Showing posts from December, 2021

The traverse

We entered the water at a site called Andrea 2. It's a beach in an upper-class neighborhood, marked with nothing more than a small rock that had been spray-painted yellow. You could easily miss the site - in fact, we did the first time we drove past.  Underwater selfie with my husband, Carl. We hauled our tanks from the gravel parking lot to the beach, past the Australian labradoodle and his Dutch owner lounging in the sun, over the slippery, algae-covered rocks, past the spines of hundreds of sea urchins, onto the sand, and into the waves. Clip, clip, bungee, bungee, right fin, left fin, mask. Dive. I settled into a rhythm pretty quickly. Sometimes, my mammalian dive reflex feels like it takes an eternity to kick in, but today it was right there when I needed it. Long breaths, slow heart beat, perfect neutral buoyancy, lazy kicks. I was in the zone.  We swam for three and a half hours. I had never been as far north as Andrea 2, so the first part of the dive was new territory for m

The Hilma Hooker

The fuzzy gray line One of my favorite dives in Bonaire is a shipwreck called the Hilma Hooker . The ship was used to smuggle marijuana in the 1980s, and it sank after being captured by drug enforcement authorities. It sits between two coral reefs in Bonaire and is really fun to explore.  As you swim up to the Hilma Hooker , a fuzzy gray line appears in the water. It kind of looks like a thermocline - the interface of two water masses with different temperatures. If you dare to swim closer, the hull of the ship comes into view, and you realize the fuzzy gray line is the top of the wreck. You see the ship from the bottom side first. The hull rises like a solid gray wall. It has a turf of leafy green algae, and corals and sponges are spread across it like polka dots.  Sponges on the Hilma Hooker If you swim around the wreck to the right, you'll first pass the stern. Wiry, forest green sea whips dangle from the wreckage, some of which are covered in bulbous purple sponges. Continue yo

Bon bini

Friends, as you can tell from my last post about something that happened before Christmas being posted on December 29, I am a bit behind on the blog. Well, at least I have a valid excuse: I'm on vacation.  Yes, it's true! I am currently on the quirky Caribbean island of Bonaire. In case you haven't heard of it, Bonaire is part of the Netherlands Antilles. It's a desert island with pristine coral reefs, a mix of languages including Dutch, English, Spanish, and a Portuguese-based Creole called Papiamentu. There are lots of flamingos (it's a national symbol), feral donkeys, and cactuses. I'm spending my days largely underwater, breathing compressed gases and pretending I'm one of the colorful fishes on the reef. It's my third time down here, and I absolutely love it.  Let's warm up with some of my favorite underwater photos I've taken in Bonaire this week! Fishes! I think they're blackbar soldierfishes, Myripristis jacobus . Octocorals! Plexaura

Training day

 "It's not what you know; it's what you can prove."  - the movie Training Day Calvin gave me this reference guide - useful!   Just before Christmas, I had a training day with two collaborators. We have a project coming up that combines biology and archaeology, so we needed to make sure everyone was on the same page. Obviously, I represented the biology side, but my colleagues, Calvin and Evan, have much more experience with underwater archaeology.  I started out the day thinking that I was going to primarily teaching. Calvin and Evan have not collected biological samples before, so I figured we'd spend most of the day going over how to take sediment cores, filter water, and avoid contamination. Not so. We spent the first part of the day outlining my plan, but as soon as I pulled out the samplers, Evan jumped in.  "I could rig these together, you know," he informed me, holding one of the water samplers, "stack them two-by-two, hang five off of each s

Wait for it

"I am the one thing in life I can control... I'm not falling behind or running late I'm not standing still I am lying in wait" - "Wait for it" from the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda There is a lot of waiting in science. I have to wait for proposals to be reviewed, collaborators to contribute, papers to be published, technology to be usable, samples to be processed, paperwork to be cleared, and the list goes on and on. It was actually a little strange for me to come back from Palau and launch right into lab analysis of the samples I had just collected. We need the data from those samples by next May, so I could not afford to wait.  The analysis that we're planning to do with those coral samples is called 2bRAD. It's a form of restriction site-associated DNA sequencing, which is a complete mouthful. In very simple terms, we're planning to chop up the DNA randomly, sequence the fragments, and find all the little places that the DNA seque

Back in the lab

There are exactly two seasons in Massachusetts: no-sock season and neck-warmer season. My wardrobe is dichotomous in this state. Either I'm hanging out on my boat in a breezy top and sandals, or I'm layered up in wool socks and sweaters. There is very little in-between.  After returning from Palau, I had the abrupt adjustment from no-sock mode to neck-warmer mode. I switched from coral biologist to autumnal researcher, tropical diver to bundled cyclist. The transition was swift and complete.  The nice thing about research in Palau is that the samples come straight back with me to Massachusetts - no waiting for boxes to show up. I've already started digging into the samples. The most important step is to determine the sex and the genetic lineage for all the Porites lobata samples I collected. We'll spawn this species when the team goes back in the spring, so we need to know the identity of the eligible parents that I tagged.  The analysis is proceeding in two ways: fir