05-26-2016

9:02 PM AEST
Another pretty full day. After breakfast, it was straight out to the reef to begin today's lesson in study methods, this time in fish surveys. We began by laying out long transects much like yesterday, but rather than taking core samples, we swam along the transects with GoPros recording video that we could use to count and identify reef fish. This proved to be easier said then done, as the waves were big and choppy. My wetsuit kept me on the surface without any real effort, but the wave action made it difficult to do anything in a straight line, and made it harder to swim out along the transect. Everything not attached to the bottom moves: more than once I stopped to have a conversation and when I finished less than a minute later I discovered that I had been carried twenty or thirty feet from where I was. The waves also made the already shaky GoPro video even shakier.

Turns out I'm a pretty weak swimmer. No surprise. Even with fins, I'm extremely slow, mostly because the resistance from the water on my finds causes me ankle pain, so I have to keep my movements small. I'm hoping that it's just because I'm using muscles I don't typically use, and it'll get better as time goes on.

We analyzed the video until lunch time, and afterward it was a lecture and then back to the reef for the low tide treatment. The water had dropped from about 7 feet to more like 3, so rather than swim we waded along our transects. It's harder then it sounds: you pick your steps slowly due to the abundance of easily injured coral and sea cucumbers, but the waves knock you off balance, and if you do fall there's usually a sharp rock or patch reef waiting to cut you. Nobody fell, though, and the session went smoothly.

After dinner, we attended a talk by CoralWatch, a citizen science group out of the University of Queensland which instructs regular people in how to monitor coral color to evaluate coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is a process where coral respond to stress from increasing water temperature by expelling the photosynthetic algae that live inside them and provide a large portion of their energy. This makes the coral lose its coral and starve. It's a widespread problem due to climate change.

I feel bad for the CoralWatch team giving the presentation. We were at the resort, among tourists, and as soon as they finished their intro on what CoralWatch was and how it works, the audience lit into them with questions like "most emissions are coming from the USA and China, why should Australia do anything if they won't?" and other societal structure problems that reef scientists aren't really equipped to handle.

Tomorrow we'll be going out with CoralWatch to learn their system. Punctuality is going to be important, so I'd best get to bed. See you tomorrow!
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