Things are going great as a REEF intern. One of REEF’s current major projects is the study, removal, and public education of the invasive Lionfish. Part of studying invasive lionfish involves various projects such as the impacts of the lionfish derbies and the traveling tendencies of lionfish. One current lionfish project aims to see if lionfish prefer one type of structure over another (Vertical vs. Horizontal). As interns, we are given the opportunity to assist in the project, diving to conduct surveys and collect data. However, the project is not set in Key Largo. In fact, it is not even setup in the United States. The site of the project is in the Sea of Abaco, between Great Abaco and Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas.
The journey began early one Tuesday, as we drove from Key Largo to Fort Lauderdale. Once there, we took a quick, 1 hour flight over the Great Abaco Island. Once we landed, we transferred to a van and proceeded North. The final leg of the journey involved taking a ferry ride to Green Turtle Cay (pronounced ˈkeɪ/). The first day was mostly travel, some grocery shopping, as well as preparing all arrangements for the next day, such as tanks, weight, boat etc.
On day two, we began work bright and early. We loaded up and headed out to our study sites. For the first 2 or 3 sites, we observed and learned how to lay a transect, inspect the structure, and perform the surveys. We also collected equipment that was being used to monitor select sites. Throughout the day, our survey technique improved. Throughout the day we kept our dive gear on: Reach the site, splash in, conduct the survey, and return to the boat to move on the next site. Dives lasted 5-7 minutes and our max depth was 15 ft. We were tested physically, as we did a succession of multiple quick dives that required entering and exiting the boat in full gear, and mentally, as we faced many heavy rain storms that reduced visibility. Day three was more forgiving as we had clear sunny skies and better visibility. In total, we did 37 dives over the course of 2 days.
Day four was a bit of a day off. Instead of conducting research, we took time to take the boat out and snorkel various areas. We also had the opportunity to learn how to spear lionfish. Since harvesting any marine animal in the Bahamas on open circuit is illegal, we had to free dive and spear. It was quite the adrenaline rush. You circle the surface, like a shark, waiting to spot the colorful pattern of a lionfish. As soon as you do, you take a series of big drawn out breaths, slowing your heart rate down. You dive down, slowly approaching the unsuspecting invader, aiming the pole spear right behind the gills at a perpendicular angle to the fish. With the shot lined up, you release the spear.
As luck would have it, during our stay in Green Turtle Cay, the 8th annual Abaco Lionfish derby was taking place. The Abaco derby was the first Lionfish Derby back in 2008, and it is still going strong with great participation and results. The derby also gave us a chance to conduct surveys pre and post derby, to see how effective the event was in reducing the Lionfish population in the area.
After 5 days, it was time to head home to analyze the data. While short, the opportunity to help with research was quite the memorable experience. Even though it proved challenging, I loved every minute of it. It may be a hard life some times, but I would not want to be doing anything else. Until next time!