Friday, June 15, 2012

A message in a bottle from a little island in the Caribbean

Nothing is more strange than opening your eyes to a bright turquoise stucco wall. I could still smell the stale scent of sunscreen that was left from yesterday's application on my skin. My wooden bunk bed creaked as I sat up confused for a moment as to where I was. It hadn't felt like I got 6 hours of sleep, but then again the night before I had only gotten about an hour and half's worth of sleep.

I rubbed my eyes, still not quiet sure where I was until I pushed the light red fabric curtain to the side. My eyes immediately found the water. The phrase, "you have to see it, to believe it." would accurately describe the water of the Caribbean. The numerous shades of blues and greens seemed to melt together until they became translucent when they crashed on the shore. It was at that point it really dawn on me.....

Oh my god I am actually in Little Cayman.

Theatrical opening I know, but hey it got you to read my post this far didn't it? You can decide whether or not I am being over-dramatic when you are done reading about my first experiences while down here.

I believe it is at this point that I should introduce myself. Obviously you can tell by the name and the colon that follows it, that my name is Stephanie Kelly and this is my blog/blog post. (I promise I am not an imposter). Currently I am senior at Rutgers dual majoring in Marine Biology and Environmental Science. (Yes I already know I am crazy for doing that). I am down at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI)  taking park in a Coral Reef Internship. I am going to be down here for a little under 3 weeks, doing various research with coral reefs and the coral reef habitats. Although this is counting toward research credit for my degrees, I mostly am using this opportunity to experience what it is really like to be a field scientist and get to know a environment that I had virtually no real exposure to before.

Alright now that you know the gist.....

It became apparent to me how terrified I was of flying somewhere after baggage check. As I said my final  distant goodbye to my mother on the other side of the gate, I walked to the terminal noticing that my heart was racing and palms were sweaty.  I wrote this reaction off as being excited for my trip but as I was walking up to the gate. Then when the stewardest directed me toward the actual terminal my stomach dropped and I felt very uneasy. I boarded the plane and the flight attendant took one look at me and said, "Hun, you just go take your seat and once we level out your first drink is on me." Needless to say I must have looked as bad as I felt. I took my seat and for the most part I was able to get work done to keep my mind off the fact that was in a contained vessel that was about 30,000 feet in the air. The same flight attendant was also nice enough to guide through the airport to where I needed to wait  for the next flight that would take me from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman. I arrived on Little Cayman around 230ish and for the next day and half I spent feverishly working on my introduction presentation and acquainting myself with the other kids that were also  part of the program.

Wednesday was the official start day of the internship.  Dr. Manfrino (Kerri) decided to begin the class with a hour or so lecture on coral and coral types. Normally a classroom experience would end at this point, but things down here in CCMI are a tad bit different. We instructor to grab our snorkel, mask and fins and meet her at the waters edge. Then for the next four hours or so we snorkeled around the shallow reefs that where less than 15 feet away from the beach ( in front of the institute). We ebbed through the various clusters of corals only occasionally popping or heads out of the  water to point out  a coral we were above or near. Like most of the other students, I was really intrigued and in  awe of the the array of reef fish that surrounded us. We saw everything from the tiniest juvenile trunk fish to a meter long barracuda. (Which surprisingly I was more intrigued than frightened of, despite the briefing I received about the amount of animals that can harm you down here). We collected algae from the lagoon out in front of the institute and took them in the lab to identify them. After lunch we went snorkeling again for an hour.

Unfortunately for me while I was at JFK I got my sunscreen and Shampoo and soap confiscated in my carry on instead of my luggage bag so 5 other girls and I made the fatal mistake of biking to the nearest convenience store (did I mention it was about 8 miles there in back?) in the 90 degree heat. We went and saw a lecture on sharks and dolphins at  resort and then I proceeded to pass out immediately when I got back to my dorm.

Yesterday we had two major things go on: we dissected a lionfish ( which is a apart of very active research here at CCMI) and we had our check out dive. I learned a lot about lionfish and how they are invasive and also how to handle one ( if ever handed a random dead one for some reason). We took each fish's weight, lengths, and removed its stomach and gonads for research purposes. The rest of the fish we put in a freezer to give to a resort to sell as a delicacy.

After lunch we had our check out dive and up until our second dive today, I was having major buoyancy issues. Thankfully, my dive buddy grabbed my fin when I was shooting up the surface. I was also having regulator issues ( the thing you put in your mouth while scuba diving) and had to use an alternate air for half of the dive. the highlight of the dive  was I found/pointed out an octopus out to a dive master. (I found out later that is 2nd time he had ever saw and octopus in the day, and obviously I was proud of myself for such a rare find.)

Today we did two dives, one off of a wall at this place called Jackson's point and another off a point where two walls meet. Both dives were about 50 minutes long and I had dove down to 50 feet (which is a new record for me).  The night before we had a lecture on fish identification and these dives were to test our skills. Needless to say I saw all of the fish families, wrasses, tangs, butterfly fish, parrotfish, angelfish ( a french angel fish I saw was wider than a dinner plate!), groupers, and blennies. On the first dive I had seen a a bunch of stingrays (which btw are one of my favorite sea animals) and my dive buddy was actually able to find a Morey eel under a boulder! unfortunately I wasn't able to bring my underwater camera with me due to my buoyancy issue but I finally got the clear that i can bring on the next dive once I had surfaced. We arrived back to the CCMI too late to snorkel as planned so instead we used the time to catch up on work and eat dinner. About an hour ago my lecture ended and I have been writing this blog ever since.

Sorry if this last bit is rushed but I'm a bit tired and I still need to go shower before I head off to bed. 

WELL YOU MADE IT. I promise you I won't make my next updates this long (hey give me a break, I had 3 days worth of experience to cover). As promised, you can make the decision for yourself if I was over exaggerating in the beginning.

This is to show you the bright obnoxious wall (lols) and below it is  a better view of the water I wake up to and swim in everyday. 

Until next time,

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the read and look forward to your next post! Thanks for adding pictures too! They really made the intro more tangible alive.