Friday, October 30, 2009

Sunrise from Heron Island

These photos were too pretty to keep to myself - so I hope you enjoy! These are from my last morning on Heron Island.

There were about 20 rays swimming right against the shore at sunset - look at the dark marks, and you'll see about 10 in this photo!

More sunrise shots - the birds get really active around sunrise, so it was really beautiful seeing them skim on the ocean. And they stopped howling, which was also nice!

Two more shots of Heron Island before we left:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back in Brizzie

We have now left tropical paradise and are back in Brisbane for a day before heading to Stradbroke Island, right off the coast. The last 4 days have been a huge blur of labwork (we were up until 4 one night trying to process samples, only to get up at 7 AM and keep working), but it was totally worth it and a lot of fun. I learned tons of new lab techniques and got to know my lab group really well! The four of us are looking at different aspects of coral health and how algae may affect growth and photosynthesis, so we're comparing coral protein levels to how many photosynthetic symbionts are living in their tissue, and how much chlorophyll each symbiont has. It requires a lot of cool equipment and LOTS of time investment, which is why we spent basically 3 full days in the lab.

Tessaly applying an acetone wash:

Diana using our spectrometer for checking protein and chlorophyll levels:


We used this spray gun to "water pick" all the live tissue off of small chucnks of coral skeleton:

Test tubes (we ran 110 samples total):

The lab:

Running the centrifuge to separate out tissue and supernatant:

The magic sonicator that mixed our samples:

The weighing machine so we could compare surface areas of each coral piece to the number of dinoflagellates, chlorophyll, and protein levels:

And that was my research project!! Results will be forthcoming once I have a minute to sit down and look at our heaps of data. I'm excited to see what kind of trends we have (if any), although I think any differences between samples will probably be due to our errors rather than actual differences. Oh well. I also got up for a spectacular sunrise the last day we were there, and will upload photos soon!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Fish!

More fish photos! We finished 5 days of labs and learned lots of lab techniques for looking at the health of corals. We can analyze coral proteins and the number of photosynthetic symbionts in their tissue, as well as how much chlorophyll each symbiont has. I'll be using those techniques for my research project. I've also been on reef walks every day so far, although I'm going to take a break today because I have a huge scrape on my knee from sand volleyball and I want it to have time to do some healing.

Here are photos from one of our snorkeling trips - they gave us cameras, and the assignment was to take as many fish photos as possible and then try to ID them later.

As yet undetermined fish:

Canthigaster valentini (Pufferfish - this one's for you, Nicole!):

Epaulette sharks - these lay eggs when they reproduce, and have crushing teeth:

Beautiful giant clam:

More reef shots:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So Good So Far!

I've learned tons about coral reefs, invertebrates, vertebrates, and oceanography in the 5 days we've been on Heron Island so far. I've also gone snorkeling, seen lots of white and black-tipped reef sharks, turtles, and lots of giant clams and fish. THIS ISLAND IS THE GREATEST!! And the food has been amazing as well! I really think morning and afternoon tea should be introduced in the US. It would improve morale and give me an excuse to eat more!

We see the most spectacular sunsets (and you can see the shipwreck on the reef in these photos):

We’ve also been rotating through 5 lab stations to learn about different parts of the reef. We started off doing lab work on corals to see how many photosynthetic symbionts lived in their tissues, as well as the number of chloroplasts and the protein content of the corals. I’ll be using those techniques when I start my research, so I found that lab very helpful.

We then worked on the reef flats for the second day of rotations, looking at the critters on the reef through microscopes and then on the reef itself. It was BEAUTIFUL out there!!

The reef flat:

Sea Hares!! These are my FAVORITE marine creatures ever, they feel softer than velvet and are super cute as well!

Spaghetti worms!! They live their entire life in the little sand encasing you see in the photo, and send out their tenticles to catch prey. They're super soft:

Explorers out at sea:

A green crab that lives in green turtle grass algae. This is one of the coolest symbioses on the reef because it’s colored to match the algae and lives its whole life inside one algae patch.

We then worked with Kevin Ariggo, who is a Stanford professor visiting just for this course. He’ll probably be my advisor for Earth Systems, and he’s awesome! We did a plankton tow off a boat first thing in the morning, then spent the rest of the morning looking at the plankton in microscopes. I didn’t realize plankton referred to anything that is moved primarily by the ocean and has no real means of locomotion, so we saw a much broader spectrum of creatures than I expected. And this evening we’re going to take a night sample and see how it differs.

Us on the boat:

Shipwreck in the background (no big deal, right?):

White-tipped Noddies flying out to sea to catch fish:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Entering Paradise

I've officially arrived on paradise island. We took an overnight train from Cairns to Gladstone, where we then boarded a ferry to get to Heron Island.

The train was adorable and we ate three meals aboard it. I was bunked in a 1st class room with Linda - no idea how we scored that situation, but we only had two beds in our room instead of the really cramped 3-bed rooms that most of our group had. The food was pretty good and I spent most of the 21 hour trip reading a fantasy book from my TA Diana and sleeping. It was just the relaxing trip we all needed!

Linda sleeping:

We arrived in Gladstone around 6:30 and waited around the ferry dock until we departed at 11 for the island. I slept most of the ride, but woke up in time to see our arrival upon the island. We passed lots of little exposed reefs because it was low tide. I LOVE the Great Barrier Reef. It is phenomenally beautiful, and we had a brief snorkel test around this partially submerged shipwreck surrounded by tons of fish, sharks, corals, and turtles. Unbelievable. And according to Selena, one of our professors and my research instructor, the snorkeling gets WAY better! So I can't wait for classes, since we snorkel every day and learn oceanographic lab techniques. I still can't believe this is school.

Approaching Heron Island:

Exposed reefs from the boat:

The reef at low tide:

The beach!

Also, the stars look magnificent from the beach here. I sat with KL, Erikka, and Ilan for about half an hour and saw tons of shootings stars, birds flying, and lots of constellations. Lisa saw a turtle laying eggs further up the beach, so tonight I'm on a mission to see the same!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Barrier Reef*

*All photos are courtesy of KL's waterproof camera. It's the best!


Today I went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, thereby checking off one more location I’ve visited from the show Planet Earth. It was absolutely stunning. I thought Hawaii was beautiful, but it can’t compare to the vibrant colors and fish diversity I saw today. I swam in a school of thousands of beautiful blue fish and saw lots of turtles, clownfish, a giant clam, and reef sharks.

Our boat was gorgeous and the cost of diving included gear, 3 dives, morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. The guides were great, the food was really tasty, and I was only seasick for half the time! Here's a photo of me with Erikka, KL, and Ryan:

After I ate some rice and had a motion sickness pill during lunch, I felt way better. The dive sites were beautiful and we went down to depths of 19 meters, 14 meters, and 12 meters on the 3 dives, as well as a bit of snorkeling. Since I don’t use much air, I was able to stay down longer than a lot of my group. I can’t describe how beautiful it was, but I think I forgot to breathe sometimes because I was so transfixed by what was around me.

KL took her waterproof camera with her when we went snorkeling, hence all these wonderful photos:

The gear was really nice, and KL was in love with the onesie lycra suit they gave us to protect us from jellyfish stings. None of us were stung today, although one of the guys in our program got stung a couple times yesterday. It was absolutely worth every minute of seasickness and post-diving exhaustion because it was just so beautiful.

The Silverswift boat:

Tomorrow we get on a 24-hour train ride from Cairns to Gladstone, where we’ll then take a boat to Heron Island for our coral reef class. Internet will be pretty sketchy there – it’s a tiny island with a resort and a research station, and nothing else, so resources are somewhat limited. It’s also on the outer reef, meaning it’s pretty far from shore, so it will be our own island oasis! And after scuba diving here, I can’t wait to scuba at Heron Island and snorkel every day.

So far, every experience I’ve had in Australia has surpassed my expectations. I hope this trend continues, and I fully expect to be wowed and awed at Heron Island and beyond!!