The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Snappers, Spinners, Sonar and Stargazing

Snappers, Spinners, Sonar and Stargazing
October 6, 2009

Today involved more snorkeling! Unfortunately Alex was sick (pole, Alex), so Sam and I practiced laying down the transect tape for 50 meters and then swimming the length of it, counting up all of the groupers and snappers we could see within a meter of either side of the tape. The really nice German guy from the dive center down the beach helped us a lot and even lent us his waterproof slate.

I enjoyed the snorkeling just as much but am having lots of upset stomach troubles yet again and got so freezing cold after the first dive session that I went in as little as possible after that because my fingers were starting to swell. I feel like an idiot for not ordering and bringing compression gloves – but I feel that way every winter too when I’ve yet again failed to order said gloves and once more can’t bend my fingers.

But laying the tape is tedious, but not too difficult, so that is good. Sadly, there weren’t many groupers and snappers to be seen today because they are very shy fish and with all of us splashing around and trying to figure out how to work all of the new equipment in our different groups, we were driving them all into hiding.

Sam and I did see Peacock Groupers and Chocolate Hinds (a type of grouper) in our transect area and also saw Saddleback Groupers swimming a few meters outside of and deeper than our transect area – we didn’t see any snappers at all!

I did however see a HUGE sting ray (literally at least as broad as my torso, probably bigger) chasing after prey of some sort while I was waiting for my turn to swim the transect line, so that was very, very exciting.

I loved going for a solo run this morning and even listened to my iPod which was a total luxury. It poured rain for a few minutes of my run, but I liked that – it reminded me of home! I almost ran into an elephant shrew when I went for a brief loop around the forested area – I don’t know who was more startled, me or the shrew! I think we both jumped when we suddenly were face to face.

Later in the day, Mara and I went for a walk to try to find the shrews and video tape them, but they were too quick for us to catch. However, we did stumble across the unexpected sight of Rachel Y. giving Anton a haircut!

We had a lecture this evening from Amin Abdala, a Tanzanian man who is doing research on several different fish species and their preferred habitits and ranges within Maziwe Reef (the area we have been studying in), in the hopes that his data will be used to help adjust the protected reserve boundaries in order to better protect more aquatic species. He was really nice and answered all of our questions. He is currently a PhD candidate and is working through a joint program between a Canadian university (can’t remember which one) and the University of Dar es Salaam and has one more year of reef study left before he goes to Canada to write everything up.

He also showed us the sonar tags that he inserts through a small incsiosn into the body cavities of individual grouper in order to see how large their habitat is and how far they usually travel. Because he can’t sonar tag every fish due to the expense ($400 US/tag) he also uses tags which are simply stuck to the fish with a serial number and so he can compare where he first tagged them with where he recatches them in traps, or when local fishermen bring him the tag and tell him where they caught the fish. It is a pretty sweet deal for the fishermen because they get to keep the fish and also get $1 US for bringing him the tag.

After dinner, a bunch of us sat out on the beach to look at the stars and watch the moon rise. The moon was incredible, first a beautiful red color, fading to yellow and then a stark, bone white. I was even able to capture some of this on camera, though my hand was a little shakey, especially because everyone kept making me laugh.

I love star gazing so much. I wish I was smart enough to be an astronomer. Its so incredible to me to think that so many of the stars we can see from Earth don’t even actually exist anymore because it has taken so long for their light to reach Earth, they’ve actually had enough time to go through their “life cycle” and “die” by the time their lightwaves reach Earth.

I also love gazing at the stars in a place like Pembe Abwe where you can see so many of them because it makes me feel wonderfully insignificant – there is so much else out there that any mistakes I make can’t possibly be that bad, you know?

I also can’t help but think about all of those other stars with all of those other planets out there. When I really get a good look at how many there are it makes me feel certain that somewhere out there are other planets teeming with life that is probably just as interesting and diverse as Earth’s. Now, I realize that sounds really nerdy, but given the sheer number of other galaxies, star systems and planets out there, its really egotistical and self centered to believe that our planet is the only one that has life on it – kind of like believing that the sun and all of the planets revolve around the Earth.

We stayed there for a good long time and watched the moon rise until it was pretty high in the sky and then just started chatting and hanging outl Eventually some running on the beach (involving various levels of clothing or not) occurred, which was great fun.

Saw more spinner dolphins today, though sadly my camera battery had not been charged yet. Will bring my camera out again tomorrow in the hopes of seeing more, as I’ve only got one good shot from the boat ride over from Zanzibar the other day.

Lala salama,

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