Fishes and Research and Sun, Oh My!

This past week has been full of continuing to explore San Salvador and gathering data for research projects. On Wednesday, our class started the day by going snorkeling at Telephone Reef. Telephone reef is named because a telephone pole is close by and is on the other side of Cockburn Town. We followed that with more  snorkeling at Grahams Harbor where we snorkeled out to Cut Cay. As we  explored Cut Cay we were able to observe San Salvador Rock Iguanas. At the Gerace Research Center, there is a San Salvador Rock Iguana  preserve, but the iguanas are no longer found outside of the preserve on San Salvador. This is because of the dogs, cats and rats that would prey on the iguanas. However, the San Salvador Rock  Iguana is still found on the surrounding cays where they are safe from  introduced species.

After the abnormal amount of rainy days, we took advantage the sunny day on Wednesday. We went to Snapshot Reef, near Telephone Reef for more  snorkeling in the afternoon. On the way back to the Research Center, we  stopped at a small store in Cockburn Town, the "main" town on San  Salvador. Most supplies come in on a boat that visits the Island roughly  once a week, so what's available in stores is limited. Shopping here is  a very different experience than it is in the US where we take  abundance and variety of objects for granted. After dinner, we walked to  Dump Reef for night snorkeling. The water was a bit turbid, so not as  many organisms were spotted as Dr. Larsen had hopped but a Porcupine  Fish and a (small) squid were seen. Night snorkeling was a bit  disorienting at times but very fun and certainly a memorable adventure.

On Thursday, our class visited Dixon Hill Lighthouse in the morning.  The Lighthouse was built in 1887 and was named after plantation owner  John Dixon. It has a visibility of 19 miles and is still used today.  From the Lighthouse, we hiked down to the Dixon Hill Cave. There we saw  lots of cockroaches and some fruit bats. Because of high tide, much of  the cave system was filled with water so we didn't venture too far. My classmates and I either started collecting data for research projects or worked on deciding what our research would be about. Our regular lecture that night was about the phylum Echinodermata. This includes sea stars, sand dollars and sea cucumbers.

Yesterday, we went snorkeling in Pigeon Creek where Red Mangroves grow along the sides of the creek and their extensive roots provide habitat for a variety of organisms. Fire Sponges were seen, as well as  lots of fish such as Great Barracudas and juvenile groupers. The water in Pigeon Creek was colder than the ocean water we've been swimming in (Bahamas cold not Iowa cold), and some of our group, including myself, headed back sooner rather than later to warm up. We ate our packed lunch on a rocky outlook that  provided a picturesque view of the ocean and waves crashing onto to  rocks below. In the afternoon, we stopped at French Bay to snorkel. Some  large corals were seen there, but some of them were partially dead. Dr.  Larson said that he's noticed a decline in coral health in several of  the places we've snorkeled since the last time he was here four years  ago. Corals provide the foundation for healthy and successful reefs. This is vital habitat and protect shores (and the people who may live  there) from severe weather. Understanding how coral reefs work and what damages them is important for many reasons. Being able to understand how human actions may impact them better ables us to change the actions that have negative impacts on coral reefs.

In the evening yesterday, we listened to a lecture on the phylum  Arthropoda, which includes insects and crustaceans. Arthropoda contains  more species than any other taxonomic group. Some students went to bed early while others ventured out to the beach to socialize with students from other schools and locals where they enjoyed local cuisine of Conch fritters and a beach bonfire.

Today is a research day for groups of students to work on gathering  data for projects. There are four research groups and a variety of  topics which are: Beaded Periwinkle (a type of snail) herbivory and  distribution on Sandfly Bushes; movement patterns and density of Fuzzy  Chitons; number and distribution of fluorescent anemones and  distribution and variety of mangrove dwelling fish. Two groups research  involves making observations or counting organisms at low tide, which  means middle of the night walks to tidal pools.

All is well in San Salvador and our class is hard at work gathering  data and reviewing material. Our full days have gone by quickly and happily. As they say, time flies when you're having fun.

Playing in the water.
Students looking at surroundings after hiking to North Point.
View from North Point.
Celeb snorkelling.
Blue Chromis and Yellow Snapper fish.
Returning to Dixon Hill Lighthouse after Hiking to Dixon Hill Cave.