Reef Conservation on Little Cayman

Latest update August 5, 2018 Started on July 14, 2018
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We are a group of student interns working on a variety of research projects focused on the conservation of coral reef and tropical marine ecosystems at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute. Under the direction of field instructor Dr. Gil Ouellette, education coordinator Maisy Fuller, and education intern Ashly Carabetta, we will be exploring research methods in tropical marine science. We will put these lessons to work and apply our skills to develop complementary research projects using the nearly pristine reefs of Little Cayman Island as a natural laboratory to study these important yet imperiled ecosystems.

July 14, 2018
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Debriefing Stage

Three weeks goes fast when you have a great team of student interns working on exciting field research! It seems like only yesterday that 7 intrepid students arrived on Little Cayman Island to study the exquisite reefs here to better understand the complex interactions of natural and human processes on reef ecosystems. But now, three weeks later, the interns have all departed to return to their homes and universities after a successful program here at the Little Cayman Research Centre. The end of the program is bitter-sweet, and while departing from our course family is hard we all look forward to reuniting this spring to present the results of the intern's hard work at the 2019 Benthic Ecology meeting!


While the student interns have all expressed deep thanks for the skills and experiences they gained here on Little Cayman, It is me that is most thankful for all that these interns ended up teaching in return. There is no more rewarding an experience than learning from inquisitive and motivated minds as they push the boundaries of what we know, and I can never truly thank our small family of student interns enough for my own experiences with them.

To Alexandra, Hayley, Jillian, Nicole, Ryan, Sally, and Shiyue, thank all of you so very much for making this course as exciting, informative, and productive as you did. I can't wait to see you all develop as scientists, conservationists, professionals, and as people. In the end, I hope you all learned at least half as much from me as I did from all of you!

-Gil

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Preparation Stage

Retrospectives of the expedition, from the student interns:


One of the most positive experiences I had here was how patient the staff was with the understanding that I’ve never been in the ocean, snorkeling with the reef and very experienced divers. It was overwhelming the first day jumping right in, but Maisy and Ashly were really understanding and got me into the swing of things by the second day. I also enjoyed how group focused the class was. Spending so much time with the other interns gave me such a positive outlook on the future scientists of the world. Working together on our final projects was a great way to learn how to develop individual studies. I think the best thing that happened here was on my last snorkel. Looking into the deep ocean and realizing I was within a school of blue chromis made me feel like I finally belonged in the water. It was amazing to look around, be able to identify all I was seeing and be completely comfortable there. Overall, this was such a great experience and I’ve come to know people that will change the world, and I hope to keep in touch with them as they do so.

-Alexandra

I remember clearly my first coral identification dive, it opened my eyes to the realization that there was something huge that I was deeply under appreciating in nature. I was born and raised in the Cayman Islands where diving and being around coral, in general, has always been frequent for me. However, being able to identify different corals and learn the language of fish behavior really enhanced the overall experience I had with CCMI. Throughout the program, I was constantly challenged with new information and was given the opportunity to collaborate with other students on project ideas. On our second Saturday together, all of us interns spent hours in the shallow clear water of Point of Sand and shared personal stories from our homes around the world as we took a break from station life. I really enjoyed working with all of the other interns here and I hope that we can all stay in touch as we move on with our careers, as we have all bonded during our time here. I know that Point of Sand holds a special place in all of our hearts from when we first adventured there on the night of the full moon to spending our last day having our farewell BBQ there. Our last dive was a special dive as we all finished our last data collection and glided through the deep sea. It was also special because it was a spot outside Old Greg's house. It was beautiful and full of colour and we even spotted a turtle. I am thankful to share my home country with others through educational experiences. I am also thankful for all of the CCMI staff that provided for us and educated us during our time at the Little Cayman research station.

-Hayley

Overall, this experience was amazing. I have learned so much and had a great time doing it. One of my favorite experiences here is seeing the 6ft eagle ray breach the surface of the water ten feet from the bow of the boat. I’m sure a lot of the other interns have said the same thing, but it really was extraordinary. I have been visiting Grand Cayman since 2001 and I have only seen a handful of eagle rays. Seeing this magnificent creature leap from the water and hearing the cheers and screams from my peers all around me made this experience so memorable. This was probably only going to happen once in a lifetime and all of my friends got to experience it with me. Another memory that I really loved was diving underwater and being able to name most of the corals. I have been diving since I was 10, have around 180 dives under my belt and can name most of the fish, but I have never been able to see a coral and immediately know the scientific name in my head. Every time that I dive, I try to focus in on a different part of the reef, whether it is the fish, the macro-life, or the topography of the reef. Now that I know the corals, I see the reef in a whole different light that is really exciting and reignited my love for the ocean. The final memory that I will cherish for a long time is all the little laughs that I shared with the various staff and interns here at CCMI. Whether it was the first bus ride back from Southern Cross Club, or the hectic, rough boat ride where Greg got an ice bath and Nicole performed an expert softball slide, these memories are so special and will be something I think back to when I am stressed at school and need a smile. One thing that I would change about the program is to make it a little longer. Within this last week, I finally became comfortable collecting the data and analyzing it, so I wish that we had more time to collect more data. Overall, the program was the perfect way to jump start my career in marine biology.

-Jillian

I loved the scuba diving trips, especially the dives from the boat. It was incredible to see the reefs up close after studying them and being able to ID coral and fish. It had always been a dream of mine to scuba dive on a tropical reef and I can now cross that dream off of my bucket list. Also, while diving we saw nurse sharks, a reef shark, turtles, and rays. The eagle ray surfacing twice in front of the boat was a once in a lifetime experience. I really enjoyed jumping off of Salt Rock with the other interns. It was a great way to get out of the classroom. The presentations given by Maisy and Ashly were great. It was helpful to see that their journeys were unique. I also loved going on the night dive. I was able to see the reef in a whole new "light".

-Nicole

As my time here at CCMI comes to a close, I just want to say thank you to everyone that has been a part of this overwhelming experience. All of the memories and all of the excitement I’ve had here on Little Cayman can be attributed to all of the amazing people I’ve met and learned from these past three weeks. My one and only complaint with this program is that it was too short. I loved every waking minute of this program and it’s a bit saddening that it came and went so quickly. I could have easily spent countless more hours with this group here at Little Cayman. But overall, I’m glad that this internship has proven to me that this is truly something I enjoy doing and I hope I can continue doing in the future as I move forward in my career. These three weeks have given me so many timeless memories and experiences that I will take with me everywhere. One of these great experiences and I’m sure the other interns agree, had to be when a Spotted Eagle Ray jumped out of the water a few feet from our boat. This was such a rare spectacle, and for us to see it that close was extremely overwhelming. Along with that though, being a new diver, the world I was seeing down there was all a new experience for me. I got to experience something completely different and I immediately fell in love with it. Admittedly, my skills were atrocious, to begin with, but I think I can truly say that I’ve improved a lot with my diving to the point where I itch almost every second I’m not diving. It’s going to be quite saddening when I realize I can’t dive every day back home, but I hope in the future I’ll be doing it for my career. But above all else, I think I am going to miss the people I’ve met here. Before coming, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in as well as I actually did here. Not only were all of the interns so welcoming and easygoing, but all of the staff here made my time at LCRC one that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Through countless hours of storytelling and jokes, I feel like I’m about to leave a family behind. Thankfully though, I hope we can all meet again in Newfoundland for a conference to present all of the work we’ve accomplished here. I will definitely be counting down the days until this conference.

-Ryan

One of the things that I’ll always look back on and think “wow, that was once in a lifetime” is when we were on the Banana Wind in between dives and saw a massive Eagle ray swim under the boat then jump at least 5 feet out of the water twice. My next two favorite memories are from the many dives that we did. The first dive that sticks out has to be the one where we visited the deep coral nursery. It was awesome to see something like that in real life. The next dive that sticks out was our second to last dive at Mixing Bowl. It was such a beautiful site, but after having learned about what diseased and unhealthy coral look like, it was heartbreaking to see how many dead and unhealthy coral there actually were. This program has been truly eye-opening, and we’ve all learned so much in such a short amount of time. We made so many wonderful memories together going diving, adventuring around the island and working together. I can’t wait to see where the future takes us.

-Sally

The past three weeks have been one of the most wonderful times in my life. There are too many memories for me to cherish and reminisce. I remember the first time I dove into the ocean—the view was beautiful, and the water was so clear, every inch of the beautiful coral reef was under my sight. It was just like watching a high-quality documentary, but I was inside that documentary and there was no background music. I also saw the first nurse shark and reef shark in my life which was amazing. I remember the day we went to Trivia. After we tragically lost, we went for an island tour and swam at Point of Sand in the dark which is really refreshing after a long day. I also couldn’t forget one time we went for boat diving and the waves were so big that Nicole fell off to the deck twice. It was more exciting than ride roller coaster in Six Flag. With all those wonderful memories, there was one thing that made me feel mad, and that was the bugs here. There were 30-40 new bug bites that appeared on my body each day which was irritating. However, through the good and bad, I will always treasure the memories in Little Cayman and hopefully, I will come back again someday.

-Shiyue

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As we near the end of our field course, the student Interns have been feverishly completing their research projects and course assignments. One major task they completed today, was presenting their work at the Southern Cross Club, as part of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute's Reef Lecture series. The two main project groups presented wonderfully on their work researching the effect of depth and nearby benthic environment on Acropora cervicornis outplants, and researching the distribution and species preference of various coral disease around the island.


With tomorrow marking the end of the class, seeing all the hard work everyone has put into their work come together has been bittersweet, but the experiences and memories the interns lived during the past few weeks won't end tomorrow. Not only will the knowledge and experience gained here benefit the students as they progress through their careers and personal lives, but we will meet again when they present their work to an international audience at the Benthic Ecology conference next spring!

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Last night the interns undertook a night snorkel in Grape Tree Bay and were able to see corals biofluorescing, sleeping parrotfish, a beautiful green turtle and one very excited squid that decided to jump out the water at us. Overall it was a fantastic experience and great opportunity to see some of the creatures that are nocturnally active on the reef.


Everyone was up bright and early this morning for a day on the boat as yesterday’s weather system had cleared up. Today both the divers and snorkelers visited Marthas Finyard and Meadows dive sites. Martha’s was of particular interest to the interns studying Acropora cervicornis as CCMI has placed numerous outplants of this species at the site. Furthermore, Meadows has a high coral disease prevalence and hence provided an excellent study site for the interns looking at coral disease.

This afternoon was spent working hard in the classroom, analysing data from this morning’s field work and preparing for upcoming poster presentations and lectures they will be giving at Southern Cross Club tomorrow. The interns have all done such a fantastic job with staying focussed and motivated during the home stretch of data collection and project completion! I personally can’t wait to see their completed projects and take a look at some of the results they have collected over the past few weeks.

So let me finally introduce myself! My name is Maisy Fuller and I am the Education Coordinator at CCMI. Originally from the UK, I gained my MSci in Marine Biology from the University of Southampton and have been working all over the world since then in the field of marine conservation and education. My particular focus has been in sea turtle and coral reef ecology, two areas that I am highly passionate about and love educating others in.

Everyone on station woke up to an impressive storm this morning that was happening directly over us at the time. As we all slowly made our way out of the rain and into the dining area for coffee and breakfast, we watched as bolt of lightning after bolt of lightning struck down right offshore (you can check out a sweet slow-mo video of some in the link below that Gil posted on his YouTube channel). Needless to say, our dives for the day were canceled. This wasn't too much of a setback as we had anticipated for poor weather and took that into account when scheduling. The students have been staying busy and working hard on their projects, creating posters based on their projects, and preparing for the talk they will be giving at Southern Cross Club on Thursday.


Yesterday afternoon I got to lead the group into town and bring them to the Little Cayman Museum and the Little Cayman National Trust. Early on in my position here these were trips we would take often when a student group was in, and consequently, I've learned a fair amount about our Sister Island Rock Iguanas, Booby Birds, and Magnificent Frigatebirds. Luckily, we had Tanja there to talk about the iguanas since her knowledge and enthusiasm for them far exceeds what I could ever bring to the table. Then again, she is the island expert on them.

The students are currently out on a night snorkel right out front here in Grape Tree Bay. I can't wait to hear about their experience and if they were able to see any biofluorescence! My time with CCMI is quickly coming to an end and I will be back in New York by the end of the week. This group has been a pleasure to work with and a great way to end my time here. Amongst many other things, I will most certainly miss the warm, blue waters. It's been a great experience overall and I've had some incredible opportunities. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of it - I will miss you! I will be home soon and waiting for my next step, and if there's anything I've learned in life, it's that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a great reference when stepping into the unknown - don't panic! And with that I also say...

...so long and thanks for all the fish!

  • Ashly
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This morning, the interns weathered rough seas leftover from the thunderstorms the previous night as some of them headed out at 8:00 AM for their dives at Rock Bottom and Coconut Walk. Both dive sites were beautiful with large french angelfish and even a spotted eagle ray. Unfortunately, the interns found a lot of dark spot disease while doing their coral survey transects. Hopefully, through this research, we can try to figure out why this disease is so prevalent in these pristine waters.


After a delicious lunch by Ms. Em, we quickly washed up and headed for a trip to the Little Cayman Museum. There, we learned about Linton "Mr. T" Tibbits love for the preservation of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac's history. We saw many Caymanian artifacts such as catboats used for turtling, silver thatch palm woven baskets, and some outstanding photographs of marine life. Tanya, the iguana specialist then took us out back behind the museum to meet some Little Cayman Rock Iguanas. We learned about their nesting patterns and how they are tagged for conservation efforts here on Little Cayman. We then walked to the National Trust which is now named in memory of a special woman who was influential in establishing recreational scuba diving in Little Cayman and was an active member of the National Trust in Little Cayman - Gladys Howard. I had the pleasure of knowing Gladys, so it was special for me to be able to see her legacy recognized in the local community. Ashly informed us about the Red-footed Booby populations that are protected at the Booby Pond and how the magnificent frigate birds tend to display kleptoparasitism towards the boobies. This means that the boobies are under constant threat of their food being stolen by these larger bully birds. After exploring the gift shop, we went on a shopping spree to the general store to buy some ice cream and chocolate.

Once back at the station, the interns all analyzed the data that had been collected during the day to prepare for their final projects. The interns have also been working on their public presentations which will be presented on Thursday at the Little Cayman Beach Resort. After dinner, the interns all decided it would be a good idea to watch the classic American movie, Grease, and finish the day off musically.

-Hayley

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I am enjoying these blogs and learning about your environmental studies and adventures!

We started Sunday with snorkeling in Grape Tree Bay this morning. Just like last week, the original destination—Preston Bay is too wavy for us to do any surveys, so our group focused on staghorn coral outplants, went out into the waves in Grape Tree Bay. We decided to clean the tags of the outplants and take pictures of cleaned tags so that we can compare them to the photos and data from when they were originally planted. Alexandra, Sally and I struggled in the waves, working hard not to drown while managing to clean and take pictures! Most of the outplants did not look very healthy and were covered with algae, but we also found some new recruits beginning to grow.


After lunch, we started to go through the pictures we took, and tried to figure out the best way to analyze our data. Data analysis is always monotonous, but if we want to truly understand these delicate coral we must work through it. After sitting for four and a half hours while trying to keep our heads from exploding, we decided to go for a bike ride— to clear our minds, escape from the bugs, and get out of the classroom.

At night, we briefly discussed the schedule tomorrow. We are going to leave early in the morning to dive so we’d better sleep early to build up strength and restore energy!

I have learned so much in the past two weeks and gained precious friendship here which I really did not expect at the beginning of this trip. I don’t talk much because English is not my native language and I have to consider every word I use and how am I going to arrange the sentence, so in the end, I will just speak as little as possible to avoid the trouble. However, everyone here shows their patience and care which is such a valuable experience for me. I am looking forward to the time we are going to spend together and will treasure the memories we made.

-Sharon

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Finally, after a long week of hard work in and out of the water, our day off has finally arrived. We started off the morning finishing our project proposals and presenting our project proposal presentations. After some great feedback from the fabulous Ashly, Gil, and Kelly about our presentations, we had the rest of the day to relax. We spent the next hour or two making changes to our presentations in order to perfect them for our upcoming talks later next week. Once we had finished lunch, we decided that we needed to get off the station for the day, especially after working the entire day before on our reports in the classroom. We decided to go to Point of Sand to enjoy the afternoon on the white beaches and in the warm water.


When we arrived at Point of Sand, we all immediately got our snorkel gear on and jumped in the water. Ryan and I were the only ones who brought our fins so we were able to brave the strong currents that flow through the lagoon. We snorkeled for about an hour before we decided to call it quits after five 3-4ft barracudas began to circle us, which was a bit intimidating. Before we left the deeper coral heads to play around in the sandy shallows, there was a cool sighting of what we assumed were a school of mating squid.

All the interns were hanging out in the shallows by the time Ryan and I swam there, and we stayed there for about three and a half more hours before we decided to get out. The water was 89 degrees, extremely clear and the sand was very soft, which made it the perfect place to doddle around in for those last few hours in the water. Just like last Saturday, we spent the time talking and enjoying each other’s company while soaking in the late afternoon Cayman sun. It ended up being a very enjoyable afternoon.

Instead of heading back to CCMI for dinner, we decided to go to the Hungry Iguana for some appetizers and drinks. This was the perfect end to a busy, but satisfying week, and I am excited to continue our adventure during our last week here at CCMI.

-Jillian

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Friday was quite a slow but laborious day for the interns here at CCMI as they spent the better part of the day working on their project proposals and presentations. Countless hours were spent on Coral Net to analyze the many different pictures of coral taken for our research. As the interns scrambled to finish analyzing the pictures, we took a small break to remote-conference with to the program coordinator, Dr. Carrie Manfrino. Carrie was interested in learning all of the new information we had found in the past week and inquired further about how these findings impact our research. After taking turns describing our proposals, Carrie gave us all a few pointers on how we could further improve our research. After talking with Carrie, the interns got right back to work on their proposals they need to turn in tomorrow.


After almost eight whole hours of working on proposals and presentations, the interns were feeling a bit exhausted at the end of this slow Friday. Luckily though, Saturday brings almost a whole day of relaxation from working. Hopefully us interns can decide on something exciting to do for the day.

-Ryan

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The day started with gray skies as we packed up our scuba gear for another day of sampling Little Cayman’s reefs. The first dive was at Anne’s Attic, a dive site named after a beloved resident of Little Cayman. For the first part of the dive, we completed fish ID belt transect surveys. We worked in buddy pairs to identify all of the fish within a 1m belt on each side of a 30m transect line over the reef. Tallies of the fish seen were recorded on individual slates. The information collected can be used to estimate the fish populations on the reef. The second half of the dive was used for the interns’ group projects. The group I am in is focused on coral disease coverage and differences in coral disease between protect and non-protected reef sites. The second dive was at Bush Gardens and we repeated the activities of the previous dive.


Luckily by the end of the dives, the sun was shining and the water looked absolutely beautiful. Once back at CCMI, we worked on analyzing the data we collected in CoralNet and discussed poster and presentation tips.

The evening ended with a presentation given by Ashly Carabetta, CCMI’s education intern. Her presentation was on communication in the science community. She explained different techniques and technologies used to engage an audience when presenting information in a way that would be more powerful and long-lasting. Examples range from photos from National Geographic to interactive 3D models of coral reefs to national movements like the March for Science.

-Nicole

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After a couple exhausting but very rewarding days full of diving and lectures, this morning started off a little slower paced with a snorkel at Grape Tree Bay. Our goal for this snorkel was to identify the fish we saw and observe their behavior. The waters were calm and clear, perfect for watching all the colorful reef fish. Some of the fish we observed today were Damselfish protecting their little algae gardens, large schooling snapper, and a stoic barracuda hanging out by some lobsters.


Once out of the water, the interns decided to go into town for some shopping and a quick joy ride around the island. We couldn’t be out for too long, because we still had to review for our test on reef fish identification later in the evening. We got back to the station just in time for our review, after once more going through the different fish, we went out on another snorkel to collect data for our projects. The water was still as glassy and calm as it was this morning. The perfect weather for laying down quadrats and taking some photos of the reef. Alexandra and I were taking pictures of the Staghorn outplants, to see what kind of condition they were in. There was more bleached coral than we wanted to see, but some healthy ones were spotted as well which is great.

The day ended with a trip to the Little Cayman Beach Resort, where everyone got the chance to leave the station for a bit and enjoy trivia night. On the ride home, we were able to stop and watch the nearly full moon glistening on the water with lightning striking in the distance. All and all it was another wonderful day on Little Cayman.

-Sally

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What started out as just another Tuesday on the island turned into an epic morning for the interns and course leaders. While resting in between dives at a site called Martha’s, a six-foot eagle ray glided by us majestically, showing off all of its bright spots. Amazed at the size, we were completely caught off guard when it launched itself nearly three feet in the air, twice!! These rays will jump out of the water to shake off parasites that have attached themselves. This was a once in a lifetime view as rays almost never jump up so close to people. Unfortunately, there is no footage to share as we were all enraptured by the moment and unable to get to cameras in time.


The waters were calm and clearer than ever as we headed back to the station to eat lunch. Beautiful blues and greens could be seen for miles as we came upon Owens Island. After lunch, we were able to participate in a lionfish workshop conducted by Stephanie Macdonald in which we were able to see female fish with massive ovaries for her size. She was removed before she had another chance to spawn, aiding in the prevention of further invasion. The rest of the afternoon consisted of working on our research projects, sorting data, and a lecture on urchins from Lindsay Spiers.

The rest of the evening was spent avoiding further bug bites and reviewing fish identification for our test tomorrow while the sun set over quiet waters just outside of the centre.

-Alexandra

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This Monday morning for some of the interns consisted of going diving at 8:30 AM and assisting in cleaning the deep water, Acropora cervicornis, or staghorn coral nursery. The staghorn coral nursery includes several types of structures to hold coral fragments as they grow. These include linear monofilament arrays as well as PVC "trees", with more arrays because they are easier to clean and organize. The interns learned from Joe Kuehl, the marine project manager here at CCMI, that staghorn coral fragments in the deep nursery typically grow faster than in the shallow nursery, which is surprising considering staghorn corals obtain around 90% of their energy from photosynthesis. This growth difference may be because algae cannot grow as fast in the deeper water, allowing corals to outcompete the algae. However, It is still important to clean the algae that do grow on the nursery's structures to allow the coral to grow unimpeded.


After visiting and cleaning the deep nursery, the interns practiced underwater surveying and placing scientific imaging transects in preparation for collecting data for their projects. Once back at the Little Cayman Research Centre, the interns enjoyed lunch in the midday heat and then continued to work on their upcoming project proposals and organizing last minute details for the data collection they will be doing for their projects.

After working hard at the station all afternoon, the interns were delighted to hear that they would be able to release baby loggerhead turtles at sunset. After finishing up dinner and washing, everyone from CCMI packed into the van and headed to Hart beach to meet Maisy, Beth, and Lucy, an intern at the Department of Environment. Seven lucky loggerheads were then safely released into the sunset. Happy and awestruck, the interns returned to the station to then sit in on a lecture on Caribbean reef fish identification presented by Dr. Ouellette.

My name is Hayley Roulstone and I am from Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. I am delighted to be taking part in this program and being only the second Caymanian on deck at the Little Cayman Research Station, I am hoping to encourage other Caymanians to partake in this wonderful experience right in our backyard. I have recently transferred from the University of British Columbia to the University of Sussex, studying Geography and International Development. I am particularly interested in coastal development and the environmental impacts that are brought with it.

-Hayley

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Our seventh day on little Cayman, we were still struggling to adapt to the warm and humid weather here. After a sweaty and sticky breakfast, we packed all our snorkeling gear and headed to Preston Bay for our morning snorkeling session. However, when we drove to the Bay, got all our stuff out of the van, trudged across the wooden walkway through the forest and reached the beach, we found out that the waves were huge. We hesitated just for 2 seconds then decided not to get into the water and risk injury or worse. So, we drove back to the station and snorkeled in Grape Tree Bay. We were looking for Acropora palmata (APAL for short), also known as elkhorn coral, to see their condition—whether competing with algae, bleaching or dying. Luckily, we found some APAL that were newly recruited in the past two years old, and also some very healthy older ones that had no algae on them, but not all of the older APAL could survive the competition with algae. We used a quadrat to estimate the size of the corals which made it easier to visualize and quantify the size of the coral colonies. Unfortunately, we also found two Pseudodiploria strigosa colonies that are suffering from black band disease.


After lunch, we spent some time discussing our research projects. My group is particularly interested in studying spawning and bleaching of local staghorn coral. While Little Cayman used to host large staghorn coral thickets, most perished to disease several decades ago. Fortunately, there is a staghorn coral nursery at the Little Cayman Research Centre. So, after serious discussion, we decided to focus on different factors that impact staghorn corals health in the nursery and their eventual out-planted sites. We will measure the temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, depth, and benthos in these variable environments, especially at the staghorn coral out-plant sites.

As a break from the serious research discussion, and to not bore ourselves by staying in the classroom too long, we went to clean the beach. Basically, we just picked up all the plastic and debris on the beach, which I thought it was easy work to do. However, the amount and variety of plastic waste blew my mind! We were only able to clean about 50 square meters in total before we got filled 5 large bags of plastic trash. It shocked me for how much plastic was in such a small area, and Little Cayman is an isolated island that has been protected from industry and development quite well. Just imagine how much plastics are out there in the rest of the ocean!

After our beach cleanup we went for a bike ride before dinner. We rode about 3 miles along North Coast road and raced with each other, but we regretted it immediately after we got off the bikes. Nicole was especially regretful, It seemed like every muscle in her body was tied to each other, much to the rest of our amusement.

Finally, after a nice dinner, we ended the day with another weekend movie night. Quite a big day today, we snorkeled, learned, and exercised. Most of all, we were slowly making progress towards saving the world today!

I am Shiyue Zhao, but go by Sharon, and come from Beijing, China. I am currently studying Marine Biology at Rutgers. I am interested in the factors that cause coral bleaching, and how we can slow or prevent bleaching now and in the future.

-Shiyue

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Saturday rolled in with a quick quiz on coral identification here on Little Cayman. The interns spent the morning and the previous evening studying for the quiz, which we all ended up doing very well on. The quiz consisted of 17 different photos of corals that we had to identify using their Latin name or their shortened four-letter code. After that brief classroom session, we had the rest of the day to do whatever we liked.


Throughout the week, we only had an hour here and there of free time, so when faced with the entire day of freedom, most of us felt overwhelmed with the prospect of how to fill that time. Though of course, an entire day of relaxation is not a problem we complained about.

After the quiz, most of the interns spent the morning relaxing in the semi air-conditioned rooms waiting for lunch to be ready. Once we had finished our cold-cut sandwich and fresh pineapple slice lunch, most of us interns decided to go swimming/snorkeling to get a reprieve from the hot and humid air, though the water temperature was 83 degrees so it was not very refreshing. Nicole, Hayley, and Sally snorkeled for about an hour while Alexandra, Ryan and I attempted to sunbath on the beach. Our sunbathing saga lasted about fifteen minutes before we gave up and jumped back into the water for a swim. Sally and Nicole continued to explore the elkhorn coral colonies (and picking up plastic off the reefs) outside of CCMI while Hayley came and joined the three of us in the shallows. We spent another hour floating around in the seagrass beds telling stories about our lives while the tide slowly rolled in. CCMI was quiet by the time we swam back to shore because the women on staff and visiting for research went diving to celebrate International Women’s Dive Day, so we just hung out around the quiet station enjoying the particularly strong summer breeze (7 knots). The rest of the afternoon consisted of relaxing or going for a bike ride down the unpaved streets of Little Cayman.

Our day ended with watching A Plastic Ocean, which is a documentary about the impacts of plastic pollution on the environment. While very informative, it was distressing to see the effects that plastic has on humans, animals, and our environment. We discussed the documentary a little bit after it finished, then went to bed to get a good night’s sleep before another day of working and learning.

My name is Jillian Lessing and I am from Long Island, NY. I currently attend Middlebury College in Vermont and I plan to declare my major Conservation Biology in the Fall. My interests are really broad and include coral reef conservation, marine mammals, and arctic ecology. I plan to study different diseases present in the CCMI coral nursery here in Little Cayman.

-Jillian

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As day five sets in here at CCMI, the interns are brought along on a guided tour of Little Cayman by Gil and Greg. Dripping in sweat, we were led through the rich history of the island and gained a bit of insight into the culture that gives this island its own charm. Greg showed us just a few of the National Sites donated to Little Cayman by some of its generous residents to preserve the natural habitats that a lot of local wildlife call home. One such spot was an area of a mangrove forest, where iguanas were known to live and breed, that was open to the public to encourage better understanding of their niche in the island’s diverse ecosystem. After a long and sweaty excursion, we stopped at Salt Rock, an area for all of us to jump off of the dock into the ocean to cool down and relax for a bit. When we returned back to the station, Miss Em, CCMI’s world-renowned chef, surprised us with some delicious lionfish for lunch.


Shortly after lunch, we were given presentations on the lives of Maisy and Ashly, staff working here at CCMI, who showed their tortuous paths towards getting a job here at CCMI. Personally, I thought it was interesting how they both led different lives and, somehow, ended up in the same place, committing their time and their passion to CCMI. They have both led amazing lives already and are still planning on doing so much else for the world. They left all of us interns in awe and gave us a bit of extra hope and advice to follow if we want to grow into the great scientists that they are today.

I’m Ryan Minor from Edison, New Jersey, currently studying Biochemistry and Marine Science at Rutgers University. I’m interested in studying all of the different diseases that affect coral reefs and I can’t wait to get in the water to conduct my own research on assessing where these diseases are most common and for what reasons.

-Ryan

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Our student interns have been here for almost 5 full days now and we've already accomplished a lot. One of the things I've learned about myself on my path of becoming a marine ecologist is how much I love showing people to look at nature from a different perspective. We've been spending the last couple of days focusing on coral ID and then took a dive off the famous Bloody Bay Wall to try our hand at identifying these corals out in nature versus learning them from a powerpoint slide. In small groups of 3, we descending into the cobalt blue waters and began observing all the corals below us. For just about every student, this was the first time they paid attention to the corals as opposed to fish. It's easy for our eyes to catch movement and follow the fish we see, but this time we were focusing on their habitat. And what might have been a familiar site for some, just became an entirely new experience. And that - is what I love about educating.


I distinctly remember when I started to learn more about coral reefs and how it impacted me. I didn't think I could love this ecosystem more than I did, but all of a sudden I knew what I was looking at and understood it's purpose, and my enthusiasm was reignited. I'm still getting to know the students, but I can already see how inquisitive, eager, and enthusiastic they are to learn and make the most of their time here. This is going to be a great few weeks and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it.

My name is Ashly Carabetta. I am a marine ecologist, conservationist and all around lover of nature. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, received my B.S. in Biology from Stony Brook University, and my M.A.S in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I'm passionate about improving science communication while I continue my journey as a marine conservationist.

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Another amazing day at CCMI, Little Cayman. The group of interns started off the morning with a snorkel in Grape Tree Bay focusing on the complex interactions between coral, macroalga, and sponge on the reef. An example of this interaction is the competition between Montastrea cavernosa, the great star coral, and a boring sponge for space on the reef. The interns were also able to practice their coral ID and macroalga ID.


After lunch most of us interns spent their free time kayaking in Grape Tree Bay. They were able to explore farther into the backreef than previously before and were astonished to find a forest of Acropora palmata, Elkhorn coral. I personally spent this time snorkeling at Grape Tree Bay alongside the kayakers. My sightings include a hawksbill sea turtle, a nurse shark, and a massive mutton snapper.

We finished off our evening by attending a presentation given by Stephanie MacDonald, a research intern at CCMI, on the importance of mangroves and seagrass beds. The interns were also able to get in some quality bonding time and it feels like we are becoming more of a big family every day.

I am Nicole Deck, I am currently an undergrad at Rutgers University, NJ, USA studying Marine Biology with a concentration in Fisheries Science. My interests include Ichthyology, the shifting ranges of fish due to global warming, and coral diseases.

-Nicole

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Day three of the coral reef internship started bright and early this morning to get ready for our second dive trip. This time the group had the chance to explore some more amazing reefs at the Meadows on Bloody Bay Wall. After having our first coral identification rundown in the classroom, it was exciting to actually be able to notice all the different species there were underwater. Towards the end of our first dive we came up on a pair of large barracuda, and we got to see an Eagle ray soaring above us.


When we got back to the classroom, we learned more about the types of algae, invertebrates, and coral disease that we'd seen out on the reef. We also learned how to conduct AGRRA surveys, which help with understanding more about the biodiversity and what types of coral are present on the reef. The day ended with a lion fish cull, where some of the interns were able to help measure and tag lion fish that will be dissected tomorrow.

My name is Sally Gammie, I'm from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I'm studying marine biology at Humboldt State in northern California. I'm interested in the impacts humans and climate change are having on coral reef ecosystems, and learning more about the steps we can take to help them recover and hopefully adapt to the changing environment.

-Sally

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Day two on Little Cayman gave some interns their first dive in the ocean, while some continued at their master level. Either way, it was evident that all students were equally excited. After practicing buoyancy and agility skills, we were rewarded with spotting a reef shark, a nurse shark, and a hawksbill turtle.


A coral identification lecture in the afternoon changed the focus of the snorkel dive following as it required a closer look at the corals on the reef just outside of the research center. Ending the day with the final introductory presentations relieved the interns of first assignments jitters. In the following weeks, we will begin collaborating on research projects that will hopefully answer some of the questions that sparked the interest of everyone here at the center.

I am Alexandra Lombard from Erie, Pennsylvania hoping to learn more about the spawning and reproduction of coral in this area. As more species have come into focus within the last twenty years and with only one-third of scleractinian corals with available information on the subject, I hope to add more to the database on exactly when these corals reproduce and how they are affected by local environmental cues.

-Alexandra

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After a long day of paperwork, snorkel checks, introductions, and orientations, this summers student interns are settling into life on Little. Our beachside dinner was punctuated by a colorful sunset haze, courtesy of the Saharan dust plume presently blowing over the western Caribbean Sea. As we begin our explorations of reef and marine conservation issues facing Little Cayman Island each intern will take a turn discussing their individual interests and research topics, as well as providing updates on the group's activities and progress.


For my part, I'm an ocean and geo-scientist fascinated with the development and persistence of coral reefs through geologic time, in the present day, and in the face of natural and human influences into the future. My research has focused on the use of massively growing boulder corals as chemical archives revealing changes in Earth's ocean and climate variability throughout the past, as well as using that information to inform questions of ocean data fidelity and long-term oceanographic variability.

I'm excited to guide these bright students in their projects over the next few weeks, and look forward to learning as much from them as I hope they'll learn from their time on Little Cayman!

-Gil

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Coral reefs and their related ecosystems represent an invaluable natural host to some of our planets tremendous marine biodiversity as well as a resource for our global economy. Today begins a three-week field course for seven student interns working on Little Cayman Island to explore a variety of interrelated issues relevant to coral reef and tropical marine conservation.


Flight delays from JFK aside, everyone is on the island and accounted for! We have spent the morning getting everyone familiar with life at both the Little Cayman Research Centre, and in general on a small island. What the island lacks in size it makes up for in beautiful reef habitat and conditions ripe for the explorations of our student interns!

-Gil

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Expedition Background

During the summer of 2018, seven student interns from universities across the United States and Canada will visit the Little Cayman Research Centre to conduct independent but complementary research projects focused on addressing key issues in coral reef and tropical marine conservation. From exploring topics including coral nursery management, reef development in the face of sea level rise, and observing and recording coral spawning events; student interns will work to provide new insight into timely conservation issues that threaten the sustainability of marine resources and tropical fisheries worldwide.


The Little Cayman Research Centre is the main field station of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, a U.S. and U.K. based marine science and conservation non-profit organization. The Centre has served as an active field research station since 1999, hosting staff educators and scientists as well as visiting researchers from around the world. The minimal population and development on Little Cayman Island have resulted in its pristine reefs being a prime natural laboratory for a variety of research projects related to marine science, ecosystem dynamics, fish behavior, climate change, and ocean acidification.

The tropical marine conservation student internship course is offered for student experience and university credit through a joint global program co-hosted by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and Rutgers University. This program was first offered in 2000 and continues to bring inquisitive and talented students to gain first-hand field research and conservation internship experience at the Little Cayman Research Centre.

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