Striving for Another Layer of Understanding

By Dominick Leskiw

“But what I learned in the archipelago came from a mix of science and the act of doing that work; of striving for another layer of understanding in lived experience.” – Lauren E. Oakes

Sunset over the south Bermudan coast. Groups of rainbow parrotfish, Scarus guacamaia, caravan from patch reef to patch reef and occasionally venture into shallow coves to browse on macroalgae during the day.

I remember reading about rainbow parrotfish a day or two before we left for Bermuda. Large, attractively colored, rare, is how they are often described.

When I saw them in person, however, those descriptors simply washed away. Yes, they were massive, with rust-colored heads and bodies more turquoise than the water itself, but the most striking thing about them was that they were there—right there—not gone, as they now are throughout most of the Caribbean. Beyond them was the reef, neat and trimmed and flourishing, with parti-coloured wrasses and great star corals and ancient, arching stones, covered thoroughly with the innumerable intricacies of marine life.

When you see a rainbow parrotfish, or any herbivore, algae, or coral for that matter, you are being offered a window into the entire reef ecosystem, including your own role in it. Through recording rates of herbivory, describing the benthos, scanning recruitment tiles, and even watching my peers plot site maps on Google Earth, I have learned that the drivers and determinants of reef health are not only multitudinous, but inextricably interconnected, much like the life on the reef is itself. I learned that spending time in the very presence of certain species is enough to make one acknowledge the necessity of things like empathy and preservation. And, perhaps most importantly, I realized that when the time came to sit in the lab and pore over data, I would recognize each tick mark on a fish count sheet not as faded graphite in a box, but rather as an individual organism, with a personality, and a soul, and a place in the ecosystem upon which other lifeforms continue to lean and depend.

Students collecting data in the field. Aside from recording fish counts by family and size class, we gathered information on herbivore bite rate, benthic cover, and water chemistry on a daily basis. Every student had a chance to do every task, including taking in the wonder of our underwater classroom.

Dominick Leskiw is a Colby College student in the 2019 Colby-Bigelow Jan Plan course. This intensive experience provides an immersion in ocean research with an emphasis on hands-on, state-of-the-art methods and technologies.

Striving for Another Layer of Understanding