Jan Plan: Whalebone Cove

So we’ve made it through three days, and I think we’re starting to get the hang of this. We’re getting comfier with our coral and fish IDs, quicker at pulling on our wetsuits, and more familiar with BIOS’ sprawling campus (PSA: the vending machine in the basement has BBQ chips). We awoke this morning to warnings that today would be a bit of a long haul, and advice to eat plenty in preparation. Coffee in hand, we gathered in the lecture hall after a big breakfast, as has become our routine. On this note, I’d like to mention the beauty of routine on Bermuda: our days, for the most part, unfold in predictable fashion–breakfast, morning lecture, lunch, afternoon expedition, dinner, evening activity. My stomach has begun grumbling only at the key times of 7:45, 11:30, and 5:45. And settling to this schedule, however structured, offers a welcome reprieve from Colby life, which is often marked by awkward class schedules, late library nights, and missed meals. A big breath of fresh island air. All this to say that we spent the morning “in class,” learning first about Bermuda’s history of piracy (courtesy of Madison and Julia), and then about the significance of light in coral reef ecosystems (courtesy of Dr. Eric Hochberg, a research scientist here at BIOS). Afterward, we quickly regrouped to set goals for the afternoon’s snorkel expedition and flocked to the cafeteria for lunch; it was 11:25, after all.

Before embarking to Whalebone Cove for the afternoon, we gathered in the BIOS lab for a crash course in oceanographic instrument deployment. While Ben fiddled with technology trouble (which, we’ve learned, is par for the course in the marine bio world), Nichole held a small, sidewalk chalk-sized instrument which she explained could track multiple oceanic parameters, including salinity, depth, and temperature (a CTD). The CTD, we learned, was designed to track the movements and conditions that large marine mammals experience and cost about $1000 a piece! With that in mind, we discussed the importance of marking instrument location by any and all means possible (GPS coordinates, buoys, even local landmark recognition) to make sure we get the valuable instrument, and invaluable data, back in hand.

Next, we hit the road for Whalebone. Upon arrival, we pulled out our still-sorta-damp gear and immediately began our transect work. My group got lucky; only a few minutes in, Nichole beckoned us outside the sheltered area to open waters on the sea-facing side of the rock formations. Though it can be a bit ~tricksy~ keeping a data sheet in choppy, open ocean surface waters (and getting the transect line to stay put), the trek was certainly worth it. We noticed (qualitatively, of course) that the reef outside the rocks was fostering lots of coral recruits, while the one inside the cove held many older, more established coral colonies. Cool beans!

While wading out of the water, we encountered a treat and a half: Sonora (daughter of instructors Ben and Loren), clad in perhaps the teensiest wetsuit ever made, invited us over to her very own museum. “I cutted them all in half,” she announced, proudly revealing a collection of beach treasures, each of which she had, in fact, sliced down the middle. Kids, am I right? As trite as it sounds, it’s fun having a set of littler hands and eyes encouraging you to slow down and find magic in the small stuff. Thanks, Sonora! We felt honored to visit your exhibition.

After hot showers and food, we layered up for the evening activity: a plankton tow. After a quick lesson in plankton diversity and importance, we boarded the boat in groups of eight. And so we cruised beneath the full moon, catching entire communities of plankton in deep nets trailing along behind us. Upon return, we buckled down to get a good look at the little guys under microscopes in the lab, and found some extremely varied, energetic scenes. After a bit more lab exploration, we all readily retreated to bed. This day was definitely one of our longer ones, but coasting on coffee and camaraderie, we had a pretty awesome time. Three down, six to go!

– Rebecca, Colby College student

Jan Plan: Whalebone Cove