Home again, for now…

Hi all!

You’ll be glad to know I was not eaten by a crocodile, tiger shark, or a sea snake (though one definitely tried) on the Great Barrier Reef! I’m home, and finally (maybe) over my jet lag. It definitely took a full weekend of recovery, sleeping at odd hours, an all-nighter, and a sand castle competition victory to get back to “normal”, but here I am!

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It’s nice to be back to phone service, food choices that include bright green vegetables, reliable internet, and non-moving living quarters. I have so many photos and stories to share from my trip!

Today involves a lot of planning and catching up on things I’ve missed in the past month. I have about 50 emails to respond to, some scheduling conflicts to take care of on campus, and more than a few people to catch up with. There’s also house cleaning, laundry, and work at the yoga studio to catch up on. So, here’s to getting back to real life. Until my next adventure…

The last sunset from the Golden Shadow, on the Great Barrier Reef

The last sunset from the Golden Shadow, on the Great Barrier Reef

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Life below the surface

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Hi friends and fam! I’ve been busy diving 3 times a day and entering data in the evenings. My days run from about 6:30 am until 10 or 11 pm. It’s exhausting, but I absolutely love what I’m doing!

The Great Barrier Reef is beautiful and has magnificent diversity. There’s so much more to this environment than the photos you’ve seen and the rumors you’ve heard. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences and images that you’ll have a chance to look through the surface as a scientist and ocean advocate.

If you’d like to follow blog posts from this mission, check out the blog on the Living Ocean Foundation’s website.

In other news, a lab mate of mine has applied for a project through National Geographic to study the little-studied reef environments below some of the most famous surf breaks in the world! Mapping these environments will help both scientists and surfers to better understand the environments beneath these famous waves. Click here to check out their video, and please vote to support this amazing project in coral reef science!

Funny money and airport “showers”

It’s nice to be back in the land of Oz, but that flight is something else. In total, it took me 23 hours to get from San Diego to Cairns – an hour flight to LA where I had a 3-hour layover, a 14-hour flight to Brisbane where I had another 3-hour layover, and a final 2-hour flight to Cairns. I decided to take out some money and get a latte and a journal during my final layover. I forgot how expensive things can be here, but I can’t help but smile at their colorful money.

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It’s funny how sitting for hours on end watching movies, taking naps, and reading can make you feel so gross. Whenever I’m traveling for a long period of time, I always like to take a “shower” kit with me. I find that these things can totally refresh me and make that final stretch, whether it’s a final flight or the ride home, so much more pleasant:
– facial makeup removing wipes
– refreshing body wipes
– toothbrush and travel toothpaste
– perfume roller or tester
– deodorant
– tinted moisturizer
– travel size stain remover

That stain remover came in handy during my last layover when I splashed coffee all over myself (I blame sleep deprivation and jet lag), as did my new stain resistant pants and waterproof phone case. Oops. At least I know myself well enough to have brought those items!

I am exhausted, running on adrenaline and excitement. It’s so great meeting new people and learning just how small the world of coral reef ecology is! It seems like everyone knows someone I know, and it’s so comforting knowing that I am among friends. As an additional perk, the food on board the Golden Shadow is incredible! Unfortunately I’m having trouble uploading photos, but I really hope to have some up soon!

Countdown to GBR

I’m just under two weeks out from my departure to the Great Barrier Reef with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation. I was supposed to leave in July, but the trip was postponed due to unforeseen ship maintenance and repairs.

On this Great Barrier Reef (GBR) research mission, I will be living aboard the research vessel Golden Shadow as a member of the benthic survey team. As such, I will be swimming along a 10-meter transect (basically a large measuring tape) and I will identify the substrate (bottom-type) and the coral, algae, or invertebrate that is growing on it at 10 centimeter intervals. This requires a lot of preparation on my part, as my familiarity with coral reef organisms is primarily limited to the Main Hawaiian Islands. As you may know, the GBR is one of the most diverse habitats in the world! I have spent the last few months learning to identify more than 400 coral species, and I still have a lot of work to do!

Learning about corals of the GBR with some help from Charlie Veron

Learning about corals of the GBR with some help from Charlie Veron

While I’m on the cruise, my means of communication will be limited. There will likely be no phone service (which is fine, since I’m not interested in incurring international charges!), and internet will be limited and unreliable at best. There is no video streaming allowed, as it requires too much bandwidth (sorry, no Skype!), and I will be very limited in the number of photos and videos that I can upload. If you’re wondering how I’m doing, my advice is don’t worry – “No news is good news!” Besides, they assure us that the Golden Shadow is very safe! Click here for a tour!

In the meantime, while I anxiously await my departure date, I’m continuing my studies in coral taxonomy and getting plenty of practice diving locally!

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The tedious bits

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Computer work is tedious. Data entry, spreadsheets, image analysis, and identifying half-digested filamentous algae – this is my life. Oh, how I long for 18-hour days of manual labor! It’s easy to forget the beauty of the summer field season when I’m sitting in a windowless office.

Here are some photos from the last field season that never quite made it. It only took me how long? Four months?

Enjoy these glimpses of summer to warm up your January.

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Back in the field

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Hi friends and fam! I know I’ve been absent from the blog world for some time now. Wanted to update everyone and let you know that I’ve had yet another opportunity to conduct field research in Maui. This time I’m here to collect some missing samples and try to fill in data gaps from last year. I’m also helping a colleague remove a long-term cage experiment from the water and assisting with routine maintenance and data collection for another experiment.

I have already been in Maui for almost 2 weeks, but I literally haven’t had any time to blog. The week I arrived I was working 18-hour days (6 of those hours were underwater). The evenings were spent sorting, blotting, and weighing different types of algae from the experiment. It was exhausting work, but the most difficult part is over.

The rest of our schedule has been tricky to organize. We have had swells coming in from the south and the north, making scuba work a little more difficult than usual. Everything must be strategically planned around the swells and tides. This has meant dividing work by region instead of by project. We decided to finish all work at our more southern sites before the south swell hit. While the swells were overlapping we finished up work at our protected site on the west. Now, as the swell from the north dies down we will head up to our northern sites to finish things up. I have one week left to collect my remaining samples.

This trip has been significantly busier than my last, and I’m significantly more exhausted – but I’m keeping up my positive attitude and soaking up every moment while I’m here. I’m so lucky to work in this beautiful place.

Hopefully more posts with more pictures will come soon! We don’t have wifi at the place we’re staying this time, so unfortunately pictures may have to wait. Stay tuned!