Mar 9: Home Sweet Home

Four flights later, and I’m back in LA. One hell of a travel day, one hell of an FSP, but I made it back to Mom and Dad in one piece!

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March 7: Dark Waters

Tonight was my very first night dive! From the shore, we swam out just as the sun had set and the sky was losing color. Down we went into the darkening water, glowsticks on our tanks and flashlights in hand. It was eerie to see how the colorful, active blue ocean becomes still and empty in the pitch black night. That being said, there is still plenty to see that comes out as well. Giant crabs and lobsters, a huge beaded sea cucumber, shrimps galore, bioluminescent algae, fish settling into their mucus membrane to sleep. My only complaint stems from my burning face, after being stung repeatedly in the lip and chin by a sea wasp jellyfish. Other than the dulling pain, it really was incredible cruising through the waters at night, and an awesome way to tie up our scuba experience here on Little Cayman!

March 6: Last of the Boat Dives, First of the Double-Digit Dives (My 10th and 11th Scubas!)

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Dramamine last night, Bonine in the morning, PSI 3000 in the tank, I’m ready

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Down into the coral and sponges we go! (Picture by Miranda)

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But not just into the coral…out over the wall. Today, we finally got to swim out over Bloody Bay Wall, into the deep blue. Swimming out into the bottomless abyss, it was exceedingly important to keep an eye on our depth (it’s so easy to go deeper and deeper without realizing when there is no bottom). Careful and with the group, we swam out into the bluest blue open ocean

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Turning around, we got a full view of Bloody Bay Wall. The sheer cliff plummets thousands of feet, and is covered in spectacular marine life. It was easy to see how it was ranked one of the top dive sites in the world, and every time we turned our heads there was a new fish or interesting interaction. 

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37 So we swam on, over, and around the wall, poking our noses and GoPros at whatever we could! Here, I’m filming the shimmering silver back of a barracuda! (Pictures by Miranda)

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After swimming along Bloody Bay, we came to the point where two walls meet: the sharp cliff side of Bloody Bay touches corners with the sloping Jackson wall. Thanks to Greg, our dive master, for pointing it out to us!

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Two-tank dives mean 1-hour surface intervals on the boat: apples, oranges, naps, and tanning (burning?).

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On the dives, we saw some incredible wildlife and even cooler wildlife interspecific interactions. Here, a Nassau Grouper is at a cleaning station, where he opens his gills and mouth to allow smaller fish inside. These little fish and shrimp will eat any parasites the grouper has, trading cleaning services for food. I kept waiting for the grouper to close his mouth, swallow the little fish, and swim off (an easy snack), but it didn’t happen. An awesome example of mutualism and trust.

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On that note, groupers tend to be trusting of divers as well! (Picture by Miranda)

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The Hawksbill sea turtle that swam right over my head and out into the blue

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Crouching diver, hidden stingray

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Rolling around underwater, watching the distance your bubbles travel before popping at the surface

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Finding a sandy patch to strike a pose on (Picture by Miranda)

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Bio FSP, Under15Water (missing Ann, Jenny, and Abby)

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Miranda and I hard at work studying for finals

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March 5: Hermits By Land and By Sea

The project I’ve been working on recently has been with hermit crabs, comparing latency to reemerge between terrestrial and marine crabs in response to three disturbance types. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a single picture during the entire process (unlike me, I know, and yet here I am with an empty camera asking where the time went).

In sum:

1. Day one was spent working with terrestrial hermit crabs. Here, they are absolutely enormous (~8cm long). Frightening, almost. Hint to any future huge-hermit-crab researchers: do NOT take your eyes off the one you’re holding, it WILL pinch you, you WILL cry out in pain, and everyone in CCMI will hear you and know about your throbbing finger.

2. Day two was spent searching for marine hermit crabs, which were teeny (~0.5cm long). After half a day without success, we ended up swimming out to Owen Island in South Hole Sound Lagoon. Luckily, there were a ton, and we ran our experiments on the little island with ease. Unluckily, we had to swim ~200m perpendicular to the current, lugging our bag of equipment both ways.

Exhausting, but done. By yesterday afternoon, we had completed our data collection not just for the Hermit Crab Project, not just for the Little Cayman segment, but for all of FSP. Surreal. Now, we’ve analyzed the data and will start preparing our presentation and writing our paper. The analyses took one professor, one TA, and two well-versed FSPers half a day with three separate “Oh, wait, we just realized…” before completion. Now, we have our results, found some great stuff, and are off to write our last paper.

In the meantime, here are some pictures from our beach clean up this breezy afternoon, in efforts to make this post less text,text,text.

Look ma, no hands. S/o to the wind for holding the plastic bag up against me the whole walk, so my hands were free to pick up trash!

Look ma, no hands. S/o to the wind for holding the plastic bag up against me the whole walk, so my hands were free to pick up trash!

Miranda enjoys finding sea glass and left shoes along the shore. Thanks again to the wind for holding my bag, giving me free hands to take pics

Miranda enjoys finding sea glass and left shoes along the shore. Thanks again to the wind for holding my bag, giving me free hands to take pics

Feb 28: Imagine 9 New Colors You’ve Never Seen. Imagine Polarized Light. Imagine Seeing UV. This Is the Life of a Mantis Shrimp.

Here’s the update: a whiles back, I wrote that I was thinking about doing a damselfish project. After a bit of exploring, we realized what we wanted to do wasn’t going to work quite like we’d hoped. Instead, I teamed up with two other girls and got started on an even cooler project. Thus, project mantis shrimp was born!

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Our project involved going out to collect mantis shrimp, which on this heavily protected island means getting permission. Our professor helped us apply to the DOE, and luckily we were able to get permits to run our experiments!

This is one of the study subjects: the insanely cool mantis shrimp. While we have 4 photoreceptors (3 for color, 1 for light intensity), the mantis shrimip has 16 (12 for color)! They are even able to see polarized and UV light. Hard to imagine the way they see the world, huh?

This is one of the study subjects: the insanely cool mantis shrimp. While we have 4 photoreceptors (3 for color, 1 for light intensity), the mantis shrimip has 16 (12 for color)! They are even able to see polarized and UV light. Hard to imagine the way they see the world, huh? (Picture by Ann)

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We set up four treatments to test the effect of different light wavelengths on mantis shrimp aggression (seen vi their extreme territoriality). We hypothesized that their highly specialized sensory system may have evolved in response to intraspecific communication pressures. If UV light is used in their signals to one another, filtering out UV light would increase conflict should the signals be used for de-escalation, and decrease conflict if signals are for escalation. If UV light is not used in intraspecific signaling at all, blocking UV light would not affect response behaviors. Our treatments included natural light and shaded light as controls, and UV-filtered and polarized-filtered light as our experiment. We put two similarly sized mantis shrimp into enclosures with these four treatments, and let them have at it for 10 minutes. It was all caught on camera, and we analyzed the play-by-play afterwards.

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glassThanks to David, Abby, and Pat, we filtered out polarized light with a highly scientific sunglasses contraption. Thanks to the local dump, we filtered out UV light with this broken piece of car windshield. True science means working with what you’ve got! (Top picture by Ann, pictured below with the glass!)

Next, we ran experiments on individuals to test the affects of light on feeding by taking the time before successful prey catch. Instead of identifying the shrimp by number, we had a bit more fun with the labelling (names ranged from Mufasa and Steve to Hesienberg and Lord Rutherford).

Next, we ran experiments on individuals to test the affects of light on feeding by taking the time before successful prey catch. Instead of identifying the shrimp by number, we had a bit more fun with the labelling (names ranged from Mufasa and Steve to Hesienberg and Lord Rutherford). (Picture by Ann)

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P1010807 Today, data collection was completed. Now, we’re left with three sheets of numbers in Excel to analyze and various tan lines and sunburns to moisturize. Here’s to racerback burns, farmer’s tans, and permanent white socks from our booties. Off to plug&chug some data! (Thanks to Tom for capturing this moment)

Feb 25: Conch Chowder

On the boat ride back from the dives yesterday, we collected some conch...

On the boat ride back from the dives yesterday, we collected some conch

The shells look like this

The shells look like this

And here's Greg cracking one open like this

And you crack one open like this

And when you reach in, you pull out a creature that looks like this. This, my friends, is a conch de-shelled!

And de-shelled, they look like this. (no this is not an alien, despite the stark resemblance)

Apparently, most of these guys can be eaten raw. I made the mistake of agreeing to eat a part of the conch if Lowell would, resulting in both of us eating the conch's genitalia (which is apparently not just edible, but an aphrodisiac). In the words of our onlookers, we ate "conch cock." How'd it taste? Lowell and my expression says it all.

Apparently, most parts of this creature can be eaten raw. I made the mistake of agreeing to eat any part of the conch if Lowell would, resulting in both of us eating the conch’s genitalia (which is apparently not just edible, but an aphrodisiac). In the words of our onlookers, we ate “conch cock.”
How’d it taste? Lowell and my expression says it all.

Better than conch cock? Conch chowder! Miss Em made us a big pot of it today, complete with a scotch bonnet kick to it. Delicious, fresh, and a cool way to bring the science to the kitchen.

Better than conch cock? Conch chowder! Miss Em made us a big pot of it today, complete with a scotch bonnet kick to it. Delicious, fresh, and a cool way to bring our adventures to the kitchen.

Feb 24: Sea-esta

Today, we embarked on a two-part boat dive…

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Tanks on tanks

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We swam out to a reef wall, where the drop-off falls thousands and thousands of feet. Looking out past the beautiful coral into the deep blue abyss was pretty awe-inspiring, but we turned back around and poked our noses into the giant sea fans and barrel sponges for the day.

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DCIM100GOPROToday’s dives: 50 ft for 50 minutes, surface interval for 1 hour, then 60 ft for 50 minutes! Diving in 78°F water with all the marine life was fantastic… and completely worth the sunburn and seasickness during the surface interval!

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Nurse sharks, sting rays, sea turtles, crabs, fire worms, brittle stars, spider crabs, princess parrotfish, sea cucumbers, spotted trunk fish, corals and sponges galore… A Nassau Grouper (pictured above) became so friendly that he swam right up to us, let us touch him and hold his face, and even gave one of the guys a kiss right on the lips!

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Feb 23: My First Caribbean Scuba!

Our first dive here in Little Cayman! Since many of us are new divers, the dive masters did a quick review of our skills from certification before we went off to explore the reef (which also meant we couldn’t bring cameras today, but some of the students that are snorkeling instead were able to catch great shots!) Pictures courtesy of Ann:

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Wetsuit up to my waist, snorkel/fins/mask in tow, and BCD/regulator hooked up to my tank– I’m ready to go

At Cumber's Caves, we avoid ironshore and make our way out to the reef wall.

At Cumber’s Caves, we avoid ironshore and make our way out to the reef wall.

My group heads down the wall to the sandy lagoon, 45 feet below surface. You can see me equalizing behind Michael!

My group heads down the wall to the sandy lagoon, 45 feet below surface. You can see me equalizing behind Michael!

At the bottom, we go over the basics: mask clearing (filling up our mask with water, then blowing bubbles out your nose to clear it), regulator recovery (popping the regulator out of your mouth and retrieving it), and neutral buoyancy (making sure you aren't floating to the surface or sinking too fast. Controlling your depth is one of the most important parts of diving, especially when you're swimming over protected reefs or out over walls that drop suddenly!)

At the bottom, we go over the basics: mask clearing (filling up our mask with water, then blowing bubbles out your nose to clear it), regulator recovery (popping the regulator out of your mouth and retrieving it), and neutral buoyancy (making sure you aren’t floating to the surface or sinking too fast. Controlling your depth is one of the most important parts of diving, especially when you’re swimming over protected reefs or out over walls that drop suddenly!)

After we run through the skills, off we go to explore! This is a Queen Triggerfish, which was one of the most beautiful and colorful things I saw (and Ann saw!) today.  The list includes stingrays, barracuda, groupers, peacock flounder, jawfish, huge barrel sponges, garden eels, and the most spectacularly diverse and colorful reef fish right up close. I've got to say, on this 54 minute dive we saw more beautiful things than I could have ever imagined!

After we run through the skills, off we go to explore! This is a Queen Triggerfish, which was one of the most beautiful and colorful things I saw (and Ann saw!) today. The list includes stingrays, barracuda, groupers, peacock flounder, jawfish, huge barrel sponges, garden eels, and the most spectacularly diverse and colorful reef fish right up close. I’ve got to say, on this 54 minute dive we saw more beautiful things than I could have ever imagined!

Emerging from the water and arriving back to shore, stunned by the beauty of the reefs and too excited to go back under tomorrow morning!

Emerging from the water and arriving back to shore, stunned by the beauty of the reefs and too excited to go back under tomorrow morning!

Feb 22: Projects Part 1

Today, we were asked to write up project proposals. At our Costa Rican sites, we had a bit more freedom to design pilot studies that allowed us to try and fail at methods. However, in the marine ecosystem, and in a place where permits are needed to work with certain organisms, it’s a bit tougher to make things up as you go. With that, Brad assigned us our first written project proposal of the term…

...but you can't propose methods until you've tried 'em! Good thing we were given until 4pm to turn it in (so we could snorkel until 3)

…but you can’t propose methods until you’ve tried ’em! Good thing we were given until 4pm to turn it in, of course resulting in us snorkeling until 3.

Let me introduce you to the study subject: the yellowtail damselfish. Four species of damselfish are known to cultivate algae on coral and rocks, creating little gardens that they defend fiercely. Because of this aggression, these little guys are fast and hard to catch in a picture, but the spotted fish at the bottom gives a blurry peek at what I was working with earlier.

Let me introduce you to our potential study subject: the yellowtail damselfish. Four species of damselfish are known to cultivate algae on coral and rocks, creating algal gardens that they defend fiercely. Because of this aggression, these little guys are fast and hard to catch in a picture, but the spotted fish at the bottom gives a blurry peek at what I was working with earlier!

Feb 21: Coral and Carnivals

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Today was filled with cool coral formations (like this arch here) and all kinds of fish*. Thanks to the windy weather recently, I got a good amount of identification studying in… not much feels better than seeing all kinds of fish and actually knowing what you’re looking at! For hours, I swam around pointing out the grunts and sergeant majors and slippery dicks (yes, all real fish that I saw today). *Fish are easier to catch on video than pic, so if you want access GoPro fishcam feel free to ask!

Some fish are beautifully colored, like the yellowtail damselfish and redband parrotfish. Some, however, are beautiful in their camouflage. Do you see the scorpionfish on the rock in this picture?

Some fish are beautifully colored, like the yellowtail damselfish and redband parrotfish. Some, however, are beautiful in their camouflage. Do you see the scorpionfish on the rock in this picture?

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DCIM100GOPRO On the way back to CCMI from the snorkel site, we stopped by the side of the road to watch the parade go by. Little Cayman celebrates Mardi Gras this weekend (nobody ask why), and every year they have a themed parade. This year, I felt a bit more at home with the Hollywood theme: awesome KingKong, Hitchcock, and Casablanca themed floats (pictures of which are too spotted and blurry thanks to my own forgetfulness and not prepping my GoPro for land use). Also, here’s Tom rockin the Mardi beads. 

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All in all, another great day to call the Caribbean my classroom.