Since spring has officially sprung, I’ve been casting my mind back to warmer tides, tropical sunsets and the itch to get back out in the field putting science into action.
Last April, along with my fellow third year Environmental Geoscience students, I stuffed snorkels, pH probes, hiking boots and dive slates all into my backpack and flew across the Atlantic to Jamaica. Having looked forward to this moment for our entire degrees, we were pretty excited to say the least.
This was our opportunity to indulge in the balmy Caribbean sea surface temperatures and jerk cuisine, to meet turtles, corals, fish and rays up close and personal. This was our opportunity to put our oceanography knowledge to the test and learn real practical techniques that would be invaluable skills for years to come.
Where famous marine scientists such as Goreau and Hughes once stood, our fieldtrip soon followed in their physical, if not intellectual, footsteps, arriving in trepidation on the shores of Discovery Bay.
The land of (wood and) water
However, no sooner had we arrived at the marine laboratory situated on the northern coast of the island, we realised that there was indeed trouble in paradise.
Instead of the untouched pristine island of our dreams, we were met with sprawling tourist developments, extensive deforestation and a huge bauxite mine as our closest neighbour. Reality hit hard.
As we spent our first week heads down and snorkels up (with red necks to boot!) we conducted ecological surveys of the coastal ecosystem using quadrats and transects. Within minutes of our first glimpse below the surface, large swathes of green snotty algae stretching metres across the backreef confirmed that something was afoot. Our results showed that some areas had up to 50% macroalgae cover, thought to be smothering coral reef growth which would likely affect the reef health overall. Even large swarms of algae-munching urchins were no match for this algal tide. Our sprawling underwater metropolis lay quiet.
Our first challenge: ecological surveys (Mia Read)
The algae didn’t deter us (Mia Read)