After two more flights (on Island Time) we finally landed on San Salvador at around noon. We arrived at the Gerace Research Center (henceforth known as the GRC) via an interesting truck and took time for lunch, an introductory lecture to the facility, and room assignments before heading out for our first dip in the briny blue.
Our first adventure took place a little over half a mile from the GRC where an old government dock is eroding into the bay, providing lots of nooks and crannies for plenty of fish and coral creatures. The experience was quite different from the calm waters of the Luther Pool, and the waves took a bit of getting used to (the no-effort floating was nice!), but kinks were worked out pretty quickly and off we went! The area is a bed of turtle grass (a marine plant) with rocks and various debris (such as cinder blocks) forming the beginning of small reefs; given time, these may grow to become large patch reefs!
We saw all sorts of creatures, big and small, some odd-shaped and some barely visible unless you looked very closely. There were fish, such as the Peacock Flounder (did you know that it starts out like a normal fish and one eye migrates to the same side as it matures?), Flying Gurnards (they have wings!), and even a couple of Lionfish hanging around the dock. There were corals and sponges (none of the Sqauarepants variety), full of different colors and swaying in the current. There were Common Sea Fans and Brain Corals, Sea Whips and Anemones (no Nemo as of yet). There were even Fire Worms and an Octopus, who had several shell hoards around the reefs. By the time we crawled out of the ocean and back onto the beach, we were dog-tired and overwhelmed with the amount of creatures we need to identify, but so excited to finally be here!
Low Tide on Dump Reef
Around 4:30PM, we returned to GRC for showers and dinner, and then class at 7:00 to discuss what we saw and compiled a running list of these organisms (to be completed at the end of the trip, one new creature per person every day!). At 8PM, we grabbed headlamps and notebooks, and hiked the other direction to Dump Reef.
Low tide was at 8:30PM, and created tidepools all along the receding shoreline. What was once underwater was now visible for all to see, and we took full advantage, despite the stiff breeze and rocky ground. We found a variety of organisms, from tiny Checkered Nerites to Golden Shrimp! We found fire worms, spotted sea hares (they ink purple!) and crabs scuttling along the rocks. We even found a few friendly octopi who refused to let go (at least not without a nibble!).
To elaborate on those octopi, there was at first a very large one who was not friendly at all. In fact, he was very antisocial about the whole thing. The second octopus was roughly the size of my palm (without stretching out his legs) and a nice neon-green color. Always wanting to experience new things, Joe B. and I (Kari) managed to pick him up out of the pool at Dr. Larsen's suggestion so the whole class could come see before he swam away. Octopus are very slimy, and very hard to hold on to, so there was a great amount of fumbling. Finally, he agreed to wrap around my hand and fingers, and refused to move on to other hands. So much so that I began to worry about what was going on on my hand; the suckers were sucking and there was a pinching pinprick occuring around my finger. I am ashamed to say I had a very un-field-biologist moment and panicked when the little guy bit me. He was promptly removed (as promptly as one can be removed when suctioned to something; there also may have been flailing...) and returned to the pool. Dr. Larson got a video (that may end up online at some point), the class got a laugh, and I can now say I have been attacked by an octopus.
The third octopus was larger, and more intent on staying away when Joe B. tried to scoop him out of the water. We got to see an octopus ink before he allowed himself to be picked up. He was transferred from Joe's shirt, to Mrs. Eichinger's arm, and then to her leg, changing color to match the background. He clung on to her leg for a few minutes before retreating back under his rocky ledge.
After only half a day here, we've seen all sorts of interesting things. The sun is out (usually), the sky is clear (so far as we care), and the water is a welcoming blue that we can't get enough of. Can't wait for what tomorrow will bring!