Last real work during our stay?
by Mike Press -- October 17th, 2008
As if the fun hadn’t already begun.
9am – on the boats ready to go.
9:10am – people on land finally stop talking to Humberto so we can go.
Very nice morning boat ride through the little islands of the archipelago. We were blessed with sunshine and no wind. Our drivers piloted the boats with great speed and daring. We sped past tiny islands that couldn´t be called islands except that mangroves grew out of the water. At several points, it appeared that we were shredding through the confusing geography between mini islands and water. The boat swerved back and forth, dodging mangroves at breakneck speed in 3 ft deep water. Imagine threading a needle with a 26 ft dive boat moving 40mph and you have some idea of what our drivers accomplished: a state of complete insanity.
Nevertheless, we survived and proceded onward to the reef on the other side of the next big island southeast of Isla Colon. This reef was slightly offshore and different in makeup than what we had explored so far. It was composed of far more corals, gorgonians, fish, etc. It was just nice to see more diversity. I´ll be honest. I am used to the eastern Caribbean where reefs are very healthy and abundant in all forms of reef life, from corals, to fish, to turtles, and so on. The reefs we had seen so far were desperately lacking in diversity by comparison. Usually one species of coral reigned and other than a few herbivores, we saw almost no fish at all. This reef almost changed my mind, but it was still a sad shadow of a healthy reef in the British Virgin Islands or Dominica. Over an hour´s snorkel, we were rewarded with extensive elkhorn coral colonies, schools of parrotfish, and a Holy Grail for many snorkelers: a Nurse Shark, nearly 5 ft in length. I have no idea how Natalie spotted it deep under a coral ledge in poor visibility, but I was ecstatic to see this creature for the first time despite so many reef excursions throughout the Caribbean. The other group claimed to have seen schools of enormous parrotfish flying about and we all were threatened on the way back to the boat by a flock of sea jellies that turned out not to be stinging, but inspired great fear nonetheless.
The next snorkel site was a rocky headland on the windward side of the same island where waves broke violently on pillars of rock extending from a relatively deep sea floor. We were taken aback at first by the energy of the enivronment, but soon realized that if one paid attention to the conditions, one could avoid being tossed upon the rocks like Zack was and check out the urchins, eel, and other life subsisting in this harsh environment.
After lunch we returned to orientation experiments. Today we worked a lot on establishing if the crabs had different responses to different wavelenghts of light (it appears they don´t so much). My group worked outside in the grueling humidity to see how crabs reacted to being placed in shallow water and just at the water´s edge. Turns out they seem to orient towards cover, aka trees. This proved true in the middle of a parking lot as well, in which they seemed to always go for the direction in which the nearest trees were located, presumably for cover. We suffered from the heat and were forced to take a second shower before returning to the lab (the first was warm at times when there was no water pressure, the second was just inconsistently warm).
For dinner we had guests from the Scripps Institute who were working on coral histories. They were great guests, but I think we intimidated them with our rum collection so they didn´t join us when we checked on the development of our baby urchins which are now swimming around, or when we walked down the road to the sweet bar with horse saddles for bar stools. Everyone came along for this excursion and we all had a great time arguing politics, tasting the local beers, and experiencing the seafood dip.
Upon returning, I got a lesson in Latin American political history from Humberto so that I could better understand what I was blogging about and now I just need to sleep. Great day though, and tomorrow for our last day, I don´t think we´re supposed to do anything besides chill and have fun. Sweet.