Hola from Mexico! It is an exciting summer for us at UNdertheC! I am currently in Akumal, Mexico with the Bruno lab for a week of field work. Kelsey is also in the field but field work for all of our different research areas at UNdertheC can be very different. Follow Kelsey’s oceanography cruise and look out for future field updates from Justin, Megan, and Kathleen later this summer!
My research area is marine ecology and I am mostly interested in coral reef ecology. My specific research topic has been the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean (if you couldn’t tell by all of my lionfish-related posts), but I am not here for my own research. Instead, I am working more as a field tech here, helping my lab members collect data for their own projects.
A typical day in the field for us starts bright, early, and wet. We have to get in the water early to be able to fit in our two to three dives each day. During this trip, we are focused on coral reef herbivores like those I discussed in my previous post. On our daytime dives, we have three divers, each with their own job to do. One person is counting parrotfish along lines that we call transect tapes that are really like oversized measuring tapes. Another person follows behind them with a GoPro recording the habitat along these transect lines so we can later count the amount of algae and coral. The third person, and this has been my job, sets up a GoPro and tripod to record how often herbivores are feeding on the reef.
Unfortunately the GoPros have been giving us a hard time so we have gotten a lot of great videos of our confused faces staring into the screen! (Stay tuned for a few YouTube videos of our best GoPro science fails) We have to repeat all of this six times on each reef without getting lost underwater or running out of air! We have gotten it down to a pretty smooth system, though (aside from our technically difficulties), so I usually have time to take pictures of other awesome sea life like this spotted moray eel. We also love to take goofy pictures during our safety stops, especially dive selfies.
When the sun goes down, our work is not over. We are going on night dives each night to collect parrotfish tissue samples so my lab mate, Courtney, can use genetic analyses to see if parrotfish populations in Mexico, Honduras, and Belize are all related or not. This is important because parrotfish are only protected in Belize, but if they are all related, they should be managed in all three countries together. We have to collect the samples as night because this is when parrotfish are sleeping instead of darting around on the reef during the day.
The only problem is, I am not a huge fan of night diving. I will openly admit I am afraid of the dark and I also don’t like all the little worm/bug things that come out and are attracted to dive lights at night. But in the Bruno lab, there are no wimps allowed so I did the logical thing and bought myself an awesome ninja dive hood to protect myself from the nighttime ocean creepy-crawlies.
Last night was my first parrotfish sampling night dive and I have to say, I actually enjoyed it! We worked in two teams each with one person catching the parrotfish with nets and the other taking the tissue sample. I was the parrotfish catcher and it was pretty exciting for me, kind of like when I am looking for my lionfish. We has a successful dive with no urchin spines and only minor creepy-crawly incidents. We saw a few huge jacks hunting which was a little scary when you see a grey shadow zooming by but they weren’t interested in us. I think they were a little annoyed that our flashlights were throwing off their nighttime hunting advantage. We also saw a ton of lobster and an amazing octopus swimming around and changing colors! I guess night dives aren’t so bad after all!