Sunday, October 14, 2007
How terribly sad the last day was. After getting up early and flying to Panama city we spent the morning in the rainforest looking at the monstrous vegetation and learning about the rainforest ecosystem. We took turns going up into a giant crane to look around in the canopy of the rainforest. It was amazing to get a view from the top of the trees and look out onto the city of panama. I was so surprised that the rainforest was in such close proximity to the city! I figured there would be a transition between the two but they were practically on top of each other! We got to see monkeys, lots of leaf cutter ants, and a Three-toed sloth! It was an unforgettable experience.
After the crane, we headed over to the biggest of the Panama canal locks, Miraflores, which was built in 1913. We even got to see a huge boat carrying close to 4000 cars in it go through the canal from the Atlantic side to the Pacific side. it was quite incredible to watch, and the speed at which the canals filled up was astounding. It was quite a treat to see.
The next stop was at the Artisan shops. We spent close to 2 hours milling around the various shops and buying local pieces of art. Many of us left the shops with alot less cash in hand. haha
Our final stop before dinner was at the STRI lab on the Pacific side of Panama. Here, we got to take a quick tour and look around at the scenery. We got to watch a gorgeous sunset over the water and the best part was getting to see an armadillo crossing the road. We were very lucky.
Finally it was time for dinner and the group enjoyed a delightful dinner at a local restaurant. The food was amazing and it was good to sit and relax after a day on the go. After dinner we returned to Gamboa to stay in the school for a night. Everyone was in bed by 9 though because we had to be up at 4 to catch our flight.
I will try to update the blog a few more times about our post-panama activities and with some more pictures and some video. Adios!!
Friday, October 12, 2007
Today we finally got a chance to walk around in the mangrove forest rather than just snorkeling in among the roots. It was quite a tough task to get out of the boat and actually get on the "dry land". There were quite a few us, me included, which fell in the mud while trecking through the mangroves. We got to see lots of fast moving crabs and sample water to look at the salinity changes as you go deeper into the mangroves. We learved about how the mangrove forest form and about how the salinity of the water increases as you go further in. Unfortunately, the water samples that we took showed the opposite trend in salinity due to the fact that we had about 2 inches of rain the day before.
After climbing through the mangroves we went back to the areas of seagrass/mangroves to finish up the transects. The data that we collected throughout the week will hopefully show us some trends about where particular echinoderms live in relation to the mangroves and the amount of cover and predatpr/prey density.
The rest of the day we spent alot of time with the crab orientation experiments and getting them to work...which they finally did. It took awhile to get the protol just right so that the crabs were not affected by our behavior. But we were alt to figure it out and the crabs began to orientate themselves very nicely in relation to the targets. =) Again, the data that was collected throughout the week is going to be analyzed and presented later. =)
And that was the end of day 6. Most of the gang decided to hed into town for the night to mix and mingle with the locals and to get out of the lab for awhile. Don't worry, there will be more to come about "going out" in Bocas ;)
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Hey everyone. If you want to read about the wonderful adventures the Duke kids are having in California...go here!
Today some of the group, including myself, woke up at 7 to go and check the crab traps that we set out last night. Our hopes were high...well at least mine were....that we were going to catch some crabs. Unfortunately, the only thing we caught were a bunch of ants. Most of the traps that held the bait still had the bait in them and were just covered with ants. Other buckets contained no bait and we think something came by and stole the bait from the trap. One of the traps had dog prints next to it...which may explain why the some of the baits went missing. So, that experiment turned out to be a flop. In the future, we think using bigger buckets to catch the crabs will probably fix the problem. But despite the lack of crabs, the few of us that went out got to see a beautiful sunrise and got first dibs on the breakfast =)
After breakfast the gang went out to Bastimentos (a very large, gorgeous island) to catch more hermit crabs. We started off with about 18, but in order to do the orientation experiments (described before) we needed to catch about 40 more. In the first 30 minutes we only caught about 7 crabs...and we all started getting worried that finding 40 hermit crabs would prove an impossible task. But Humberto and Matt found a dead tree right next to the ocean that ended up being the crab castle. Crab after crab was pulled from this dead tree stump thing, some of which were very large! In total, we pulled roughly 40 crabs just from this one tree!!! A little further down the way, Humberto again hit the jack pot of hermit crab hiding places. In a small area we were able to collect about 30 small sized hermit crabs. Relief swept over everyone's faces after learning we had finally found all the crabs we needed.
The second task of the morning: Snorkeling around a coral reefs to look for urchins for Maria. Most of us were unsuccessful at finding them though. But we still had a great time on the reef and saw a ton of cool things including file clams, basket stars, parrot-fish, and jellyfish.
We also stooped at the mangroves for a few minutes to pick up larvae traps we had put down 3 days earlier. The traps are simply a thick mess square that we tied to the bottom of the sea and another tied to a mangrove at the surface of the water. The larvae settle in these traps and we collect them to look at later.
Lunch came and went and we were given a long afternoon break for all our hard work. Most of the the group went into town to do some shopping at the local stores. After we got back from town the first thing we did was split the crabs into different groups for the crab orientation experiments. Unfortunately, while I was grabbing a crab, he latched onto my finger and refused to let go! OOOWWW! I finally pulled the damn thing off after 8 minutes when I realized I had lost all feeling in the tip of my finger and realized it would just be better to pull him off. After that I decided I just better not handle anymore of the crabs (it was the second time today I got pinched...I think they all hate me haha)
We then split up into groups to do some research. Some of us first looked at the larvae we had caught in the traps earlier that day. Some of the things we found were copepods, crab megalope, diatoms, and isopods. We also caught some thing we were not able to identify, one of which looked spider like...gross. haha. The other group spent a few hours locked in "the cave." The cave is a storage room in the bottom of the research facility where we do the crab orientation experiments. We have to do it in a dark room in order for there to be no shadows for the crabs. We changed up the protocol of the experiment a little bit from how I explained it the other day because we noticed the crabs were able to see us even though we were trying to stay out of their sight. So we tried using a red light (crabs can't see as well in this light) and we hid behind trash bags to try and fix the problem. Hopefully this will work much better.
After working on these two things before dinner, we reversed groups and continued going research for awhile longer after enjoying a good dinner and a very large, loud thunderstorm. =)
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Today was a super productive day! The first thing we did was head out to the mangroves to finish up doing transects. This took almost all of the morning since we completed a bunch of them. We also spent some time taking cross-section pictures of the mangroves to help with identifying the species later on. After spending all morning snorkeling in the sun, we spent the afternoon working in the lab. We split up into groups to work on different things. One group worked on the crab orientation experiments in the basement of the lab, while another group measured the sea grass samples from the mangrove transects. We also had a group place buckets into the sand on a local beach for a crab feeding experiment (more details to come). My group got to work with the crab orientation experiments. We were looking at the crab's response to the 40 degree angle target. One person sat under the table to watch the angle at which the orientate while another person recorded and still another person got the lucky job of placing the crabs in the bucket. Sarah Norman was the lucky person the first trial. It was hilarious to watch her talking to the crabs and getting them into the bucket. She would often yell out "I'm a tree, I'm a tree" as a coping method for dealing with the crabby things. The last thing she wanted to do was get pinched. haha
After dinner we went out to the beach to add bait to the crab experiment. 18 buckets were buried in the sand and baited with fish (4 were used as controls and had no bait). This way the crabs would come near to the bucket and fall in trying to get the bait. In the morning, we will go out to the traps and see the amount and types of crabs we caught. =)
AS for now, I am going to keep uploading pictures so you all can see how much fun we are having!!
Day 3: Today we woke up and headed back out to the Jurassic Park island which we found out is called Bastimento. We came back here to collect more Gecarsinus to use for our crab orientation experiments. This experiment looks at which way crabs orientate themselves when they interact with dark or light backgrounds. A table, labeled 0 to 360 degrees, is placed directly under a bright light and then a bucket is placed on the table. We set up the experiment in a dark room so that the crabs only see the light directly over them and are not affected by any shadows. The bucket has a cover on it with a hole drilled into the center and gong through the hole is a Tupperware container connected to a string running out of the bucket. This way, we can place the crab into the bucket, then put the Tupperware over the crab to calm it down and keep it in the center, then once the lid is on we can raise the Tupperware container up and the crab orientates itself. We used various strips of paper to simulate dark areas. Strips of paper covering 10 degrees then 30, 90, 180, and 350 degrees. We also used a strip of paper that looks like a burrow and recorded how the crabs orientated themselves to it. We will be testing the crabs all week and gathering as much data as possible to see how the crabs respond to the various targets. Later on in the week, we will also being soaking the target paper into different smells to see what affect this has on the way the crabs orientate themselves. Very cool stuff =)
So after collecting these crabs we again went out to the mangroves to do transects. We set up 5 transects, 30 meters long and used 1 meter squares to gather data. The beginning of the transect was placed right under the mangroves and then it went out into the turtle grass beds. inside the 1 meter squares we counted the number of sea stars, sea urchins, and sea biscuits as well as the number of mangrove leaves laying on the floor. Finally, inside a smaller grid (10 cm by 10 cm) we counted the number of shoots of sea grass and then number of leaves coming out of each shoot. This information will be utilized by a graduate student for her dissertation.
Lunch time came and went and then we ran some of the crab orientation experiments. After dinner we looked for some predatory crabs and hydrated the crabs that are stuck in the tortilla wheels. Poor things...at least they are getting some exercise. haha
Monday, October 8, 2007
Day 1: after dinner
That night we again went out to a local beach to collect more of the crabs for the crab wheel experiments...and this time we were more successful. We were able to collect enough of the second species of crab, Gecarcinus, in order to fill the crab wheels. After the collecting, we went back to the lab where we measured and sexed the 2 crab species (Ocypode or ghost crabs, and the Gecarcinus) and put them into the wheels. It was awesome to see our tortilla contraptions actually working and we all enjoyed watching the wheels turn for the first time. But the excitement of the wheels working turned to excitement for the celebration of Cc's and Sam's birthdays. While some of group decided to head to bed (which was completely understandable due to the fact that we had been up since 4:15) some of us decided to head out into town to celebrate a 22nd and 21st birthday.
Happy birthday Sam! Snorkeling in the mangroves, on a coral reef, and in the thalassia beds (turtle grass) and looking for more crabs, was the agenda for Sunday morning. The first order of business: find hermit crabs to put in the crab wheels. This proved to be harder than we first anticipated. Even though the beach was gorgeous and we found lots of other species of crabs, none of the hermit crabs we needed to get were found.
After leaving the beach, we set out for the coral reef to do some snorkeling. On the way there, though, we were lucky enough to spot a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins. Our boat driver took us right up along side the pod and we got to watch them for about 5 minutes before the dove and took off. It was absolutely incredible.
At the coral reef everyone enjoyed the crystal clear water. The highlight of the excursion for most of us was hanging out with 2 Caribbean reef squid. The were brightly colored and put on quite a color display for us. They were also very curious which made photographing them a real treat. =) Many sea stars, tube worms, and many species of reef fish were also present.
The next location we went to was a mangrove forest with sea grass beds. It was incredible to see the amount of juvenile fish living among the prop roots of the mangroves. I particularly enjoyed looking at the small brightly colored shrimp found found next to corkscrew anenome.
After lunch, we attempted to find more crabs but got rained out because of a thunderstorm. But no worries, the storm quickly passed and our next adventure proceeded to unfold. We took a car into town where we hopped onto a water taxi which took us to the coolest beach I have ever been to. The immediate thought that popped into my head (and everyones) after spotting the island where we were to be landing shortly was oh my gosh we are in the movie Jurassic Park." Most of the islands jutted straight out of the water and went up hundreds of feet. It was also completely covered in thick vegetation and palm trees. I half expected a dinosaur to come thundering out of the forest onto the beach. But the island turned out to be the perfect place to find the hermit crabs....and tons of fire ants. We also stumbled across a brightly colored poisonous frog and various other species of crabs. A very cool way to end an awesome day. Panama, I really think I love you. =) =)
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Finally, after only 4 hours of sleep and multiple cramped car rides, we finally have made it to the Smithsonian research lab in Bocas del Toro. And boy was it worth the trip. This country is gorgeous, complete with crystal waters, tropical rainforests, and damn good food. haha But before I tell you about the adventures we went on today, let me finish telling you about how we got here. So we made it to Atlanta around 1:30 and had a 4 hour layover. No worries. Most of the gang spent those hours eating or sleeping. We flew out of Atlanta around 6:30 and made it to Panama at 10 where we proceeded to Gamboa for the night. On the way there we stopped at a local gas station to pick up some munchies and rehydrate. The funny thing about this gas station is that in order to get OUT of the place you had to push this tiny button on the side of the door then push on the door normally. Well, 99% of our group couldn't figure this out. So multiple people, including myself, stood in front of this door pushing and pulling looking like complete idiots trying to get the door open. Well after a few minutes of humiliation before a kind Panamanians put us out of our misery and showed us how to use the button. haha Needless to say, it was pretty entertaining for the locals to watch. We spent out first night in an old school, which happened to be one of the first Panamanian elementary schools in the country, and was located right next to the Panama canal (which unfortunately we weren't able to see because of the hour of the day (but we will be back later in the week)) Our beds were in old classrooms still equipped with chalkboards and other classroom furnishings. We went to bed around 12 after celebrating Cc's 22nd birthday!! YEAH!
The next morning we headed out around 5 am to catch our flight to Bocas del Toro. First line of business: set up the research equipment, particularly the crab wheels that I mentioned earlier. All 24 were set up successfully and we proceeded to lunch...which was out of this world, as was the delightful breakfast we ate upon arriving. After lunch we set off to a local beach to try and collect the three types of crabs we will be using for the circadian rhythms experiment (using the crab wheels). The three types of crabs we will be using are ghost crabs, a local hermit crab, and a land crab (exact species names will be given later). Unfortunately, we were only able to find ghost crabs. But despite this, the group still managed to keep high spirits. Exuberant yelps of joy could be heard up and down the beach as we successfully dug up ghost crab after ghost crab....totally 10 in all. It was quite humerus to see the methods used to dig up the crabs, which often burrow feet into the sand. Students could be found using buckets, spatulas, spoons, and sticks to try and dig up the elusive little buggers. By the time we decided to call it quits, nearly everyone had succeeded in finding a crab.
Free time came after crab hunting and everyone seemed ready to take a dip in the crystal clear water. Many of us spent the next hour snorkeling around the boat docks looking at all the interesting marine life. Just a handful of the organisms that we found included barracudas, donkey dung sea cucumbers, arrow crabs, corkscrew anemones, cleaning shrimps, pen clams, sea squirts, blue tangs, French grunts, and the list could go on. Very cool stuff.
That pretty much sums up day 1...up until now, which is dinner time. Tonight we will be hunting for more crabs and hopefully getting a good nights sleep. =) BYE!
Friday, October 5, 2007
Fall Break has finally arrived...and I can think of no better way to pass the time in the airport than to update my new blog. =) I finally finished packing last night around 12 am after taking multiple hours to weed though my luggage in order to make my bag less than 30 pounds. That was no easy task. haha As we sit in the Craven Regional Airport, you can feel the energy in the air. The anticipation of finally being en route to Panama after weeks of meetings and prepping equipment has finally come to an end. One of the best pre-panama memories I have is from when the group came together one night to make 23 crab wheels. One of the experiments we are conducting is analyzing the circadian rhythms of ghost crabs. In order to do this, a contraption needed to be made that was both effective at recording crab movements and compact-able for transport. The solution: use tortilla warmers. Confused? You know those containers at Mexican restaurants that hold your warmed, soft tortillas? Ya, that's what I am talking about! Cool huh. Well we spent about 3 hours putting these tortilla-crab wheels together using PVC piping, washers, magnets, and electronic sensors (I will include a picture once we get them setup). It was a night of fun, a little frustration, and hard-core pre-trip bonding. =) But I must leave you, dear blog, for the latest issue of "InStyle" is calling my name. Catch you on the flip side!!!
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
84 degrees and partly sunny in Beaufort, NC. A perfect day to head out to the beach for the afternoon. Unfortunately, it's midterm week here at the Marine Lab which means there is no time for rest or relaxation. But that is what fall break is for right?!? Well, that's not exactly what my plans are for fall break. Instead of spending 10 days vegging out in front the television or hanging out with friends from home, myself, along with 11 other students from the Marine Lab are spending the break analyzing rhythms of crabs, trekking through rainforests, and staying up late analyzing sea cucumber fecal decomposition rates. Am I making you jealous yet? Probably not if studying marine ecology isn't appealing to you. haha But for me, it's a dream come true. I cannot think if anything I would rather be doing during fall break (Ok the trip to France also sponsored by the marine lab sounds just as awesome). But how cool does this trip sound?!? I get to snorkel in crystal blue water, conduct research during the day (while getting an incredible tan:) and visit a country I never dreamed of ever getting the chance to go to! Unfortunately I could go on and on about how excited I am, but truth be told, I haven't even started packing yet. Oops. haha