Thursday, September 3, 2015

Damselfish, Reef Sharks, Barracuda – Oh my!

Summer is a time for relaxing, enjoying some free time, and, of course, spending time in the water. My summer included all of these things with the addition of research, good friends, awesome food, and last but not least, fishing! This was my second summer in the Florida Keys with the CMR lab, and my fifth trip overall. I have to say, this was by far the greatest experience I’ve had yet.

At the end of May, Kylie and I loaded up her FJ with dive gear, research equipment (cameras, YSI, etc.), two HUGE suitcases and a couple of energy drinks and headed on our way to the Keys. After about 13 hours we finally made it to Layton, Florida. That first week we spent some quality time getting to know the Baeza lab (who shared the house with us) and got to “work”. We started off hitting about four sites a day, but the four of us (Kylie, Madison, Lauren and I) loved every moment of it. Between getting to see sharks, diving all day, and spending the evenings sitting around the house enjoying our time together,  it felt like being at home. Not to mention buying a Florida fishing license and taking some time after diving to fish up some grunts and snapper in the canal.

Every week just got better and better. Aside from a few minor mishaps we ripped through the work we had to get done within the first few weeks. On the days where it was too risky to go out on the boat we would spend our time exploring everything the Keys had to offer. After a few weeks, we added Dr. C to the group, but unfortunately had to say goodbye to Madison. With Dr. C there we started to work on the lobsters and learned how to work even better as a team.

On our days off we would beg to go out on the water, and it was on those fun dives where I discovered my love for spearfishing. I had not really had a chance to spearfish since I’d bought my spear pole from my older lab brother Kelan, and needless to say those first couple we

eks I had been itching to use it. The first fish I speared was also my first hogfish. Lauren and I were using some of the extra air we had after removing cages and we really just wanted to check out the reef. After spearing the fish I realized I was getting low on air (about 600 PSI), and after looking up from my gauges I saw the coolest thing I’d ever seen underwater. Swimming away from me was an extremely large heterocercal tail that had obviously been close to us, but neither of us had noticed. Although I had been seeing nurse and bonnethead sharks since my first trip to the Keys, I had never seen anything that big before. We later determined that it had been a reef shark, something I had been dying to see since I first started diving.

That was just one of many great stories throughout the summer. More included going offshore fishing for the first time with Dr. C and watching Lauren catch a barracuda. Another is the time Kylie took Dallas (our Baeza lab friend) and I offshore and I got the barracuda. There was also the last night our labmate Jac was in the Keys when we took mattresses to the roof after going to dinner and having a blast. Not to mention the time that John taught me how to catch a shark – and I did it! However one of the best overall was jumping into the water on our last dive of the summer and seeing a manta ray right under us.
I do have to say, though, that the research was also pretty amazing. This trip I got to start my own project working with my second favorite fish, damselfish. With the help of Dr. C and Kylie (as well as Madison, Jac, and Lauren) we developed the methodology, presented it in front of others involved in marine research at Tuesday Science Night, and collected the data. With every observation, I grew more and more excited to see how big an impact these little guys actually make on the reef.

There is so much more about this summer that I would never have time to type up or accurately be able to describe. The one thing I do have to say about this summer is how grateful I am to the people who made it so amazing. Without Dr. C and Kylie we would have never been able to be in the Keys in the first place. Had it not been for Lauren, Madison, and Jac I would have never been able to laugh as much as I did while I worked, or have enjoyed the times outside of the water as much as I did. And of course, the Baeza lab who put a new and awesome twist on the summer research trip. Overall, an awesome summer in the field, and what’s sure to be a great semester ahead!


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