Underwater Exam? Is that the basket-weaving final? No? Ok...
We all knew it was coming, and the day we've been waiting for has finally arrived. Today, we had our first (and probably last) underwater exam. The morning was overcast and chilly. If you're a native. While a little sun would have been nice, we thought it was pretty warm compared to the arctic tundra we would soon be returning to. But because everyone gets a bit chillt floating around in the ocean for any amount of time, we cycled through the test pretty quick.
Last night's "lecture" organized us into small groups and time slots for the exam, and this morning we all hiked out to Dump Reef with our fins and slates for our second-to-last "class" snorkel. Dividing into these groups, we swam off with either Dr. E. or Dr. L. and eagerly awaited instruction with our slates at the ready. They would point out coral or an alga or a fish (hopefully one that would stay still. But that was usually not the case--would you hang around to be ogled by a group of large, funny-looking fish? Well, Jen did that one time with the chubs, but she's a little different...) and we would diligently scrawl down our answer and hope that we were looking at the same thing. Just look at them mad skillz...
When we finished with the exam, we had to get out of the water. With the storm-like weather, the waves were concentrating a lot of floating debris in the shallows; this and the waves made getting back on land an interesting process. I have never had so much seaweed in my hair...or my snorkel.
The walk back to the research center (and lunch) was spent practicing for the terrestrial part of the exam because this is Subtropical and Marine Biology...
The Wall *Cue Jaws theme...*
After lunch, we gathered our gear for our last snorkel together. We drove out to Bamboo Point, crossed the road without any fatalities, and hiked along the beach until the professors said stop. You could see our destination from shore, where the water abruptly changed to a darker blue. It wasn't that far, but thoughts of sharks and the sheer depth that awaited us made us giddy and nervous.
Getting in the water was interesting due to the rocks and the waves, but we managed, and soon we were all swimming for open water. It was strange at first, because there was just sand. No turtle grass beds, no patch reefs, only a few fish and the bright white sand dollars that had several of us diving down deeper and deeper. Like at French Bay, the water here was so clear that you didn't realize just how far down the bottom was until you were already well on your way and already out of air.
Eventually, we made it out to the Wall. As deep as we were, we could still see the sand and fish that were below us, but once we swam over that reef, there wasn't a bottom anymore. It was a strange feeling to suddenly see nothing beneath you. Everything we saw seemed tiny. Then we remembered it was roughly 50 feet away and that turtle the size of a dinner plate was likely to be twice our size. That itty-bitty barracuda? Not so itty-bitty... The group of SCUBA divers nosing around the reef helped to put things into perspective.
There were bubble-walls rising from the depths, and a boat that made us all think about wanting to "touch the butt," but no sharks, disappointingly enough. There was a monument to Christopher Columbus, claiming he weighed anchor here, and many of us opted to touch that instead. Even if it was 45 feet down.
The Exam: Part Two. And Dinner!
Returning from the wall was a short, cold drive, and we immediately got ready for the second part of our exam at the tidepools. This one we took as a single group and tailed Dr.s E. and L. over the rough terrain as they pointed out small creatures and plants for us to identiy. Some were fairly obvious others, not so much.
Eventually, it was over, and we high-tailed it back to the research center for showers end to get reedy for dinner. Which we were banned from attending at the usual time... It was worth the wait, however, and we enjoyed Conch fritters, grouper, chicken, rice, coleslaw, and some cheese-noodle bake that we thoroughly enjoyed throughout our stay. Yum.