One of my advisors during my graduate school days was Dr. Ken Cullings, who currently works for NASA as an ecologist. He also remains a good friend. When he heard about my trip to Belize to look into the effect of climate change on the reef there with the help of citizen-scientists, he quickly offered some help. My job, other than being a divemaster to our group and overall cheerleader for them (many of them inexperienced divers and the majority of them new to underwater science), was to collect three samples from three separate sites for DNA barcoding to identify microbes present.
While there has been a great deal of work done on corals, very little research has been done on how bio-geochemical processes may be affected by climate change, if at all.
Ken isn’t necessarily expecting ground shattering results, but what results are culled (yes Dr. Cullings, pun intended!) could provide a framework for further study in this area.
Adam Iversen, a recently graduated engineering student, offered to help me after I described the project at an early group meeting.
Much of what is done is scientific diving is easy. Lay down a transect line, place a quadrat, count fish, gather some sediment samples. Yet what I remembered when Adam accompanied me on my collection dive at Calabash Caye is that simple things can become complex in a weightless environment. Vinyl tapes sway in surges, quadrats won’t stay put, Falcon tubes can float away. Scientific diving requires that a diver is very comfortable in the water, has good buoyancy skills, and can multitask without feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, diving in 82°F water is inherently low-stress, which made the tasks that much easier to complete for the new research divers. And so our only mishap was that one Falcon tube floated away. By the time of our last sampling, pictured above, Adam and I operated as a smoothly functioning machine. And we had a ton of fun too!
Underwater images courtesy Kiera Ryon.