• Subtropical and Marine Biology

Day 11: Tidepooling and Spelunking

Lecture? What's that?

So, today a storm rolled on in and destroyed our perfect weather streak, but no big deal. We took the morning to relax and hold a class that contained an actual lecture (We've had what, two of those so far? Not that we're complaining! Field class is awesome!). We discussed some of the aspects of the reefs that we've noticed, like how the front slope (the side facing deep water) is usually more diverse than the reef flat (top) or back slope (beach-side), and has larger organisms, like staghorn coral. This coral lacks the mucus-like substance that other corals produce to keep them sediment-free, so they depend on the waves and the current provided by the deeper water to do this for them. We also reviewed classification and how to organize the 150-something organisms we have thus far compiled (we have at least three more days of organisms to add...).


Jen with a West Indian Sea Egg

After lunch, there was no rain, and we set out for Dump Reef to observe the tidepools for about an hour. Teams Tidal Waves and Fuzzy Chitons took down some more data for their projects, and the rest of us meandered around on the occasionally sharp rocks. We found some fuzzy chitons, and lots of nerites (LOTS.). There were several twitching masses of hermit crabs, but they weren't as social as those found on North Point and Cut Cay; they refused to come out to socialize. The brittle stars were friendly, though, getting up close and personal with Joe B., and Jen had an encounter with and Indian Sea Egg (it feels like holding a tiny hedgehog). We found crabs hiding under rocks, and sea slugs chilling out in the pools, a couple of tulip snails and green star shell snails. 

Up and Down

Up:  Dixon Hill Lighthouse
The Dickson Hill Lighthouse

After tidepools, we hiked back to the truck and drove to the other side of the island to see the lighthouse we occasionally see flashing light across the night sky. The Lighthouse was built in 1887 by plantation owner John Dixon, and is one of the last kerosene-lit lighthouses left in the Bahamas.The sign on the door said the lighthouse was one of nine (or so) that were commissioned by the British to protect their merchant ships. Salvage laws at the time allowed for the ships to be legally looted once the captain and crew abandonned ship, so the locals set out lights on the beach and lured ships in to crash on the reefs.

We made a short hike up the hill, then up the lighthouse stairs. They were narrow and slim, and the lighting was dim. It was definitely a one-way street during traffic, but Michelle E. told us that a few years ago there were some vacationers who refused to wait their turn, and simply plowed through the Luther students. They also decided that the houses on the premises (currently lived in by the care-takers) were part of the historical site, and walked right in. If you travel, please don't be these people...

The view from the top of the lighthouse went on forever. Forever meaning as far as the island goes on. At 163 feet above see level, we felt it was enough. We circled the upper deck, took some pictures, then circled back down the spiral ladder-step hybrid staircase.

Down:  Lighthouse Cave
Rachel W. Kyrie D. Erin W. and Steven A. at the cave

Our next stop was Lighthouse Cave, which could be reached from the lighthouse, down a long winding, rocky path, lined on either side by poisonwood trees (don't touch!) and various vegetation that liked to snag on hair, clothes, and bags. Also, a giant spider. We have yet to identify it, but we'll keep you all updated if/when we find out. Once we got to the cave entrace, we dropped off our bags in the bushes and climbed down a super sketchy ladder.

The cave was warm, dark, and damp, making Jen and I recall our microbiology lectures. It was the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The fact that there were bats, and thus guano, made everything that much better. Of course, we pushed on anyway. We knew we would get wet; we were told to wear our suits and that we would be wading through some pools. We thought the professors were exaggerating the height of the water. We were wrong.

The water was much higher than the expected waist-deep. Jen, being on the shorter side, was neck-deep in the guano-infused water. I took a bath in it. The rocks weren't as slippery as I was expecting, and I was doing great bringing up the back of the line. I opened my mouth to ask Dr. Larsen where to step, and SPLASH!-GLUB-GLUB! there goes Kari...

Joe B. and Austin B. (who has a decent Gollum impersonation) took the more experienced route out that required some tight squeezes, and the rest of us followed the professors to the rickety metal ladder. Suffice to say, none of us felt as if we would ever be clean again. We tromped back up the trail to the lighthouse and down the road to the truck, dripping and spitting (in my case) all the way. With an hour and a half before dinner, we rounded off the outing with a detour to East Beach, where we all, quite literally, sprinted into the ocean. Shoes, clothes and all. After a quick salt-rinse and a chilly ride back to GRC, showers and laundry became a quick priority. 

Guano aside, it was a good day. 

Joe with a Blunt Spine Brittle Star
Doctor E. sporting his patented teaching pose during tidepooling
The trail to the cave
Andrew B. and Judd L. in the cave
The roof of the cave
Rinsing off the cave water