Showing posts from September, 2018


Coconut + machete Whenever I'm traveling, I have a strict personal policy: I say yes to everything (well, as long as it's not illegal or life-threatening). This policy allows me to experience local culture in ways that others don't, and I've had some pretty crazy, awesome days as a result. It has always worked in my favor. "We should get coconuts." It was probably the fifth time Hanny had brought it up. As a coral biologist, Hanny has spent a lot of time in tropics, and coconuts are one of her favorite field work traditions. I had no idea how to buy, much less eat, a coconut, but I was game to try it. Teach me how to eat coconuts, I told her. We found a place selling them, paid $1.50 each, and the lesson began. The first thing you need to eat a coconut is a machete. The nuts fall from palm trees in thick green husks, which must be chopped off to reveal the edible part inside. Thankfully, the seller usually cuts the husk off, so we were not respons


"Ugh, why are they still honking at us?" I complained to Hanny. For the fifth time in a row, the driver in the car passing us had honked and waved flirtatiously. It was getting old. Just then, another honk sounded from behind us, and the driver of the car slowed down. I turned, ready to tell someone off, but I could see the driver was an old woman. "It's Grace!" I exclaimed, and Hanny and I both climbed into the car. The boat race under a bridge between two of Palau's islands. The independence day celebration was a fun event! Grace is the mother-in-law of a PICRC employee, and we met her today on our way to a festival in town. She's a delightful, sweet woman, and at 69, she does not act her age. "That was a lot of fun," I told Grace, referring to the festival we had all just attended. Palau's independence day is tomorrow, so there was a boat race on the water and booths with food and crafts. Hanny and I had gone to the celebrat


The rock bridge adjacent to our outer Mecherchar site. For our third day of sampling, we went to a site called Mecherchar. It was our southernmost site, and we sampled both inside and outside the lagoon. The outer site was a really successful one for us - we got the full number of young coral samples we were hoping to collect, and they were all very small, probably only 6 months old, which is what we were hoping for. We deployed all of our panels in dead coral or sand, and we look forward to seeing what grows on them. Adjacent to the outer site was a very interesting rock bridge, pictured here. The rock islands are all undercut because of tidal erosion, and I guess the erosion was strong enough at this site to erode a hole through the bottom of the rock island. It was a very cool site. We then headed into the Mecherchar lagoon with the plan to collect samples and deploy tiles there. We were able to deploy our tiles, but the reef did not have any young corals for us to sample. W

Like fish

Friends, for our second day of sampling, Hanny and I went to two sites, Drop Off and Taoch. Drop Off is a barrier reef on the eastern side of Palau, and it is one of our outer reef sites. We made sure to dive there during high tide, when the current was likely to be slowest, because the site is very exposed and can have dangerously fast current. As it was, we were only 10 feet below the sea surface and got tossed around by the surging waves, so it was very challenging to hold position while sampling. As I hammered steel rods into dead coral to deploy our settlement tiles and chiseled pieces off of young corals, Hanny acted as my anchor. She held onto a dead coral piece with one hand and gripped my gear with the other. Teamwork. The entrance to Taoch. Pictures do not do this place justice, and I need to get better at photographing birds. Exhausted, we crawled back into the boat and asked the driver to take us to our next site. The current was picking up, so we headed in to an enc


Our morning began with a high-speed ride through this narrow passage outside PICRC. One of our tiles deployed in dead coral next to a live colony The deep, throaty rumble of the engine got louder, and all at once, we were going three times as fast as we had been. The wind rippled over my face as I sat in the bow of the motor boat. We charged forward, through a narrow passageway between two jagged cliffs. The rock islands towered high on either side of us, undercut by the tide, covered in determined greenery clinging to the vertical stone faces. I felt like a kid. In fact, when I was younger, I loved to sit in the bow of my godparents’ motor boat and zoom around the lake near their cottage in northern Michigan. I sat as far forward as I was allowed so I could feel the wind rippling over my face, and I would imagine that I was a princess from some exotic foreign land. Friends, my inner child was alive and well today. Our first study site was Risong, an enclosed lagoon sout

Pristine paradise

Seen from PICRC Hanny and I spent our first day in Palau preparing for our field work, and the process took from 8 am to 9 pm. It was a long but productive day. The landfill mural tells Palauans to be a hero and recycle We are based at the Palau International Coral Reef Center, or PICRC (pronounced "pick-rick"). It's a research station in Koror, the capital of Palau, that hosts its own full-time scientific staff as well as visitors from other nations. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Palau, but so far, I have been very impressed. The PICRC staff has been very responsive and helpful, and the station is an absolutely breathtaking location. It's right on the water, surrounded by palm trees and coral reefs. I'm in awe of my surroundings, but every time I point out the beauty around us, Hanny tells me "This is nothing; just wait." Another thing that impresses me about Palau is its emphasis on conservation. This tiny island nation has a

Combining forces

It started a little less than a year ago. Hanny Rivera, a PhD student in WHOI's Biology department, gave a seminar. She presented her research on the connectivity of coral populations in Palau, a small archipelago in the middle of the Pacific. Based on her results, it seems there is very little connectivity between coral reefs in enclosed lagoons and outer reefs right outside the lagoons - the two populations don't mix. But there's something confusing about her results. The lagoons and outer reefs are right next to one another, and based on the speed and direction of the water flow, at least some coral larvae spawned in the lagoons should be able to make it to the outer reefs to settle. Some areas that should be well-connected based on the hydrodynamics had very different genetic signatures, and some areas that would be expected to be completely different were more closely-related genetically than expected. In short, the oceanography didn't match the genetic results,

Family reunion

Friends, I am so behind. It has been almost two weeks since my last post, and I have wanted to tell you about my experiences but just been too busy having them to stop and write. For starters, I spent a weekend in Michigan with family and friends, some of whom I had not seen in a year or more. My mother threw me a bridal shower, and it was great to reunite with my Midwestern family. Attendees of the 15th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium in Monterey, California. I'm in the middle of the front row, wearing an orange dress. With Deborah at Hopkins Marine Station I returned to Woods Hole for a very short time and then headed west again for a week in California. I have spent the last week in Monterey, California, at the 15th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium - another type of family reunion, if you will. I stayed at the apartment of a former WHOI intern , Deborah, and it was lovely to reconnect with her and hear about her upcoming graduate school applications. I spent the first few days

The voyage of the Dawn Treader: part 5

It was a long, productive day. I boarded the Dawn Treader at 6:30 am, and after disembarking, I went straight to the lab. My samples were finished at 7 pm - over a 12-hour workday. It was awesome. Friends, it has come time to recover the samplers I deployed at sites in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary earlier this summer . I was able to reach two of my three sites in the same day, diving at the shipwreck of the Josephine Marie  and then at the Sponge Forest, a boulder site in the middle of the Sanctuary. I used the chance while I was underwater to collect samples of animals living at each site as well. You may remember the Sponge Forest was covered by sand when I first dove there in June, which was a complete surprise to me. I suspected it may have been buried during one of the nor'easters that hit New England this spring. The possibility for an unstable seafloor plus the heavy fishing activity around the Sponge Forest made me suspect my samplers may have disappeared