Welcome to Paradise

And so starts the beginning of my field season. The period between March-September is generally where I see as little as possible of the UK and globetrot collecting data.

On this particular occasion I’m off to my field site in Indonesia for the 4th time to not only collect some of my own data, but also to assist on an undergraduate field course at the university of Essex as both a teaching assistant and divemaster. I’ve also been upgraded to a lecturer on the Masters field course teaching over 12 hours of lectures on; coral photochemistry; coral reef cycling; marginal systems, threats to reefs and climate change.

This trip is much shorter than my other expeditions around 18 days on site in total with 6 days of traveling. However I will gain some valuable data that I was not able to collect the previous system and work through some samples that we failed to get exported, vital to my current paper and for my presentation I’ll be giving in Cairns, Australia at ICRS 2012 this summer.

After a long journey broken only by a short hotel stop for a couple hours kip and a shower we arrived on Hoga with a group of very tired, dehydrated and overheating students. Hoga has this effect on people; the harrowing journey is made worse by jetlag and heat-stress. It takes almost a week to fully acclimate to tropical temperatures and is not the kind of thing that is made easy by having to sit through several hours of safety lectures the moment we step on site. The process was made even more stressful due to a possible case of decompression sickness suffered by a student already on the island the previous day. Once people start to dive they feel at ease at relax more, however they also let down their guard and tend to forget that diving as a dangerous sport. You need to be healthy both above and below water to ensure you do not increase your pre-disposure to serious health risks. All that being said luckily the student was fine, this was aided by the fact that a new decompression chamber had recently been opened on the next island making it quick and easy to administer treatment and begin recompression.

So after a stressful start it was straight to it with the masters students. The masters course is quite intensive in the first week, hitting it hard with the lectures. Students then split off in to smaller project groups and designed short term projects to be completed in 6 days. The undergrads get a slightly easier time but do have several more pieces of work to complete whilst on the field course than the masters including a intense ID test where students must memorize the Latin names of around 200 species of coral reef fishes, algae’s, and invertebrates.

There were no real issues on the field trip just a few cases on sunburn, a few stitches and a pinch of barotrauma, the usual really.

My research also went very well. I had developed a methodology for the lab for analyzing the skeletal ultra-structure of coral skeletons. This involves melting paraffin wax to certain temperatures and weighing the skeletons before and after several coats of wax, above and below water to calculate skeletal porosity, density of aragonite and density of skeletal matter. The methodology was adapted for the field and went very smoothly highlighting the potential to use it on future field expeditions and removing the need to export coral skeleton to the UK for analysis.

So students went well, data collection went well and even more importantly photography went well. I have just upgraded my underwater equipment and purchased a new Canon G12 camera and housing. I have seen incredible results from this camera and it is basically a transition from SLR to compact retaining most manual features. I was also lucky enough to be lent a nifty mini Fuji strobe from the owner of Essex School of Diving, John Louch (thanks John). This set up along with Canons counter weights allowed me to get some incredible shots all of which can be viewed on my Flickr page here, Enjoy

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