Panama Perspectives – Day 68 (03.10.14) Part 1

It’s been quite a while since my tropical update and now we are really getting down to the end of this incredible, albeit soggy, adventure. In my defense, the past 20 days or so have been some of the busiest of my life, what with beginning my official Panamanian TA-ship and leap-frogging around this amazing country.

So, in celebration of our blessed return to electricity and flushing toilets, I’ll make my last Perspectives post a double-header: bye-bye Bocas, bienvenido Boquete/Coiba.

Leaving Bocas… somehow, without my noticing, this weird little waterlogged town snuck up and stolen a piece of my heart. I never thought saying goodbye to STRI – and the eccentric community that surrounds it – would be so bittersweet but it really feels like we are leaving home. Anyway, our last two weeks in the Caribbean were mostly spent on two classes: Ocean & Coastal Processes and Coral Reef Ecology.

Ocean & Coastal Processes (OCP), led by Northeastern’s own intrepid Mark Patterson, was all about the fluid mechanics and mass transfer of small-scale processes in and around coral reefs. We did a few labs in this class that had the students fully immersed in the field (aka diving). You know what they say: a bad day diving is better than a good day doing anything else.

Lauren Josephs squirts fluorescein dye into the water column. By measuring the dye dispersal over a time-lapse video you can get an idea of water turbulence around coral reefs.
Lauren Josephs squirts fluorescein dye into the water column. By measuring the dye dispersal over a time-lapse video you can get an idea of water turbulence around coral reefs.

We also measured sponge pumping. By injecting dye into the base of a sponge you can measure flow within the basin as the dye emerges from the sponge’s many pores.

We used the dye for a few other activities as well… We clearly don’t have any fun here.

Other OCP labs included sediment tracking where we unceremoniously dumped sand on top of some corals to see what they would do. Turns out they are pretty efficient at ridding themselves of external crap, which is good news in case a storm or a 3 Seas group rolls through.

Right: Sand covering a head of Siderastrea siderea. Each point is a different grain of sand. (credit: Janine Ledet & Kali Horn) Left: sediment infiltrating the polyps of a Montastrea cavernosa. The arrows show the movement of one grain of sand, proving that corals can direct the movement of foreign substances. (credit: Andrea Burton & Joelle Kilchenmann)
Right: Sand covering a head of Siderastrea siderea. Each point is a different grain of sand. (credit: Janine Ledet & Kali Horn) Left: sediment infiltrating the polyps of a Montastrea cavernosa. The arrows show the movement of one grain of sand, proving that corals can direct the movement of foreign substances. (credit: Andrea Burton & Joelle Kilchenmann)

The last OCP lab looked at little cuties known as zooplankton, itty-bitty drifter animals that inhabit almost every marine ecosystem.

Boo!!
Boo!!

We collected samples from different spots on the reef and measured the species composition back in the lab.

Ode to a microscopic world. (photo credit: Joelle Kilchenmann, Hollis Jones & Janine Ledet)
Ode to a microscopic world. (photo credit: Joelle Kilchenmann, Hollis Jones & Janine Ledet)

Coral Reef Ecology (CRE) with Bill Precht followed right on the heels of OCP. This class was all about looking at the reef as a whole. Up until this class we focused on specific parts of a reef community: coral, fishes, etc. CRE was a great class to end with because it tied all of these players together into a bigger picture of tropical ecosystems.

We also went fossil hunting. The only things better than live coral are 8000 year-old coral skeletons.

Top: Hollis Jones inspects a coral skeleton. That muddy rock has been around for longer than human civilization. Bottom: Bill talks about the history of Bocas reefs and explains how we can use coral fossils to tell us about the natural world of the past. (photo credit: Janine Ledet)
Top: Hollis Jones inspects a coral skeleton. That muddy rock has been around for longer than human civilization. Bottom: Bill talks about the history of Bocas reefs and explains how we can use coral fossils to tell us about the natural world of the past. (photo credit: Janine Ledet)

The very last class in Bocas took us out of the ocean (*gasp*) and put us into closed-toed shoes. For a few days we explored the terrestrial side of tropical ecosystems. If the organism lives above the tidal zone, our professor, Dan Bisaccio, knows about it. Even though I love diving, it was a fun change to go traipsing through the forest.

Welcome to the bat cave. Spooky.
Welcome to the bat cave. Spooky.

And no terrestrial class would be complete without frogs and snakes aplenty.

Putting your face near poisonous animals is a staple of the 3 Seas immersive experience.
Putting your face near poisonous animals is a staple of the 3 Seas immersive experience.

You can watch part of the TTE experience here:

But even though we love our land-dwelling brothers and sisters we will always find a way back to the water.

Don’t mind us, just destroying some echinoderm innocence.
Don’t mind us, just abusing some echinoderms.

TTE spans two locations: Bocas del Toro and Boquete. So, with heavy hearts we packed away our wetsuits for a few days in the mountains.

Hasta luego Bocas. Until next year…

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