Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What do I do in my freetime in Bonaire?

Mostly sweat. That's one of my biggest pastimes in Bonaire, especially at my house. I really give my eccrine glands a workout. This is my shoulder from last night. My entire body was one big bead of sweat. It's quite a hobby. I just don't get to sweat so profusely forsuch extended periods of time in Washington and I really missed-out on extended sweating while growing up in Montana (although there were those times when I lived in half of a trailer in Lame Deer that almost reached this level of eccrine overload). It does bring back fine memories of sweating in Texas while working on my thesis.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Upcoming Posts

I have "started" a whole series of posts that will be upcoming over the next few weeks. My lack of internet connection most days and weekends has made finishing them a challenge. Post that I'll be releasing include discussion of recent eel deaths; salt mining, slavery and hypertension; fish behavior and design (multiple parts); cactus fences; the gecko on my hand; how to monitor a reef; where I'm living and who I'm working with; and probably something else. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from this weekend. I do love the patterns on the ocean critters.

Butterprint Brain Coral (Meandrina meandrites -- MMEA--that's the code I would use when doing a reef survey.)
Another picture of the wonderful giant anemone.

A Lettuce Sea Slug -- a nudibranch (nudi = naked; branch= lung -- like bronchiole)

A close up of a Pederson's Cleaner Shrimp -- they're always trying to see if I'm a fish that wants to be cleaned.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I didn't know Jacks..

....did this. While finishing up a transect the other day, I was coming to the top of a wall on the reef. A large bar jack swam right in front of me and pushed itself into some soft coral. It shimmied its way in like a lion in the grass. I thought, "Hmm, I haven't seen that before. Perhaps, it is hiding from me." Then it burst from the plumes and shot into a large group of brown chromis (picture not included). Hundreds of them scattered in every direction for about 2 seconds and then everything was back to normal.
Maybe soon I'll have a complete post with all of the pictures!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coral Coverage

In 2002, I started doing volunteer work on coral reefs in Roatan, Honduras. I have fond memories of the reefs there and a couple of years ago I visited Utila (an island near Roatan) and Roatan again. I was stunned at the condition of the reef and how it had changed in that time. Indeed, it was clear that both islands' economies were based almost entirely on dive tourism, yet the reefs weren't nearly as pristine as I had seen only 4 or 5 years earlier. However, the number of hotels, dive resorts, and fancy beach properties has skyrocketed. And with all of that came feces. More people, more bowels, more bowls, more feces. Wastewater treatment is rare in many of these places and so it all flushes to the sea with little processing. An increase in waste is an increase in nutrients, for the macroalgae. People come to see the reef, but as the reef becomes popular, the algae bloom and the coral die, taking away the reason that people come to the island. My guess is that many dive destinations are still popular because they have momentum -- people still think that they're great diving destinations and the businesses advertise as such.

Bonaire is odd in the Caribbean. Oh, there's plenty of waste-water and it's on the rise, while coral reefs throughout much of the Caribbean have been dying at an alarming rate, the reefs on Bonaire seem to be much more resilient and have stayed relatively constant over the past decade. These days, the average live-coral coverage on major reefs in the Caribbean is 26% or less (it was much, much higher in the past). In Bonaire, live-coral coverage is around 46%. The trend has been that reefs in the Caribbean have been going through a phase-shift from coral dominated ecosystems to macroalgae dominated systems. The macroaglae on the reef outcompete the coral for space and smother the adult coral, blocking sunlight. People don't travel to exotic locations to dive and see brownish algae growing on rocks. Well, very few people do that anyway.

As you'd expect, then, Bonaire is booming. It still is diver's paradise. It probably has the nicest reefs left in the Caribbean. With all of the nice reefs comes new building, expansions, condos etc. What's not being built (yet) is a wastwater treatment system. How long will Bonaire's reefs continue to be the pinnacle of Caribbean reef resilience? When will they be loved to death also? Or will our waste (along with other factors: global climate change, increasing ocean surface temperatures, high dissolved CO2, diseases, introduced species, and hurricanes) turn Bonaire into "A nice Place to see macroalgae."?

It's important to realize that if we lose the reef today (or soon), just like the reefs that have already had huge mortality, then we will not live long enough to see it fully recovered. It will be largely dead for the rest of our lives. Most likely, it would be many generations before it was back to normal and that's only if there was a massive effort to restore it. Reefs do not repair quickly. If you wanted to see pristine reefs in Jamaica someday, for example, then look into cryogenics or hydrogen sulfide (did I tell you about that!??) because you have a VERY, VERY long wait.

SO, what am I doing here?

I'm working with Stinapa Bonaire, a non-profit, NGO that manages the marine park of Bonaire.

What is this marine park anyway?

It's an odd organization. The Bonaire Marine Park, like many others in the Caribbean, was created by the dive companies on the island. They set up moorings, dive sites, etc. So it started with "buy in" from the businesses. In some sense, people established the park in order to protect themselves from themselves and each other. The park is not part of the government, but the government is a stakeholder. The park has a lot of different stakeholders: fishermen, the hotels, the tourism board, the salt company, dive companies, etc. In working with the government, the marine park rangers have some law enforcement capabilities. In the park's current form, rangers can levy fines against people even if they are part of the shareholder group. In fact, those are the people that are likely to be fined.
The marine park manager I'm working with is Ramon de Leon. He's from Uruguay and for many years he managed a dive shop on Bonaire. He has a degree in marine biology and has worked for universities doing marine research. He has a good combination of skills for a job like this. He's an insider. That is, he knows everybody here. Managing a marine park is about managing people (i.e., the stakeholders). Ramon is very good with people. He let me sit in on a meeting with one of the stakeholders, Cargill, who runs the salt company on Bonaire (don't worry I'll put pictures of it up later). It was fascinating. I can't share details from the meeting, but several things became apparent: 1)Everybody on Bonaire affects the reef to some extent; 2) Everybody knows that the reef is the most important thing on this island; and 3) Nobody wants to be the one that's hurting the reef most, or perhaps, nobody wants to be the one that people think is hurting the reef the most. If any dive company, hotel, business, etc. is categorized as a major contributor to reef degredation, then that business could have a very hard time living that down. From what I can tell, people want the reef to be in good shape and are interested in doing their part to keep it that way. It seems to me that one force that helps drive compliance with the regulations established by the marine park is peer pressure and potential for bad press. These sticks have a lot of weight. If most people come here to dive and they know that some company is ruining their reason for coming here, then that's a big deal.

Yeah, but what am I DOING?

My job here is to monitor what the reefs are like right now. The marine park has data from previous years, but each year it is important to know what reef's health in order to determine if a plan of action needs to be formed. (I will go through how I monitor the reefs in a later post.) For example, are diseases or macroalgae on the rise in a particular site? Is coral mortality up? Has coral coverage stayed about the same? The data that I'm collecting should get at some of those questions.

I better finish this post and copy the data that I collected off of my waterproof paper.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Getting Wet

I spent the last few days diving a few sites in Bonaire. I'm still trying to work out how to attach my backup air source. While I was doing that, I took a few pictures.

Below is a picture of a bearded fireworm. It is a type of polychaete worm which is an annelid. Earthworms are annelids too and they get the name from their many rings (from Latin anellus=little ring). Annelids may be polychaetes instead of polychaetes being annelids -- the taxonomists have yet to agree. In any case, this worm is a polychaete because it has many fine bristles, these are chaetae (i.e., polychaete) on the parapodia (para = along side of; podia = feet) of its many segments. . The bristles are full of toxins that will irritate the skin....hence the name, fireworm. These worms often feed on coral polyps, but may eat a variety of things on the reef. Unlike many polychaetes on the reef, the fireworms wander around the reef actively feed during the day. Most other polychaetes hide in holes, filter feed (e.g., christmas tree worms) or wander around at night. There's actually a large Caribbean species of polychaete (3+ feet long!) called "The Thing" that wanders around the reef at night.

As I was gearing up for a dive at "Cliff," a passerby said that they saw three black sea horses along the reef at about 30ft. Even with that information, these critters are incredibly well camouflaged, but I lucked out and saw some black "algae" moving with the surge. It was a seahorse! Very exciting! This is the first sea horse that I've ever found. This is called a Longsnout or Slender seahorse (Hippocampus reidi).

Clearly Cnidarians with cnidocytes are some of my favorite critters. Below are a couple of anemones -- a giant anemone (Condylactis gigantea) and a branching anemone (Lebrunia danae). The giant anemone has a spotted cleaner shrimp in it. In the Indo-Pacific anemone fish(e.g., Nemo) are abundant and often clean other fish, but in the Caribbean there are mostly anemone shrimp performing that job.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Arriving in Bonaire

Six airports and 27+ hours later, I arrived in Bonaire on September 16th. Since my arrival I have been spending most of my time getting ready to begin the process of coral reef monitoring. I now have a huge keyring with keys to various parks and gates, etc. For much of the night last night, I was the only person in the NW portion of the island (Washington, Slagbaai National Park). This is where I am staying.
Things are looking pretty good so far here. I'll be diving alone a lot doing AGRRA surveys of the reefs. I may do a night dive tonight because there should be some coral spawning this evening. I've had some interesting meetings so far, but I'll have to wait for another time to write more. I hope to be in the water soon and have some pictures to share.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It begins....

I leave for Bonaire, Netherland Antilles, today. This is the official start of my sabbatical. My colleagues are at convocation right now. I hope to have a new series of posts over the next 6 weeks from my coral reef monitoring work in Bonaire. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron

Well, it's online. The Large Hadron Collider is running. In case you wondered what the image that wrapped around "GOOGLE" on Google's homepage today was, it was the Large Hadron Collider. It's big and it could be huge for physics. Matthew introduced me to a rap about the collider, which is quite informative. Check it out on YouTube.

Roots, Canals, and Filefish

Before leaving Blackbird Caye in Belize, I went for a snorkel in the mangroves.

It was very, very green. Alton, Daisy and I entered the water and we were gently pushed through a channel on Calabash Island from the tidal flow. Floating between the rows of tangled roots was surreal.

The view above the water was so different from what was below. Being in the mangrove exposed me to fish and invertebrates that I hadn't seen before. There were new anemones to be seen and all kinds of juvenile fish. Perhaps some of the cutest fish were the young barracuda. They had all of the adult features necessary to look intimidating, but were only a few inches long.
One of the most interesting fish that I ran into is pictured in the photo below. Can you see it?
I don't know which species of filefish this is. I'll post it when I find out. It sure looks a lot like a leaf floating in the water. It moves really slow in this head-down position. I'm lucky that I even spotted it. Here's a relative of it that I really enjoy seeing. It's a slender filefish and it hides in the soft corals on the reef.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For all of the Fans....

Soon I will be heading to Bonaire for about 7 weeks of work with the marine park there. I'm not sure how many posts I'll get up between now and then, but here's one for the fans.
Sea fans are odd animals. They're Cnidarians and have Cnidocytes (I need to include these guys every few weeks to justify the title). Fans are part of a group of soft-corals referred to as gorgonians. For the non-biologists, they are made up of hundreds or thousands of tiny, eight-tentacled polyps (they're in the group Octocorallia) that secrete the fan. They use their tentacles to capture particles in the water that pass by. They sure make beautiful patterns.