Friday, June 25, 2010

Steph and Dan: Mangroves, Microscopes and Parrotfish


I wish my dive buddy back home could experience these reefs! I am sure that he is crazy with jealousy right now. Last night's dive was amazing, but to see it during the day… whoa, but enough from me.

Steph and Dan write:

Hello all who are jealous of our small crew of current and future scientists aboard the Pirates Lady currently residing in the warmth of the Bahamas. Reporting to you right now is Steph: part of Team Thalassia (seagrass project). The morning started off with a quick piece of fruit and then right into the nice warm water to wake everyone up. The dive site was the same location as our first night dive, but an entirely different experience. Even on the first dive of the morning we were busy researching by doing R.E.E.F. (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) surveys of the amount and variety of fish at our dive site, the aptly named "Thrown of Whoaa". Then after an amazing and filling breakfast by the great chef Charlie we were all whisked off to the mangroves so we could start collecting thalassia for Steph and Sam's parrotfish feeding project.

As Randi lead Steph and Sam to scout sites, speeding up and down the mangroves to collect the thalassia leaves, the rest of the bunch got to experience a nice leisurely swim through the mangroves to see all the creatures unique to this location like upside-down jellyfish (see pictures of these jellies on this previous blog) and yellow fin mojarras.

Experimental thalassia seagrass blades partially grazed by parrotfish.

After Sam and I collected all of our thalassia leaves for our project, we were ready to get going. We started putting all the leaves out on the reef for parrotfish to munch munch munch!! After struggling through one site, we finally found our sweet spot thanks to Randi!! The parrotfish started munching away!! And from this experiment we will be able to determine whether the parrotfish prefer one type of seagrass to another, based on field observations in the mangroves. For example, we noticed that they seemed to enjoy the dead parts of the grass with epibionts. So we will compare grasses live versus dead grasses with and without epibiont communities to determine parrotfish preference. So, once the fieldwork is done, we will analyze the data to determine what the reef parrotfish enjoy!!!

Sam and Steph observe parrotfish grazing from afar.

Hi Mom! This is Dan, part of Team Canthigaster (sharp-nosed puffer fish) aboard the Pirates Lady reporting about my day's activities. The day started off much like Steph's did, with an amazing breakfast and a dive to get some REEF survey work done. I was one of the people Steph mentioned who got to lounge around in the mangroves while she was hard at work on her project, and it really was an awesome experience.

When we hit the boat, I had just enough time to check my cell phone and see that I had no service. Not that I use my cell phone often but just seeing how disconnected we were felt awesome! Next, we were off to a new dive site near Diamond Key. On our first dive, my research partner Tyler and I went diving with Dan and Charlie (no, not the chef) to catch a few sharpnose pufferfish for our experiment. Catching fish underwater is no easy task, but we quickly became experts - with four people to catch three 4 to 5 inch fish, it took only fifteen minutes! This is a great catch time considering Tyler and I had never collected fish before.

After returning to the boat we examined the gut contents of the pufferfish under a microscope with a blue light on it. The blue light causes certain things that the pufferfish eat to fluoresce (think 60's black light poster), which makes them much easier to identify. No one knows exactly what these puffers eat and that makes this experiment incredibly interesting to everyone involved. Well its 10:00 PM right now and I can already feel the boat rocking me to sleep so goodbye for now from the Pirates Lady.


All I can say is that the dives are rockin' and the science is talkin'! Every day we are seeing and learning more about these amazing reefs and the creatures that live on them.

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