep us entertained and were in true form dancing and making fools of themselves. When the rest of the group got there, we all trekked back to the night club for a long night of dancing to caribbean music. And Michael Jackson. "Juice", a wealthy local business man met up with us there and taught some of us how to salsa dance. The staff turned up around 11:30 and were dancing with us until it was time to go back. We had a small sing along with Chase and the guitar, some conversations replaying the evening, a raucous card game and watched some drunk ping pong. Good times. An hour later we headed to the boys' room to watch Wedding Crashers, but I passed out sitting up on a bed a 1/4 of the way through. I woke up to Pags' elbow in my face and decided it was time to head to sleep in my own room.

Savanna, Mikenna, Sway, Myself, Dan, and Chase

Savannah, my country tomboy friend :)

Mark and "Money", our local character

Go Broncos! :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tore Up From The Floor Up. :(

I'm Going to Join a Leper Colony.
Just float me away on a raft of reeds.

After a whole day of constant suffering and itching and pain and fear of scarring and epic gross-out at my own feet and wanting to just cut them off, I have survived, but with the will to be a leper. Im also sick, hating my most recent group project, way out of food, and extremely itchy still, but I'll live.

First things first though:
Woke up this morning itching. I was itching in my sleep and woke up to it at 6 am. Went back to sleep until 745 and jumped out of bed to our morning meeting. Apparently I haven't noticed that they don't make breakfast for us on Monday mornings. I was counting on snagging muffins or something, but that didn't work out, and we're completely out of almost all food, since we're at the end of our shipement. And when I mean out, I mean, we've been eating hotdog buns as toast, bagels, garlic bread, and hamburger buns for days now. ALL WE WANT ARE SOME FREAKIN BAGELS! But enough of that. For now. I itched all through the first 3 classes and kept leaving the room every 30 minutes to make more tea and milk & honey concoctions to soothe my sore throat. I napped after lunch and got up around 3:30 for my coral ID session. We have less coral to learn than fish, but its more confusing because more of them are very similar. Like, you have to look at the shape of their pores or how deep the grooves are to tell some of them apart. Coral are easier, in a way, because they're stationary and you can swim up to them for an indefinite amount of time. However, they're much harder to identify just by pointing at them. And their names are even more convoluted than fish. Oy. The ID session was neat though, back at HDL, and there were so many cool coral to see. I was itchy, as my booties covered every single damned bite I have, but the salt was nice - it dried the bites out so it was bearable being on land again.

Just before dinner, an announcement came in that another tiger shark had been caught, this one bigger than the last. However, by the time we got there, it was almost completely cut into indeterminable pieces. A few of us stuck around a little more, and then headed in for dinner. More uprisings about the lack of bagels, and we finally made it through to dinner, with more hotdog bun garlic breads, but some good tomato soup that felt amazing to my throat. I was on kitchen crew again, but we were cranking through the dishes like nobody's business. We were in and out of the kitchen in 20 minutes, an unheard of time, and we felt good about it. 7 o clock came around and it was time for the group project from hell. Somehow, the description of the project in class vs. the description of it online were different, and once our group reconvened to write the paper and the presentation, we were not on the same page. What should've been a 1 hour divide-and-conquer task, turned into 4 hours of bickering, storming off, arguing, dilly dallying and all kinds of behaviors that were not condusive to good grades. Turns out, we were not the only ones. Every group had trials and tribulations and was finishing between 11 and 1, having started at 7 pm. Horrible edits, skit formations, fighting, blowing off steam, cursing and eye rolls ensued throughout the whole evening. About 10 cups of tea and 2 cups of hot cocoa later, death threats and hate looks finally ceased and our group packed up for the night. Never again. It was way unproductive, I felt like I had nothing to do for hours at a time, and our cohesion was just not solidifying. UGH.

Fun facts:
1. Crickets here jump towards you. WHAT??!!!
2. Apples here cost $2.00 each. WHAT??!!!
3. I have found at least 8 new ways to tie sarongs. Go figure. I'm slowly turning into an islander, I won't know how to dress for winter when I come back. Scarf? Whats a scarf? It looks like a sarong.


And my feet still itch. Cool.