Adventures on Orpheus: Status update

I have been ridiculously busy enjoying Australia! I’m in love with my school and I LOVE this country. I have a lot of catching up to do with you bloggers, but for now I will just tell you of my most recent adventure. I am currently in Townsville, QLD Australia attending James Cook University. I am taking three classes: Biodiversity of Tropical Australia, Invertebrate Biology, and Coral Reef Ecology. I have been here at Uni (as the Aussies say) for about 2.5 months and it is now my lecture recess (similar to spring break) and then I have one more month of classes left. Time has gone by so fast its outrageous! I am right in the middle of lecture recess and I have already done more than I could even imagine doing for my spring break back at Cornell. The first half of my break was a field trip with my coral reef class, I know…I know…school during my break should be illegal or something but it was actually extremely fun. We went to the Orpheus Island Research Station (the link is below). We lived on the island for three nights. During that time, we as a group created and designed 4 research projects for 4 different questions about patterns within the reef. Also during that time, we as a class carried out all 4 of those projects and combined our data. The point of this was to gain first hand experience, with help from our TAs, doing what every post-grad scientist does (collect data and write papers).

We took a bus from our school at 5am (not exciting), then a boat at 7am to the island. As soon as we arrived (after we ate of course) we hit the water, it was around 11am when we did our first snorkel. This snorkel wasn’t part of the assignment it was just for fun. I was blown away! Giant clams everywhere and awesome blue and orange nudibranchs, not to mention the gorgeous coral. After lunch we went out on a scavenger hunt to identify corals to family and then possible to genus, which is much harder than it sounds. After all that swimming, I slept like a baby.

The first project was a question on zonation, looking at how the zones along the beach at Orpheus Island affect the coral communities. The first zone was the reef flat, which is all the area not covered by water when the tide went out. The tides on Orpheus are very large so this is a big zone. The next zone was the crest, which is the land that follows the line of the beach and is right after the flat before the drop-off. The last zone was the slope, which is pretty self-explanatory. This zone is the farthest from land and the deepest zone, making it impossible to be studied by snorkelers. There were only 4 divers on the trip the rest were snorkeling, I was a diver! To answer the question the class decided to use a 30m transect and at every 50cm mark identify what coral was under that point. We only identified the corals to family. In the afternoon, we looked at the second question, which was about recruitment. We designed a study where we did another transect marking the type of substrate (coral rubble, macroalgae, coral, sand, or other invertebrates) every 50cm, and we marked down the family of any baby corals (5cm or under) that we saw within 1m of our transect line. The method we used for finding the baby corals was called a belt transect.

The next day we had to design two more studies, one on competition and one on partial mortality in corals. In both experiments we used the belt transects again. In the one on partial mortality, we looked for any coral with some dead spots within our 1m belt and recorded its family, size, and percent of its body that was dead. We wanted to look at differences between the zones, and between the families, in coral mortality. The last question was my favorite. We looked for any corals with signs of ‘combat’ within our 1m belt and recorded their shape (branching, tabular, massive, soft, free-living, or encrusting), size, and the type of competition going on. The first type of competition was shading, where one coral blocks the others light and the polyps on the shaded coral die because the zooxanthellae in them can not photosynthesize. The second form of competition was direct competition where the corals send out chemicals to kill the other or use sweeper tentacles to sting the other corals polyps to death (who woulda thought corals were so violent??). The last form was growing over, which is just a coral growing all over another thus smothering it. After all the projects were complete and the data was in, we as a class chose our favorite. The one chosen was the competition question. Within the next month we all have to write a full scientific paper describing the experiment and results from the competition question.

I know the fact that I had so much fun on a field trip is super geeky, but science rocks my socks! (hehe) Not to mention my dive buddy was super hot…but that’s a different story. Now that my field trip is over I am spending the second half of my break doing something even an English major would appreciate. I am heading today at 5am (again) on a bus down to one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. I am going with about 10 friends from school; we will be staying at a hostel spending our days chillaxin on the beach. Friday we have a huge day trip to the Whitsundays (gorgeous tropical islands) planned. We are going out on a sailboat to see the national park and to do some snorkeling. I can’t wait, and seeing as it’s getting close to 5 I better start packing.

Soon Coming: Recap of my unblogged adventures

With Love,

Olive

Orpheus website: http://www-public.jcu.edu.au/oirs/

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