"Essay submitted for the Charles R. Ullman & Associates Scholarship, 2013. www.divorcelawnc.com"
Sunday, April 14, 2013
"Essay submitted for the Charles R. Ullman & Associates Scholarship, 2013. www.divorcelawnc.com"
Monday, August 15, 2011
This morning began with a martial arts class taught by one of the trip facilitators, Kyle. I had never done martial arts before, but it was more challenging than I had expected. There was a lot of stretching involved. We also learned one of the forms, however, the ocean view from the top of the kitchen was really distracting. For breakfast, grits and eggs were served along with some delicious mango. The best mangoes I have ever had were eaten in the Bahamas, including this mornings. We rushed to get ready for some patch reef surveys once breakfast was over and headed out right on time, for a change.
The patch reefs were quite far out, and both teams went. My team was in charge of identifying the fish and the other group was in the charge of reef measurements and such. The first patch reef, Jellyfish (we named it), had some really cool Atlantic Spadefish at it. This reef also housed an adult stoplight parrotfish, the first adult of my specialized type I have seen thus far. As we were wrapping up the reef survey, I realized a group of us were staring and pointing off into the distance. Someone had spotted two 5 foot barracudas. I tried to get closer to get a good picture, and usually barracudas are curious and don't mind, but they swam away. Many people are scared of barracudas but I find them quite fascinating. Sometimes I feel I am too trusting of the animals I am swimming with. At the next patch reef, which we named Hammerhead, I saw large schools of parrot fish. It was refreshing to see and be able to identify so many of the species I was familiar with. Also on that reef I spotted a ray, but a smaller one, compared to the other rays I have seen on the trip. I was once again so tired from the surveys I drifted in and out of sleep on the way back to campus.
For lunch, tacos were served. The tacos were really good, full of fresh vegetables grown on campus. During lunch I got Molly out in the game Assassin. Right after I got her out, I got Betsy out as well. Both were killed since they didn't rub their hands together before eating. As of now, Alison, Winston, and I are the only ones left in the game. Tomorrow will determine who the true champion is, hopefully. Once lunch was finished, packing and cleaning time came. My job was the sweep out the common area. This task took longer than expected, as a lot of sand is brought in from the outside. I also entered in my data from the reef surveys. My group was tasked with going back to Page Creek to retrieve the seine net left there from a few days before. The hike to the creek is long to begin with, and doing it twice back to back was even tougher. This made me realize how challenging it can be to be a field researcher, but I like physical challenges. The walk brought us closer together as a group as we joked around with one another about different things on the trip. When we got back to the boathouse, we rinsed the saltwater off the net and layed it out to dry.
Our reward for cleaning all afternoon was going to a 10 foot cliff to jump off of into the ocean. I have always wanted to go cliff jumping, and the Bahamas was a perfect place to do it. As I flew through the air, I plugged my nose tight, making sure no saltwater would enter. I hit the water with my legs curled up, as instructed, to not hurt myself. Climbing out was a challenge, as urchins were below us, and the death rocks appeared, hindering our ability to exit easily. The waves crashing in between the rocks, also threw our bodies, if we weren't holding on tight enough. I jumped continuously, trying to get cool pictures and having a blast. The jumps didn't last long, as we had a dinner to get to.
We rushed back to campus, showered, and headed into Deep Creek to eat at a local restaurant. I ordered fried fish, rice, and macaroni and cheese. The meal took a really long time to cook, which left us with a lot of time to talk and reflect on our awesome trip. The food ended up being delicious, one of the best meals we had on the trip. During dinner, certificates were passed out, as awards for funny things we were known for throughout the trip. I got the "eye on time" award, since I wore a watch and kept time a majority of the trip. I found this kind of funny considering at home I never wear a watch. While in town we also stopped to get some ice cream. Once we returned back to campus, our group had to reroll the seine net, which was quite exhausting and my arms hurt a lot from carrying it. We then had a bonfire in the sand. This was really cool, as the warm air of the bonfire kept the bugs away and one could hear the ocean crashing upon the shore in the distance. The whole situation was really relaxing and soothing, giving us time to think of what an awesome trip we had.
Upon coming inside, we went through logistics of tomorrow for flights, exchanged contact information to stay in touch, and went over the positives and negatives of the trip. Tomorrow, I am faced with leaving this beautiful place I have called home for the past week, a place with so many good memories and learning experiences that will stay with me forever.
Highlight: jumping off of a 10 foot cliff into the ocean and completing our fish surveys
*Please Note: 20 of my best pictures taken on the trip will be posted within the next week.
This morning we woke up early for a nice run or bike. I, of course, chose to run, as cross country starts in two weeks and I am far from ready to start. A few of us ran from campus to the marina then around the marina a bit and back. During the run, I realized how fatigued I really am. My muscles hurt as I moved my feet. We stopped at the shop in the middle of the run to buy some snacks. I decided to get some postcards to bring home to my family. I also wasn't feeling the best, which was a wake up call for how much training I need to get in, in the next two weeks. The breakfast was chocolate chip pancakes, a special meal for the parents. I also got my first kill in Assassin at breakfast since Abi didn't rub her hands together before eating. Now I have to try and kill Molly. I'm pretty sure I could have gotten her, but wasn't quite sure. After breakfast a few of us visited the campus store to get our souvenirs from the trip. I bought two t-shirts for myself. Buying souvenirs is kind of a realization as to how fast this trip is going and how soon I will be re-immersed into the normal world, where my chance to make a difference in the earth and apply things I learned here comes to play. Yesterday I discovered a small bug bite on my head. I decided it would heal in a day or so and let it be. However, this morning the bite was incredibly swollen so I decided to get it looked at. They ended up draining it and putting some antibiotic on it. Hopefully it will heal soon.
Since the parents are here, we only had access to one boat this morning so our group didn't get to go out. Instead we headed to the ship wreck off the beach to count how many times the parrot fish bite coral in a minute. There was only one problem, we couldn't find the wreck without Annabelle and ended up swimming around for 45 minutes looking for it. While we were swimming I did see a pretty awesome and big ray. Others claimed they saw a shark as well, but, unfortunately, I missed it. We then headed to the wet labs to help Annabelle with some research. When we arrived, Josh wanted some help preparing the fish for our dinner. At the institute they grow fish in tanks then catch and fillet them. Our job was to help get the fish out of the tanks, freeze them to death, and scale them. On one of my first tries, I was able to get the Tilapia pinned to the side of the tank and netted it out, as it flipped its tail wildly, splashing us all. We used a seine net in the tank to make sure we got all the fish. Once the fish were all killed, Josh showed us how exactly to scale the fish with a spoon. The dead fish were quite haunting. Their eyes glared into my own and I felt guilty for what I was doing. The experience really made me think about the food I eat. Even though I am already a vegetarian (I don't eat animal meat), I am strongly considering eliminating fish from my diet. We watched as they filleted the fish and sometimes the guts would spill out. It was quite disturbing, but a good experience, something I probably wouldn't have had a chance to do somewhere else. After we were done scaling fish and cleaning the slime off my hands, we joined Annabelle to help with the behavior experiment with grouper and parrotfish to see how parrotfish react to predators around them. The actual experiment will be performed in March with another Earthwatch group, but we were just testing out the equipment and making sure it was set up correctly.
For lunch today, grilled cheese and pasta was served. The food is getting progressively better. Allison killed Camille in Assassin and now I know Allison has me as the one to kill. After lunch we gathered up our belongings and headed to Poison Creek. Poison Creek is located near Rock Sound on a private property that the institute has special privilege to. On the way out to the creek I was so tried I drifted in and out of sleep. Once we got there, we hiked across death rock, as Annabelle called it. I found the situation of us going to Poison Creek through death rock very unsettling. We set up our transects and got to work. I didn't see any parrot fish which was kind of disappointing. A group of us put our stuff on a rock flat, even though Winston warned us against doing so. When we were done, our stuff was covered in water; I guess we should have listened. Since I got done with my work early, I worked with Gabby to gather depths and GPS locations. We then hiked back to the van and went to rinse off in a blue hole. The blue hole was a big hole in the middle of a forest, that supposedly had fresh water in it. The depth of the hole was 40 meters and nothing could be spotted at the bottom. Jumping into such murky water was quite eerie, but the view we saw was amazing. We quickly got right back out and changed in the forest.
Next, we traveled to the Mission in Rock Sound where the Island School students were presenting their research projects they have been working on for the past few weeks. Once done listening to projects on bonefish, sharks, and other things dealing with life at the institute, we had a delicious sustainable dinner. The fish we scaled earlier were served along with lionfish, cobia, and macaroni and cheese. The meal was really good. My favorite part was the desert of pineapple tart some local Bahamians had made. The air conditioning at the Mission also felt like a great reward. Annabelle then took us to some caves near the location of the blue hole. We climbed through the forest once again and down a ladder, were a really neat rock formation lay. As we walked through, bats few over our heads and mosquitoes were crazy hungry, biting us every few steps. The trip was quick as we had to get back for data entry.
I didn't think data entry would be a big problem, but it turned out to be incredibly frustrating. While I was in the mangroves, I did extra by doing the depths, working with someone who did substantially less than I. I didn't write down all the data I was supposed to, since other people told me different. Annabelle got frustrated with me, and I got frustrated with the people I was working with because the blame was put on me and it wasn't my fault. Although I was really upset, (I take a lot of things personally) the mishap taught me how important communication in the field is. I guess the only thing to do is learn from my mistake and move on. The rest of the night was spent making bracelets and copying pictures that other people took. Through all of this, a dead fish appeared in the sink; we have no idea where it came from. Looking back on today, I learned a lot of new skills I can take with me when I leave the beautiful Bahamas.
Highlight: trying something new and scaling fish and swimming in the blue hole
Today we were able to sleep in which was really nice. Since it's Sunday, much of the campus is asleep so breakfast was layed out ahead of time. We got ready for another day of work and headed to the kitchen. Granola was served and I didn't really feel like eating it so I decided to just sit and wait for everyone to finish. We then rounded up our things for the mangroves to catch and tag some fish. The reason this is necessary is because certain fish, such as school masters and checkered puffers, are found as juveniles in the mangroves, but then disappear and the adults are never usually found on the reef. If we tag them, we can figure out if they just move somewhere else or the fish keep getting preyed on. To catch the fish we used a big net called a beach seine. We would spread the net out through the water and drag the ends together, getting any fish in the area. This practice was successful the first time as we caught a checkered puffer. On the next tries we weren't quite as successful as we kept catching mojorras and needle fish. As we would catch the fish, we would put them in giant coolers to keep them alive. When the fish population turned scarce, we took the net through the mangroves. Once we collected the net, lots of barracudas and needle fish were stuck in it. There we also caught a school master, which was our prized catch of the day. My job through it all was carrying the caught fish to the coolers. Using the beach seine was stressful on the group. Many of us became irritated with one another as some would do their part and watch the net and others wouldn't do their part and became fascinated with the fish within.
After some fish were caught, Annabelle mixed a bright plastic solution and put the solution in a needle. We would then take a fish we wanted to tag, place it in a water solution with anesthetic, and take it out to put on a wet towel. Annabelle would then inject a small amount of paint into their scales. The whole process was really fascinating. I felt as if we were doing surgery on fish, but in the middle of nowhere. I found the job of tagging the fish really interesting and something I may consider for the future. Once the fish were tagged, I held it gently in my hands in water and moved it back in forth to get water running over its gills so it wouldn't die. We then released the bucket of them into the water and hurried back for lunch. I found it frustrating to catch fish. Many of the fish we caught weren't the right type and we didn't have enough time to tag them. I think a lot of the work that goes on out here has to be repeated due to environmental conditions and trying to ensure the health and safety of the animals.
Lunch today was a bean lasanga and watermelon. I really enjoyed it. After lunch we headed to Plum Creek. The water and sand at the creek was similar to yesterday. It was once again a beautiful scene. All the teams went to this creek and we did two sites with three transects each. Camille and I set up one transect and did two others as well. The fish we saw in the transects were mostly juvenile schoolmasters. We did, however, see a wide range of checkered puffer fish. I saw the biggest checkered puffers I have ever seen in my life. Some probably were about one foot long. After recording our fish, we picked everything up and headed back to the vans. At any mangrove site it seems like we have to go on a long hike to get to and from the sites. Annabelle was really proud with our progress and I was happy to know she actually kept this data. The last mangrove survey we did, she didn't keep the data and that was an exhausting survey, which frustrated some of us.
We stopped once again at the store on our way home. I got another cold drink since those are incredibly hard to come by on campus. We hurried and got ready for dinner early, since the Island School students' parents came for a visit and the dining area would be crowded. Due to the parents being in, the food was better than normal. I ate eggplant and cooked carrots. It's weird how the students' parents are here and we participate in activities with them. I feel as if we are ruining their special moments and we don't really fit in, but we all live together and have the same water supply so I guess we are one "happy" family. After dinner Janneke and I entered data from a previous survey into the database. It was a good thing I worked with Janneke since she doesn't understand English the greatest and Annabelle was getting frustrated with her. I felt like a real scientist entering the data.
We then joined the Island School students for their Coffee House, also known as a talent show. Some of the acts were very entertaining such as boys singing "I'm a Barbie Girl". It's interesting how being with the same people for a long time, they start to get on your nerves a little bit. At the end of the show, I was reminded of how to live everyday to its fullest and cherish each moment. This brought me back to reality of being able to work as a researcher as a marine biologist, my dream job. We then headed back to the dorms and watched a movie about the Deep Ocean – how appropriate. Some of us made Bahamian flag tie bracelets with string. I can't wait to sport the new colors when I get home. Now it's time for bed and another fun day awaits for me tomorrow; one in which I will cherish every part of.
Highlight: seeing huge puffers in the mangroves
Today was amazing. I don't really have the words to describe exactly what I saw, but it was definitely one of the prettiest views I have seen in my life. I will step back a second and start from the beginning. This morning I woke up early to go on a early morning bike ride. We decided to follow the Island School kids on their six mile run. The path was paved most of the way. After riding through a forested area for a while, we came upon a swing and a beach. We realized this was the same place we got stuck at on the first snorkel. We then followed the path through the marina. Being out that early in the morning and looking and riding along is incredibly peaceful. I often times feel like I'm on a different planet.
At breakfast we had oatmeal and banana bread. It was actually really good. We also started playing this game called Assassin. What happens is each person is given another person in our group to "kill". The rules of the game require us to make up random day rules. For instance we have a rule of filling up water bottles while holding it with the left hand. If the person you have doesn't follow the rules, you can kill them and get their person to kill. The point of the game is to be the last one standing. My first person to get out is Abby, and after today I didn't kill her.
Today was the break day of the trip. Since we are officially half way done, we get one day off in the middle. In order to get our reward day, we had to clean the dorms first. Since the bathroom looked disgusting with hair and sand all over the floor, Camille and I volunteered to clean the Octagon. When we walked there, there was a class inside so we walked back. Annabelle told us to clean around them. The next task was finding the broom. Annabelle suggested we go through the dorms by the classroom to look for a broom. I felt like I was invading people's privacy by going through their dorms. I even talked to someone in a random stall to try to find one. We eventually came across one by the boys' dorm. After the Octagon was cleaned, we headed back to change and get ready for the beach.
Camille, Abby, Janneke, and I shared a car to get there. We stopped at the store along the way to get a cold drink, which is quite the luxury out here. We then got back in the "Serf" and continued onwards. While driving through the towns I noticed there were a lot of hitchhikers along the way. I inquired about them and the crime rates in the area. Hitchhiking is very common in the Bahamas since many people don't own vehicles. The hitchhikers are surprisingly friendly and the practice is considered safe. The institute has a good reputation in the community, so theft from the institute is low, but in the overall area theft rates are high.
After a long time we turned onto an unpaved path that headed to the beach. We were crashing into one another constantly, and the overhang continuously encroached into our vehicle. We were in a forest and I felt as if I was in the jungle. Even though the path was only a few miles long, the ride took quite a while. Eventually, however, I spotted the ocean. It was breathtaking. Never in my life have I seen such a clear and blue ocean. Once we got out of the car and started walking, the sand seeped through my toes. It felt as if I was walking on baby powder. The beach was quite remote and only another family was on it. I immediately pulled off my clothes and ran into the ocean. As waves crashed over me, the warm water covered my skin. It felt wondrous. Since only one of the cars (the one I was in) could go on the path, we were left on the beach alone while the driver went back to pick up the others. The group of us took pictures in the ocean and headed over to a cove area where we climbed rocks and took pictures there. We were later informed that going to the coves was not allowed; ooops. Once everyone arrived we had a lunch of freshly cut watermelon and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After lunch a group of us went for a snorkel. The current was tough, the waves were high, and the fish were lacking, so I decided to head back early; it wasn't worth the work it was taking. I layed out on the beach for a while and enjoyed the sun for the first time this trip. I cannot even express to you how relaxing it really was. After another swim and some rock climbing to look out over the beautiful water, we started to gather our stuff and head back. The driver brought with him a fresh mango and banana, and I had a bite of each. They were so sweet and perfect. While waiting for the driver to shuttle everyone back, the group of us looked for a coconut to crack open. Our attempts failed, but we brought the coconut back to camp with us to try later. (The inside ended up being too dry.)
On the ride back the sun had worn me out so much I fell asleep in the car multiple times. My group almost missed dinner and didn't get a chance to shower, but the extra time on the beach was worth it. For dinner tonight, rice and bean patties and potato salad were served. I wasn't a huge fan. I came back and was going to enter some reef survey data, but Annabelle thought that Harborne (the creator of the experiment) was going to change something. We also had the opportunity to skype with Harborne from Australia tonight. I think it is so awesome that I am actually doing something beneficial and helpful to his work. I asked many questions to him about interpreting data. Turns out, this is a three year project and we are just the beginning. We played games with the Island School students tonight. I never fully understood the rules, but Janneke and I hid in the bushes for many minutes on end; no one ever found us. We also attempted a dance with the students, but it turned out to be a disaster. No one really danced and the situation was a little strange. Maybe that is what happens when you spend too many weeks on an island.
That leads me to typing this blog now. And as I shut this computer and try not to cringe because of my slight sunburn, I hope I fall asleep to dreams of the fantasy of a place I was at today.
Highlight: being at the beautiful beach all day