On a remote peninsula in Chile, over three hundred sei whales beached themselves. An expedition is setting off recover some of the bones
Fishing with the Sama-Bajau
Living and working with local fishers in Banggai Archipelago in Indonesia to better understand how to advance marine conservation efforts
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Follow the expeditions (from 2007-present) of evolutionary biologist and herpetologist Eli Greenbaum as he collaborates with an all-Congolese team of biologists to search for new species of amphibians and reptiles in remote jungles of Central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo. Because scientific research of biodiversity in DR Congo has been severely limited for decades, the team discovers several new species during every expedition to the country, which have been occurring nearly every year since 2007. These exciting discoveries come with a heavy price—the team must navigate a gauntlet of rebel militia, deadly tropical diseases, dangerous animals, rugged terrain, and crumbling infrastructure. This blog will tell stories about the challenges and triumphs of scientific research under some of the harshest fieldwork conditions in the world. Along the way, we will shed light on unexpected connections between science and the humanities, including surprising historical links between DR Congo and the United States.
I arrived! I touched down on Irish soil one week ago. Here on Open Explorer, you choose whether a post is considered in the “preparation stage” or “mission underway,” which left me with a question: Where does preparation end and the expedition begin? When exploring meant boarding a ship and sailing away from home for several months, or mounting a horse and riding into unknown territory, preparation may have ended as you left home. That might have been the point after which, you were simply using supplies, not continuing to add to them. I remember feeling like an explorer of centuries past when I boarded my first transatlantic flight to study abroad in Dublin in 2007. I thought that I needed everything in my suitcase that I was to use while I was there. But, it turns out, you can get almost everything you need once you arrive in Ireland. So, “preparing” is just a matter of deciding what you’d like to carry with you and why. All of this to say, preparation continues on this side of the Atlantic Ocean now that I am here in Ireland. My first week was spent gathering all of the new cards I will need here. My top new cards include: SIM card--I am the proud owner of an Irish phone number. Leap card--the faster, cheaper way to pay for public transportation in Dublin. University College Dublin ID card--I was surprised to see them print my visiting student ID with they photo they had on file from 2007. Business cards--designed and ordered, looking forward to their arrival this week. Dublin public library card--I’m not sure how much I will need this, but I have a love of libraries and consider every new library card in my wallet to be a stamp in my intellectual passport.
Two cool papers published this year, one just this week. Check them out: Post-war recovery of the African lion in response to large-scale ecosystem restoration - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718301642 and Climate change, disease range shifts, and the future of the African lion - https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/03/01/coexistence-with-lions-the-climate-change-factor/
In 2017, I described a new species of chameleon from Uganda, known as Tolley's Forest Chameleon. This chameleon species is essentially unknown from an ecological standpoint, as only a few individuals have ever been studied. This expedition is to find and study this new species so that we can protect it before its too late. On 29 September 2018, I will travel to Uganda to begin a nearly 6-week long journey to find this rare chameleon species. During this expedition, I will also search for other chameleon and reptile species, as well as amphibians. The Great Chameleon Search really began in 2014 on my first expedition to Africa, where we searched for chameleons in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for nearly 2 months. It has been an adventure that has taken me to some of the most remote locations in Central Africa. Since that first trip, I have dedicated my research to understand the diversity, distribution, and ecology of chameleons. This passion for chameleons has produced some exciting new results. We have discovered that some widespread species in the Albertine Rift highlands are in fact several species, many of which are completely new to science. Chameleons are lauded as jewels of the forest and they play critical roles in the various environments they inhabit, yet more than 30% of them are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss, climate change, and illegal harvesting have put the world's chameleon species at risk. I am optimistic that we can collect the information needed to protect these rare chameleons before they are gone forever.
I don't just monitor butterflies when I go to the Badlands. I do other stuff too. On my most recent trip I arranged a time to look for fossils with my friend Ed who is park staff and a paleontologist by training. You've probably seen a photo of Ed. Many articles about the rogue tweeter of 2017 used a photo which featured Ed. He doesn't like to talk about it. What he does like to talk about is fossils. A lot. Not being a paleontologist I find his conversation fascinating if a occasionally arcane. He will sometimes bust out the technical language but mostly he will remember to use early rhino rather than Subhyracodon with me. I learn a lot just from listening to him talk. For example, the fossils from the Badlands are not dinosaur fossils. Dinosaurs come from the Mesozoic era which covers of the Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic periods. This time frame mostly predates anything seen at the Badlands. The Badlands geology does have a little of the late Cretaceous but most of the park's geology is from the Cenozoic era which we are in now. Cenozoic means new animal in Greek to describe that this is the time of that newfangled animal the mammal. The fossils found in the Badlands are mammalian, mostly from extinct creatures. But I digress. Ed and I set out midmorning on a sunny day that was shaping up to be hot towards a formation that Ed told me would have the best chance of yielding a primate. A primate! True, a primate fossil has yet to be found in the Badlands but the timing and the conditions of this particular formation were right for one. He was hopeful and I was hopeful for him. Secretly, I wanted to be part of a Major Find just so I could have bragging rights. While Major Finds are not common, finding an actual fossil in the Badlands is. The Badlands are rich in fossils. I literally sat on one when I plopped down to ease over a three foot drop. The Badlands are also rich in rock that looks like bone. Ed taught me one of the ways you can tell them apart it so set the find on your tongue. If it sticks, it's bone. If it doesn't, it's rock. I licked a lot of geology that day. We found a lot of bone and quite a few fossilized teeth. I appreciated in a deeper way how paleontology requires a good background knowledge of osteology. Ed could look at a shard of bone and say something like "Hunh. Looks like part of a rib." Yes, Ed. Yes it does. None of the bone we found was from a primate but Ed found the jaw of an early dog that he said made the trip worth it. We also found a nice tortoise shell. Our search brought us to the top of the formation so I got an expansive view of the Badlands from on high. We also enjoyed the breeze which was blocked where we worked below, scrabbling over the rock fall and boulders. Of course we did not take any fossils even though Ed is park staff. Anything found we left in place, Ed taking the lat/long with a GPS. The park has a process for dealing with finds and those of us who are not park staff should take pictures, note the lat/long and make a report at the visitor's center. Eventually, the heat of the day prevailed and we hiked back to our cars. Ed had day off business to do and I needed to get on the road, back to home.
Why do we look for Orangutan Nests? If you are such a large animal how can you be safe spending your life so high in the forest canopy? Surely at some point you’ll grab the wrong branch or lean too far. It’s estimated that about 30% of adult Orangutans have at some point broken a bone due to falling out of a tree, so they need to take great care. It’s therefore pretty important, understandably, to be extra careful if you’re planning to sleep in a tree overnight! Orangutans are extremely skilled at building strong nests, able to support their weight while they sleep. Considering that Borneo is home to the tallest tropical hardwood trees in the world, and Orangutans often make their nests up to 120 feet high, structural integrity of their sleeping platform is pretty important. The nests can vary. Sometimes Orangutans just build little day nests to chill in when they’re tired, and they move on to find somewhere else to sleep in the evening. Its fairly common for them to build their own little leaf umbrellas to shelter from heavy rain. The night nests however, are often so strong that once the Orangutan has left, they can often last for more than a year. Nests are usually only used once, and then left when the Orangutan goes to a new tree to find food. Nests are tricky to build, so juvenile Orangutans need to observe nest- building adults, in order to perfect this technique. As the nests decay and turn brown, they become visible from the air. This means we can use a drone to spot them. They are incredibly useful for Orangutan ecologists, as they can be used to determine not only the size of the local population in the area surveyed, but also how recently they have been around. As the nests get older, they begin to disintegrate and fall out of the canopy. When we find these nest in the forest, we can tell approximately how long ago they were there, and therefore how often they frequent an area. These nests are therefore a gold mine of information if you’re studying Orangutans. What trees were in fruit when the nests were built? How does, slope, altitude and night time temperature affect nesting habits? What tree species do they prefer to use to build nests? Does forest quality affect this choice? What tips for hygge, minimalist interior design can we glean from these rustic homemakers? These are all valid ecological questions. Most importantly, for our project, Orangutan nests can be used to give us a rough estimate of the number of individuals living in an area. We can use this information to deepen our understanding of the habitat Orangutans prefer, and the effect we humans therefore have on the species when we change and drastically reduce their environment, through logging, oil palm cultivation and the creeping, constant issue of habitat fragmentation. Join our project, help us find some Orangutan nests and learn more about the ecology of these complex animals. https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/sol-dot-milne/orangutan-nest-watch/classify
The preparation continues ! During the Larvae Fish Course hosted in Concarneau we introduced ichthyopklankton specialists to the Objective Plankton. Protocol, nets, and even a trip to sea with the bravest despite the very bad weather. A program that we have been developing for the past 3 years with Cyril Gallut of the MNHN to increase ichthyoplankton observations in coastal and offshore areas with the help of the Astrolabe Expeditions association !
Let’s pause for storms and puppies Sometimes we’re forced to halt our research temporarily while the elements work out their frustrations. For weeks the weather wo/men threatened us with 100% chance of a typhoon - the biggest one to hit the country this year. They were right. On September 13th black clouds rolled in bringing torrential rain (typical of tropical storms) with them that pelted down on all of the Philippines until the following week. Forbidden by the coast guard from entering the raging sea (our office!), we sheltered in our hut while the typhoon caused havoc in the Philippines, on our island and dive sites. Meanwhile, found just in time, the day before the storm, we found a four-week-old puppy abandoned in a tree near one of our dive sites. We watched the storm subside while Adoba (our new-found puppy and team member!) got stronger. Now we’re patching up broken cages, tossed around at shallower depths (deeper ones were undamaged), relocating escapees, and embracing every minute of puppy Adoba. What a time to be alive!
Music video or science documentary? This is both! We took a GoPro-rigged buoy out into New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, where multitudes of hungry seabirds were tracking swarms of fish and krill just below the surface of the sea. The video below features Darlingside’s “The Ancestor” from the album Birds Say and underwater footage courtesy of the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust. Here are some of the things you’re seeing: Clouds of wriggling krill among massive schools of blue mackerel Fluttering shearwaters casually flying around underwater in pursuit of the krill Thousands of fairy prions, Buller’s shearwaters (which breed on a single clump of islands in New Zealand, and nowhere else in the world), and other tubenose seabirds in flight Cameo of a northern giant petrel coming in for a close look at our GoPro buoy Now that we’ve established the “music vidocumentary” as a genre, let’s go behind the scenes. What are these GoPro-wielding scientists up to? Chris Gaskin of the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust wants to understand how commercial fishing affects seabirds. Not just how it snags them on hooks, already a hot-button topic, but how it changes their food supply. Lots of seabirds feed on krill. Fish eat those tasty little crustaceans too, and their feeding frenzies (called work-ups) seem to bring krill up toward the surface within reach of the birds. “We want to document that, but also record out what else is going on within these work-ups,” Gaskin said. So Gaskin and skipper James Ross have been voyaging regularly into the Gulf to get a better look below the waves—which is where the GoPro-bedecked buoy comes in. Kiwi ingenuity at its finest. The trick is finding the filming location, because work-ups are always on the move. Heading out into the Gulf on Ross’s boat, we scanned the horizon until we found a promising cloud of birds in the distance. As we got closer, we started to see a rough patch in the water, evidence of the maelstrom of marine animals hunting and fleeing from each other just below the surface. We started to hear and smell it too: it sounded like rapids in a river, and smelled (to put it generously) something like strong seafood. Three of us hopped from the boat into a small dinghy (see the photo below) and headed straight into the middle of the action. Or tried to. Those birds and fish were all over the place—one minute just out of reach, and the next minute half a kilometer away. At last we caught up with them, I dropped the buoy, and the cameras rolled. When the work-up moved on, we retrieved the buoy and motored the dinghy back to Ross’s boat. The footage we captured adds another piece to a complicated food-web puzzle. Gaskin and colleagues will work with the Department of Conservation and the University of Auckland to put that puzzle together. Their project, in turn, is just one piece in a network of essential seabird conservation efforts going on throughout the Gulf and around New Zealand. I’m still reeling after being surrounded by more seabirds than I had previously seen in my life, many of them unique to this small corner of the world. But at current rates of seabird decline, this astonishing abundance and diversity of birds won’t last—even here in the seabird mecca that is the Hauraki Gulf. We should protect seabirds for all sorts of practical reasons. We should save them for their critical role within the marine food web. We should save them for their unique ability to convert fish from the sea into nutrients for the land, and for their value as indicators of ecosystem change. But I also think we should save seabirds because…well, just look at them! Photo (by Tony Whitehead): Wielding a GoPro-studded buoy, I accompany Chris Gaskin and Edin Whitehead into the seabird cyclone. See original post.
I am Natalia Égüez, a Geo-ethnoarchaeologist investigating past and current pastoral nomadic societies. As a scientist I am interested in the detection of unique biosignatures that nomadic people leave in the domestic space, paying special attention to the animal dung organic-rich deposits that inform us about diet and seasonal husbandry management. But, how can we detect these biosignatures in societies that do not leave any built structure behind? Well, my approach is to look at the sediments where they lived with their animals. Knowing where they lived, and more importantly, how they lived and managed the natural resources give us a lot of information about, for example, the spread of animal husbandry or the adoption of pastoral or farming strategies. The Mongolian Bronze Age (2500-700 BCE) is a critical period of greater social interaction and important transformations (e.g. transition to animal husbandry and the development of mobile mounted pastoralism). Although there is a considerable amount of information on Mongolian burial monuments and rock art associated to this period, knowledge about domestic settlements or seasonal campsites remain strikingly scarce. Mongolia is a vast country with six different natural zones and three ecosystems: desert, forest and steppe grassland. That means natural resources are different and most probably the anthropic signatures are too. So, our aim is to be able to detect biosignatures of domestic spaces in these different regions. For my PhD with the University of Kiel, I am working in Eastern Mongolia deposits, and since 2017 I teamed up with the Western Mongolia Archaeological Project, a collaborative project between Western Kentucky University and the National Museum of Mongolia. Fieldwork season 2018 was partly funded by a National Geographic Society Early Career Grant and it will cover the work we did between May and June 2018 in the north-western forest-steppe of Züünkhangai.
MEET THE TEAM Flossy Barruad - MMRP Education and Outreach Officer As a child, I used to love rock-pooling in the UK, sorting through seaweed to find tiny fish and anemones. Through my teenage years I spent hours snorkeling in Greece, diving to collect abalone shells scattered across the seafloor like treasure and becoming fascinated by octopus, ink-ejecting squid and what I now know to be needlefish. I learnt to scuba dive when I was 13 in a cold, muddy lake in the UK, and for a few years was put off diving for good! I discovered another passion – working with children. I have always loved children, and went from babysitting throughout my school years to working as a personal carer during my undergraduate degree at Northumbria in Childhood and Disability Studies. I loved my degree and learnt a lot about childcare, teaching, and social equality, but during my second year realised I had overlooked my love for the underwater world. In summer of 2015 I travelled to Honduras and rediscovered diving (the right way!), and truly fell in love with the ocean and all the weird and wonderful creatures it hides. Whilst in Honduras I completed a Marine Conservation internship with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre, meeting inspirational marine biologists and advocates from all over the world and instilling in me a desire to protect the oceans in any way I can. I was lucky enough to get accepted onto an MSc in Marine Environmental management at the University of York in September 2016. This course changed the course of my life. During a placement with the Manta Trust in the Maldives, I split my time between manta ray research and developing a marine education program with local school students. I conducted research on the effectiveness of this marine education program for improving students marine environmental knowledge, awareness or pro-environmental attitudes. The program had a heavy snorkeling focus, and I was shocked to discover that many of the female Maldivian teenagers we were teaching could not swim and had never seen the beautiful world under the waves. They literally had coral reefs, fish, dolphins and turtles on their doorstep and had never witnessed them. In fact, many of them were scared of the sea. The placement cemented the career path that had been just an inkling of an idea beforehand – combining my two passions and working in the education and outreach side of marine conservation. Finally, in June 2018, I started the job of my dreams – Education and Outreach Officer for Manta Trust, based in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve – one of the best places to see manta rays in the world. My role mainly involves developing and conducting Marine Education Programs with local schools in Baa Atoll. I am currently completing a 4-month marine education program with 28 secondary school students from Baa. Dharavandhoo School. This year, we are also starting 1-day outreach programs with all the local schools in Baa Atoll (13 schools) in partnership with the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve Office. We will work with the biosphere reserve rangers to deliver marine education presentations and take all the secondary school students snorkeling, with an aim to get all the kids snorkeling with mantas in the world-famous Hanifaru Bay first-hand! There is a lot still to do to improve marine education and conservation in the Maldives, and get every young female in the area confident at swimming and snorkeling, but I am passionate and ready for the challenge. As Baba Dioum famously said: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
There are not many roads in Kodiak, and most of the island can only be reached by boat of seaplane. Today we found a way to combine our search for monkey flowers with sightings of Kodiak bears. In the morning we flew to Frazer lake in a small seaplane. The views were unbelievable, and along the way we saw humpback whales. We flew to the south of Kodiak, and there, in a river full of salmon we prepared to catch some brown bears feeding. Our first encounter with a bear, though, was on the trail, as a bear decided to use the same path as us. We quickly stepped off the path so the bear could go continue, but the bear was not keen in getting too close to strangers either. This brief encounter was enough to send our heart racing! When we got to the falls and pools where the salmon passes, three Kodiak bears were waiting for us! A sow and her two cubs were gorging on salmon. They seemed to fish salmon with such little effort, and eat wastefully only the best parts of it (brain, belly, eggs, skin). There is so much salmon in the rivers, that bears don’t bother eating them whole, and a flock of seagulls was quick to finish off the meal. We had a good couple hours watching these bears as they fed and played, laying lazily in the water or on the shore. A second group of mum and two cubs followed the first one, and the show repeated itself. The new cubs were younger, and the tiniest of them was a charismatic little rascal with a penchant for fishing. And he did not want to share the tasty salmon not even with his mom, and an endearing but decisive growl made mom and brother desist in their attempts to steal his fish. After viewing the bears, we ran down the path to a Mimulus population and collected some material and photos. This is a very special population, and somehow I managed to convince Jannice to call it “OSO”. In the afternoon, we joined Josh and set off to explore the southernmost place in kodiak that you can reach by car. We arrived to Fossil Beach late afternoon, and were amazed by the thousands of mollusk fossils embedded in a lost very rock! And lo and behold, we found monkey flowers here too! We first saw them in some inaccessible cliffs, but a lucky scramble in a more gentle gully brought us first a few monkey flowers, and then more near a small lake or river. We were delighted to find more plants at this slightly more southern location. The perfect day ended when, as we drove back, near Pasagshack, we found one of the largest populations of Mimulus I have ever seen! Thousands of plants (more than 10,000 according to the expert eye of Josh and Jannice) covered the floor at the base of a cliff. The extremely diminutive plants had managed an undeniable success producing even more seeds. What a wonderful 48 hours we have passed in Kodiak. In barely over two days we have accomplished one of the key goals of our expedition: Sample monkey flowers in the island that Langsdorff visited 210 years ago. Little by little, I feel we are closing into finding an answer to the mystery of where do Scottish monkey flowers come from. Tomorrow we embark on a big adventure. In the afternoon, we will board the Trusty Tusty (an old and well-known Alaskan ferry), to travel for nearly three days along the Alaska peninsula and towards the Aleutian Islands.
Packing time! One of the most important parts of going to sea is planning. That includes what we will do at sea to achieve our science objectives, but also what we need to pack and take with us. Once we depart, there is no turning back! Across the country, participating laboratories have packed up and shipped all of the research supplies that will be needed for the cruise. These items are now en route to Seattle, WA for mobilization, starting on September 14. Mobilization is the period of time we get to load and set up the ship according to our needs for this cruise. We will be posting updates during mobilization later this week. But for now, we wanted just to post a few pictures of shipments heading out to Seattle for the cruise.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife defines MPAs, or Marine Protected Areas, as marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. MPAs are open to the public for enjoyment and for research, but they have certain requirements to limit total human disturbance. Marine debris affects MPAs by hurting animals and ecosystems, therefore it is crucial we act now to limit the massive amounts of litter humans produce to ensure a healthy ocean. Although MPAs are regulated to try and minimize human disturbance, plastic pollution and trash still find a way into California MPAs just from everyday life activities. Regulating plastic pollution has become a hot topic in society recently because of the increase in knowledge about plastic pollution. Starbucks plans to ban all disposable plastic straws by 2020 and California’s state-wide plastic bag ban has been in place since 2016. Even though there are these social movements to move away from plastic, the ocean still is full of debris. In fact, according to MPA News, the UN committed its 2018 World Environment Day to the cause of beating plastic pollution. Our expedition will focus on the Central California MPAs in the Santa Cruz area. Santa Cruz County has two Marine Protected Areas: The Greyhound Rock State Marine Conservation Area and the Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve. If we can pinpoint trash hidden under these water’s surfaces then we can better focus our conservation efforts. We expect to find plastic debris, but we don’t have an idea of the type or source of the debris. Our next step after finding the trash with the ROV, would be to possibly modify the device to collect the debris, use the data to show volunteer divers where the most condensed amount of trash is, and to compare pier and non-pier trash results.
Each time I visit the Farallon Islands, it is a novel experience. Each visit, I am reminded of the dynamic forces at work in the Gulf of the Farallones by the changing wildlife and conditions. Some days the islands are dark and brooding, and the jagged rocks appear sharp and menacing.Today the islands are bright and crisp, almost welcoming. The red beaked, Tufted Puffins, having a successful year of fledglings, float peacefully near the whitecapped Sugarloaf. The details of the wind and wave carved granite are sharp and the roosting pelagic cormorants spot the rocks like pepper on salt. Pulling into Fisherman's Bay after a remarkably sunny and smooth passage across the Gulf, we are greeted by the welcoming committee of California sea lions. On this trip we have the Open ROV team aboard and the cabin is loaded with cases of equipment. The team is excited to actually be using the ROV after years of development and testing. Eric, one of the founders, brings Wonderbread and peanut butter to fuel the crew, but the excitement already charges them. The team quickly sets up a large flatscreen inside the cabin and another on deck and deploy two of the ROVS. The images are stunning with the sunlight giving color to the red anemones and purple urchins. We move the boat to the Southeast anchorage at the edge of Shark Alley and fly along the bottom logging several species of rockfish such as the China rockfish (Sebastes nebulosus) hiding in the crevices. Our operator deftly steers the Trident down in front of a large Wolf eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus). These big-lipped fish (they are not eels) eat crabs and urchins and it appears that a partner is hidden deeper in the niche. Suddenly Captain David points a few hundred meters east at a cloud of circling terns and gulls. Shark kill! A spreading red slick marks the end of an elephant seal or sea lion. We pull in the ROVs and relocate next to the oily red patch and put the ROV in to search for the shark. Clouds of blood mark the passage, but no corpse or shark, so it is likely the shark has dined and dashed, or decided to have take out. Back to the bottom we see large Ling Cod (Ophiodon elongatus) and a close cousin. a beautiful yellow finned female kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus). Most of my work at the Farallones is at the surface, seeking seabirds, seals and sharks to photograph and share with students and the public. Occasionally I dive, but the ROV has opened up a whole new Farallon experience for me and for my guests. It will take hours to study the footage and catalog the species as part of the MPA collaborative project, but this trip has been an entirely new experience for me. We will be using the ROV on our next trips, and I wonder what we will experience next. Select trips are open to the public in October. Learn more at www.sharkstewards.org
We stopped on the Nuussuaq Peninsula, in Qilakitsoq, for Mummy Day. “Mummies in the Arctic!?!” You might ask. That’s right. Off the coast of Qilakitsoq, Greenland, 280 miles north of the Arctic circle, there were lies one of the most important historical sites in Greenland. Years ago, a pair of brothers went out to hunt. While out, they noticed a large pile of stones- a typical grave in Greenland. The ground is nearly completely composed of rock, and digging down into it would have been impossible. Consequentially, when someone died, they were laid to rest on the ground, then covered with a pile of stones, which was topped with moss. The brothers went to investigate the area, and were surprised to find a doll, dressed in clothing. They continued to turn over a few stones and found a body. You see, the doll wasn’t a doll at all: it was a human baby, mummified in the rocks below. There were a total of five bodies in that first grave, all essentially freeze dried from the elements. Four of them- two women, a four year old boy, and the baby- were perfectly preserved. The brothers quickly re-closed the grave and then contacted the authorities. When archeologists were allowed to investigate several years later, they found that the site dated hundreds of years back to the 15th century AD. No one really knows who these people were or what happened to them: there are many different theories, like disease, starvation, or freezing. However, the mummies are invaluable to our understanding of what life was like in that part of Greenland during the 15th century- not just because of the bodies themselves, but because of the multitude of clothing and items they found preserved perfectly in the graves with the mummies. They were able to identify skins, tools, and even face tattoos of the subjects. When we disembarked towards the site, we made our way carefully up the hill and over towards the tomb. The hike up was spectacular: overlooking the cove and this amazing nearby town. It had a sense of peace to it, and you could see how it was this lovely final resting place. The mummies themselves have been excavated and sent off for preservation as incredible representations of clothing and supplies of the time period. Karen pointed out where they were found, and you could see how the elements- cold, dry air, wind, and shelter all rolled into one- came together to perfectly preserve these mummies. Left on the shore are still dozens of gravesites. They appear simply as rocks piled high on boulders. If you peer through them, you can easily catch a glimpse of bones and skulls- people who made their homes here hundreds of years ago. As you wander around, you can’t help but think about who they were. Mothers, Fathers, children, all of whom lived and loved this spot which we were now tiptoeing around. You wonder: What was their world like? Did they love this beautiful place even when it was shrouded in darkness? Were they happy here? If they could talk, what stories might they share? What would they say about this breathtaking place? What insight could they give us into the world around us? We stood and listened for quite some time, but for now, the dead are at peace: keeping their secrets hidden in this remote part of Greenland.
MEET THE TEAM We're so excited to bring you along with us on our journey to Belize, and into the Great Blue Hole! Our entire team at Aquatica Submarines is looking forward to this extensive series of scientific dives and high resolution 360 sonar mapping and we are each proud of the teamwork it takes to make this expedition a success. In the coming weeks we'll be showcasing some of the legwork it takes to bring the submarine from our HQ in Vancouver, B.C. all the way to the dive site 40 miles off the coast of Belize. Some of the players you'll hear from are Will, Cros, Bodhi, and myself - Erika. We're the ops team of the Stingray 500 - we're a finely tuned team of goofballs who have a knack for science and engineering and a love of all things deep ocean. We're keeping things fresh on Instagram and Instagram story too. You can interact with us here on open explorer and on Insta @aquaticasubs Think of this as our Reddit AMA for our 2018 Expedition to the Great Blue Hole!
Helped by a NGO specialist, we wish to study that bird in order to help its important preservation and raise awareness among locals.After studies a youth camp will be organized for birdwatching. We hope for it to boost a following town protection program. Their plan is to learn to observe them, to know them better and share that knowledge with their whole town through videos and information tools. Admiration leads to protection, frienship to kindness. This will lead students to consider through conferences the importance of managing local biodiversity, of limitading wastes, of becoming communication actors. They will learn how to prepare a program and search for corresponding information, how to hold a camp and finally how to inform other local schools.
Field Notes 6/12/18 Stoked to have collaborated with Ryan Young and Rising Tide Explorers, an ecotourism kayaking company in southwest Florida dedicated to exploring and learning about the unique wildlife and mangrove-estuarine ecosystem of the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge. I partnered with Young as the 'expert biologist' of our four-hour kayaking expedition through the mangrove tunnels and mud flats of Rookery Bay. Accompanying us was a family to whom horseshoe crabs were wholly unfamiliar. As Young pointed out oyster beds and soaring ospreys, I told the kiddos how to spot horseshoe crabs from the vantage point of their kayaks, promising that they could help me with my research if we found any. Lo-and-behold, back in the sandy shallows of the mangrove forest, we spotted some. Ecstatic and happy to put a show on for the kids, I stood up in my kayak and dove through 4 feet of murky water (from tannins released from the mangroves), surfacing with a handful of squirming L. polyphemus. After wading to a shallower area I showed the family how to safely hold the horseshoe crabs, and they passed them around before holding them still so I could extract the B. candida commensals off of their undersides. After about 7 L. polyphemus captures, Young guided us back to shore to avoid the oncoming afternoon thunderstorms. The family and I were chatting all the while about the importance of horseshoe crabs and mangrove ecosystems to the rich diversity of wildlife here in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond the successful fieldwork of that day, what thrilled me the most was seeing the pure interest and adventurism of the kids to an animal that is not nearly as charismatic as panda bears or elephants. Nature has the grand capacity to fascinate and inspire kids, and it was incredible to help facilitate that innate passion for wonder.
One of our goals is to get to know the whales we are studying. We need to be able to recognize individual animals and document how they behave. This is the main reason we get in the water with the whales, it enables us to see what they are doing and how they are interacting with each other. Sperm whales are highly intelligent and look you squarely in the eye as they swim by you in the water. Their eyesight is thought to be very good and possibly used for hunting at depth in addition to using echolocation and the bioluminescence around their mouths as a possible lure for prey. Although we don’t get this close, this zoomed in photo shows a beautiful sperm whale eye from a female whale we saw on our last expedition. Follow along to learn about how we seek to identify individual whales and why that matters.
Ready... start! A brief introduction to the Helmeted Manakin Project The Helmeted Manakin (Antilophia galeata), is a neotropical bird found in the gallery forests of the Cerrado biome, one of the most threatened hotspots in the world. Like most other members of the Pipridae Family, it is sexually dimorphic and males are beautifully ornamented. This is the only dimorphic manakin in the Cerrado biome, and the first investigations on its breeding biology took place more than 30 years ago. Researchers at that time assumed the species was monogamous based on behavior observations. This would be a rare instance of evolution of monogamy among manakins, a group known for presenting a polygynous mating system. Now, some recent evidences indicate it is not monogamous - so is it polygynous like the rest of the family? I am in search of solving the mysterious mating system of this species. To investigate the mating system of the Helmeted Manakin, I have been capturing, banding, and monitoring adults, and collecting data on its breeding biology. So far, 120 individuals have been banded! I have just started to look for the species' nests. This is the hardest part, because the shallow-cup nest made of twigs, spider web and dry leaves easily camouflage in the dense understory of the gallery forest. To make things more difficult, nests are built from as low as 50cm to 10m height! I will collect blood samples to conduct paternity tests in the future and confirm the genetic mating system of the Helmeted Manakin. In the next weeks I will also conduct playback experiments to test if the Helmeted Manakin defends individual territories - an uncommon pattern for manakins, which are known for defending the communal lekking arenas. Stay tuned for the next post on territoriality!
During our market surveys we have seen a lot of different shark species. While it is always sad to see sharks caught and consumed, at least bycatch species are not going to waste. We collect as much information as we can along with some specimens. There is a lot of data valuable for science and hopefully management.
Planning for our next Cenotes teacher workshop has begun! This workshop is called the "Archaeology and Cultural Patrimony of Cenotes". Gabrielle Vail (featured here live on Skype!) will be speaking about Postclassic codices... and we will even have facsimile copies of the original codices to work from! Stay tuned for the rest of our awesome line-up! #Cenotes
Woven Roving Stowing the hatchboards is a good sign. At home when you prepare to head off into the wilderness, you typically lock up your house nice and tight before saying adios. On the boat we take the house with us, so instead of locking up, we throw open. Especially when our adventures involve sailing the enclosure-optional, comfortable climes of mainland Mexico. And so I was smiling as I pulled our hatchboards, the wooden pieces that act as our front and back doors, out of each companionway, slipped them back into their soft covers, and tucked them away down below. I peered up at the cockpit through the now wide-open passages. Who needs doors when your neighbors are deep ocean swells, tall starry nights, or broad empty coasts? It was January, and the Mazatlan marina where we had berthed to celebrate the holidays with our family was falling to our stern. After a month, my partner Greg and I were eager to return to cruising and be back on our way in this shiny, still-in-the-packaging New Year. We threaded Dogfish through the narrow, surging, shallow channel towards the open Pacific, closely following our incoming tracks. I watched our depth sounder tick down: 10 feet, 7 feet, 4 feet. I looked to starboard as we passed the dredging machine that was parked and motionless, as usual, on the side of the channel. The depth dropped more: 3 feet, 1 foot, -.1 foot. Now facing the Pacific swell, the surge pushed us close to the rocks. Greg throttled up as a swell gave us a few more feet under our keel and we heaved past the worst of it. “Thank God that’s the last time we have to do that,” he said with relief. “On to Isla Isabel!” I responded. The sunlight was long and warm as we set our bow west to clear two inshore islands before raising sail, pointing south, easing sheets, and settling into an easy run. As the sun flicked lower, the world turned soft and orange. Gliding over the flat water I felt like we were sailing on a romantic candlelit tabletop. In the cockpit, I released my chin from my knees, straightened out my legs and took it in, melting into the scene like wax from a candle. I turned my head to the sunset in time to see the last wisps of a whale splash on the horizon. “Greg, a whale!” He turned to look, and as we gazed west, a second large humpback whale breached almost completely out of the water, sending splashes into the air, leaving water spots on the setting sun, and dropping two jaws who are not in the habit of coming unhinged. 2018 sailing was starting off beautifully. The New Year for me is often equal parts exciting and maddening. It stands before me like a giant blank slate, resting in a deep rut. The resolutions of January have always felt to me like zephyrs that leave me bobbing on a mill pond by the time Opening Day swings around. Why this is the case is no mystery to me. When I hold up a brand new calendar, its boxes blank and later months’ pictures un-glimpsed, I am under no illusions that this assemblage of paper grids has the power to overcome the inertia of a life already barreling away under full canvas. As a sailor I know what’s required to change course and tack: the momentum, the willingness to throw the helm, the fortitude to dig in and rebuild speed. The calendar, this paper book of months, doesn’t have it. When I hold it up to the wind, it just flutters. And as a cruising sailor what change could I be aiming for, anyway? Wasn’t I kind of living the dream already? I was reminded of Greg’s mom, who, upon hearing we planned to cruise indefinitely and were now expanding our monthly budget to include things like retirement savings, exclaimed, “Retirement?! Retire from what?!” Which is a completely reasonable response. We have understood that as our latitudes have dropped, so has the level of sympathy we get when we are talking to people back home. People who are dealing with things like traffic jams, angry bosses, or winter. What real change could we possibly need – dark rum to white? There doesn’t seem to be good reception for problems when transmitting from paradise. Maybe it’s an atmospheric thing, solar flaring, or just Iridium satellite issues. Or perhaps we should quiet our slurping of pina coladas over the line, try to stop calling on Monday mornings, and cease mentioning we were, once again, doing so from the hammock. When I got up for night watch it seemed to me that the world had disappeared. We were sailing in a void, with a black sky above and a black sea below. The dark was blinding and consuming. The only remnant of the day to survive the blackness was the steady low hum of the mid-teens wind, this small thread connecting the world we had known to the one we hoped dawn would bring again; the jackline we in turn also clipped to, pulling along it southwards, hoping it was enough to keep us tethered through this space odyssey. The winds were steady and our course was straight. I checked the radar and AIS returns and watched as our little red boat moved down our long red rhumb line on the computer screen. We were making good progress. I sat down in a soft blue chair propped in the companionway hatch, my normal night perch from where I could see our instruments, our computer screen in the navigation station below, and the darkness beyond our bow into which we plowed ever deeper. I picked up my book to read but my thoughts kept wandering. I gave up and stared into the nothing beyond Dogfish’s decks. I let the void lure me in, my thoughts wandering out across the invisible swells. On Dogfish we love heaving-to, that wonderful sailing maneuver where you back the jib against the still-drawing main so that you stall out in perfect peace for as long as needed. It’s the sailor’s pause button. The contrast between the energy-filled moments before a heave-to and the rhythmic calm right after one is stark. The just-passed holiday season had felt like this to me. One day we tied into a marina, the first in months, and the next day we awoke in fluffy king beds with fresh sheets, ensconced in airbnbs in the quaint parts of lovely Mexican towns. We were surrounded by the people we know and love best, with produce we didn’t have to mete out, water we didn’t have to test with a salinity probe, and ice cubes we didn’t have to feign friendships for. The previous months spent in our ascetic and rugged cruising life felt like a hallucination. It was energizing and soul-filling to see our families again, but it was not without some realizations for us. After our first year of cruising, being close again meant the gaps that cruising had notched between us and those from whom we sailed away now lay unmistakably at our feet. Despite our efforts to keep in touch, our separate lives felt a million miles apart. We did our best to catch up to all the changes in their lives, but still felt strangely removed. “So how is… Alex? That’s your new boyfriend’s name, right? And what about the new job? I guess it’s actually not so new anymore, is it?” Greg and I, in turn, were a challenge to find. We no longer had the usual markers – updates with our jobs, our friends, our neighborhood – all the cairns that we normally use to understand the lay of someone else’s life. We also couldn’t find the right words for what things were really like for us now, to relate our victories or our challenges. We struggled to convey the reality of this new life that was neither Jimmy Buffet songs nor Patrick O’Brian novels. And so we all sipped margaritas, one big family again around one big table again, all of us trying our best to bridge the gaps and reach each other, pretend that it still felt the same. And before we knew it, it was over. The New Year rang in and soon there were tears and goodbyes as airport taxis came and rental apartments were given a final once over. Greg and I found ourselves back on Dogfish, with things seemingly the same except that our pants were a little tighter and moods a little heavier. We blew the jib and fell out of the heave-to, returning to our boat life rhythm, preparing to sail on. The winds were the same but the crew felt different. The tether worked and delivered us into pre-dawn light. My weary eyes watched the black collapse to gray, and shortly after dawn Isla Isabel’s small form appeared on the horizon. Here was an island that understood change. She jutted up defiantly from the water, her proud and swooping cliffs veiling the fact that behind her armaments was a deep crater, a now-gutted volcanic peak that had blown up and bowled out the heart of this island, spewing the morphed remains over her hillsides and shores. We beheld her us so many geologic and ecologic events later, but even through the ages Isla Isabel was still a thing whose very shape was defined by the most virulent change event our Earth has on offer. Here was a lady who knew how to adapt. So what if you suddenly find yourself a blown-out, insides-outside, top-lopped-off, empty barren black volcano rock, only land in sight, encircled by a sea eager to eat away at your rubble? Fill your old crater with freshwater, make a lake. Grow grasses to cover your bare hillsides. Invite ground-nesting boobies to cover your slopes with their waddling forms – those otherwise svelte birds with feet three sizes too big to be believable. They’ll nest, and mother their eggs, and whistle, and repaint your cliffs their proprietary shade of “Number Two White”. When you run out of real estate, vertically integrate with a thick pygmy-tree forest. Then more birds – tree nesting frigates this time – will call the treetops home, their squawks from above harmonizing with boobie whistles from below. Stern, large frigates with their angular black wings, big oily feathers and cherry-red pouches make the perfect foil to the cuddly, cartoonish boobies. Add pelicans because no self-respecting sea island leaves out the pelicans, contract iguanas to street sweep unrealized eggs, bring tiny red milk snakes to feed on the leftovers, and add large termite colonies to build hanging nests in trees because everyone knows they’re going to show up, invited or not. Barren will be a faint memory because once life grabs ahold, it inserts itself into every crevice and breath. Given the tiniest chance it wins every time, even on a blown-out volcano rock in the middle of the ocean. The sun was firmly entrenched by the time we motored into the small rock-strewn harbor of Isabel. Our first anchoring attempt failed to hit one of the small sandy patches, landing instead onto one of the many ejected boulders that used to comprise a grand peak in the time before Isabel’s un-ceremonial disembowelment. Greg dove in with snorkel and fins to search for a good sandy spot. From the deck I watched small schools of fish cruising near the bottom, twenty feet below us. The visibility was good. On his way back, Greg stopped short of Dogfish, poking his head up to exclaim, “The whales! You can hear their calls underwater!!!” We successfully re-set in the big sandy patch Greg had scoped out. While hurrying through all the small chores of putting the boat away, we kept taking distracted looks around us, in awe to now be hanging off the side of this sweeping, blown-out and then overstuffed refuge of a rock surrounded by blue ocean. Birds flew in swarms overhead, schools of fish darted below us, and on the horizon whales surfaced and breached. The exhaustion of our night passage was completely forgotten. We dropped the dinghy in the water, threw in our free-diving gear, and set off on a perimeter tour. After eight months in Mexico, I have spent many hours snorkeling in some amazing spots, seeing all kinds of reefs, fish, rays, eels, and turtles. I’ve been surrounded by bait balls and have watched coral get eaten by roving starfish, things that have had me motionless and staring while I appeared to the world like so much floating detritus. But when we dropped into the school of bigeye trevallys on the north side of the island, I cried into my mask for the first time. I say it was a “school” because that’s what my head says, but this looked more like chaotic recess to me. It was a tangle of trevallys. It reminded me of The Maze highway interchange back in Oakland, where four different highways meet, converge, and rearrange themselves in a matted hairball of under and overpasses. The trevallys were coming straight at me, they were swimming straight down to where Greg was holding his breath, watching from the seafloor. They were swimming in great ribbons over the bottom, mimicking the contours and overlapping with themselves. They were swimming back up again in a vertical stream. It was like snorkeling in a giant loom, with thousands of shiny bodies weaving their own roving safety blanket. It pulsed with silver and flashed when the sun caught a tail or a belly, it surged with the swell and was never the same twice. Smaller surgeon fish, sergeant majors, and even a sea turtle snuck in under its cover for a small respite. I even found myself under the covers for a few moments. Such a display of life, enveloping me while also paying me no notice, made me feel so happily insignificant. The downside to crying in your mask is that it tends to fog up. The blanket faded into a foggy blur until I finally submitted and tore my head out of the water to fix my gear. Sitting on the side of the dinghy adjusting my mask, Greg swam up with more news. “There’s wahoo here!” He gurgled while dropping his snorkel. “I can’t believe it, hand me my gun!” I had barely handed Greg his wooden speargun before he was kicking out to the trevally school again. Wahoo, he had explained to me, were a holy grail for spearfishermen. His friend in La Paz notched his gun every time he caught one. Even living in La Paz and going out several times a week, there were only a few notches after many years. Within half an hour, Greg had speared three, including a monster twenty-five pounder and two smaller ones he got with a single shot. “This is unheard of! I can’t believe this just happened!!!” He exclaimed as he gave me the play-by-play. We motored back round to Dogfish to prepare and vacuum bag the catch, which ended up supplying twenty five pounds of fillets. This was sushi-grade fish, and I was already greedily planning the sushi platters, poke bowls, and seared steaks that lay in our future. After a quick shower, we made a snack of smoked fish, cheese, and crackers, and sat in the cockpit under a warm sun in the early afternoon. Before we could mount a defense, the night passage caught up with us and we fell asleep just as we were, snack still on the table, collapsed in our cockpit chairs – dead to the world, smiles on our lips. The sun rose at Isla Isabel over the swooping cliff faces on the east side of the anchorage, light streaming in through the open hatch above our bed. I rose and met Greg, who already had his coffee made, to greet the day from the deck. Ridiculously, I sighed with relief when I saw Isla Isabel still before us, just as outlandish and otherworldly as she had been the day before. Not a dream, then. Over breakfast we watched as the unmistakable baby blue ketch of our friends on Small World came into view. We dinghied out to meet them. “This place is ridiculous!” Greeted Craig after they were anchored. Krystle sent a big, “Helllooooo!!” from the bow, smiling her big white smile. Seeing them again was refueling. It had been so long since we had spent time with young friends our own age, people we weren’t meeting for the first time and who were also cruising. We looked forward to catching up with them, swapping stories, exploring together, and basking in the company of these two people who made us laugh, love, see, and appreciate in new ways. After they had rested, we all landed the dinghy on the beach near the fish camp. The dinghy pulled up onto the beach so easily with four sets of hands. We pulled on our backpacks, stuffed with cameras, beers, and sunset appetizers, and set out for a hike. We were excited to take in the wildlife, especially the birds, which we had read were comfortable with humans approaching very close as they faced no natural predators on the island. Craig, who we occasionally dubbed Cousteau because of his tall, thin frame and love of all things of the sea, could hardly contain his excitement. He had been looking forward to seeing blue-footed boobies before he and Krystle had even started cruising. Isla Isabel had been a favorite of Jacques Cousteau and after hiking to the top of the cliffs on the west side of the island, Craig Cousteau seconded his approval. We were in the middle of a wide boobie party and they paid us no heed. There were boobies nesting eggs, boobies looking to find a mate, even a mother sitting on top of a newly hatched boobie, trying to frantically hide the chick after its small face poked out from under a wing. We got on the ground at bird height, they looked at us, we at them, just a few feet apart. We carefully stepped out of the way of boobies in the midst of their two-stepping mating dance. We watched others take off, soaring off the guano-speckled cliffs, the transformation from waddling clown to elegant flyer was astonishing. Then we watched them land, the whole transformation running backwards as they re-deployed their massive blue landing gear. Craig lay with his stomach on the ground, close to the action. Rising after watching an especially endearing boobie waddle at ground level, he exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!!!” Krystle started narrowing in on individual birds, offering witty narrations for them in a faux British accent. We watched the sunset from the top of the cliff. Perched on the guano rocks we ate cheese, smoked fish and crackers, and drank beers. Our chatting and squawking grew louder as those of the boobies receded in the night. Our faces caught the last of the sun’s light as we sat in a row, four bodies on the edge of the blown-out volcano rock, carrying on, full and alive, while the endless Pacific stretched below us like a blue abyss. I thought of Isabel again, that even this island’s abundance of life did not happen in a vacuum. One of the reasons the island is such an important bird rookery is that only fifteen or so miles away on the mainland lies one of the most important marshlands on the Pacific Mexico Coast. It is the exchange between these two places that make each of them so vibrant; they are connected, sustained, and enhanced by the life they each support, by the life that passes between them. Over the next few days we ate our hearts out taking the island in. We said hello to the fishermen who set out from their camp every morning, seeking the day’s catch. We hiked over and across the island, going up and down her steep sides on small paths cut out into her pygmy forest. We reached her crater lake. The first vision of that thick, coolant-green water was enough to cut down any swimming aspirations Krystle had entertained. We brought cameras and spent hours taking pictures of whatever struck our fancy – spiders building large webs across the trail, dead frigate birds whose feathery skeletons hung from the branches of the trees. We tailed small snakes and searched for iguanas and lizards. We peered under shoreline rocks between waves to watch crabs. We set our eyes on the horizon to see whale spouts and splashes, expressing mock frustration when multiple whales made a show in several different directions – it was impossible to take it all in. We set out in the dinghy to brave the rough waters on the unprotected north side of the island, seeking out whales up close. We surfed through the whitewater in between out-lying rocks and anchored the dinghy in water bubbling with fish. We dove and snorkeled with sea turtles and large schools. Greg had to give up spearfishing temporarily, our stores were now bulging from his successes. One day brought a new excitement as we watched the anchorage slowly fill in with friends we hadn’t expected to see, as well as other cruisers we were excited to meet. By evening’s end the harbor was filled with the nomadic nests of migratory humans: Jody and Randy on Free Luff, Lance and Pam on Shamaya, Ed and Talica on Tioga, and even the crew and captain of the San Francisco charter catamaran Adventure Cat. It seemed birds weren’t the only ones flocking to Isla Isabel. Upon seeing the situation, and with a refrigerator full of fish and, we decided it was high time for a dinner party. We made mountains of sushi rice and laid out the accoutrements. After sunset the dinghies started arriving. People brought miso soup and poke and we took turns making wahoo rolls and nigiri. We blended up pineapples with coconut cream and drank pina coladas. We made hibiscus margaritas and drank in the cockpit under the stars, voices and music spilling into the night. Late at night we set out on a game of dominoes with Krystle and Craig. It was well into the morning hours when we released the last dinghy painter from our stern, calling out a last goodbye before collapsing into bed. We reveled in our island world, hanging off the side of this rock surrounded by ocean. Our only link to the outside was a daily SSB check-in for weather and family emails. Dates were forgotten as we marched to the metronome of dawn and dusk, watching the sun rise over the east ridge, set over the west water. The space between these two beats was everything. We found our lives and hearts filled to the brim, stuffed until overflowing like the pygmy forests we wandered through. The isolated island had given to us as the life clinging to her hillsides had given to her. It reminded us why we do this, why we commit to a cruising lifestyle, despite all the challenges it throws at us, and despite all the things it requires us to sacrifice. Isla Isabel chewed up the calendar, sending little grids of seven flying out into her updrafts, scattering them to the birds, perhaps to be used in a thousand nests filled with new life. A group consultation with Krystle and Craig, including a few disputed recounts, concluded that a full eight days had passed since we first clipped ourselves to these steep sides. It felt like we had just arrived. At the same time, the shiny New Year looked like it had aged years. The 2018 that we had peered up at and considered now lay torn out of her package, scuffed up, and covered in salt – just as we like it. Only the first anchorage of the New Year, and already everything felt different. It was true that in our new drifting life few things remained to hold on to, to anchor us in body and mind. But in exchange for letting go of being tied down, we were becoming woven in. By living in motion we were being incorporated into a new fabric, a pulsing one whose edges would extend as far as our imaginations would let us run. We maybe weren’t in close physical proximity to the people and places we once loved close-up, but we were still connected by threads, threads which now spooled out and spread far beyond us, connecting us to new people and places in ways we couldn’t have dreamed. I thought back to our families. This was all about change. So maybe gaps had formed in beloved, established patterns. But maybe this also meant new space had opened up where once everything had been filled to the brim. We could find new ways of connecting – sharing new adventures, meeting up in new locations instead of the old family house. Maybe the Mazatlan family trip had actually already been a start in that new direction. Who could say what might grow on these new bare hillsides, when given the chance? We watched boobies fly overhead, taking off from the cliff sides to who-knows-where. Although they seemed entrenched on Isabel, with their messes of nests and blue feet everywhere, they actually spent their lives at sea. They came to Isabel only as a stop, a place to build nests, meet a mate, and create life once more. Isabel gave them this transfusion and they returned the favor by supporting the life of the permanent island residents who grew, crawled, and slithered on her sides. It was a life system connected and in motion, like the pulsing blanket of trevallys had been on that first day diving. Isabel had given this to us as well. We felt a faint breeze building and our thoughts turned to the sea once more. An SSB weather forecast confirmed our suspicions of a beautiful wind coming, one that would accommodate us on her coattails. We prepared to get underway and I stood at the bow to handle the windlass. On my right was Isla Isabel, on my left the Pacific horizon. I brought up the anchor, as if pulling out a tailor’s pin that lets the fabric relax. We were adrift once more, possibility opening around us like gaps in a loose weave. We belonged nowhere and everywhere. More pictures and posts at www.svdogfish.com
As an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist with a specialization on the amphibians and reptiles (aka, herps) of Central Africa, I have been participating in expeditions to sub-Saharan Africa since 2001. In 2007, I established a collaborative research program with Chifundera Kusamba, chief herpetologist at the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (Center for Research and Natural Sciences) at Lwiro, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo for short), Africa’s second largest country. Since then, I have led an all-Congolese team of scientists and researchers to understand the evolutionary history and biodiversity of herps in DR Congo’s forests, savannas, swamps, and rivers. Because of its chaotic history, DR Congo’s biodiversity has been neglected for decades, and we discover several new species during every expedition to the country. But these exciting new discoveries come with a heavy physical toll and dangerous risks. Central Africa is infamous for its smorgasbord of crippling and deadly tropical diseases, with everything from monkeypox—think chickenpox on steroids—to river blindness and Ebola. Because of its long and troubled history, first as the Belgian Congo, then as Zaïre under the dictatorship of Mobutu, DR Congo is now among the poorest and least-developed countries in the world. DR Congo has been struggling to recover from the deadliest conflict since World War II—Africa’s World War claimed around 5 million lives before it came to an end, sort of, in 2003. Today, many armed militias that were active in the war linger in the mountainous and remote region near the country’s eastern border. Because an incredible diversity of endemic plant and animal species are only found in the Albertine Rift Mountains along DR Congo’s eastern border region, we have spent most of the last decade climbing into deep jungle in these mountains to search for rare, forgotten, or new species to science. We often run into trouble, sometimes in ways that are completely unexpected. Our misadventures include stumbling into an enormous swarm of dangerously venomous ants, flipping our truck on muddy roads in the middle of nowhere, and my personal favorite, bankrolling a palm wine party to convince an entire village that I am, in fact, NOT a vampire. My scientific interest in Central Africa stems from the fact that it is one of the most poorly known terrestrial regions in the world, and it is always exciting to discover a new creature that is unknown to science. Also, I want to understand how, why, where, and when species of African amphibians and reptiles evolved, and reconstruct their evolutionary relationships to each other. This information, including the naming of new species, is used by conservation biologists, government officials and local stakeholders to make important decisions about national parks and other protected areas. This work is urgent, because deforestation and global climate change are threatening to wipe out DR Congo’s incredible biodiversity just as we are beginning to understand it. This blog will explore different aspects of my experience working as a biodiversity scientist in Central Africa over the last decade, including two expeditions that were funded by the National Geographic Society. My Congolese colleagues Chifundera Kusamba, Wandege M. Muninga, and Mwenebatu M. Aristote loom large in the stories because they have been with me during every trip, and I am grateful to all of them for their dedication, compassion, incredible powers of observation, and sense of humor. To put my scientific work in context, the blog will be interdisciplinary and include unexpected connections between science, medicine, and the humanities. Sometimes it is possible to recognize that a creature is a new species to science immediately following its discovery, because it is remarkably different from all known species in the same genus or family. However, most discoveries are confirmed months or even years after the expeditions are over, and the blog will explain how this meticulous research process occurs. I am an associate professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), where I also serve as director of the university’s biodiversity collections. Utilizing a combination of DNA sequence data and natural history specimens collected during expeditions, I work with American and African students and colleagues to understand the evolutionary relationships among the amazing animals we are studying. My research has resulted in more than 100 articles in refereed science journals, which have been cited over 2,500 times in other scientific publications. This work has been covered in NBC News, National Geographic Daily News, Africa Geographic Magazine, Reptiles Magazine, Smithsonian.com, Nature.com, and The Huffington Post. My book Emerald Labyrinth: A Scientist's Adventures in the Jungles of the Congo (ForeEdge, imprint of University Press of New England) was honored as one of the Top 10 Biology Books of 2017 by Forbes Magazine. For a complete list of my work, see my academic website at: http://eligreenbaum.utep.edu/ Follow me on Twitter: @EliGreenbaumPhD
Presence of ecotourism as a deterrent to illegal and destructive fishing. Our NGOs marine monitoring station in Northern Palawan has seen a 73% drop in large marine animals in the past 5 years and there is no tourism on the island or even a small hotel for at least 10 miles. Tourism isn’t killing the wildlife in this location, it’s a growing population of migrant illegal commercial fisherman and local inhabitants using destructive fishing methods with very little management of a fragile slow growing natural resources. In the ‘do nothing’ scenario this stretch of coral reef continues to get over fished by a small group of fisherman using unsustainable methods with no short or long term benefits to the community, no jobs created, no nursery for fish and coral to help repopulate the rest of the island, no awareness campaigns, no capacity building, no participatory education, no skills training, etc. With no enforcement of well written laws, beach front land within the entire ancestral domain of the Tagbanua sits unused often next to a beach covered with marine plastic and harvested by wandering squatters for all trees and wild animals of any food or commercial value. The Tagbanua do not want to sell their land to land developers but have very little capital or skills to guard the natural assets of their land or operate high quality small scale ecotourism operations. They are seeing a boom in tourism around them but are not participating in the economic growth. The subsistence fisherman along this coast have been disenfranchised for decades by rich land owners grabbing up their prime beachfront land often at very low prices during times of distress. They have decided not to sell any more property to outsiders and land can only be sold between people of the community. No proxy land ownership or hoarding of land is allowed. Land is the major source of wealth that parents can give to their children. So there are hundreds of miles of tropical beach front property in the highest ranked island in the world for tourism quickly being depleted of all wildlife without management. In 2004 we discovered a world class surfing wave at this intersection of currents in the Mindoro Strait. For the past 8 years our NGO has slowly been building trust and acceptance with the community and now we think the time ready to expand operations and distribute benefits of an MPA/Ecotourism project. The Banua MPA project will invite hundreds of skilled paying volunteers to help rehabilitate the natural regenerative powers of 20 hectares of coral reef inside a no take marine sanctuary destroyed by decades of over fishing and destructive fishing practices. As an added incentive volunteers and donors to the program will have exclusive access to the surfing wave and coral nursery for Scuba diving. Technology will be highly leveraged for monitoring of vessel activity and baseline assessments of fisheries and habitats over time. The technology platform will also enable hundreds of thousands of people to visit and follow progress in near real time over the internet without having to physically travel to the remote location. This program is the catalyst to create a shift in practices that results in compounding net positive contributions to the ecosystems in a network of similar marine protected areas covering hundreds of kilometers of coastline in this area.
One of my main objectives for this study is to understand how mercury adsorbed to microplastics impacts wildlife. Sea birds, fish, and even organisms as small as zooplankton ingest microplastic particles, which they most likely mistake as food. Physical blockage of the stomach by indigestible plastic may causes death in some organisms, and those that survive are at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals concentrated on the plastic. Before leaving Cleveland, Ohio I stopped by the Westside Market to purchase local perch and walleye caught in Lake Erie. From each individual fish, I collected the stomach and a piece of fillet – I will dissect the stomach to search for microplastics and measure mercury concentration in the fish. My hypothesis is that fish with more microplastics in their gut will have a higher mercury concentrations in their fillet. Fish gut dissection beings this week!
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the past week at the Deep-Sea Biology Symposium in Monterey, CA. Not only did I get to share our global deep-ocean dropcam project with the society, but I got to learn about so many amazing discoveries, explorations, and stewardship initiatives happening now to understand and protect our deep ocean. The Deep-Sea Biology Society is an amazing group and I am so thankful to be a part of it. Check out all of their resources here: https://dsbsoc.org/about-2/ The next meeting will take place in Japan in 2021. I am so excited for all that we will accomplish over the next three years, and be able to share and connect again on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. It was truly an inspiring and enlightening week. Thankful for all of these friends who are bright lights shining for the deep ocean.
Wreck of "Bergljót" lies deep in the fjord of Álftafjörður in Westfjord, Iceland. The wreck lies in pretty shallow water, around 10-meter depth. Bergljót sank in 1900, I think. I don´t have much information about the details. The wreck lies not very far from old Whaling station which was operated around 1883 to 1915. Archaeological report and assessment can be found which Dr. Ragnar Edvardsson and Arnar Thor Egilsson made in 2011. Report link: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/RagnarEdvardsson/publication/268276241ArchaeologicalAssessmentofSelectedSubmergedSitesinVestfirdir/links/54672e060cf20dedafce0f87/Archaeological-Assessment-of-Selected-Submerged-Sites-in-Vestfirdir.pdf The wreck of Bergljót gives a good opportunity for dive training site as it lies very near the shore. Bergljót gives a good site also for side scan sonar testing and making underwater mosaics and 3D models.
Imagine this – You’re 50 miles from anywhere in Alaska, surrounded by icy water, mountains, and brown bears – grizzlies by species but significantly larger. The wolves, pushing a couple hundred pounds each, are generally just curious but skittish, which is reassuring. The bears though – it is early summer, so they are a bit bored. That is less reassuring. Through a grey haze of drizzle, you’re following an old, handwritten map. The pencil track has taken you through thick woods and tidal currents by power boat, then kayak, and now foot, pacing steps from erratic boulders, slipping through small tea-cup shaped harbors, and sighting bearings from lone trees. The map is written on faded yellow paper from the early 1940’s, and represents handwritten notes from earlier still – shortly after the turn of the century. At the end lies a significant prize. It’s not money. It’s knowledge, a record, a history of our world. The map is old, yes. It’s also wrong. You don’t know how wrong, but you know several things are fundamentally incorrect. North isn’t north. In fact it’s a bit unclear what north means on the map. The ocean isn’t in the right spot – the coast line, as drawn, weaves and twists in distinctive shapes which are thoroughly not the coastline present today. The map relies heavily on… shall we say “non-standardized” units of distance and painted rocks which are no longer painted. Things like “500 paces from the rock marked with a cross” are common. Whether this is simply due to the passage of time in Alaska or inconsistencies in the story before it was mapped out, you don’t know. In some ways it’s Treasure Island, in some ways a game of Telephone. But it points to, theoretically at least, some extraordinarily important points, locations which can give unique insight into one of the most critical environmental questions we face today – how fast can ecosystems adapt to climate change? To know why, you must trade the jungle like green now for a wasteland of ice and rock: Glacier Bay before it was a bay, or rather at the moment it was becoming a bay. 250 years ago many parts of coastal Alaska were just emerging from the long period of cold known as the Little Ice Age. While not global, the LIA did manage to freeze the Thames River in London, encourage the Irish to adopt potatoes, and pushed the Norse out of Greenland. In Alaska, it caused substantial glacial advance, such that local Tlingit communities were pushed out of their homes by advancing ice – climate refugees of a different source. When George Vancouver sailed through the Glacier Bay area, there wasn’t a Bay – just a wall of ice, several miles across, and a Huna Tlingit community across the strait that told of a land, S’é Shuyee, a river, Ghaat Héeni, and a village, all under that ice. Over the next century, that ice sheet collapsed rapidly. But no land emerged. The ice had scoured a 1400 foot deep gouge in the former river bottom, and the ocean flooded in, creating a massive fjord system of water, rocky shore lands, and ancillary glaciers chunking off bergs into the water. This was how Sit’ Eeti Gheeyí, Glacier Bay, was born. The peak of this process coincided with the travels of John Muir, eminent naturalist of the late 1800’s and epic writer paddled in with Tlingit guides in 1879. John and his dog Stickeen (after the Shtaxʼhéen Ḵwáan, the people who lived around the Stikine River to the south of Glacier Bay) explored the canyons of ice and wrote about it, creating one of the classic dog-man stories and bringing the wonder of Alaska to the outside. People began to trickle in. The gold rush likely contributed, if not to advertising then to infrastructure. Steady boat traffic began to pass near the bay on the Inside Passage to the Yukon. As a result, visitors began to trickle into the region, mostly to see glaciers near the main boat routes (the Taku was a major one), but a few made it to Glacier Bay, “a solitude of ice and snow and newborn rocks, dim, dreary, mysterious” in the words of Muir. Often so much ice calve off the glaciers that approach would be impossible – it was only the intrepid that made it into the bay. But word got out, largely thanks to Muir, and Sit’ Eeti Gheeyí began to attract scholarly notice. In 1914, a prescient botanist by the name of William S. Cooper followed Muir’s footsteps into Glacier Bay, as a scientist-tourist, interested in the views and the opportunities to learn how plant communities changed through time. In 1916 he returned to mark off little plots of land throughout the landscape to revisit for as long as he could, charting how plants moved into the denuded landscape. These little points would be permanent reference sites, witnesses to the changes happening over long periods of time – or that was the goal. Nine plots, in three groups of three, were laid out with paint, stakes, and wire. To aid future explorers, Cooper included “an elaborate buried treasure system” (his words) of directions to his plots that eventually were translated into the yellowing map. One starting point was a large rock, “150 paces northwest” of a place enigmatically called “Dollar Cove.” A few sparse directions were even published. The maps were merely handdrawn for easier reference and stored by his place of work, the University of Minnesota, in their archives after his death. The landmarks were supposed to be permanent. After all, in a wasteland of rock, a large boulder stands out, and round distances seems most reasonable rather than dragging equipment halfway to nowhere so you can measure to the foot. Cairns were more than suitable for fine-scale locations. So that's the beginning - a wasteland of rock, a scientist that made the trek to Alaska in 1916 to watch it, and the beginnings of a 100 year story of science, loss, and an expedition to rediscover the plots.
After almost a century of quiescence, paleontological research in Northern Patagonia, has flourished over the last two decades shedding new insights on its sothern Cretaceous biota, and adding the final chapter to the rich Mesozoic record of Argentina, which also comprises important discoveries of plant and animal fossils in the Triassic of Ischigualasto Valley, Northwestern Argentina, and the Jurassic of Cerro Cóndor, in Central Patagonia. The Neuquén Basin in Northern Patagonia records a continuous marine sedimentary sequence during the Early Cretaceous, but becomes a terrestrial record during the Late Cretaceous. Upper Cretaceous rocks comprise 1300 m of continental red beds known as Neuquén Group, representing a nearly 800 km long and 200-350 km wide wedge of conglomerates, sandstones, siltstones, claystones and mudrocks mainly deposited by alluvial processes over most of the Upper Cretaceous. Deposition occurred along a span of time of nearly 24.9 Ma, approximately between the Cenomanian and the Early Campanian stages. The biotas known from the formations of the Neuquén Group provide dramatic insights on the evolution of major clades that radiated later in the Cretaceous, most of them completely or partially extinct today such as dryolestoid and australosphenid mammals, non-avian dinosaurs, sphenodontians, basal snakes and pipoid frogs. The Neuquén Group begins with the Río Limay Subgroup, composed of the Candeleros and Huincul formations. Both units are highly fossiliferous and are exposed in the area of the Ezequiel Ramos Mexía Reservoir, along the banks of the Rio Limay, which separates two provinces in northern Patagonia: Neuquén to the north and Río Negro to the south. The Candeleros formation, regarded as Cenomanian in age is essentially composed of massive, coarse to medium-grained and dark red to purple sandstones, deposited under seasonal to arid conditions by braided and meandering rivers. Sequences are arranged in a thinning and fining upward pattern. Paleosols are frequent at different levels, whereas dark-brownish siltstones and claystones are present in thin packages, some of them representing occasional swamp conditions. The Candeleros Formation has been explored mainly in its northern outcrops (Neuquén Province), where it yielded an abundant tetrapod record. The most remarkable findings include the giant theropod Giganotosaurus carolinii and the abelisaurid Ekrixinatosaurus novasi. Big sauropods like the basal titanosaur Andesaurus delgadoi, and the rebbachisaurids Limaysaurus tessonei, Nopcsaspondylus alarconensis and Rayososaurus agrioensis have also been described. The much scarcer record of ornithischians includes fragmentary remains of iguanodontians. The record also includes chelid turtles, araripesuchian crocodiles, pipoid frogs and a rich ichnofauna attributed to terrestrial reptiles. The southern exposures of the Candeleros Fm at the 'La Buitrera' locality represent more than 20 miles of partially explored outcrops that have yielded small-sized articulated vertebrates like the theropods Buitreraptor gonzalezorum, the new alvarezsaurid Alnashetri cerropoliciensis, sphenodontian lepidosaurs, basal limbed snakes, araripesuchid crocodyliforms, lizards, chelid turtles, and dipnoan fishes. The preservational state of these small fossil vertebrates is the best for the Late Cretaceous record of Argentina and perhaps for all of South America, and are comparable to those of the Gobi Desert. The overlying fossiliferous Huincul Formation is composed of quarzitic sandstones with scarce matrix and little carbonate cement. The color is yellowish in southern outcrops (due to iron oxides) but reddish in the north. It bears altered tuffs, sometimes reaching two meters in thickness in the area of Cerro Policía. The lower part is composed of fine reddish, grey and yellowish deposits, whereas the upper part is dominated by yellowish and reddish psamites bearing spheroidal concretions. This unit yielded gigantic titanosaurs like Argentinosaurus huinculensis and other smaller forms, as well as rebachisaurids in Neuquén Province. Theropods include carcharodontosaurids like Mapusaurus rosae, and abelisaurids like Ilokelesia aguadagrandensis and Skorpiovenator bustingorryi, one of the most completely known abelisaurids. The southern, Río Negro side has yielded large titanosaurs (the Violante specimen), rebbachisaurids like Cathartesaura anaerobica whereas theropods include mostly abelisauroids in an environment of a petrified forest of mainly Cupressaceae. Our principal objective with the award of NGS was to thoroughly explore the exposures at 'La Buitrera' locality in the southern, Río Negro exposures, to fully document evidence on how the animals comprising the fauna there lived and died, and what there relationships were. Fieldwork was done also in laterally equivalent exposures of these formations on the Neuquén side of the Reservoir, at the "Barda Atravesada de las Campanas" (BAC), 20 miles SW from Villa El Chocón (see map). This restructured expedition was carried out in collaboration with Dr. Juan Canale, chief scientist of the Museo Ernesto Bachman at Villa El Chocón, and Alejandro Haluza, a paleontologist at the same museum. The beds exposed at BAC are lateral equivalents of the units exposed at La Buitrera, the site we originally wrote the proposal for, and that’s why we expected to find at least part of the components common in La Buitrera, both in the Candeleros (lower) and Huincul (upper) Formations. One of the main goals of our fieldwork was to recover more materials of small tetrapods, which are well preserved at La Buitrera unlike most dinosaur localities. This was one of the main reasons that drove us to choose BAC as an alternative site, since small bones commonly appear in the area. Our prospecting focused first on a system of southeastward draining valleys near the Barda Atravesada de las Campanas. The banded lower Huincul facies are spectacularly exposed there, and yielded the expected small vertebrates, though not with the amazing degree of preservation common at La Buitrera. All the collected specimens were taken to the Museo Bachmann from El Chocón where they are accessioned, and GPS coordinates from specimens are available from the Principle Investigator. The material recovered up to now is diagnostic enough to recognize that it belongs to a new species of carcharodontosaurid. Known carcharodontosaurid theropods for the Neuquén Group include Giganotosaurus carolinii and Mapusaurus roseae; from mid-levels of the Candeleros and Huincul formations respectively. Since the material we found comes from the lower levels of the Huincul Formation, it represents the second known carcharodontosaurid for the Huincul Formation. Carcharodontosaurid features of this specimen include a strongly ornamented lateral face of the maxilla, a jugal process of the ectopterygoid set at an angle of more than 15º to the main body in lateral view, a rectangular distal end of the jugal process of ectopterygoid, and a dorsomedially oriented femoral head. The near complete left arm (the first for a Gondwanan derived carcharodontosaurid) shows that the elements are short and robust, with expanded articular ends, as in Acrocanthosaurus. The humerus shows a conspicuous oval depression below the humeral head in the posterodorsal aspect, a trait not recorded yet in any other Allosauroidea. The pubis bears a straight shaft, a synapomorphy shared with all known South American carcharodontosaurids, like Tyrannotitan, Mapusaurus, and Giganotosaurus. The strong and sharp anterolateral flange of the ischium, coupled with pleurocoels in proximal caudal vertebrae, differentiate this form from both Giganotosaurus and Mapusaurus. The new specimen not only increases the general diversity of this peculiar group but also adds important new anatomical information for this lineage of Cretaceous apex predators. The preparation of the other faunal elements will provide insights into the early Late Cretaceous times, known as the 'age of the giants' in South America, but a more detailed taxonomic identification and understanding of their significance awaits preparation and comparisons. Of particular interests is the question whether the possible pipoid frogs include parts of the skeleton not known in the quite scarce material of Avitabatrachus uliana described by Dr. Ana Baez, a taxon that occurs in the Candeleros Formation. The exclusive presence of pipoid frogs in those strata may be informative about the possible biogeographic isolation of this region during pre-Maastrichtian stages, because these animals are restricted to fresh water environments. Similarly, identification of the rebbachisaurid sauropod bones that we found (if they actually belong to this clade) may yield some insights on the biostratigraphic correlation between outcrops on both sides of the Ramos Mexia Reservoir, as well as allowing for study of its relationships with Cathartesaura, Limaysaurus, and other rebbachisaurids from Patagonia. We plan to study these materials, make taxonomic comparisons with other related taxa, and consult with anuran and turtle specialists in the near future, to maximize the significance of our discoveries. Although, we did not recover the main components of the La Buitrera fauna, like sphenodontians and basal snakes, the preservation potential for small bodied fossils on the Neuquén side of the Candeleros and Huincul Formations is demonstrated by our discovery of frogs and the turtles, and small dinosaur discoveries may be made in the future. Further work in this region is warranted. 2019 expeditions will take place in the Barda Atravesada as well as in La Buitrera Area.
Meet the electric ray This fascinating rays prefers shallow waters from 10 to 30 m, although rarely found deeper than 200 m. It inhabits buddy bottom, seagrass beds, rocky reefs and sandy flats. Often survive in tidal pools and other environments with extremely low dissolved oxygen. Typically reach around 35 cm, but might grow over 61 cm in length. Marbled electric rays posses paired, kidney-like, electric organs located on the ventral surface which are capable of producing 70 to 80 volts of electricity. Delivered electric shock can be severe but it nos directly life-threatening to humans. This species is aplacental viviparous, with the developing embryos sustained by yolk and histotroph produced by the mother. "I used to play with two large electric rays in the shallow seagrass poll for almost two hours", said Andrej. Suddenly, he was almost lunched from the water, "Surely they got tired of playing", he added before taking this photo.
The Epic Visa Marathon Now I share with you my biggest adventure with this project to date—obtaining the research permit and visa! It’s a harrowing process to which I know many of my fellow researchers (and others living and working abroad) can relate. I want to provide a practical guide for anyone looking to tackle the process so it can hopefully save a few of you some time and grief! I began this process in early September 2017, and completed it just now (by mid-September 2018). So it took over a year, and my experience was fairly streamlined, all things considered. First, I had to get together numerous documents, many of which required coordinating with partners in Indonesia. Items to Wrangle Proposal Abstract Research Proposal Current Curriculum Vitae Complete Equipment List Letter of Request to do Research Three Letters of Recommendation Passport Photo with Red Background (weird, I know!) Proof of Funding (which included a Funding Report & Bank Statement) MOU between Stanford and University of Hasanuddin (UNHAS—my Counterpart based in Makassar, South Sulawesi) Curriculum Vitae of Sponsoring Professor from UNHAS Letter of Support from UNHAS Initially when I began the process, I got lost in a maze of ministry websites. Each pointed to the other saying I needed some key item from the other ministry before I could apply in their system--it was an endless loop that made me dizzy trying to navigate. I followed the procedure as I understood it and heard nothing back for several weeks. Finally, feeling like my pre-application (of sorts) was lost in the bureaucratic ether, I took a colleague’s recommendation to hire an agent. IF YOU ARE GOING TO APPLY FOR A RESEARCH VISA IN INDONESIA USE AN AGENT! I had the best experience with the one I used—LAHUKA! They help secure permits and visas for research, film projects, and other expeditions. They assisted with every step of the process: 1) coordinating with Indonesia’s Ministry of Technology Research and Higher Education Republic of Indonesia a.k.a RISTEK to help push my application through the review process and get it approved; 2) communicating with the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore to issue the visa; 3) picking me up in Jakarta to take me to the RISTEK offices and procure all of the official letters, ID cards, etc.; and 4) mailing necessary letters to the local government and police at my field site). They did all of this for only $150 USD (which was in addition to all of the government fees listed below). A steal if you ask me! The Play-by-Play Registered on the official RISTEK website I did this after I had hired LAHUKA to help, because they informed me that one of the “required” items listed on the site (which was a letter of support from the local embassy I thought I had to get before I applied to RISTEK), was not actually required—ahhh, of course?!?) Established connection with university partner (Sept 2017) An NGO contact helped facilitate this step (more on my collaborators in a later post, because they’re phenomenal and deserve a whole post of their own!) Drafted MOU This took a while and a lot of back-and-forth, as my university supplied a template that didn’t align with past ones UNHAS had used, so we went through several iterations and then had to obtain all the necessary signatures from advisors and deans at both schools. Obtained Official Letter of Support from UNHAS This also took a while due to several iterations and obtaining signatures. Applied for numerous grants Currently the project is primarily and generously funded by an Early Career Grant from Nat Geo and my PhD program at Stanford. I’m also still waiting on the outcome of several other sources (the funding process also took much longer than I expected--over two years!) Collected/drafted rest of items in the list above Submitted application on RISTEK (June 2nd, 2018) Waited to hear from RISTEK on status of Application Heard about approval (July 20th, 2018) Waited for Visa to be issued to Singapore Embassy (Aug 22nd, 2018) I could have picked it up at any Indonesian embassy outside of Indonesia, but I had already booked my ticket from SFO to Bali, so asked them to issue the visa to the Singapore Embassy. Spent a week picking up visa in Singapore I flew to Singapore after my on-arrival visa expired (30 days). I flew to Singapore not knowing when I might be able to pick up the visa ($160 SGD = $117 USD) but got lucky. The day after I arrived, RISTEK sent me a letter saying it was ready! Spent a week finalizing visa in Jakarta After getting the visa stamped in my passport, I then had to fly to Jakarta and spend several days getting approval from various ministries to “activate” the visa. The main office was RISTEK (1,600,000 IDR = $108 USD) Registered with Immigration in Makassar Next, I had to bring my letters to the Immigration Office in Makassar, where UNHAS is based, to retrieve my KITAS (limited stay research permit), which will let me stay in the country for 12 months (2,055,000 IDR = $138 USD) Final Step (for now) When I arrive to Banggai Island, I must check-in with the local authorities (police, governor, immigration, fisheries office, etc.), and then do the same with the village chief at my field site. I don’t think I have to pay anymore fees though. Pheewww! I’m tired all over again reliving this in text. Hope it’s been helpful, and if you ever find yourself going through the process, please feel free to reach out with any questions!
For a couple of weeks now, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon what we just experienced and accomplished on this wildly successful expedition through the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Our cohort of 19 students and 15 scientists and crew sailed the Robert C. Seamans over 3,500 nautical miles while contributing to a dataset that now spans five years of oceanographic, biological, and chemical data. We conducted 46 Hydrocasts and 96 plankton net tows. We spent many late nights in the lab analyzing nitrates, phosphates, and chlorophyll. We invested most of our waking time conducting science, going through data, or navigating to our next station to do more science. All with the hopes that we could accomplish our mission: to add to our knowledge of one of the true marine wildernesses remaining on our planet, and to see how it may be impacted by a warming climate and sea-level rise. But let’s go beyond the numbers for a minute. What we saw and did aboard the Robert C. Seamans was truly special and can’t be adequately described with words. The ship itself felt alive. At any given point people were either on the helm, on lookout, doing boat checks, working in the lab, or doing one of the many other jobs vital to the functioning of the ship… 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for almost 6 weeks. Everyone was dependent on the hard work of each other. This, along with the fact that we only had our relatively small group with whom we could interact turned what was mostly a bunch of strangers just a few months ago into a tight-knit family. Many of us (including myself) had never even sailed before or done science on a moving research vessel, but by the end of the voyage we all seemed like hardened sailors and effective field scientists. We accomplished everything on our science plan and then some, yet here is still so much to do. All of the hard effort put in by everyone to collect the large set of samples and sensor data has ensured that we have plenty of material to pick through in the coming months (and years) to come - the work has only just begun. In the end, these data can go on to inform policy and management measures that will ensure the preservation of this amazing place for generations to come, and hopefully inspire other nations to do the same in their own waters. It is my sincerest hope that I can return to this place again, and watch the Phoenix continue to rise. Jacob Jaskiel (AKA Plankton Boy)- Lab Hand, Teaching Assistant. A huge thank you to everyone who made this possible. The crew, the amazing students, SEA, Boston University, The Republic of Kiribati, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps, and National Geographic all have my eternal gratitude. Until next time…
The challenges of scientific diving Diving is my favorite thing in the world. I have been a certified diver since 2011 and have already logged close to 200 dives in my journey from an open water diver to a professional dive master and scientific diver. It has always been natural to me, for some reason, slowly moving underwater, controlling buoyancy using your lungs and cruising along the current while glancing and enjoying all the diversity that the ocean has to offer. Diving can be the most relaxing and exciting activity at the same time, it's really impressive. When you are studying marine organisms, you need to take the most advantage of every opportunity that you have to be in the field, diving is not cheap, therefore, marine research that involves diving is not something that you can do every day. While diving in Punta Coyote during my last expedition, conditions were not the best, visibility was bad and there was a strong current, however that was the only chance that we had to retrieve the information from on of our receivers, and we took the challenge. Here I will leave you with a small video made by my friend Dave Wise (http://thegreentraveller.trekandrun.com/#home)) who went on this challenging dive with Dominick and me, three crazy guys that could not refuse the chance to dive.
Tortugas Pedasi is a community-based non-profit working to protect and restore the health of Pedasi’s coastal ecosystems. Working primarily within the boundaries of the Pablo Barrios Wildlife Refuge, we specialize on sea turtle and mangrove research and conservation. Despite laws protecting these systems, illegal lodging, unsustainable agricultural practices, and poaching, remain a threat to their health and survival.
A step back before we step forward. No luck yet in getting footage from inside a comb jelly swarm, so we thought we’d go back to the beginning and explain a bit more about why we’re interested in comb jelly behaviour. Yes, this probably should have been our first post… More brains, more problems! As humans, we are particularly proud of our brains. All of the things that make us who we are, our thoughts, memories, and emotions, are all functions of our brain. Underpinning all of that is a constellation of communication; bursts of signals from one neuron to another. But at a biological level, all that brain activity ultimately serves a single purpose; to control our behaviour. So, if you want to understand how the brain works, all you need to do is work out what is happening in the brain when we are actually behaving. Simple! Of course, our brains are big, and the span of possible behaviours is immeasurable. That’s what makes humans a bit messy to understand. Unpicking the complexity of every thought and memory, every subtle emotion and feeling, every spark of creativity or burst of anger that underlies everything we actually do as people, and relating that back to the flow of information through the billions upon billions of connections in our brains, is simply too difficult. So we must simplify the problem. We need something with simpler behaviours, and a simpler “brain”. Comb jellies are about a simple as we can get. If you ask someone to just imagine an animal, it’s unlikely they would think of something shaped like a comb jelly. We are so used the idea that you find the brain in the head that the concept of a “brain” in a small round animal seems so alien. They don’t technically have a brain of course, but that do have everything you find in a brain. In ctenophores, the nervous system isn’t concentrated into one place in the body, but is found in a sparse network, spread all across the body, just beneath the surface. It would be as if our brains were spread in a thin layer across our entire bodies, just beneath the skin. We’ve been working on figuring out how this is organised, but the other part of the equation is the output of the nervous system – behaviour. So what do comb jellies actually do? When we bring comb jellies back to our lab we can't keep them in a regular aquarium, because they just sink to the bottom. To keep them happy they need to be in flowing water. So we keep them in a kreisel tank, a type of aquarium with a constant circulating flow. In our tanks, the jellies are pretty active, and a crowded tank can look pretty chaotic. Keep looking though, and some patterns begin to emerge. A lot of their behaviours are related to feeding. They fan out their tentacles, creating an elaborate sticky web. Then they mostly drift along doing nothing, until some food gets caught in their tentacles. The tentacles can’t be directed into the mouth like an arm, but simply extended or retracted like a fishing line. To get ensnared prey into their mouth, the comb jellies spin around, wrapping the tentacle around themselves and shortening them until their meal passes by their mouth. Feeding behaviours are great because we know why they do it and what triggers them to do it. Many of the other behaviours we see, on the other hand, are a bit more mysterious. Sometimes they suddenly change direction and quickly swim up, or down. Sometimes they swim with their tentacles bunched up uselessly next to their bodies, or retracted fully inside. Why do they do this, and what causes this? And what is going on in their “brain” when these behaviours are switched on or off? Of course, the key question for us, especially when looking at these non-feeding behaviours, is whether any of these are actually “real” behaviours at all. It’s possible that this is just something comb jellies do when in a tank in a lab. Does a comb jelly in our lab “know” it’s not in in the sea any more? Is there some difference between our tanks and the natural habitat of these animals that changes what they do, that changes the connection between the nervous system and the behaviour that nervous system produces? The only realistic way to answer this question is to look at their behaviour where that behaviour evolved; in the sea. Our search continues this week, we’ll post updates as soon as we have them.
Shakedown dive at Crayfish Point After travel and before doing any really challenging diving it's always worth doing a shakedown of all the gear. We were lucky enough to have a local guide in our friend Olivia Johnson, who took us on a tour of one of Tasmania's oldest marine reserves (a fisheries research area), at Crayfish Point off Taroona. The site really lived up to its name, with a lot of crayfish of all sizes, but also an incredible abundance of tiny invertebrates living on the seaweed. We'll get some photo's up for you to check out soon.
Our Trident ROV has arrived and we got a chance last week to test it out! While there is still much to learn, we got more comfortable with navigating the ROV (name coming!) through the kelp forest, no easy task! Dropping it into Whalers Cove, we were impressed with the clarity of image on the tablet/control panel and the world it opened up to us right below the ocean's surface. We are awaiting the arrival of a few more accessories to be able to incorporate the ROV into our K-12 long-distancing learning PORTS program and share Live!, the kelp forest of Point Lobos, one of the oldest marine reserves in the nation. In the photo, we have our friend Alec Taylor from WWF-UK, Daniel Williford, CA State Park Interpreter at Point Lobos, and Leandra Lopez, Tech/Program Manager, MPA Collaborative Network, test-running the new technology. Alec was here to learn about what California is doing in the way of ocean protection, and this was one of his learning stops along the way. Leandra was on hand to lend her experience and a few needed parts to make this happen. The Point Lobos Kelp Forest PORTS Program is kicking off another school year, this time with the added bonus of an underwater camera!
Isaí managed to message me today from his satellite phone. The connect was bad because it's raining, but he said the peninsula is amazing - there is even enough surf breaking to ride waves while overlooking the Ice Field. The weather on the way out to the peninsula was very good and fingers crossed that it stays the same for the return trip! From Isaí Whale skeletons of all sizes lay forgotten in small sandy inlets sprinkled along peninsula Forelius. Close inspection reveals different rates of bone erosion. How long have these bones been here? At the western terminal end, a freshly dead dolphin lays on the sand. The new tracks around it show that different species of birds have been feasting on it. No mammal tracks besides our own. Why is this location a natural whale cemetery? Do different species of cetaceans come here to die? If so why here? We set camp nearby where only a large sand dune stands between the bay from the mighty Pacific Ocean. The dune separating the bodies of water has been slowly eroded by the constant ocean tides. Our source of freshwater seeps out of the surrounding wetlands, staining the water brown in color. With the Northern Patagonia Ice Field on the horizon, the gentle waves in Seno Escondido slowly erode the intact bones of an adult whale. Swarms of black flies attack us without mercy. At night, I observe the tide coming in. Rain is expected all day tomorrow. We will stay put and explore the protected bay. On our way in we counted 21 skeletons and there are many inlets yet to explore.
GETTING READY Packing for a trip of this magnitude is difficult! Being summer in Kyrgyzstan, and based on reports of the citizen science expedition group before us, it's time to cater to all weathers, including 35 degree temperatures in the day, below zero at night, wet weather and alpine snow storms! Layers, layers, layers... Here's a little video update from London on what my packing looks like right now! I'm leaving for Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, tomorrow where I'll be meeting the rest of the volunteers and our guides. How exciting!
I now have three partial weeks of school under my belt, and the Galapagos and adaptations have been a major theme. The entire 5th grade team agreed to begin our science studies with our Ecosystem unit this year, and we have put the focus on the Galapagos. First we examined where the Galapagos Islands are located and discussed how they were formed. Later in the year, we will be studying land forms, tectonic plates, and volcanoes--and we'll be talking about their formation some more. As we've studied what habitats are, we read about the strange and wonderful habitats of the different Galapagos Islands. With some background on the habitats, I gave the students pictures of saddleback and dome back Galapagos tortoises. They had to pick out the similarities and differences between the tortoises and then hypothesize what could have caused those differences. I then shared "Galapagos George" by Jean Craighead George to learn about them in more detail. My students then conducted a Darwin Finch Beak activity. Each pair of students had five different types of beak - scissors, tweezers, spoon, toothpick, and clothespin. They had to pick up different types of food with the beaks and count how much they could get in 30 seconds. This led to an intense hour of timing, testing, and recording. Not quite at the level of the famous evolutionary biologists, the Grants and the real Darwin finches, but very intense nonetheless. My students are testing how adaptations occur in nature. To top off the lessons of adaptations, our school was evacuated last Monday because of mold. I am now running my classes in the Middle School shop class, among radial arm saws and welding equipment. We are experiencing a lot of personal adaptations as well! This week we will be doing a Google Hangout with Elitza Germanov, a researcher who studies the effects of microplastics on oceanic megafauna. This will introduce my students to some of the dangers that the amazing animals of the Galapagos are facing. Hopefully, this will lead to interesting questions that my students will want answered!
Trip to Manas----------------------------------------------------------------------------------The fieldwork in Umling ended well, and I made a lot of new friends. It is always a great experience talking to people in the field and listening to their stories of fun, adventure, and camaraderie. Then, it was time to focus my fieldwork in the eastern side of the park in the Manas Range where the working environment is no less different than Umling. The Manas range in Royal Manas National Park is perhaps one of the most popular places visited by nature tourists in Bhutan. There are many attractions in the area such as whitewater rafting, eco-camps, and bird watching. The range headquarters is located just next to the mighty Manas river, and a few hundred meters away from the Indo-Bhutan border. You will need to cross the river by a boat to get to it. The range is a treasure trove of biodiversity: it is a hotspot of mammals, birdlife and many other taxa. The nearby forests had once active Indian militant base camps, and movement was restricted. Though it is much calmer now, precautions are still taken while entering these forests and rangers are armed at all times during patrols. Our team decided first to search the further east of the range towards Tanzema in Pema Gatshel district. We spent an entire week looking for tiger poop and had little luck. However, we saw tiger pugmarks which continued to excite us. One of the rangers recollected seeing a tiger sun-basking in the area. Lucky him! To enter some parts of the forest, we had to cross the border into India and even spent a night in Deomari guard post of the Manas National Park in Assam. The Indian forest guards were very kind and gave us room for a night. We cooked and enjoyed good food and liquor. There is a good friendship between the two parks. Royal Manas National Park and Manas National Park often carry out joint patrolling along the border to keep a check on poaching activities and illegal movement of people. The two parks along with few other protected areas in Bhutan form the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area popularly known as TraMCA. Besides the joint patrolling, they collaborate on research surveys and capacity building and is a thriving enterprise to conservation at the landscape level. On the last day of our search to the further east, our vehicle was supposed to pick us up on the Indo-Bhutan border towards the evening. We had walked for almost 6 hours, and the border must have been around 3 hours away. On reaching a place where the phone service was accessible, we called our driver. To our disappointment, some ethnic groups in Assam had called a strike on that day and movement of private vehicles was not allowed. There were even chances that it might prolong for a few more days. We found ourselves in trouble. We were in the forests in a no man’s land; there were dangers from wild animals, insurgents and even from Indian border patrols. We were six, and only three carried ammunition, and we had no ration. We could not risk staying there. We knew about the excellent relationship between the Indian Manas and the Bhutan Manas park. Upon our request, the chief of Royal Manas National Park called the Indian Manas Park Director, and thankfully, he agreed to provide us assistance. We treaded along a river bed for hours in the harsh hot, humid climate, but we remained steady and careful. Finally, after entering India, we saw three tall men by a road carrying guns and standing in front of an old government jeep. The park had sent some of their rangers to escort us to the Bhutan border. We were delighted, and they were super cool. We survived that day. Next, it was time to head west of the range, towards one of the feared areas in the park. The Rangers were hesitant of spending nights in those areas. When they had to go there, they would start early in the morning before the daylit and would come back by nightfall. It was the routine. It was crazy. It was my first time, I was scared, but did I have a choice? No, there were tigers, and I needed to go, and it was just not possible to do it in a day because I had to look for tiger poops, signs and check camera traps. It was going to take more than a day. In the past, there used to be a lot of rangers working in Manas, and they would be at least 15 rangers in one patrol scouring the jungles for surveys and while looking for poachers. But many had gone on transfers and were not replaced. Now, it was difficult to manage even 6 or 7. But life has to go on. They have to follow orders; they pack up their gear, pick up their guns and get ready to go. The first day was incredible. The park provided us with two elephants to help carry our ration to the nearest night halt at Specialthang. Specialthang is a straight two-hour walk from the range headquarters, and just as the name suggests, the place is unique. It is a vast grassland surrounded by forests. It also has a watch tower which was a significant relief. We were at least protected from rain and wind. Our team broke into two: one group was sent directly to the watchtower to set up camp and prepare lunch while I led the other side through a different route to look for tiger signs. It was an arduous journey. We saw wild buffalos along the way, even sighted some beautiful birds and the landscape was marvelous. Only if it was not that hot, I could spend my whole life there, in those wildernesses. Before the hills started rolling, we saw fresh pugmarks of tigers, gaur, and sambhar. We checked the camera traps and then they were there. The ghosts could not escape the remote cameras. It seemed like a tiger was following a herd of gaurs. To our utter dismay, we didn’t find poop in the area or the vicinity. I enjoyed the sunset in Specialthang- it was terrific, and the occasional calling of the peacock made the nights even more magical. While having dinner, the Rangers informed me that there was no use going further west for more than a day-firstly we were fewer people and secondly, they were retrieving the cameras after two weeks, and so they were going to these areas anyway and more importantly, in a bigger team. I didn’t want to push them hard, and they have more field experience in these forests, so I agreed. The next day was early and a long one. Breakfast was ready by dawn; we packed our lunches, and we were moving by 6. After walking for nearly an hour, we reached to our first camera trap of the day and checked the memory card; it had photographed a melanistic leopard, and the animal looked beautiful. We continued to check camera traps along the way, and the species photographed included clouded leopard, Asiatic golden cat, tiger, marbled cat, leopard cat, wild dog, and Asiatic elephant. The diverse assemblage of carnivore species is a result of the presence of a rich abundance of prey such as the gaur, sambhar, barking deer which in turn, is supported by plenty of natural vegetation. The climate is sub-tropical, and there are moist deciduous trees and grasslands around. The weather was humid, and I was glad it didn’t rain. The weather there can be quite unpredictable, particularly during the monsoon. Rivers and landslides appear out of nowhere after a heavy shower of rain. This is one of the reasons why fieldwork is nearly impossible during the rainy season. The Rangers would show me the locations of the abandoned insurgent basecamps on the mountain tops and share their stories about life in the forests with poachers, militants, and wild animals. It was terrifying, but I was inspired by their courage and admired them for doing a great job of protecting the land and wildlife under such circumstances. I felt safe in their hands, and generally, over the course of time, I also started thinking to myself that if I were to die, how would “being afraid” help me? I was beginning to accept impermanence more than ever; the Rangers were already practicing it. I was careful but was ready for the consequences. We walked for almost 6 hours, had our lunches and then decided to return. We collected a few scats on the way; the collection wasn’t that satisfactory, but it was okay. My feet were sore, my mouth was dry, and my body was tired. We made it back to the Manas range headquarters by around 5 in the evening. While I had my supper, the young ranger boys came up to me carrying a volleyball and asked me if I would care for a game of volleyball match. I thought they were either crazy or superhuman. We just had a long walk back to camp. There were also a few other researchers at the field who were attempting to radio-collar tigers in the nearby forest; they had successfully collared one tigress and were trying hard to get few more. The boys had challenged them for a game, and I had to say yes. We loved volleyball, and it was our favorite time pass when we were not working. We played, and the game lasted five sets. I knew that I will not be able to get up the next day but who had seen the next day? It was almost dark by the time the game ended. We won!
Thirty years ago a group of researchers with a variety of skill sets came together to describe an entire Amazonian bird community, which amounted to over 300 bird species on a 100 hectare plot in Manu National Park. This year a new group of scientists will repeat the same methods to evaluate whether this bird community has changed. Manu National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth and is extremely remote. Given the destruction of natural ecosystems all over the world, this is a rare opportunity to study a region with such low levels of human impact, which makes this research all the more exciting. Very few long-term studies of tropical bird communities exist. Are all the species still there? Have some been replaced by similar species? How has the combination of species changed? This study aims to answer all these and other burning questions. Stay tuned!
Diver Profile: Meet Luca Silva! Luca comes to us from Cal Poly, where he braved the even colder waters of Morro Bay in the name of marine science. Following his recent graduation in June, Luca became a dive intern for PISCO and has been spending his summer "seeing the effects of California's MPAs firsthand." In his free time, he's doing the same, learning to spearfish and improving his breath holding skills. Luca is the unofficial top-side photographer, and possesses the unique ability to capture hilariously candid photos of the dive team. No, we will not post them. You may view the less embarrassing photos, however, throughout this page. How has your experience with PISCO been so far? PISCO has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, due to both the beauty of the experiences and the significance of the work we do. For one, diving the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is awe inspiring and probably the best diving I've ever done. But on the other hand, the data we collect helps manage one of the largest marine conservation efforts in the world. Why did you decide to study marine biology? All of my favorite hobbies (surfing, fishing, diving) take place in the ocean and currently these environments are highly threatened by climate change, pollution, overfishing and other human effects. In order for future generations to be able to enjoy the same things that I have enjoyed we must protect our oceans and learning as much as possible about the ocean seems to be the best place to start. How do you think your background has shaped you? Growing up in Southern Baja truly connected me to the ocean. Nearly all of my time was spent in the ocean or near the ocean as young one. Both my parents are avid fisherman and during fishing trips they would often find me playing in the bait tank, which is probably why I like fish and ocean critters so much! If you were a UPC organism, what would it be and why? I would probably be a giant green anemone because I'm giant and green.