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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It Eez Not a Toomuh!

Sunday's are usually slow around the Center, and today was no exception. I woke up around 1:30 pm, (god love sleeping in!) to a very sore me. My knees were hating me from a full, but wonderful, night of dancing, but my back felt lovely after my late night massage swap. Then I looked down at my feet. To my surprise, they looked diseased and ugly. I couldn't figure out what was going on, until they immediately started itching. Somewhere in the course of Saturday evening, sand fleas must have thought my feet were a good place to have a rave, and they went absolutely nuts. I have about 30-40 bites on each foot, and another 30 on each ankle, finishing up with 10 or so on each knee. I have no idea where or when they occurred but my feet look awful. I'm sure I will come home without any feet if they keep eating my appendages as voraciously as last night, and I'll be a good foot shorter. For those of you that feel I'm too tall, here's your chance to rejoice. :/ I moseyed out into the commons and fumbled for some oatmeal leftover from 11:00 am brunch. The Center was pretty dead as everyone had dispersed for the day. I found some of the guys and we recapped the evening a little bit and headed down to the docks to snorkel. Most of them decided to go workout however, so I went back up and found Alex listening to music in his room. We chatted for a little bit and then I went back down to snorkel. The visibility today was phenomenal, one of the best days yet. I didn't have a buddy so I had to stay close to the dock, but it was a perfect day just to float and look for shells and sea glass, as there was perfect vision straight to the bottom. An hour of searching later, and I came back to the docks with a few really cool shells, product of lots of time spent floating. The fish were very mild and friendly today too, and it was easy to swim right up to them. Several cute damselfish or slippery dicks came in front of my mask and were just staring at me. I climbed out finally, cold and with prizes, and chatted with Savannah, a fellow tomboy, on the docks for a while. I was exhausted still for some reason so I puttered around a little more and then napped until it was time for dinner. Lasagna was tonight's feast of choice, which was refreshing. We are at the end of our food stores, so dinners lately have been heavily involving rice and beans, whatever spice combinations we can concoct to last us until tomorrow or Tuesday, our scheduled shipment arrival day.

Our litter assessment group met to discuss our plan of attack for Tuesday, and we split off to tackle our respective portions. The server is having trouble producing all of our documents in a timely fashion, so it has been really difficult to make progress this evening. Sway and I took a long walk just to get out of the Center, sometimes it gets stifling there. We've made it somewhat of a routine to walk and talk about life or trade crazy stories. Tonight's topic seemed to be boy scouts as we talked about various friends made and camps attended. It began to rain so we headed inside and grabbed oatmeal before reading some more and calling it a night.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"You're a Dancing QUEEN! You just LOVE to DANCE!"

Once again, paradise delivers a wonderful day to me on a silver platter. I was a bit groggy getting up this morning, especially knowing I had a test and site cleanup to tackle. I got up 20 minutes earlier than I usually do to cram a few extra terms into my head; animals I probably wouldn't see out there, but that my teachers would be delighted to point out if we did. After the morning meeting we had site cleanup and our room was assigned to "beautification". Which was more like a communist activity… Pete said, "Ok ladies, I need you to move this pile of rocks, to there, and make another pile of rocks." Well, not EXACTLY like that, but that was the gist. We spent an hour moving rocks and concrete slabs from one side of the volleyball court to the opposite side where the large rubble pile is. 8 trips of a broken wheelbarrow and some country/rap music later, our hour was up and it was time to return to the group. We went to go change for the test, and quizzed each other on names and terms on our way out to the boats. Overnight, somebody had stolen our teeny Mercury 8 HP backup-backup motor and we had to use the Zodiac chase boat instead to haul everyone out to the dive site. People were cramming and freaking out and humming and screaming before the test, utterly nervewracking habits to have before tests, at least for me. A few of us decided to sing Motown songs instead, and our boat turned into a much better atmosphere for test taking. A nice rendition of "You've lost that lovin feeling" later, and it was time to take our test. The first fish we saw was one I had never seen underwater before. Great. The next 2 were stingrays, a rare sight. 17 more fish later and the test was done, complete with parrotfish, damselfish, snappers, groupers, and a honeycomb cowfish, one of those 5 fish I had crammed before getting on the boat. I got a few minutes to review my answers abovewater and on the boat before I had to turn it in, and I remembered that first fish I had seen. Malacanthus plumieri. Success! So with that madness behind me, we headed back in for some lunch and preparation for our community outreach program.

I was helping with computer classes today, most of which were just people coming in wanting to perfect their typing skills, set up facebook accounts or emails, install skype, etc. However, today the Port Authority was sending employees in to learn some basics so there were a few more people in the computer room than usual. I was working with a woman from the P.A. that wanted help with an email account, and then was needing to learn Excel for future P.A. work. However, excel is really difficult to teach when your student is unfamiliar with mathematical terms and cursor functions. The nuiances of Excel are rather tricky to learn if you haven't been using a mouse for a while, and mathematical terms and functions don't make sense if you don’t use them often. It was a harrowing 2 hours, but I think she was in a good mood when she left. Her sentence-forming skills were poor too, but we powered through it, setting up basic ledger sheets and yahoo email accounts. Whew.

Dinner-time was shortly afterwards, and it was already dark by the time we had cleaned up. Time to go out! The Center was abuzz with energy ready to blow off steam from our huge test. We started out at Chicken Bar and chatted with some locals and just released general energy after such a stressful study week. A few of us talked about making trips to see other students or travel to other states. Mike is all set to come visit Stephen and I in May so he can run Bay to Breakers, a famous San Francisco race. Mike and I have been swapping stories recently about track and cross country and this race has been on his bucket list for quite some time. We got bored at Chicken so Alex (Pags), Sean and I went over to Rooster's so shoot some pool. We ran into Red, a local man that had teamed up with me in dominos to beat Goochie and Money last week and he challenged us to some pool. Him and I have had some cool conversations, so he gave me one of the shark teeth he had collected earlier in the week. Way cool.

We left Rooster's to return to Chicken bar, but met the crowd of students migrating to Bayside Ballers, the closest thing we have to a club here. Which happens to be right next to Roosters. Almost the whole Center was there, and we spent the next 4 hours dancing and dancing and dancing and dancing until we had all sweated 8 lbs or so and could barely stand. I love that all the guys in this program are both willing to dance, and rather good at it, and we all just have an absolute blast when we do go out. A few of us danced with our favorite local characters too, and we all were drenched and out of breath by 12 when it was time to make curfew. I walked home (1/2 a block?) with Pags and we met everyone else playing spoons in the common area. A few rounds later and it was time to calm down and settle in for the evening. Pags and I swapped epic back and arm massages and enjoyed the temperate evening, talking about our families and childhoods. He's always good for great conversation late at night, as is Mike (Sway), some of the few night owls that tend to keep me company in the wee hours of the morning. I crashed into bed around 2, exhausted, exhilarated, and content with life in this beautiful place.

Go broncos!

Chase, Sean, Mikenna, Pags, Myself, Savannah, and Money, our local "tour guide" of sorts.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What's Your Favorite Fish, John?

Not much happening today except a few morning classes about reef fish reproduction from John, our fish-sex-obsessed Center Director. His favorite fish happens to be a boxy looking fish that has trouble staying upright during copulation. Hmm. By lunch we were all cramming for our test on Saturday before our 3rd and final ID session out in the field. I got the slow boat again, and Sarah, one of the interns with 420 logged dives (holy COWFISH), took us out into the field at Shark Alley. Right away before we even got into the water, Serena started yelling "shark! Shark!" She had seen a dorsal and caudal fin sticking up out of the water in the distance by the rocks. We all scrambled to get in the water to find the said shark, but alas, no shark. However, shortly after we jumped in, we did see a magnificent spotted eagle ray. These creatures are beautiful soaring through the water, flapping their "wings" and gliding between schools of fish. They are navy blue with brilliant white spots on their topside. As soon as it saw us, it gave  2 great pectoral kicks and it was quickly 100 feet away from us. We saw many other really cool fishes underwater while we were out there, along with a coral field and a really cool fan coral landmark. No shark though. Towards the end of our snorkel, we saw a large Southern Stingray cruising along the bottom with 2 cute little ones gliding along behind it. It was like seeing a little duck family underwater! So adorable. Fun fact! I have learned the difference between "fish" and "fishes"! Fish is either singular or plural, but only plural when referring to multiple individuals within one species. Fishes is plural for multiple individuals amongst several species, but cannot be used in the singular. Interesting!

Dinner followed shortly after our ID session and after dinner I studied more fish. Mike and I took a walk to blow off some study stress and ventured around the docks, exploring more tidbits of the island we hadn't seen before. We came back and played several intense games of ping pong before  calling it a night and heading back to the computer room for more intense cramming before the test. Big day tomorrow, but I get to sleep in an extra hour! :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010


No. Clue. Where. To. Start. So, I guess I'll backtrack to the beginning.

Today started out really slow, very tired. We got to our Environmental Policy class and luckily our professor gave us a more interactive assignment. We were divided into groups to assess how to solve the problem of litter on the island. Back story: people don't use garbage cans here. At bars, you can give the bottles back behind the counter, but there's not really trash cans or anything. Litter just gets thrown outside wherever, and by whomever, and the DECR (Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources, I'll mention them a lot in the future) pays tons of money to get the trash picked up. See, the locals will tell you, when you ask them why they just throw stuff on the ground, that their buddies are the ones getting paid to pick up trash, and if all the trash was gone, their friends would be out of a job. However, the DECR says that if there wasn't trash, they would reassign the garbage men to other more important jobs, and save a large amount of their budget. They need their budget for other things like protecting their marine areas and reducing illegal fishing practices. Our assignment is to come up with ways to reassign opinions about trash and propose a method to tackle the issue. So far we don't have too many ideas yet, but we walked around town to gain more insight into the problem. Litter is noticably more dense around restaurants, bars, and stores, and also in piles of rubble leftover from Ike.

After lunch was another fish ID session back at Admiral's Aquarium, a gorgeous, stereotypical "reef" snorkel site. It still amazes me how beautiful the fish are! They have so many spots, stripes, striations, blotches, and lines of different brilliant colors, its absurd. My favorite, Microspathodon chrysurus or, yellowtail damselfish, is a cobalt blue as a juvenile with electric blue spots. When it gets older it is a dark brown/black/purple color with the same electric blue spots but a golden yellow tail.
(Not my pictures...) Pictures cannot accurately depict the shine, brightness, and brilliance of these fish underwater. They are quickly becoming a favorite of mine. At Admiral's we also saw a Hawksbill Sea Turtle and an assortment of weird looking fish in this ID group. I wish I had my camera, but we're not allowed to bring them on educational snorkel/dives.
We came back exhausted from our dive around 4:15, as the current was fairly strong still from tropical storms, and I was attempting to write my blog, when my one of my roommates Leah burst into the computer room completely out of breath, scrambling for her camera. She managed to eek out "Dock. 10 foot. Tiger shark. Fisherman" so we all bolted to our rooms to put on community appropriate clothes and shoes, grab our cameras and raced down to the fishing docks to see what she was talking about. What I actually saw I was unprepared for. The shark was a massive 10 foot beast, writhing around on the cement of the boat launch, with a rope tied around its caudal fins.The fishermen were sharpening their knives, getting ready to skin and slice the shark before dark, its meat contributing to a great night of feasting. It seemed like all the students were there, crowding around taking pictures of the fisherman that caught it, the shark itself, gulping for air on land. We took turns getting close to it, touching its tail fin. Tiger sharks are very inflexible so touching or holding them on the tail is fairly harmless as they lack the movement to turn around quickly. Especially after being on land for 30 minutes. However, the sheer size of this female shark was ominous and it was frightening to even get within touching distance. I feel that the mood of the group shifted throughout the 2 hours we were down on the docks from an initial giddiness and awe that we could see such a shark up close, to pity and horror at the following events, to a final acceptance and peacefulness towards the community and the ended life of such a beautiful animal.

WARNING, GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS AND PICTURES TO FOLLOW. If you are vegetarian (or otherwise animal super-enthusiast who can't stand factory farming videos), reader discretion advised.

After the initial picture-taking and rapid fire questions asked of the fishermen, they finally began to cut up the shark before it got too late. The hard part was that the shark was still alive. From a logical standpoint, its very difficult to kill a shark that size. There's no way to cut its head off or smash its skull to put it out of its misery. Really, your only options are to severe its notochord (sharks are made of cartilage, so hence, no vertebrae, only a cartilaginous spinal chord thing), or let it suffocate to death. The fishermen chose the latter, and began cutting a wide strip from the caudal fin (tail fins) past the dorsal fin (the triangle one at the top that you always see sticking out of the water in shark horror films) up to the base of it's neck. The strip was tossed into the shallow water to get cleaned by fish and retrieved later. This was to expose the skin on the sides to be removed from the body, allowing the fishermen to access the meat of the shark. It was difficult to see the shark sputter, wriggle and twitch as fishermen cut off its fins, alive. There was no time to waste though, and it had to be done. The shark was clearly struggling for air and its gills were leaking blood. At this point, one of our professors who was with us asked the fishermen (butchers? island men? renaissance men?) why they didn't just severe the notochord. The simple reply came back, "Well the shark wouldn't put ME out of my misery if was to eat me!" But, in any case, they did just that, and the rest of the twitching came from residual nerve endings, as the shark couldn't feel anything, and was rapidly expiring. Next, the fishermen took foot-long knives and began separating the skin from the meat down the sides, and removing the rest of the fins, including the tail fins (this is the picture with the blood spout). Some students had left due to their light stomachs, and some students stayed, grimacing and wincing. The vast majority of us however, were exhilarated to be so close to an animal so big and scientifically fascinated at the sight. We got very brave and began taking pictures with the fins and other various places next to the shark. At this poitn the shark became less of a shark and more of a meat or commodity. After the skin was removed, the meat from the tail was sliced into small rounds (almost like filet mignon) and the upper body was sliced right down the middle, along the notochord. The notochord was removed and the organs were removed. 1/2 of a shark is a fatty liver anyways, used to control their buoyancy in the water, and the rest of the organs were stomach, filled with about 12 crabs. Once the skin was completely removed, it was tossed back into the ocean along with the organs, and the meat was washed off and put into a cooler. The head was sliced to remove the jaw and they were waiting for the Tooth Guy to come over and remove its teeth.

We asked some of the fishermen what was done with the meat, if it was sold, and how much they got for it. Their reply was the same: shark meat is way too expensive to buy on the island, and nobody wants to pay for it. Since catching a shark is a large, multi-personed task, everyone usually just demands their share and doesn't want to pay a cent. It is more profitable (socially and personally) to just give the meat away to whomever feels like cooking shark that night, and share it with the community. The jaws are kept by the man who speared it, the teeth are given away as souvenirs, the meat is divided up and the fins are taken to be sold illegally on other islands. Also given away free, since it is dangerous to sell illegally, so whoever wants to risk it, can. This is where the peaceful mindset kicks in. Yes, it does bother me that such a magnificent animal was killed, and slowly I might add, but the fishermen use it as subsistence. It is shared throughout the whole community and everybody gets a slice of the shark pie, if they so choose. At the end of the day, all fishermen let some of their catch suffocate to death, and this shark was no exception. It feeds their families and it doesn't happen all the time since no profit is made. That is what comforts me at the end of the ordeal. We waited around the docks for another half hour or so, waiting for the tooth guy, but he never showed up and we spent our time freaking out that we had just seen something so amazing, educational, and gruesome, and talking to the fishermen. A small child was practicing his skinning skills with one of the foot-long knives and some stomach tissue. More locals were discussing and debating the size and ferocity of the shark. It was all a community event. However, I did end up with some sort of sympathy, or empathy, or some sad emotion towards the students (and professors) that were affected strongly. I feel like I am slightly more unbiased, coming from many dissections in classes and a general awe of ocean creatures, but some students just viewed the whole thing as cruelty, and it was not our purpose to come here and witness such things. I wanted to comfort them somehow, but didn't know how because I couldn't relate. I don't know, I'm sure they're fine, but as time crawls on, looking back on the pictures, they get more and more gruesome not being there. I hope nobody reading this gets too freaked out. Sorry! The rest of the day was uneventful, as we all just studied and studied and studied and studied for our big test on Saturday. Well, besides the gun that some guy pulled out at a bar we almost went to. Again, weird fluke incidences of violence that usually is NEVER seen on this island. Don't freak out mom and dad, its fine, the police came quickly, but it happens, it happened back at Edison, and Im fine. :)

Just another Wednesday in the Caribbean. :)

Stephen getting a bearing

The fisherman who caught it, showing dominance

Chase, in the lion's den
First incision
Starting to cut the meat

Severing of notochord
Intent spectator

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Sky Was What Color?

Its been a while since all the hair on my arms has been blond. The UV here is so intense sometimes, and I'm developing a gnarly watershoe tan on my ankles. Other than that, I don't wear socks, or much of any footwear unless I'm going into town. I've started to notice that none of us have an un-tanned standard. UV does penetrate swimsuits, even if it is very, very slowly. We're all tanning at the same pace and we're not going to know what neon white looks like anymore when we get home until we get ostracized from our own families for being a different skin color. I have only the skin underneath my ring that shows my real winter colors, since my regular swimsuit tan is a decent shade of golden brown already.

Wednesdays are our dive days, so we suited up just after our morning meeting and prepared to go out to sea. However, (Nick, you'll grimace...), one of the boats is running on a very slow backup motor and it was difficult to get out to the spot we wanted, so we ended up at the Spanish Chain. We normally run Yamaha 90 horsepower's here on our ocean boats, but our backup-backup motor is a Mercury 8. Go figure. Don't you appreciate your 25 Nick? :D  Visibility at the Spanish Chain was horrible, but we saw a few cool things. Fish mainly, but there were two absolutely gigantic Southern Stingrays (Dasyatis americanus) just sitting in the sand. I hovered over them with my arms spread out, and their wingspan was larger than mine. Most likely about 8 feet wide and 6 feet long. As with most dives, it felt really short though, and we had to come back up fairly quickly. We scrambled out of our gear and into fresh clothes so we could be on time for our community outreach. All the students volunteer at the primary and high school on Wednesdays, so Stephen, Mikenna and I went to the primary school to assist the reading class. We helped a few cute kids with their ABC's and then made flashcards and curtains for the teacher during the remainder of the class. I was also assigned to help teach a music class with 2 other students, and coach cross-country/track after school, but the primary school let out early due to an unexpected teacher's inservice.

The rest of the afternoon was ours to study and dilly dally, so I went for a snorkel with Serena and saw some really cool fish, despite the horrible visibility. I studied some more, read my homework for the night, and after dinner went for a long walk with Mike. Too much free time around the center makes it really hard to stay in one place, and I often get antsy and just need to get out. The skies here are every color in at 64 crayon Crayola box, I swear. During the day, its all the blues and creams and whites that you can imagine. At night, the oranges, reds, and purples come out of the box, and during storms its green and grey. Tonight however, the sky was an inky brown, reflecting a good amount of the full moon and becoming a dark chocolate color. I've never seen a brown-black sky, and it was beautiful. There's nothing ugly about this island, except maybe the litter around here, but we are doing projects to try to fix that too. More studying 85 scientific names and making flash cards, and its time for bed.

Scrawled Cowfish (well, the back half of one, it was quite elusive!)

Mahogany Snapper (Lutjanus mahogani)

Can you find the scorpionfish?

P.S. I suppose there is one good thing to knowing the scientific names of fish. And that is the power to type in "Halichoeres bivitattus" into Google Image Search instead of "Slippery dick". >.<

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Itsy-Bitsey Spider Went Up the Waterspout

Well, probably not THIS waterspout...

CRAZY CRAZY weather today! I woke up the usual 10 minutes before our meeting and scarfed down some granola, and when we all gathered for our morning briefing, it started to rain. And rain. And rain. It was raining all through class this morning, off and on; sometimes drizzling, sometimes pouring, sometimes brilliant blue skies. But you could always see it raining in some far-off distance. After lunch was supposed to be our 2nd field ID session, but when we got to the boats, lightning struck in the distance, which meant we had to wait 20 minutes until we could go out for our class snorkel. It only continuted to lightning, and while we were waiting, a waterspout materialized. A waterspout is basically a water tornado, but more of a smooth, diagonal shape than wispy tornadoes. The clouds sent down a strand of wind and clouds, which reached 2/3 of the way to the water. Water was shooting up from the ocean too, to meet the waterspout in mid-air. It was one of the wildest things I've ever seen! Toto, I don't think we're in California anymore...The clouds were every shade of cool color. The sky that was downpouring in the distance was purple and directly overhead were emerald green-gray clouds that were reflecting the green water which was reflecting the gray clouds. To the right was blue clouds as they bordered the part of the sky that was still clear. Absolutely unbelieveable.

It was determined that it was going to be a while before it cleared up, so we went back to the Center, and as soon as we got there, it downpoured. And when I say poured, I mean the sky opened up its floodgates and POURED. Which, of course here at the Center means......shower day!!! 95% of the students grabbed their shampoos, conditioners, soaps and razors and took the most wonderful shower I've ever had in my entire life. We put our dirty laundry up to wash. We washed our hair off of the roof that was gushing good clean freshwater and it felt amazing. However, our snorkel was fairly obviously cancelled so the rest of the afternoon was utterly lazy. I found a small patch of free internet though from a local bar and was able to call Dad and chat. Mom, you would be proud. I've found every way and a half to contact friends and family through alternative means. Everyone keeps asking me for advice and technologic help, its funny; it reminds me of when you were SMS-ing and Skyping first :)

It's been thundering and lightning(ing?) for the rest of the day on and off, with some scattered showers. Matter of fact, it's raining right now. After dinner, a local fisherman came into the Center to talk about his practices catching lobster, conch and reef fish, his experience with sharks and inexperienced fishermen. Quite interesting! Following that was more studying for this impossible test that we have had too few ID sessions in the field for, and then a good 2 hour movie, Supertroopers. The best.

I took a break from the movie at one point and walked outside to THE cutest black kitten I have ever seen in my life, crying at me. He had big eyes and ears and long legs, a lot like Chopper's old pictures and the most adorable cry ever. He must have been 4 months old at the latest. He was frightened because he couldn't find his mom (I later found out from a staff member) and the storm was picking up. He kept crying and crying but wouldn't let me touch him, so I followed him around the Center until I met a staff member that knew the cat. She told me that it's mom was probaly down the hill, and she gave it water and I think it went away. My heart was breaking though, it was so cute and it reminded me of all my black kitties! :( It looked like that kitten in a bag that was my profile picture, but a little broader face. Adorable!

Its raining again, so theres nothing else to do but sleep before my busy day tomorrow. We're supposed to be diving, but we may ask to turn it into an ID session instead. In the afternoon I'm teaching a reading class, a music class, and after-school cross country to the primary school students in the town, should be fun but absolutely exhausting. Looking forward to it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thanks a lot, 49er's

The air is still dead-algal. Yay.

In other news, class was easy today. Pete talked a lot about the history of environmental policy in the U.S., which is a refreshing change because I know most of it. However, he seemed to have distinctly opposite opinions of prominent public figures from Sean Watts, my policy-minded environmental sciences instructor. It was a nice change. Yosemite was discussed at length, again, refreshing because I knew all of that history as well, being a Californian. Our second class was cancelled so I had time for an hour nap before lunch.

My group ventured out to a divespot called Huey, Dewey, and Loius, or HDL to snorkel for our first reef fish ID session. The spot is named for its 3 protruding rocks that look like triplets. The water was gorgeous and there were so many coral strewn about the rocky bottom! Purple fans, wavy finger-like corals, brain corals, yellow leaves, and so many more. It was disappointing to not have my camera with me. I can't wait until we're allowed to bring them along. Sorry, no pictures until then :( The reef fish were a myriad of different colors, stripe and spot patterns, sizes and shapes. Unlike anything I've ever seen or read before. It was a little confusing, trying to learn them all by latin scientific names, but we struggled through and saw a few squid and rays in the process. Another group saw a pair of spotted eagle rays though, something I have been straining to see since I got here. Oh well, next time!

The sunset was absolutely brilliant, and a group of us powered through the readings so we could watch Monday Night Football at Chicken Bar. The 49er's vs. the Saints. But, alas, they haven't been able to pull through with several botched plays and easy mistakes and it was a disappointing attitude within the bar. Fried chicken and a Pepsi were delicious around the 2nd quarter, along with some dominos and local conversation. Just another night out with the boys. Around 3rd quarter, a bar fight broke out outside, a pretty intense one too. Such a rare occasion on this island, as almost every single heated encounter is strictly verbal. One fighter that we knew said he hadn't fought with anyone in 10 years, and he would be a likely candidate for frequent fights. After an eventful evening, we headed home at curfew to watch the rest of the game in internet updates and the niners just can't seem to get it together. They're heading into the last 2 minutes losing as we speak. Go 49ers, but lets have a better game next time, shall we?