Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Barbados Field Study Day 2

So it's about 48 hours since we've arrived at Bellairs Research Institute, and they have been jam-packed with the wonderful mayhem of field science.
Most of us arrived on the island a little early....and got a chance to appreciate the beauty, like the awesome sunsets that happen almost instantly, throwing gorgeous colour on the horizon. The sunset is of course, best viewed on the beach with a cold drink in hand after along day in the water. The
South and East coasts, where most of the accommodation is, are almost entirely saturated with stereotypical white sand beaches, palm trees waving overhead, sharing the crystal clear shallow water with turtles.
The above picture, close to the St. Lawrence Gap, was taken by one of the students on the field course, Alex (right), who has professional photography skills and shoots literally hundreds a day- so we have are very own photojournalist! All the photos here will be Alex's......
Alex, like the rest of us, just can't stay out of the water, which is astonishingly warm for Canadians who had to deal with snow in Montreal last week!
Ten of us actually did SCUBA training down here for the four days right before the course, which was so incredibly amazing it needs a blog post all on its own (hopefully I'll get one up soon). In short, breathing underwater, floating free like a fish is truly magical. Of course, once you're accustomed to breathing underwater, your visual cortex is simply overwhelmed by colour, movement and grace as schools of fish swarm by in a rainbow of colours. The fish are there of course, because of the coral, like the magnificent coral growths that have formed on shipwrecks in Carlisle bay, where we learned to dive.
Anyway....before I get too carried away with the sheer joy of diving on coral reefs- back to Bellairs. Applied Tropical Ecology started out in fine form with amazing Bajan (Barbadian) cooking providing a sumptious meal that we shred with our professors, eaten in the Bellairs dining room which is beside a gorgeous garden lawn/palm trees.

The first meal in a field course, which is often the first 'official' activity often sets the tone for the rest of the course. In this case, we had ~20 students, all highly motivated to learn about the amazing ecosystems around us, practically giddy with with excitement to finally be on the island after counting down for months enjoying informal chat with each other (comments like I saw a turtle today!/I got certified to dive today/Do you want to go night snorkelling?/Can you believe we're right beside a beautiful coral reef?) - and chatting with our professors who were I suspect, just a little bit excited to be back in Bellairs doing the nitty gritty of field work. At the end of the meal, we get the low down for the course - we'll be doing an orientation lecture/swim in the morning, then spending a day each studying fish on the coral reef, seagrass on the epic East coast, and DNA barcoding in groups of 7. Sunday night, we basically relazed, soaking in the heat, sun and a few of us did a night snorkel.
Snorkelling at night is pretty fun on a normal beach when you have a light to see where you are going, and the bright stars reflcting off the water. Add in an amazing reef chockfull of charismatic fish- and you get a pretty rewarding experience. ON our first night snorkel, we saw a lobster, a long trumpet shaped predator which ambushes it's prey (trumpetfish), many different parrotfish and wrasses (e.g. the flashy bluehead wrasse), the famous puffer fish, and one scary looking dude called a porcupine fish.
The next morning we got to appreciate the reef in vibrant daylight, as we accustomed ourselves to the reef, practiced identifying fish, and started to delve into the mysteries of fish behaviour and their interaction with coral and algae. In just a few hours, two unforgettable memories imprinted themselves into my brain. First, we saw a turtle lazily making his way around the marine park, pretty much oblivious to our awkward underwater lunges as we tried to observe it up close. The young turtle (about 14" long, I think a teenaged Hawksbill) moving effortlessly through the water encapsulated to me how incredible survival strategies, like swimming in your own unbreakable house, can result in a creature which easily floats threw the water with a divine grace.The second indelible observation will have to wait, as it is time to send my boyd for some much-need rest, so I'll just leave it with a few more of Alex's pics:
This is our 'backyard' at Bellairs:

Fabio, getting acquainted with the scurrying invertebrates which share the rocks by the sea:

The game is on tomorrow (Go Habs Go!), so I surely won't get another update until at least Friday.


Blogger full_of_puppy_love said...

so. jealous.

4:48 p.m.  

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