December 9, 2019
Time to talk about my research project here! There were many options of directed research, and I requested the one with my favorite professor here, even though it didn’t have a SCUBA component, only snorkel. Our project is analyzing how the presence and severity of a certain parasite that causes black spots on the body of its host might affect the Ocean Surgeonfish.
The Ocean Surgeonfish eats a lot of algae on the coral reefs, which keeps the ecosystem healthy and allows the coral to grow further. But this parasite is one of those creepy ones that changes the behavior of its host. It basically hijacks the brain of the fish and makes it act very different. Our research is observing the Surgeonfish behavior and trying to determine a trend in the behavior changes of infected fish. We hypothesize that this parasite is causing the fish to behave more erratically and suppressing its anti-predator instincts, which would increase the likelihood of the fish getting eaten by an osprey, which is the next host of the parasite’s life cycle.
So, what does our actual field work look like? We go out every afternoon snorkeling for two hours and split up into buddy pairs. One of us videos the fish, while the other one records what the fish is doing exactly every 30 seconds when our timer goes off, and also records the number of bites every 30 seconds. We follow each fish for 10 minutes and record the number of black spots it has.
I really enjoy this type of field work because it forces me to focus on things that I typically wouldn’t notice. We are now well-acquainted with the typical behavior of the fish and notice when they do strange things. Then it’s easy to notice when the highly infected fish act strangely. We joke that they appear to be drunk, swimming erratically and running into rocks. We snorkel for about two hours each day collecting data, and usually by the end of it we’re all freezing cold and our hands are too numb to keep writing.
One day, after collecting behavioral data on many fish, we began to swim back to the boat. I dived down to swim along the sea grass upside down, looking up at the water surface. The change of perspective from doing this is always interesting- gazing at the waves distorting the sun rays that manage to filter through, I feel more as if I belong in this underwater reality. As I swam in this strange manner, I tilted my head back just a bit farther to see where I was going, and realized that an eagle ray and I were swimming right towards each other!
A cute squid
Leave a Comment » | Fall 2019, Maddie in the Turks & Caicos Islands | Tagged: Adventure, Diving, Squid, Surgeonfish, Turks and Caicos | Permalink
Posted by Madelyn in TCI
September 12, 2019
Hey folks, I’m Madelyn, a junior and studying Biology with an Environmental Studies minor. I’m currently on a plane from Milan to Toronto. I’m actually studying abroad in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), but I have two 7-hour layovers in Toronto and then Montreal before heading to TCI. That’s just what happens when you buy the cheapest plane ticket, I guess! Anyways, I spent all of my summer in Greece WWOOFing (definitely look this up if you’ve never heard of it; it’s a great way to experience new countries). Then I took a terribly long ferry ride and spent five days in Bari, Italy, with my Italian host family from high school. It was really fantastic to be able to see them and my friends there again! And the food… my host mother is the best cook any of her friends know, which in Puglia, that’s saying a lot. I learned how to cook focaccia, panzerotti, fresh seafood, and so many different types of pasta. At least in southern Italy, the pasta stereotype is not much exaggerated! I also tried squid raw, which is something very unique to Puglia. It was surprisingly good with just some lemon, olive oil, and pepper!
Fresh squid from the local fish market.
So, after a lovely few days in Puglia, I took a flight to Milan. I can’t begin to explain the amount of struggle it took to make all of my suitcases fit the weight restrictions for this flight. You see, I had to pack everything for 6 months into one big suitcase, one carry-on, and one back pack. This includes my scuba and snorkeling equipment, because I’ll need it for my fall program. This flight to Milan was through Ryanair, which is usually very strict about their baggage allowances policies. By the time I was done organizing all of my stuff, I was dripping sweat and my back pack was quite possibly heavier than my suitcases. But guess who didn’t have to pay extra baggage fees!
In Milan I stayed with an old friend for a few days. Ironically, we were both neighbors in a rural Pennsylvania town, meeting up several years later in Milan. Not only did we explore the city of Milan together; we also took a train up to Lake Como, which is absolutely beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go there, definitely take the ‘funicolare’ up the mountain to the town of Brunate. It’s a quaint little town with many places to walk and enjoy nature. There is also a lot of folklore there about gnomes and fairies and it seems quite natural to imagine little mischievous creatures hiding behind the ancient trees of the mountain.
The tram station going up the mountain from Como to Brunate.
Walking through the forest by Brunate.
The Duomo at midnight.
So that is the story of how I ended up on a flight from Milan to Toronto as an American studying in Turks and Caicos. My study abroad program is a bit abnormal. It’s actually a marine biology research program, where I’ll be studying the marine environment and learning about how the population and tourism impact the ecosystem, as well as helping to develop policies to minimize the harmful effects. Most of my courses will be science-oriented, and emphasize really getting into the area of study, hence why I need my scuba equipment. My classes should spend a lot of time outside, whether it be hiking around to explore the various ecosystems on different islands, or snorkeling in the coral reefs to see in person the species that we learn about in the classroom. This sort of thing is exactly my jam, so I’m really excited to see how it goes! I’ll keep you all updated on whatever weird stuff I see or do!
Leave a Comment » | Fall 2019, Maddie in the Turks & Caicos Islands | Tagged: Adventure, Brunate, Culture, Duomo, Food, Squid, transportation, Travel, Turks & Caicos | Permalink
Posted by Madelyn in TCI