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.