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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Under the sea, under the stars...

November 27, 2009

Today has been a very strange and contradictory sort of day. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between feeling mostly ok (but very tired) and quite sick every couple of hours. I also had the distinctly unpleasant experience of throwing up a little bit in my snorkel after I thought that eating a mid data collection snack would be a good idea!

The sand perch continue to be much the same – there, but less than thrilling. Nevertheless, I’m having a fabulous time out on the reef all the same. I also dove to new depths today despite severe sinus pressure due to the fact that my clipboard broke and several hours worth of data drifted away in the current and was sinking out off the edge of the reef! I swam after it as fast as I could and really did go at least a good ten feet deeper than I ever have before it pursuit of it. Now I have the data and I’m a bit more confident in my diving abilities, so it ended up being a win-win sort of thing, I think.

My research partner, Kai, continues to stick his hand in every crevice and hidey hole possible in the coral reef in the hopes of coming out with an octopus or lobster. This didn’t work out so well from him today when he stuck his hand inside of a giant clam and it closed around his finger with a part of it that had been crushed a little and was very jagged and sharp. He’s got a really nice, pretty deep gash across his middle finger now, but in true Kai fashion, all he did was swim up to the sand bar and beach himself for fifteen minutes before heading right out to watch some more sand perch. A little vomit in the snorkel is nothing compared to that!

I saw several large moray eels hiding under coral today. The reef just gets more and more enjoyable as I become better at recognizing where different creatures are likely to live. I also saw my first “alligator fish”, a truly strange looking creature, today because Kai was very concerned that I hadn’t seen one and made it a mission to scare one up out of the sand for me.

The highlight of today however, was the “night snorkel”. I’d been preparing for it all day – I took an hour nap after lunch before working on the zebra and sand perch data and then napped for a couple more hours in lieu of dinner in the hopes that I might be a little less tired.

Around 7:45pm we all met down at the beach. We had enough waterproof lights or headlamps in Ziplocs that there was about one light for every two people. I swam with Mara and though we overshot the off-shore reef by quite a bit – we turned around when we were having difficulty swimming through the big waves – eventually we found it. We also saw some cool creatures in the sea grass too. Many of the fish were attracted to the invertebrates attracted to our light, so we saw a slightly different set of fish than we normally see during the day. We even petted a puffer fish, though to our dismay he did not puff up in the slightest, but seemed entirely unconcerned about out presence. We saw many cool invertebrates – I will try to look them up in some of the books tomorrow and write down what I think they may have been. We also sort of swam right up on a squid. Mara tried to grab him and he took great offense at this and sent a great cloud of ink our way, which somehow seemed even more impressive at night than it does during the day.

Eventually, Mara got cold and I got tired, so after just under two hours out in the beautiful Indian Ocean in the moonlight, we swam back to shore. We both wanted to swim back in as far as possible, so we essentially beached ourselves – we didn’t stop swimming until our knees started hitting the sand as we tried to kick with our fins.

I thought I would be more than a little scared during the night snorkel, but I really wasn’t at all, though I did make sure to keep a good grip on Mara’s wrist when we were in the bigger waves because she was the one holding the light! I was just too taken with how incredibly cool the whole experience was. It is amazing how just when you start to think you know something about the reef and the sort of creatures that live there, all you have to do is go out at a different time of the day and things look totally different.

The moonlight was also incredible tonight. Mara and I turned off the light a couple of times and in the shallower areas you could still see the bottom! A couple of times I peeked up at the stars and it was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen in my life. I felt so very lucky. I wish everyone could have this experience because words and pictures can’t at all capture the sheer sense of wonder we were all feeling.

In a very biology nerd sort of way, I also found myself wondering what sorts of adaptations the night time fish have that make them more suited to a nocturnal lifestyle. Most of them weren’t anything too out of the ordinary in appearance. They were different than the other species I’ve seen so far, but there weren’t any crazy extra appendages or easy to see structural adaptations of the eyes or anything.

If I were Ariel I would never leave the sea because there are such wonderful things around, right there on the ocean floor!

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