Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Saudi Arabia: Where am I going?

Dr. Randi Rotjan, Saudi Arabia Expedition

This is going to be a fun blog. Sunnye, Brian, and I will be intertwining posts from 3 countries simultaneously - readers, are you ready?

Since Sunnye started us off with a classic existential question, "How did I get here?", I decided to follow suit with another, "Where am I going?". Well, tomorrow I'm headed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to spend a few days at the new university KAUST (King Abdullah University for Science and Technology) and spend 10 days on the Red Sea studying coral health, coral-eating fishes, and fish-coral interactions.

The Saudi portion of the Red Sea is supposed to be stunning, harboring over 200 species of coral, 1,200 species of fish and over 1,000 invertebrate species. Many of these (over 10%) are endemics, found nowhere else in the world. Soft corals are supposed to be especially abundant. The Red Sea has a surface area of 169,100 sq miles (438,000 km 2), which is incidentally around the same size as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (the world's largest marine reserve).

Similar to the recent work in the Phoenix Islands, we will have limited internet access, we will be diving 3-5 times/day, and will be collecting data as fast as humanly possible. This trip is made possible by my collaborator and new KAUST faculty member, Dr. Michael Berumen, who is the expedition leader and my host (Thanks, Michael!). Interestingly, the boat will be full of MA residents - a WHOI graduate student, a KAUST graduate student from Grafton, MA, and me. So, there will be some wicked local flavor!

While busy packing for this trip and writing this first blog post, I'm excited for this blog because here, we can showcase the multi-faceted activities of the New England Aquarium and some of the many ways to live blue. Brian is off to Antarctica making stunning photographs of cold ocean critters, and Sunnye is on-land in South Africa investigating marine conservation education, and I'm just doing science - trying to discover new things about our oceans. And yes, this blog will host the first insights. So, Sand! Ice! Penguins! Bring it on.

A 2005 dust storm over the Red Sea
(Image courtesy of NASA GSFC / MODIS Rapid Response Team)

And Brian, I think you should answer the most critical existential question for us all: "Who am I, and where have I been?". Actually, it might be easier for you to address the question: "Where haven't I been?". Wherever you are, I can't wait to hear all about it.

Happy trails and safe travels,


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