RESEARCH LIFE —
My time here in Moorea has been glorious, to say the least. Not only am I working in a beautiful place, surrounded by incredibly hardworking people, but I am taking every opportunity I can to learn more, absorb more, and explore more fields of research that interest me. Right now, I am just fascinated with coral symbiosis with zooxanthallae, the Symbiodium spp. I was discussing earlier that lives within the tissues of its coral host. I’ve been reading papers on coral biology, ranging from large-scale demographic data (where corals are distributed spatially and density distributions), to small-scale microbial symbiosis. The microbial research is incredible because scientists are attempting to understand how microbial communities, which encompass nearly every organism, may influence tolerance and adaptability to environmental stress. Even us humans! We actually have more foreign DNA from microbes in and around our body than our own DNA. If you were to take a picture of yourself, and then remove just your own DNA, there would be an outline of your entire body just based on the DNA of all the microscopic organisms that live outside and within us… Here’s another fact I just found, the human body carries 100 trillion microorganisms in the intestines alone, a number TEN times greater than the total number of human cells in our body. Wow, that’s remarkable to me. But it isn’t something we should be grossed out by. We need these organisms and the products they provide to us. E. coli, for example, is a type of bacteria that comes in various strands. A certain non-pathogenic (non-disease causing) strand lives in our small intestine and synthesizes vitamins we can’t make ourselves and also aids in preventing the establishment of other, more harmful, bacteria. So to get to my point about corals, corals also have a microbial community that lives around and within their tissues. Some of the research I’ve been reading proposes that the composition of microbes around different corals may be an important factor in what corals will survive changing ocean conditions.
So that’s my research rant for the day : )
ISLAND LIFE —
Island life from my perspective is basically research life… But we do get the occasional opportunity for happy hour at the Hilton Hotel down the road when birthdays and going away parties come around. The last couple days we’ve had two birthdays and two more people leave Moorea at the end of their field research.
Obviously this made me very happy! And yes I did lay in it for a bit : ))
So the Hilton has overwater bungalows. Gorgeous of course. At night, black-tip reef sharks cruise around the lagoon, looking for scraps thrown over and fish to eat. We peered over the edge and saw a couple of them. We even saw a black-tip chase down an eel and catch him! It was awesome.
Birthday celebrations also happened to mean salsa dancing the next night at the Sofitel hotel, another fancy beautiful place with overwater bungalows. The Sofitel Hotel sits along Moorea’s eastern edge, so from where we were sitting, we could see the glistening lights of Tahiti. We attempted a photo-shoot with a Tahiti water bottle to try and capture the lights of the island. The next night was followed by a lab BBQ on the dock. Mmm island life has been a really great time.
LABORATORY LIFE —
So I may have spoken too soon when I said that life as a scientist can be tedious. It got a hell of a lot more tedious this last week. I’ve spent the last ten days out of the water assisting in the harvest of the experimental cages and algae that we collected. I’ve then spent the last six days in the lab weighing aluminum boats, again and again… and then again and again. Replicates and replicates! Science!
My view of Moorea for one week…
UNDERWATER LIFE!! —
Yay so today I got to head back out into the water and dive in the fore-reef! It was soo great to feel the sun! Tropical paradise once again did not disappoint. The blue water was luminescent as the suns rays shown down through the entire water column.
So today our job at the fore-reef was to check out more of the experiments and plots that have been under the pacific ocean for the last two years. My advisor, Sally Holbrook, Ph.D., and I went to take notes on the progress of the hysteresis experiment. As I may have briefly mentioned earlier, one of the major themes of the MCR-LTER is to understand how corals reefs recover from disturbances. One of the experiments deployed serves to examine the concept of hysteresis, which describes how different phases of a system (coral dominated vs. algae dominated) are not equal in terms of phase-shift reversibility. What this means is that a coral dominated reef will persist until certain conditions (environmental or otherwise) cause it to reach a point where the coral system can no longer be sustained. The system undergoes a “phase-shift” to an algae dominated system. However, even if the conditions return to their original state, it takes an even greater effort for the system to undergo a “phase-shift” back to a coral dominated state. In even simpler terms, it takes more effort for the system to go one way than the other. Once a coral-dominated reef has phase-shifted to an algal dominated one, it is nearly impossible for the system to return to its previous conditions, and oftentimes never return. Due to this, coral recovery research is vital. Coral reefs provide habitat for over a quarter of all marine species, yet take up only 0.1% of space in the ocean. They are a hot-spot for biodiversity of life in the ocean, and subsequently on earth. By trying to understand these phase shifts, we are attempting to understand how to preserve biodiversity and quantify what this may mean for the future.
Another thing to keep in mind though, not to confuse anyone any more than hysteresis might already ! – is that this type of description artificially creates the categories of “coral-dominated” and “algal-dominated” states. In actuality, there is always variability and varying conditions between corals and algae. This description serves to generalize that variability, although it is important to understand that the “conditions” being referred to can be a multitude of factors ranging from environmental (water temperature, salinity, nutrients, etc.) to biological (microbial pathogens, predation, herbivory, etc.). So.. to sum it up. It’s a super complicated system that we are trying to understand using the tools we have available.
My awesome advisor Sally Holbrook noting the amount of macroalgae present in the hysteresis experiments that have been deployed since 2011 in order to determine if the experiment should be harvested or continued.
Then for the afternoon it was back to weighing samples. I was just so happy to be back in the water again. As for tomorrow, the same thing shall ensue. Morning dive to check out the rest of the experiments on the fore-reef, then some more samples to be weighed and muffled and weighed again! Ah the good life : )
Nana for now and goodnight family and friends!