Showing posts from October, 2018

Clear blue

I lay on my stomach, put my face in the water, and paddled forward with my feet. One bright pink fin was attached to each of them. With the zipper of my wetsuit open, I could feel a refreshing stream of water along my back, but my arms and legs were protected by the tight, clingy neoprene. On the ocean surface were plentiful clumps of Sargassum , a tuft-like brown alga that floats. I spread my fingers wide and felt the rough, weedy web scrape against my palms. I noticed how much more abundant the Sargassum seemed from below - hundreds of clumps floating on the glassy mirror of the ocean surface. With my body prone and my eyes directed downward, I could see all the way to the seafloor. Dark brown and black formations dotted the rock, which coalesced into a reef about a hundred yards in front of me. I knew the corals were more colorful than they seemed from up here, having just swum past them at the end of my dive, but I still marveled that I could see them from the surface. The water

Anything-can-happen Thursday

I love the American comedy The Big Bang Theory . It's about physicists at Caltech, and as you may expect, it's a very nerdy show. One of the main characters, Sheldon, is on the Autism spectrum and is notoriously rigid. In one episode, his friends try to shake up his routine by declaring "Anything-can-happen Thursday" and replacing Sheldon's typical Thursday pizza dinner with Thai food. It does not go over well. Friends, I'm hope you're not eating pizza, because today is Anything-can-happen Thursday. Heart-shaped bivalve larvae, magnified 50x I'm working on processing the samples I recovered from the Josephine Marie wreck as part of my shipwreck project this summer. You know - the one where I went diving on shipwrecks in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to see whether they could serve as stepping stones for invasive species. At each wreck, I deployed fouling panels and larval traps and collected samples of the adults that were livin


"I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact." - Elon Musk I love fall in New England. The air is crisp, the leaves are crunchy, and the sunshine feels comforting instead of hot. I’m back at home now, and I used the chance to finish up my field project from this summer . Weather prevented me from making out to my third field site, the wreck of a fishing vessel called the Patriot , to recover my samplers earlier in August and September, so I scheduled a day on the dive boat Dawn Treader to try again. Unfortunately, the weather prevented me from reaching the  Patriot  all over again, but I was able to use the day to explore a new site closer to shore. We went to the wreck of the Mars in Cape Cod Bay. I had never been to this site before, and I wanted to see the wreck for myself. At first, it would seem that there’s plenty of information available about wrecks in Massachusetts, but a closer look reveals that this pre-existing information is biologically sparse. It’s

From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Right now, I am sitting on a patch of grass in front of PICRC. The air is completely still, and it’s dark except for a few lights in the parking garage and the security guard’s station. I can hear some sort of insect clicking in the night. It is calm. I can’t help but think about one of my favorite books as a child, From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler . It’s about a brother and sister who run away to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. By day, they stow away with school groups on tours and learn everything they can. Then in the evening, they hide in the bathrooms while the security guard does his rounds, and once everyone has left for the night, they have their run of the museum. They bathe in the fountain, research in the library, and sleep in an antique bed. Elementary-school Kirstin thought this kind of life – living freely in an institution of knowledge – sounded glorious. Got to admit, that’s the way PICRC has felt every evening this trip. When the f

Palau in pictures

Seen in Koror Seen in Koror A traditional Palauan men's meeting house Taoch, one of our study sites Ngelsibel, one of our study sites Tiles deployed at Ngelsibel. Photo by Hanny Rivera. A settlement tile deployed on the reef in Ngermid Bay, another of our study sites. The bright branched coral in front is one of our study species. Photo by Hanny Rivera. Seen at Drop Off. Photo by Hanny Rivera. Drop Off. Photo by Hanny Rivera.

Nixon and Nelson

As we've been sampling in Palau, we've had our boat driver from PICRC and a Koror State Ranger on the boat with us. I think I've mentioned that research in Palau is pretty highly regulated because the country is serious about protecting its natural resources. Well, one of the levels of control in the southern part of Palau, Koror State, is that those with research permits must be accompanied at all times by a ranger. The one assigned to our project is named Nixon, and he's been with us everywhere. Our boat driver is named Nelson. They're both Palauan, and it has been a really great experience for Hanny and me to talk with them about Palauan culture, language, and life on the archipelago. With the gentlemen on the boat Nixon and Nelson both grew up in the rock islands, so they know the complex passageways like the backs of their hands. Every morning, we tell Nelson our study sites for the day, and he simply nods and takes off. At one point, we entered a lagoon

We have spat!

"Spat!" Hanny exclaimed. I looked up from the microscope to see her hunched over a tub of water with a terra cotta tile inside. Her eyes were focused on a small point on the tile. She had found our first coral settler of the evening. A coral spat (circled in pencil), photographed using a microscope at 60x magnification After recovering the tiles from each of our study sites, we set about examining them to find any juveniles that had settled during the deployment. The idea is that we can compare the genetic signatures of young juvenile corals to adults at the same site to see if the individuals settling there were spawned by parents at that site or elsewhere. Looking at the juveniles is a powerful way to understand the connectivity between different coral reefs. Over the course of a few hours, we worked our way through the tiles from two of our sites. We were excited to see coral spat, but to be perfectly honest, there were fewer than we were hoping for. On average, w

Drop Off

We got to the site at low tide. Looking over the side of the boat, it looked like we could hit a coral any second. I knew it was partially an effect of the crystal-clarity of the water, but still, it was a bit nerve-wracking. When we deployed our panels at Drop Off , we had done so at high tide, but the semidiurnal tidal schedule had shifted in the intervening time to make the water level much lower when we returned. "Honestly, we could just snorkel," Hanny said. No need to haul out our dive gear when a mere 4 feet of water separated the surface from the sand. We pulled on our masks and fins and slid over the side of the boat. Splash! The terra cotta tiles we had deployed to catch settling coral juveniles were right where we had left them, and we recovered them with ease. We held our breath to pull the steel rods out of the sediment and loosen the tiles from their clamps. Holding the panels tight, we paddled back to the boat and placed them in water-filled containers for

All the easy research has been done before.

So you’re underwater in Palau. A hammer in one hand, a screwdriver in the other SCUBA regulator in your mouth, blowing bubbles to the surface As you assess your next target: A chunk of coral, about 5 cm by 6 cm, narrow on one end so it looks like a turkey leg. A little juvenile, maybe a year old. And you need to chip off a piece of it. But you know that as soon as you place the screwdriver against its surface and tap the back with the hammer, you’ll drive that little coral baby into the sand. “Why can’t I just sample the adult corals?” you ask yourself. “That would be so much easier!” But adults of this species have been sampled before. All the easy research has been done before. Or maybe you’re in the Arctic. It’s winter, so it’s dark 24/7, and the wind makes you feel like there’s little ice bullets attacking your face every time you go outside. And you have to go out on a boat to collect your samples Except the boat’s range is restricted by sea ice and you

Chandler Wall

For our second dive of the day, we went to a site called Chandler Wall. It was a sheer vertical cliff covered in corals of all kinds! We swam along it at about 60 - 70 below the sea surface, relishing the diversity of reef-building corals along the way. Fish of all sorts hung out near the cliff, sometimes hovering under ledges, sometimes venturing out into the blue water. It was an absolutely gorgeous! At one point, the guide told us to follow him and swim up over the edge of the cliff to the plateau on top. We were carried by the incoming tidal current, but once we got on top, the current was so strong, we had to hold on to avoid being carried away! The guide gave us reef hooks to attach to the reef. It's basically a giant metal hook that you place in a piece of dead coral and then clip the attached line to your gear to stay in place. I must admit, it was pretty nerve-wracking for me to feel the sheer strength of the current on the ledge, but once I got into the right area, the

German Channel

Hanny and I have had a few days free while we wait for coral larvae to settle on our panels, so we've been using them to explore Palau. This archipelago is a diver's paradise, so we signed up a day of diving with one of the charter companies here. We both felt naked diving without all of our gear, but the day was incredibly rewarding! We started at a site called German Channel. We rolled over the side of the boat, descended down the anchor line, and found ourselves on top of an absolutely amazing coral reef. Some of the rock island lagoons where our study sites are located can have low biodiversity - only one or two species able to survive in the hot water that gets trapped in the lagoon - but Palau's outer reefs are incredibly diverse! There were corals of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and there were fish swimming around everywhere. Gray reef shark We drifted along with the current until our guide made a noise and pointed to his right. In the distance, three shark