Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

A Seriously Full Day
by -- October 15th, 2008

You´ll get worn out just reading about it.

Today was a day of work.  After breakfast, took the boats to a small island by the mainland side of the bay to explore mangroves.  Had a brief lecture on these important and unique plants, then landed at a private dock, passed the ¨No Pasar¨sign, skirted the edge of some house, and gingerly stepped out of the clearing and into the mangroves.

I´m not going to sugarcoat this: mangroves are utterly filthy places.  Due to their unusual root systems, thickness, ability to trap sediment, and decomposing leaf litter, areas of mangrove that are not in water are entirely in mud.  One has to fight through thick branches constantly, continually reassessing the best path while trying not to slip and go down in the thick, black mud.  Also there are a number of spiders and, thanks to the high heat and humidity, an unstoppable horde of biting flies.  We were also warned that nice big poisonous snakes like to hang out in the area waiting for birds or unsuspecting idiots stumbling through.  All that said, there was considerably more whining than was probably necessary.  The purpose of all this was to ¨see what mangroves are like¨and to test salinity and gather leaf samples every 10 meters along a 50 meter transect with the hope of establishing some connection between groundwater salinity and salinity in the leaves.

Upon returning to STRI, we tarried not at all, but dove headlong into another round of urchin transects right around the dock.  This was done in hopes of getting data on higher density urchin populations.  This location indeed proved superior for the transect right off the dock where urchins had been previously observed.  The 2 other transects off to the sides proved muddy.  Visibility wasn´t good and a real paucity of organisms persisted in these areas.  We surmised that the higher diversity of life was present at the dock due to the structural-spatial benefits it provided.

We showered, ate lunch, and then–to the surprise of most students–proceded directly onwards on another crab-catching expedition.  We picked the beach right next to Red Frog Beach (very nice beach, but didn´t spend much time enjoying it).  Amidst disembarking from the boats at the beach (aka jumping off the boat into the water and wading another 20m to shore), after the passengers of my boat had gotten ashore, the passengers of R/V Dampier were assaulted with a particularly nice set of waves, to the great amusement of us and the distress of them when wave after wave broke over them, giving the boat a healthy amount of water to cover the deck.  Made me wish I´d had my surfboard.  Then we quickly got off the beach and into the thick jungle behind it.  We confronted the same obstacles as before (evil insects, thorny underbrush, and general disastisfaction with not being on the beach) and had slightly less success in our crab catching endeavors.  This involves flipping over log after log and coconut after coconut, hoping the right crab will be underneath.  When you find one, it affords 5 seconds of excitement as you try to coral it and pick it up and find a bucket to put it in before it escapes down a hole or pinches you.  Zack is the real organism catching champion.  I suppose as TA he´s supposed to set the example, but he has found more urchins than everyone else put together in our transects and tireless turns over log after log catching at least as many crabs as the rest of us put together.  Humberto also found the biggest hermit crab ever: easily the size of a softball in its shell.  At this point many had already mutinied and gone to the beach.  I managed to body surf a couple waves before we waded up to our necks back to the boats and headed home.

Had to have another shower (the first one was hot, this one was not) and then straight to the lab for more orientation experiments and urchin measurements.  I kinda got the hang of this today.  We students do the somewhat boring experiments of endless repetition and the professors walk around checking on us saying ÿes, yes, good work¨ then go make coffee for themselves, then walk around looking at our data some more and thinking about that paper they can write on all our work.  Seriously though, it´s kinda cool seeing what the crabs will do and you get to really know these sea urchins.  Do you think that can go on my resume under ¨experience¨?

By the time we got back to the dorms, dinner was already on the table and…..there was no rice, nor beans!  Shocking, simply shocking.  Some good chow mein stuff nonetheless, and great banana cake for dessert.  We also finished off this bottle of hot sauce.  In fact we cleaned it out completely, hoping to send a clear message that we need a fresh batch.  Tall, elegant, multitalented voodoo looks-haitian man is facing a revolt otherwise.

Then, for some insane reason, after all the days activities, we voted to do another after dinner.  So.  We all met together at the lab, got close together at a lab bench, and turned on some Marvin Gaye to set the mood.  And then we made babies……….

………..baby sea urchins that is.

For some reason, if you inject sea urchins with potassium cloride and give them a little shake, the release sperm and eggs.  The exact process took some trial and error and getting the urchins in the right mood (hence the music), but eventually we managed to get some sperm and eggs out of them.  These went on a slide under a microscope we got hooked up to a monitor and over the next 90 minutes we watched all that stuff they talk about in intro bio.  We got fertilization, streaking of the nucleus, metaphase and the first division.  Actually pretty cool to see in real time.  We also made some cultures with higher densities so that by tomorrow we should have something on the order of 16 cell divisions.  Exciting stuff.

So.  Our day was essentially 9am to 9pm.  Maybe 9:30pm.  Mine´s still going because I was helping Zack give the circadian rhythm wheel crabs water and now I´m writing and I´ve just been informed that there are multiple glaring typoes in my blog and I need to read the liveblog of tonight´s debate because I missed it while we were forcing sea urchins to copulate and it would be really nice right now to go back to my room for some nice 12 year aged Flor de Cana rum.  {breath}

Told you you´d be exhausted.

©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff