Field Work

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Annnd we’re back! We arrived in Suva yesterday after a week of sample collection in Nagigi (pronounced Nai-ni-ni) on the northern island of Vanua Levu. And man, what a week…I’m at a loss for words when I try to articulate what we’ve experienced. Coming to mind right now are the vibrant colors of the reef fish - brilliant oranges, silvery greens, pale yellows, deep reds, fading slowly from the limp fishes’ tissues as they wait patiently in their plates for us to process them. The cerulean blue of Nagigi’s lagoon, impossibly clear as the prow of our tiny boat cleaves a path through liquid color. The weightlessness of diving, being suspended in space with the tip of my spear glinting five feet ahead and the mechanical sound of breathing through my regulator punctuating the depths. Life in the village was elegant in its simplicity, everything revolving around those few hours spent underwater and the golden afternoons processing samples. The villagers were among some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met, especially our hosts Nancy and Nyo. These wonderful people cooked our every meal, insisting we eat more than our fill, and made sure we were comfortable and well-kept throughout our time spent in the village.

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More importantly, our research endeavors were extremely successful. By the end of the trip we had collected over 100 different species of reef fish, and had observed over a dozen endangered species that we can’t collect but can record as present. The biodiversity on Nagigi’s reefs was astonishing, while apparently not even being up to its full potential. We collected dozens of surgeonfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and triggerfish, a handful of groupers, jacks and mullets (which are more commonly fished by the villagers), two lionfish and a handful of extremely small gobis, blennies, and cardinalfish. I’m definitely missing a lot of fish families there, but that’s what I can remember without looking at my field notebook. :) And, like most field expeditions, we did experience a few hiccoughs in the plans - delayed ferries, boat problems, having to take time off because of terrible weather, etc. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about fieldwork, and not just on this expedition, is to always expect the unexpected. It sounds really cliche but it is truly crucial to have a back-up plan for when things don’t go as planned. For instance, one of the days we were supposed to collect a lot of data we woke up to torrents of rain hammering on our little tin roof, and when we saw the current absolutely RIPPING in the lagoon, all chance of diving that day went out the door. So we had to improvise, sending a few of us into the nearby town to run some necessary errands we had been putting off, and the others staying behind to do interviews with Helen. It ended up being a productive day despite not getting our expected work done, and that day was chalked up as a success. Thankfully the weather wasn’t always like that and we did get to dive in some absolutely fantastic waters (eee!), and collect all the fish and sediment samples we needed.

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Sitting here in Suva, heading back to the US in three days, I realize how much I’m going to miss this place over the next year. BUT, I’m also bolstered by the possibility of returning next summer for my thesis research (!), and am so looking forward to what my graduate school experience holds in store - it has certainly started off on the right foot. :)

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Solemn Thoughts on Life, Luck and Snails

Fun fact subject of the day: Corallivorous snails! (corallivorous = eats coral)

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We're about to start up a pretty interesting experiment with these little dudes in the lab I work in, and I've learned some really cool things about them as a result! One species' feeding mechanism was particularly interesting to me. All corallivorous snails make these little feeding scars (white spot to the left of the snail in the photo) whenever they eat coral tissue, and most snails will feed at night and then retreat to a less-exposed nook or cranny during the day. However, one species stays in its feeding scar 24/7 - burrowing so deeply in the skeleton that it can't even turn around - and it will feed on all the nutrients and materials the coral sends to the area in its attempt to heal the wound! (Another completely different but still awesome fact, corals actually have immune responses! Not like our insanely complex immune responses, but gah still so cool!) Sneaky little snailies. It's almost a parasitic relationship, the corals will continue pumping defensive organic material to the site until it gives up and leaves the tissue for dead - and our little snails get a nice, extended meal before moving on to another spot and doing it all over again. I have no idea how common these snails are, but I could imagine that having a lot of them in one area could do some serious damage to a reef! Hmm, I wonder...

On a completely unrelated note, one of the blogs/websites I frequent is full of witty and creative writings usually poking fun at the condition of being in your 20's, and today came across a great article outlining one person's interesting experiment posting a fake Craigslist job ad - said person was underemployed and looking for a good full-time job (what a concept) and wanted to see what it was like from the perspective of the people they were sending their resumes to. The article is here if you're curious, but the main thing that struck home for me was that the simple ad for a moderately-paid, full-time administrative position got over 600 responses within TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. Holy mackerel, I knew the job market was bad (hellooo, I have 2 part-time jobs and 2 more that don't pay me anything), but that is just an INSANE number! And as I went from shock over this number, to feeling pissed off about the state of the economy, to feeling depressed about my own future, I eventually came to the obvious (but sometimes elusive) realization that I AM SO FRICKEN LUCKY. Yes, I am completely underemployed and yes, I live with my parents because I am nowhere near being financially stable, annnnd yes I get extremely frustrated with the seeming lack of opportunity on the job front, but I have AMAZING parents that are willing to support me through all this "figuring stuff out" BS, and I've been able to slowly but surely add relevant experience to my resume despite the lack of payment. I'm in a much better place than a lot of people, and I need to remember that more often. Too often we compare our own lives to that of others and feel that we're "behind" or not up to par, but life is bizarre and complex and leads people down different, winding paths! Progress cannot be measured by a universal scale. I think I need to put the focus back on my own personal scale.. and count my lucky stars every single day!

K that's enough of me being a cheeseball, the next few posts will be more interesting and fun I promise ;)