Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

Day 3: Coral reefs and giant unidentified bugs
by -- October 10th, 2010

On the third day, we snorkeled on the San Cristobal coral reef and then visited Starfish Beach where we saw tons of huge starfish as well as mangrove trees. After a break for lunch, we took off once again to the Red Frog Beach to collect hermit crabs for our experiments this week.

If I had to describe, in one word, what I feel right now, it would be “tired.” Today was a jam-packed day. We took a very violent boat ride to the San Cristobal coral reefs; surprisingly, only one hat was lost on the journey! Snorkeling was fantastic. There was a multitude of fish species (and jellyfish…), but the real magic was on the seabed. There were so many colors, shapes, and sizes of coral and other organisms, like “featherdusters” (which are actually worms) and sea urchins (we saw red and black ones), and unicellular algae, which actually looked like large, solid clear bubbles.

Along with the good came stark reminders of the effects of global warming on these delicate ecosystems. Large portions of the coral were bleached stark white due to the steady increase in sea temperature, but what is most troubling is that our professor told us that this had happened in the last year: this coral reef was perfectly fine when the group came last fall. Who knows what it will look like next year?

Once we were done snorkeling, which took up about an hour, we sped off to Starfish Beach. As the name implies, the starfish there are plentiful – we even saw one feeding! When a starfish feeds, little suckers come out of the grooves on its underside and suck in whatever prey it encounters. Pretty cool! There was also an elaborate mangrove forest – mangroves are trees that live in the water, and their roots constitute an impressive ecosystem of their own. We’re going to study them in more detail later on in the week, and I can’t wait!

After taking a break for lunch, we went to a place called “Red Frog Beach” (and were advised by a sign not to pay to touch the red frogs – ???). This island had a pathway cut through the middle (sometimes marked off with stones, other times marked by small sections of dirt or even just flattened brush). We walked around for a while, then started collecting hermit crabs! Here’s the secret to catching them, since the Panamanian variety seem to run on the small side compared to the ones we see back in Beaufort: Stand very still, focusing on one area on the ground, and let your peripheral vision detect motion! We collected… maybe 150 of them? And headed back for some showering and an awesome dinner.

Later that night, I went to town with Alix, Katie D. and Laurie to grab some souveniers. The taxis here are incredibly inexpensive – a 5 minute ride to town costs $0.50 per person!

Here are some pictures from today. Some were taken by Alix Jacobson and the underwater ones were from one of our professors, Dr. Forward!

Dr. Forward snapped up this featherduster- which is actually a type of worm! Though the “feathers” look thick, they’re extremely thin. The only way to know you’ve touched one is to see it immediately retract into its shell!

The reason for the title of this blog entry!! We saw this creature on Kelly’s bag during the boat ride. it was incredibly ugly and scurried along pretty quickly. None of us had any idea what it was.. so we took a picture and plan on getting to the bottom of it.

Alix took this picture of Becca holding one of our starfish – not sure if it was the biggest one.

A group picture (minus 2?) at Starfish Beach!

Alix, TJ, and Drew on a boat – clearly before it took off (they would’ve been holding on to the bars otherwise!)

Here’s what our walk through the forest looked like!

Zach and I look for hermit crabs.

Red Frog Beach. There was a house there and the guy had set up his own bar area, so we grabbed some soda before heading back to the boats. This part of the island had a very “Castaway” feel to it, with the beach leading directly into a forest. It was beautiful!

Props to Kia for the amazing board drawing to complement the funny typo we found on a folder in the lab 🙂

1 Comment

  1. Ann
    Oct 13, 2010

    This sounds like a fantastic trip!!!! Great to see your smiling face, Drew…but where is your panama hat with the purple hat band?

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