In this blog I will catalog my adventures in field work and teaching. Guest writers will be invited to share different perspectives on research in the Coral Triangle and science education.
|Posted by allisonfp on March 5, 2013 at 6:15 PM||comments (0)|
As I originally said, this blog is for sharing adventures in teaching as well as field work. Teaching has been fairly tame up until this past weekend, when our teaching staff took about 30 students out to Nevada to look for fossils. This was their first peek at the life of a field biologist, which I believe everyone should experience at least once in their life.
First, some context. I am a TA for GE70, a general education cluster course called Evolution of the Cosmos and Life. For more information about the cluster course program at UCLA, see the website here. The fall quarter focused on cosmology, astronomy, and geology, and this quarter focuses on the evolution of life. All of our students are freshmen, mostly non-science majors looking to get some science credits out of the way. This annual trip introduces the students to some interesting fossil sites where geologists and paleontologists have learned about past life in North America. All of the sites we visited were marine sedimentary rock, demonstrating that this region was once covered by ocean.
We left mid-afternoon on Friday in attempt to beat the traffic from the weekly mass exodus from the city, but as any Los Angeles resident knows, that is impossible. So it took us about 4 hours to get to our dinner stop in Barstow. One of our goals for the drive out was to get in some stargazing, because we were unable to fit in a propoer field trip last quarter when we learned about the cosmos. We took the infamous Zzyzx Rd exit before Baker, and pulled over in the Mojave desert to look up at the night sky. The view was incredible- thousands more stars than we can see in Los Angeles, and maybe even better than my view growing up in upstate New York. Dr. James Larkin pointed out the Milky Way, the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system, and the path across which we see the sun move), Jupiter, and various constellations. We had a long hunt for a satellite- unusually long, given that they are constantly passing overhead. I saw a few "falling stars," which are always nice. I put that in quotations because they are not actually stars but meteroids burning up in the Earth's atmosphere. Finally Dr. Tony Friscia (course coordinator and trip leader extraordinaire) found one, and then one of our students found another a few minutes later. With that success we moved on to our destination for the night: Primm, Nevada.
Primm is an interesting place- not scientifically, but culturally. It is a tiny town that only exists because it is the first parcel of land over the state border, and therefore the nearest place where SoCal residents can go to a Nevada casino. There are 3 hotel/casinos there: Buffalo Bill's, Whiskey Pete's, and the Primm Valley Resort. We stayed at Whiskey Pete's. It was a bit bizarre being in a casino in the middle of the desert with a bunch of underage students, trying not to think about what they might be up to, but the teaching staff managed to have a good time.
The next morning we drove past Las Vegas and then west into the hills to our first fossil stop, Mountain Spring. Here we looked for fossils from reefs in the mid-Paleozoic era. By climbing uphill and looking at fossils along the way, we were able to see how life in this area changed over time. The lower part of the hill spans the Devonian period, when a major extinction took place, after which the community changed from being dominated by sponge-like stromatoporids to rugose corals, brachiopods, and crinoids. The climb was treacherous, with no path to follow as we navigated through loose rock and cacti, but the view was worth it and our students felt very triumphant, as you can see in the photo below.
After descending (even more treacherous) we went back to town for lunch before setting out for our next destination, Emigrant Pass, which is actually back over the California border. The drive involved a lot of yucca, joshua trees, and interesting geological features such as these red rock layers:
Emigrant Pass has much older sediment, from the early Paleozoic- the Cambrian period. Trilobites (the New York state fossil!) dominate there, but we also found stromatolites and oncolites. Trilobite heads were incredibly easy to find in the shale once we found the right wash to look in. Collectively we must have found at least 100!
Pockets and bags full of fossils, we made our way back to Nevada and drove north to Beatty, with a quick pit stop in Pahrump. I got a high five from a nice woman in Pahrump who was really happy for all of us UCLA students, out and about learning stuff. It's always nice to see that the general public supports education (in spirit as well as financially).
On the surface, Beatty is practically a ghost town, supported mostly by tourists passing through on their way to Vegas or Death Valley. However, any town that has legitimate saloons and wild burros has more to it than meets the eye. That night I and some of the other TAs discovered the true character of Beatty by going out on the town. We had our choice of 4 places all within two blocks. The Beatty Club was closed and looked like it had been so for about 10 years. KC's Outpost looked more like a diner than a bar. The Sourdough Saloon looked like the most popular place, but didn't have half as much character as its neighbor, the Happy Burro. That was where we chose to go, and it was an excellent choice. The decor, food, drinks, clientele, and bartender all perfectly exemplified rural American life.
Sunday morning we got an early start to get breakfast and hit the road, but of course with 40 people and 6 vehicles to fuel up, that actually took about 2 hours. We only had to drive about 10 minutes to our third fossil site, Meikeljohn Peak. This site was also from the early Paleozoic, but the Ordivician period, which came after the Cambrian. The peak is a large mud mound which is considered a biohern- a large reef-like structure which housed a diversity of organisms. We aren't sure how it formed, but now it holds a variety of fossils such as ammonites, nautiloids, snails, and brachiopods. At least half of the class climbed all the way to the top of the mound and beyond to nearby peaks, but some of us (pictured below) found a nice spot at the base of the mound to sit and enjoy the view. The climb was steeper than the previous day, but had fewer cacti, so it was a little easier.
From there we drove west to Death Valley, where we played on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These dunes have piled up from years of wind blowing through the valley.
The adventurous took turns rolling down the dunes, some more gracefully than others:
While the smarter people just hung out in the shade, knowing that humans are not well-adapted to this habitat:
And of course we couldn't leave without a tribute to UCLA:
The drive back was stunning as well, perhaps more so for our van (Vanerozoic for life!) because we took a "scenic detour." It was worth it when we saw a Bighorn Sheep with a baby!
After that it was all snoozing and car games. Thanks everyone for a great weekend, and I'm looking forward to more trips next quarter!
|Posted by allisonfp on September 3, 2012 at 11:15 AM||comments (1)|
Sorry for my lapse in blogging. Since the trip to Sulawesi, I have mostly been doing lab work in Bali, which is not very interesting. I did make one more trip to Lembongan with Sam and Hayley, but it was unsuccessful and we all came home sniffling and sneezing. After that Sam headed back to LA, and Hayley, Abril, and I took it easy in Bali. Then last week Rita returned from Java, and she and I went on a quick trip around Bali to collect her corals. We spent 2 nights in Pemuteran, and I got 10 nudibranchs snorkeling the first day, then did 2 dives the second day. Then we drove to Amed and did one dive that night and two the next morning (and got 1 more nudi) before returning to Denpasar. So it was a whirlwind trip, but reminded me how much I love north Bali. Next year I hope to spend more time in Amed, which I had never been to before. We stayed at an amazing little place called Rumah Adi that was basically an apartment with all the amenities one could want for only $25 a night.
Tomorrow I start my long trek back to Los Angeles. First I have a short flight to Singapore, and then I am stuck there on an 18 hour "layover." Luckily my baggage will be checked all the way through- at least it was on my way over. So I plan to take the train or bus into the city and explore a bit and meet up with my friend Rob for dinner. Then I'll return to the airport to curl up on a cushion for the night. Hopefully I will have time to try the Slide at terminal 3! For more info: http://www.changiairport.com/at-changi/entertainment-lifestyle/the-slide-t3 ; Actually I think that's the first thing I'll do.
My next post will be from Los Angeles or from Hawaii! Thanks for reading.
|Posted by allisonfp on August 14, 2012 at 10:40 PM||comments (1)|
Our trip to Bunaken turned out to be very fruitful for me! I collected over 40 samples, including one species I had not previously collected that lives on Pavona corals. I also got a couple dives in, and speared my first fish! It was one of Abril's Chrysiptera damselfish. Bunaken was similar to Donggala and Raja Ampat in that we could collect right off the beach or take the boat to different sites, and we had all of our meals buffet style at Lorenso's. So convenient!
I have to admit I have gotten so used to the field routine that now I struggle to find new interesting things to share with you. I am back in Bali now, and my next task is to organize all of my samples, record them properly, finish DNA extractions, and start PCR to make sure the extractions are good. At some point I want to collect more samples in Sanur, and on the 26th I am going to Pemuteran with Rita to collect for both of our projects. Then back to Denpasar, process the latest samples, and fly out on September 4th! I'll let you know if anything intersting happens in the mean time.
|Posted by allisonfp on August 5, 2012 at 8:30 AM||comments (1)|
I am writing from the Makassar airport as we travel between Donggala, Central Sulawesi, and Manado, Northern Sulawesi! But before I talk about Sulawesi, I owe you an update about Nusa Lembongan. For future reference, Nusa means island in Balinese.
Lembongan and Nusa Penida are small islands slightly east of Bali that are included in the province of Bali. Lembongan is a popular spot to visit in our group because it is easy to get to from Sanur, and it is always relaxing and fun. Last summer I went twice, and met some Canadian guys (Andrew and Cody) who had just opened up a dive shop called Blue Corner Dive (BCD). This year we went back there and were happy to find it flourishing. I was impressed that they seemed to be emphasizing teaching at their shop, with a constant flow of dive master trainees and an instructor development course going on. It was really fun getting to know the dive masters in training, who came out on some of our dives- Carmel, Chris, Cam, and Tom. At BCD people usually stick around after diving for sunset happy hour, volleyball, and the occasional late night jam session at the bar, and every Friday night there is a bonfire and party. I have to say, I put off writing this post for a while because I was struggling to find the words to describe not just our trip but of the lifestyle at BCD. As a marine biologist I feel that my field lifestyle is pretty great, because I get to travel around, stay at beachside locations, and see the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, and it is all in the name of research. However, there is a certain degree of stress that comes with the research, and it is incredibly tiring to get as many samples as possible from a location, process and record them all, then pack up, fly, and start again. Owning a dive shop is also stressful, I gather, particularly when the safety of so many people is in your hands. Then there are the tourists, who are there purely for pleasure, and can't fathom the concept of being stressed and busy at such a place. I think the dive master lifestyle is sort of in between- they certainly have responsibilities, but when they're off the clock, they don't have to worry about business. And every day their office is a coral reef! There are plenty of local dive masters who live a fairly normal life, going home to their families each night, so it is the foreigners that fascinate me. Many people that we meet at dive shops have been traveling or living in SE Asia for months or years, and don't seem to have plans for going "home." The new ones jump from island to island until they secure a job, while the more experienced become instructors and settle down for years at a time. I think it's really interesting that in this line of work it really doesn't matter what background and education you have, because diving is such a unique skill that anyone can pick up at any time. I was sort of shocked to realize that people can make a living diving all the time, and for some young people there's no need to go to college if that is their dream. I think it's one of the few industries where you see foreigners and Indonesians working side by side. However, the owners are usually western, probably because of the startup money required to for a dive shop.
Ok enough musing about professional diving. The trip to Lembongan was fairly successful for me, because I got 9 samples, 6 of which came from Porites cylindrica. Abril and Hayley had less luck, but we plan to go back in August because Hayley's fish were definitely there.
Now, about Sulawesi. On July 31 (my birthday!) we flew from Bali to Palu in Central Sulawesi, and from there went by car to the German-owned Prince John Dive Resort in Donggala. We stayed in bungalows on a hillside looking out over the water, but surrounded by trees- which means it was buggier than most seaside locations. Every moment that I was not in the water, I made to sure to be doused in deet. Side note- we've been taking anti-malarials in the far out places such as Raja Ampat and Sulawesi. They had buffet-style meals (no meat- fish only!) and a nice little beachside bar which was nice for celebrating my birthday when we arrived! I was able to do all my collecting right on the house reef, though I had to swim kind of far or get a boat ride down the shore to get to the really good habitat. As usual, it took me a couple days to find prime nudi hunting spots, but once I did I ended up with 38 samples! Best of all, 10 of them came from Porites cylindrica, which is more than I have collected from that coral in one location so far. I was discouraged at first because there was so much of the coral and I wash' finding any nudibranchs on it, until the last day when I and Sam suddenly found all 10 within 20 minutes. That's usually how it goes- I find a good spot and suddenly am overwhelmed with collecting. Usually my camera battery dies right about then as well! It's been tough finding the time to charge my battery all the way, especially because at Prince John we only had electricity at night. Anyway, it was a very successful trip, and I'm really starting to get curious about what my genetic analysis will show!
We had a bunch of encounters with other animals in Donggala as well, particularly of the dangerous variety- like lionfish and scorpion fish. I think I took at least 5 more cuttlefish videos, including a couple that were flashing really intensely like the display at an electronic music show! I'll upload soon, but I'm almost at my storage limit so I'll probably have to remove a lot of the things I've uploaded and replace them with smaller files.
We have arrived now at Bunaken, near Manado in Northern Sulawesi, where we will be diving and snorkeling inside Bunaken National Park. We're in bungalows again, this time with a mangrove forest between us and the open water. I'm excited about that, because I have had god luck collecting near mangroves thus far. The place is owned by a great local guy named Lorenso- check out his website! http://www.lorensobunaken.com/
I'll let you know how it goes!
|Posted by allisonfp on July 24, 2012 at 8:55 PM||comments (0)|
I'm off to Nusa Lembongan for the weekend! I decided to leave my computer behind, so I'll let you know how it goes when I get back Saturday. Wish me luck!
|Posted by allisonfp on July 19, 2012 at 9:10 PM||comments (1)|
Today was an exciting day! So busy that even though I have been up working for 18 hours, I can't seem to stop. It started at quarter to 8 at the lab, when Hayley, and Abril, and I ran an electrophoresis gel to see if yesterday's polymerase chain reacions (PCRs) worked. PCR is how we amplify specific regions of an animal's genome, which we can then sequence and compare to other individuals and species. I was happy to see that mine worked! My first PCR earlier in the week did not work, but then I tried a different DNA extraction method (Qiagen instead of Chelex, for those in the know) and all the samples amplified. So now I know that there is at least some DNA there- the next step is to verify that it is Phestilla DNA and not coral DNA, from inside the nudibranch intestines.
Next we went to the Police station to get yet another letter verifying that we are allowed to be here and do research. I think there are dozens of them now. Note to people interested in doing research in Indonesia: there are SO MANY hoops to jump through.
In the afternoon Hayley and I walked to the beach and snorkeled out to the reef in Sanur. That is, we tried to. After about an hour of swimming against the current out across the reef flat/seagrass beds, we still hadn't made it to the actual reef crest where the waves break. However, there was good nudibranch habitat so we gave up the dream and started flipping over corals. I was amazed! Phestilla everywhere! I literally found 10 individuals of one species all on one small coral, smaller than a basketball. Usually I find 1 or 2 at a time, 5 if I'm really lucky. So the long swim was worth it in the end, with 22 samples total. The return trip was slightly less strenuous but equally frustrating, because the tide had gone out but the terrain was really uneven so some parts were more easily navigated on snorkel, whereas other parts were too shallow and required walking. We really had to pay for those samples. Then I continued to pay with 6 hours in the lab taking photos and preserving the specimens! I had to take advantage of having an actual lab as opposed to makeshift lab at a hotel.
So that's the news from Denpasar. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!
|Posted by allisonfp on July 13, 2012 at 3:30 AM||comments (2)|
Well, I'm back in the city and back online with a new laptop! Thanks again to my funding sources for covering my research costs, so that I still have my own money for a replacement. I will be restoring most of what was lost using my external hard drive when I get back to LA, but I did lose some field and sample photos from Tulamben and the Gilis that I can never get back.
The trip to Raja Ampat ended on a high note for me, with a very lucky snorkel on Saturday morning. I went out to the house reef with the main goal of collecting Sara's snails off of Porites cylindrica, but of course kept looking for my nudibranchs as well, because up to that point I had only found 1 individual on any coral other than Porites lobata. Without other coral hosts, I can hardly look at the effect of host on divergence! But I lucked out right away, with two nudibranchs on one piece of cylindrica. Then I spent some time getting snails, which was very satisfying because taking each one is sort of like removing a leech from the coral. At one point I was holding onto a piece of coral to pull myself down to get a snail, and a small piece broke off- actually it's really hard to collect without that happening. But it's ok because we take small coral samples anyway, and I could just use that piece for the sample. So I picked it up, and much to my surprise, one of my nudibranchs was on it! Crazy. I had a good laugh through my snorkel at that. So I quadrupled my sample size for that host in one short morning. But that's not all! A few minutes later, I saw a cuttlefish, and swam up to it to take a video- turned out to be two cuttlefish. I watched them for a while but suddenly they sped off, and I stopped recording and turned away... to see a huge blackip reef shark swimming after them! I got a short video of the shark, too, but was kicking myself for not getting the whole drama in one video.
Our last night was fun, staying up late chatting with our new friends, Ross the British dive master/guest manager at the resort and Gabriel the American nomad/carpenter. We had such a fun, small group, and it reminded me of living at a real field station. I started to get nostalgic for the days I spent at Hubbard Brook in New Hampshire and Hastings Reserve in California. Typical field stations, they are rural and isolated from social opportunities, so I became close with the other young scientists I lived with. A lot of people think that when our lab goes to Bali, we are at a field station, but they are mistaken. The Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center (IBRC) is more of a school laboratory, where people come to work and learn during the day, but go home to their separate lives in the evening. In the field we do live and work together in isolated places, but we never spend more than one week at a given location, so you don't settle into a lifestyle. At Kri Eco, it was easy to develop a routine because the resort already operates on a set meal and dive schedule. Sitting aroud that same table with the same people 3 times per day, and going out in the field in between, was the closest I have come to living at a field station since I was at Hastings in 2007. I miss that lifestyle!
Life is very different in Denpasar. Sure, most of us American students all live at the same place- Rama Villa. But we don't do any field work from there, unless we are able to collect specimens from the local reef flat, which I plan to find out this weekend. For the most part, our life is the same as it is in Los Angeles, only without the rest of our friends and our favorite foods. We go to lab in the morning, we work on our computers or do lab work all day, and we go home in the evening. We go out for dinner and drinks a few times a week, and wander around the beach and local tourist shops. Sometimes we go surfing on the weekend. I've even started running again, which I had pretty much given up after my half marathon in April. See, just like a typical grad student in LA! However, I don't want to downplay our experience too much. There are some really cool cultural things to do in Bali, like visiting temples and going to the arts festival or the kite festival. We have a whole other set of friends here from the IBRC, whom I love hanging out with. So don't get me wrong, being in Bali is great, but I just thought I would tell it like it is and dispell the rumors!
On that note, I think I'll move on to posting photos and videos (finally). Thanks for reading! Don't forget, comments are welcome.
|Posted by allisonfp on July 4, 2012 at 3:10 AM||comments (0)|
I have pulled that quote from our Barber Lab Quartet video as my title for 3 reasons: 1) the video is blowing up back home, particularly now that Billy Joel himself has posted it to his website. Abril, Sara, and I are freaking out over here! 2) I feel quite isolated form the rest of the world, living in a wooden bungalow on a tiny island just south of the equator- to see where exactly, search Pulau Kri, Indonesia on Google maps. 3) I am finally learning first hand what isolation does to marine communities, after visiting reefs in Sumatra and Papua back to back and seeing how different they are!
Field work has been smooth and easy here compared to Aceh, thanks to the wonderful people at Kri Eco Resort. I wish I could post photos right now, but the internet is way too slow, so try to visualize. The four of us (me, Abril, Sam, and Hayley) are staying in a large bungalow with 2 bedrooms that is on stilts over the water, with the tide coming in and out underneath. If the tide is high, we can snorkel straight out over the reef from the bungalow, because there are stairs leading into the water. We can dive 4 times per day if we want, and have a boat and dive guide ready to take us anywhere in the area. Our gear is even preassembled for us on the boat! This is cushy field work, to the extreme. That said, we are roughing it to some extent- showers consist of pouring cold and slightly salty water over ourselves with a bucket, internet is a 15 min walk away, and we have wind instead of AC. I admit, I struggled a little to come up with those few negative points. Ok, before you get all huffy that I get to stay at resorts in tropical paradise to do my work, let me just say that I honestly cannot believe it myself. It's ridiculous! But also frustrating that we have to spend so much money on a single field trip, which actually has not been as lucrative as we hoped. However, I am soooo happy to be here, especially after collecting 5 more Phestilla minor this morning, bringing my total here to 8, and my total in Indonesia to 20.
The reefs here are fringing, which means that all of the islands are encircled by reefs that are fairly level in the intertidal zone but have a steep slope downward at a certain distance from land. This point where the slope starts, the crest of the reef, is my favorite part. I have been spending a lot of time snorkeling on the house reef at Kri Eco - about 10 hours in the water already. Most of that time I am in the shallow, level area examining small pieces of coral, but then I treat myself to the view at the edge of the slope, where large fish, sea turtles, and the occasional shark cruise by on the search for food. Today we saw an incredible cuttlefish at this crest off of another nearby island and I got some great video footage of it reacting to our presence... as well as some interesting footage of Sam attempting communication. She studies squids, so she has a special bond with cephalopods. Speaking of cephalopods, I also had a great experience with an octopus yesterday! We had just come back in the late afternoon from a dive to look for Phestilla melanobrachia on Tubastrea corals that were living on this cool wall between 45 and 60 ft deep, but since I was unsuccessful I wanted to use the remaining daylight to continue searching the house reef. It started to rain, and it was really peaceful swimming around alone just a meter above the sand and coral, hearing the rain hit the water all around me. I came up to a large coral head and saw something strange on the surface- at first I thought maybe a large sea slug. Then I saw its eyes and tentacles and realized it was an octopus, much larger than I first thought, perched on the coral head and watching my every move! I must have started when I realized, because it suddenly flashed brown and slid under the coral. For the next 15 minutes or so I pretended to wander away and lose interest, after which the octopus would sneak out, perch on the coral again, and make sure I wasn't coming back. A couple times it had even started traveling away from the coral head. Then I would start taking photos and video until it realized I was still there, and it would zip back into hiding. It was pretty fun playing hide and seek with the octupus, though I wish it weren't so afraid of me. I will post these cephalopod videos as soon as I can!
Oh, happy 4th of July to all you Americans back home! We don't have any celebration here, of course, but we miss you and your parties and fireworks. Have fun, everyone!
|Posted by allisonfp on July 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM||comments (0)|
Apologies for the delay! I am now in Raja Ampat, a group of islands at the tip of Papua, famous for its unique reefs and amazing dive sites. Internet is limited (have to walk down the beach to the bigger resort) but I have a few minutes for a brief update.
First, thank you to Xeni Jardin for this Boing Boing post! The barber Lab Quartet video, The Longest Time (Coral Triangle Edition), jumped from 2,500 to over 18,000 views in 4 days after that. Thanks to everyone for their awesome comments!
So, quickly: Raja Ampat is wonderful, of course. Collections have been slow, but at least our species are here and we have a whole week to get them. So far I've only collected 3 nudibranchs in 2 days, but the exciting thing is I finally found P. minor living on P. cylindrica! Since I have collected it from 2 coral hosts, I will be able to see if they have diverged based on host. Hopefully I will find more! The diving and snorkeling are amazing, but so distracting. I'll be trying to mind my own business, looking for nudibranchs, when suddenly I look up and there's a huge trigger fish that looks like it wants to kill me, or a sea turtle swimming by, or a blacktip reef shark, or a barracuda! Or all 4, like this morning. So of course I have to stop and take photos and video, and take a few seconds to remember that I'm here to work.
Ok, gotta run- lunch is served for everyone at the same time here, so can't be too late! I promise I'll be back to write more soon!
|Posted by allisonfp on June 26, 2012 at 8:10 AM||comments (0)|
Our second field trip in Aceh took place on Saturday the 23rd. This time Ari took us to Lampuuk, a beautiful beach on the western side of the northern tip of Sumatra (Krueng Raya was on the eastern side). On the way there we stopped for kopi Aceh, Acehnese coffee, which was delicious! Better than kopi Bali, I have to say.
When we arrived at the beach we were greeted by two of Ari's students (he's a TA like us) who happened to be there to swim, so they joined our group. I walked around a bit and enjoyed the view, while everyone else enjoyed kelapa muda (young coconut).
Then we got to work, Sara and Ari snorkeling and I intertidaling (I was still recovering from a brief stomach bug, so I decided to take it easy and not snorkel). Turns out the intertidal zone is the place for me, anyway- I got 12 nudibranchs that day! Below is one of the photos I took of Phestilla sibogae on the coral, which should give you an idea of how cryptic they are.
Blogging has been temporarily interupted by the theft of my laptop!!! It was taken out of my Bungalow in Sumur Tiga, Pulau Weh. I have some time now on Sara's computer to wrap up about Aceh, but then I may not be able to post for a while.
After Lampuuk we drove down the coast with a group of men from the University. Pak Muchlisin and his students were on their way to a lake to sample freshwater fish, and the plan was to drop off Pak Edi Rudi, Sara, and me near Calang for a day of field work, after which we would stay the night and take a minibus back. However, as is typical in field work, particularly in Indonesia, the plan changed throughout the day. On the way down Pak Edi called his friend who works with coral along the coast and asked where the good spots are. He said there were some small islands between Banda Aceh an Calang that had the best coral diversity, so Edi thought maybe after Calang we should stop there on the way back. We stopped for drinks (young coconut again, not my thing) at a viewpoint and could see the islands and reef below. As we were talking about them, Sara said, "Why not just check them out today instead of going to Calang first? We're here now!" Thus was the beginning of what became the longest field day ever.
Pak Edi called his fisherman contact in the nearby village of Lamno and asked if he was available today to take us out on his boat. He said ok, after praying and lunch he could meet us at his dock. Finding said dock was an adventure in itself- I think we turned around 3 times and had to herd water buffalo out of the way. Finally we found it and waited for half an hour, chatting with the guys. When the fisherman showed up, the other 3 men departed for their trip, wishing us luck. We stil had no plan for sleeping or transportation after collecting- all we focused on was getting out to the reef. And what an amazing reef it was!! Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. The coral diversity was incredible. A lot of reefs out here are dominated by one species or genus- usually Porites, which is good for our research. This was not the case at this reef. So many different corals were competing for space and light. Oddly, there weren't a lot of fish around, and unfortunately due to the lack of Porites I coldn't find my species. But it was a cool experience nonetheless.
We climbed back into the boat and headed back to shore around 4:30 pm. Then came time to decide what to do. We could either find an inn in Lamno, or find a minibus back to Banda Aceh. We chose the latter, because we had already reserved our hotel there that night, in hopes of returning to the comfortable AC. And there was plenty of time to make the trip- we thought we'd be back by nightfall. We thought wrong.
First, we had to get to the village from the dock- a 9 km trip. Luckily the fisherman could give us a ride, but it was tricky fitting all of us and our stuff, because his only mode of transport was one motor bike and we are strictly forbidden to ride motor bikes... yeah, so, anyway, by 6 pm the 3 of us were sitting in a warung in Lamno, ordering food and drinks while we waited for the minibus (bemo) which usually came every hour. 7 pm, no minibus... ok, we can wait until 8. A lot of people came and went while we waited, and we chatted with the family who owned the place. An adorable little girl took a liking to us and helped us pass the time drawing and singing and counting coins. But time was not moving fast enough. 8 pm, then 9 pm, then 10 pm passed without a bus. At that point we started to consider other options, and I felt ready to pass out and sleep at the warung. Finally we decided to hire a local to give us a ride back- $50 instead of the $3 that the bemo costs. BUT we had to wait until almost 12 before the car showed up. AND it turned out our mode of transport was the very same bemo which would have cost $3, but had been full earlier and didn't stop, so now we were paying 16 times as much for the extra trip. We didn't get home until 1:30 am. All in all, I think the reef and the conversations we had at the warung were worth the trip, and it will always be an important memory of Aceh for me.
Ok, that was a long story. I guess I'm really taking advantage of having Sara's computer! I'll fnish with a brief summary of the last few days. We decided to take the ferry over to Pulau Weh from Banda Aceh, which is the usual sampling location for our lab. By the way, if you are ever makig that trip, don't take the slow ferry. And if you do, don't pay extra for business class. It was torture. It was a closed off section that has "AC" which did not work at all, so we were basically shut into a sauna. After about an hour of sweating we escaped to the deck and braved the sun rather than bake inside. We stayed at Casa Nemo for the first two nights, a classic tropical bungalow style place complete with theft, then moved to a more secure hotel in the "city", Sabang (pop 4,000). Despite my terrible laptop luck, the trip has not been a waste, because field sites have been awesome! We finally found branching Porites! But I will let Sara tell you more about that in her guest entry. Thanks for reading this crazy long post!