Nana for Now, Moorea

So my time in Moorea has slowly reached its end. I’m saying slowing because I’m attempting to savor every last second I can on this beautiful island I’ve been able to call home for the last two months.  When I look back, it seems like the other day I first arrived here and everything about this place was so new to me. As I sit here now, I realize how much I’ve grown in only two short months and how much I’ve truly gained from this experience.

Not only have I been introduced to new areas of science within coral reef ecology, but I have been introduced to life after graduation – life as scientific researcher.  It’s given me a new perspective on how to proceed next in my career and it’s given me the knowledge and experience to understand my options.

While I still don’t know exactly what my next step will be, there are a couple things I know for sure.  I know nothing makes me happier than being in the field and working one-on-one with nature. I know that I am interested in asking thorough and significant questions about the biology of organisms and how they perceive and interact with their environment.  I know that I am motivated and passionate to move forward in my education and research experience. And most importantly, I know that I am capable of achieving the ambitions I set my mind to.

The last couple weeks in Moorea were filled with more adventures.  A couple days before my advisors, Russ and Sally, left, they took the five of us undergraduates out for a trip to the ray feeding site.

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As we approached, we could immediately see the sting rays gravitate toward the sound of the boat engine – eager to get fed.  Rays, like sharks, are also quite intelligent. Manta rays, which are the largest of the rays, can have a wingspan of up to 20 feet! (These are what we are hoping to see in Rangiroa!!) They have also been known to recognize individual divers and supposedly like to sit above scuba divers because they like the feel of the bubbles against their stomachs. The ones we saw at the ray feeding site were pink stingrays, Himantura fai, the same species that unfortunately killed my favorite Australian explorer, Steve Irwin. However, the stingrays do not use their stinging barbs for aggression or attack.  The spine sits at the base of their tails and is used purely for defense. Steve Irwin’s case was rare, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, swimming in shallow water and right above a startled stingray.

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Here, everyone was excited to get in the water!

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Two of the other undergraduates I work with, Evan and Erin are stoked of course

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Woohoo!

For the pink stingrays here, a boat full of people is nothing new. We jumped in the water and the rays were not shy about coming up to us in search of the squid we brought along. Rays eat a wide range of food, but mainly feed on crustaceans such as crabs.  In order to break the hard shell of their prey, rays have immensely strong jaws. They don’t have sharp teeth like us, instead they have rows of blunt teeth used to crack the shells of their food.  Mantas, like most all other fishes possess what are known as gill rakers.  Though one of the largest species in the ocean, manta rays feed on some of the smallest. They are filter feeders and their gill rakers allow them to filter planktonic food sources from the water. Unfortunately, manta rays are now facing new threats as the demand for their gill rakers has increased around the world.

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While the stingrays were climbing on top of us and finding all the food we had, there were other interested elasmobranchs in the water. About fifteen black-tip reef sharks were circling us at the ray feeding site, and they are not new to people either. According to Russ and Sally, the sharks usually keep a good distance. But for us, they made a concerted effort to get nice and close for the chance of getting some of our food too.

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My last week here has just been full of sharks! A day or two before we left, a couple of the undergraduates and I were heading back from a dive when our other bosses, Keith and Jessica, stopped us at the shark feeding site! We immediately jumped in to find ourselves surrounded by dozens of sharks. There were some big ones, some smaller ones, and even a gray reef shark that paid us a visit.

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The site has a mooring that sits in roughly 50 feet of water, so as we were snorkeling along the top watching the black-tips circle us, my eyes were on the lookout for some of the big lemon sharks that are known to be around. I didn’t see any this time, but I did get some photos from Andy of the lemon shark we saw the other day underwater.

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I said it was a big shark…

Following two months of long, hard workdays, the adventures we took at the end couldn’t have been more rewarding. By the time the final week approached, we all felt how quickly the summer was coming to an end and I, at least, tried to savor all the memories of the trip that I could. The last field work I did was assisting Andy and Keith in their Porites rus counts. I served the very important duty of recording the data they shouted to me from snorkeling around the corals.  As you can see from me sitting in my office space, I was savoring every last second…

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…and tanning every last second : ) 

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You can’t tell from these photos, but we’re actually doing a lot of work!

I’d say that the summer was quite a success. I only managed to get myself thrown in the water once!

***

Thank you so much to my advisors, Russ, Sally and Andy for giving me this unique and valuable experience.  I have, and will continue to take away so much from this opportunity and I will utilize all the new knowledge that I have gained.

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To my wonderful advisors, Russ and Sally, who fed me cookies and let me dive on the fore-reef with them almost every day. I can’t thank you both enough and I am so fortunate for having this opportunity.

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To my other incredible advisor, Andy, thank you so much for being such an amazing mentor. For answering all of my questions on fish, corals, grad school and everything else under the sun. It’s been a remarkable experience and I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to work with you this summer. 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway

So manua to an incredible summer! To an incredible group of people I worked with, and to an experience that I will cherish long after my feet leave Tahitian ground.

Nana for Now, Moorea. The next adventures await : )

***

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