This semester was a busy one, but it had even more great experiences than the last! The first half of the semester was spent continuing the lobster project that Ash and I were working on from Fall semester. We eventually finished up watching our behavior videos, and finished up our data analysis. We didn't see any significant difference in lobster den sharing behavior based on disease or shelter prevalence, just leading us to have more questions for next semester! We had the opportunity to present these results at a few conferences, including two here at Clemson and also the Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference at FSU. This was my first time presenting at a conference, so I was nervous but it went pretty well! The second half of the semester was spent preparing for the research I will be doing in the Keys this summer working on my own project for my departmental honors requirement. I will be studying the role that neon gobies have in the reef community. After looking around in the reef fish book I ended up finding these little fish that clean parasites off of other fishes, and thought they were pretty cool! The plan is to see what kind of influence the gobies have on the species abundance and territoriality of the herbivore species that we already study, the parrotfish and damselfish. If gobies cause increases in herbivore abundance or changes in their behavior/territoriality, this could have impacts on the macroalgal abundance and coral health! I'm very excited to start this project, and it will be a busy summer but I can't wait!
The highlight of this semester, however, was my first trip to the Keys for spring break. I had never been to the Keys before, or really anywhere quite as tropical as that, so I was very excited. Seeing the beautiful blue water for the first time was incredible. As soon as we parked at the marina we were staying at, I went over to the water and immediately saw some beautiful fish, including a rainbow parrotfish! The first day was spent getting organized and buying supplies, and I spent most of my time trying to learn all of the traditions the rest of the team has from past trips, even in the groceries we buy. We went to Keys Fisheries for dinner (one of the traditions) and watched an incredible sunset. The next day was our first day of diving, and unfortunately the water was super rough. We managed to get two sites done, but I ended up getting pretty seasick. Even still, my first dive in the Keys, and my first dive on a reef, was amazing. I tried to focus on searching around for gobies and learning the techniques, but I couldn't help from just looking around at all the beautiful fish and corals. The rest of the week the water was perfectly calm, and we quickly made up for the lost time. I quickly learned the way we operate for each site and learned lots of new things such as measuring the coral health. It was a very busy week, but it was so much fun. There were too many great experiences to list all of them, but I had two main highlights. Seeing so many cool animals, including sharks, sea turtles, and manatees, and getting to spend so much time with the rest of the team! I can easily see now why this lab is so much like a family, just from spending one week there. I'm looking forward to the summer!