Thirteen students defend thesis research in 2019!

By June Shrestha, MLML Ichthyology Lab

I'm happy to share that we've had a total of 13 students students defend their theses in 2019! Please join me in congratulating the students, and read below to learn a little more about their research.

  • Steven Cunningham, Phycology
  • Amanda Heidt, Invertebrate Zoology
  • Sharon Hsu, Vertebrate Ecology
  • Brijonnay Madrigal, Vertebrate Ecology
  • Cynthia Michaud, Physical Oceanography
  • Elizabeth Ramsay, Phycology
  • Katie Harrington, Vertebrate Ecology
  • Jessica Jang, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Melissa Nehmens, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Stephen Pang, Ichthyology Lab
  • Patrick Daniel, Physical Oceanography
  • Heather Barrett, Vertebrate Ecology
  • Sierra Helmann, Biological Oceanography

Read More

Twelve students defend theses in 2018!

By June Shrestha, MLML Ichthyology Lab

Congratulations to the twelve students that successfully defended their theses in 2018!

  • Laurel Lam, Ichthyology
  • Alex Olson, Chemical Oceanography
  • Holly Chiswell, Chemical Oceanography
  • Cody Dawson, Phycology
  • Evan Mattiasen, Ichthyology
  • Tyler Barnes, Geological Oceanography
  • Catarina Pien, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Natalie Yingling, Biological Oceanography
  • Drew Burrier, Physical Oceanography
  • Jen Chiu, Fisheries and Conservation Biology
  • Anne Tagini, Fisheries and Conservation Biology
  • Suzanne Christensen, Phycology

Read More

MLML students present research at Western Society of Naturalists 2018 meeting

By June Shrestha, MLML Ichthyology Lab

Congratulations to the eight students that presented results of independent research at the annual Western Society of Naturalists (WSN) meeting in Tacoma, WA this November 8-11, 2018!

WSN is a scientific society with a strong focus on ecology, evolution, natural history, and marine biology. Beloved by scientists primarily from Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, and Mexico, the annual conference provides a supportive environment for graduate students to present their research each year.

WSN logo 2018

This year's student presenters from MLML included:

  • Jacoby Baker* (Ichthyology Lab)
  • June Shrestha (Ichthyology Lab)
  • Kristin Saksa (Ichthyology Lab)
  • Melissa Palmisciano (Ichthyology Lab)
  • Katie Cieri (Fisheries and Conservation Biology Lab)
  • Taylor Eddy (Invertebrate Zoology)
  • Rachel Brooks (Ichthyology Lab)
  • Lauren Parker (Ichthyology Lab)

*A very special congratulations to Jacoby Baker for winning the highly-competitive Best Student Presentation Award in Organismal/Population Biology!

Please continue below to read more about everyone's research.

WSN_1
MLML students representing at WSN with fearless leader & advisor Dr. Scott Hamilton

Read More

Tales from the Field: Rhodolith Ecology on Santa Catalina Island

By June ShresthaIchthyology Lab

I recently returned from a field expedition to assist PIs Dr. Diana Steller (MLML) and Dr. Matt Edwards (SDSU) research rhodolith beds on Catalina!

What are rhodoliths, you may ask? 

Rhodoliths exist around the world, yet not much is known about them. They are a calcareous red alga that provides relief and habitat in otherwise sandy soft-bottom stretches of the nearshore coastal environment, supporting invert and fish communities.
They have been a hot topic in recent years due to implications of ocean acidification on their structure, as well as the fact that they exist in areas with lots of boat traffic and moorings. Interestingly, they are not usually included in habitat characterizations or taken into consideration during MPA designations (which maybe they should!).
DIGITAL CAMERA
A rare rhodolith bed, found at only 6 bays/coves in Catalina. (photo: S. Gabara)

Collaboration in Action

The recent research trip was truly a collaborative effort between multiple institutions. Our team was composed of great minds and divers from MLML, SDSU, and even Kunsan National University in South Korea. The research team also featured the one-and-only Scott Gabara, previous grad student at MLML, who is now continuing his research on rhodoliths at SDSU in the Edwards Lab for his PhD (check out his previous Drop-In post about rhodoliths here!)

Further Reading

SDSU Graduate Student, Pike Spector, recently wrote a couple of fantastic blog posts about our work from this trip. I encourage you to check them out for more great pictures and descriptions!

di-scotty-survey_orig
Dr. Diana Steller (red BCD) and Scott Gabara survey the rhodolith bed community along a transect.

Adventures in Mexico!

By June Shrestha and Laurel Lam

Every two years, students and faculty of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories embark on a field studies course in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The field course is intended to give students the opportunity to lead independent field-based research projects in a new environment while promoting international exchange and collaboration. The 2018 class recently returned from Isla Natividad, located off of Point Eugenia on the Pacific coast, with many stories to share! Linked below are the blogs that each student wrote highlighting their experiences in Mexico.


1) Island Life on Isla Natividad

By Jackie Mohay, Fisheries and Conservation Biology Lab

"Imagine; you live in a small community on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean where a hardworking life is simple and fulfilling. One day you are told that a group of 20 will be travelling to your island to study it, using your resources and living amongst you for over a week. The people of Isla Natividad welcomed us with more than just open arms"  Read more...

2) And for something completely different... A healthy southern kelp forest

By Ann Bishop, Phycology Lab

"Like their terrestrial counter parts, kelp forests reflect the impacts of the human communities who rely on them. Isla Natividad looks the way it does today because of the careful management practices and intense love the people have for their island. The willingness of the co-operative to learn, flexibility to adapt, coupled, with their ability to exclude poachers has resulted in the rich underwater world we were permitted to visit."  Read more...

3) The Journey to Isla Natividad

By Vivian Ton, Ichthyology Lab

"Diving on Isla Natividad was an amazing experience. There were many habitat types such as rock reef, sandy bottom, surf grass beds, sea palm and kelp forests. There was kelp everywhere, the most they’ve had in the past 10 years. Along with the kelp, there were also so many fishes (especially kelp bass) to be seen and quite a few of them were massive in size."  Read more...

4) Catching Lizards... For Science!

By Helaina Lindsey, Ichthyology Lab

"Every inch of the island was covered in my chosen study species: Uta stansburiana, the side-blotched lizard. At first glance these lizards are unremarkable; they are small and brown, infesting every home in town and scattering like cockroaches when disturbed. However, if you’re able to get your hands on one, you’ll see there’s more to them than meets the eye. They are adorable, managing to look both impish and prehistoric, and have a brilliantly colored throat. They are heliotherms, meaning that they rely on the sun to maintain their body temperature. I aim to explore the nature of their behavioral thermoregulation, but first I need to catch them." Read more...

5) Life Was Simpler on Isla Natividad

By Katie Cieri, Fisheries and Conservation Biology Lab

"The simplicity of life that results from a unique combination of isolation and intense focus is one of the utter joys of field work. I had toyed with such bliss before... but my elation in Baja California Sur dwarfed that of previous excursions. Perhaps I have matured as a naturalist, or perhaps, as I suspect, Baja is a truly transcendent place."  Read more...

6) What does a Sheephead eat?

By Rachel Brooks, Ichthyology Lab

"For my project, I was interested in exploring the variability in diet of California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) across the island. Once we were suited up, our dive guide Ivan, dive buddy Laurel and I flipped over the side and began our descent through the lush kelp canopy towards the bottom. It took only a matter of seconds before I saw my first Sheephead swim by. Eager to get my first fish, I loaded my speargun and zoned in with little success. It took what seemed like an eternity (20 minutes) before I got my first fish, but when I did, I was overflowing with excitement."  Read more...

7) Best-made Plans vs. the Reality of Adjusting to Field Conditions

By Hali Rederer, California State University Sacramento

"My fellow students and I were immersed in rich practical “hands on” experiences integrating scientific field methods with experimental design.  This course was comprehensive and the pace was fast. Designing and carrying out a tide pool fish study, in a very short time frame, in a place I had never been, presented challenges requiring flexibility and creative approaches."  Read more...

8) Vivan Los Aves!

By Nikki Inglis, CSU Monterey Bay - Applied Marine & Watershed Science

"It wasn’t until the last star came out on moonless night that we heard it. At first, it sounded like the incessant wind whipping around the wooden cabin walls. We heard wings gliding in from the Pacific Ocean and a welling up of some invisible kind of energy. Within minutes, the sound was everywhere. The hills teemed, wings flapped frantically around us. We couldn’t see any of it, but the soundscape was three-dimensional, painting a picture of tens of thousands of birds reveling in their moonless refuge. Isla Natividad’s black-vented shearwater colony had come to life."  Read more...

9) Recollections from a Baja Field Notebook

By Sloane Lofy, Phycology Lab

[Written from the point of view of her field notebook] "Hello! I would like to introduce myself; I am the field notebook of Sloane Lofy... As a requirement for the course each student must keep a field notebook so that thoughts, ideas, and notes from the field can be used in their research papers later. To give you a feel for what the trip to Baja was like from leaving the parking lot to coming home I will share with you some of her entries."  Read more...

10) From Scientist to Local

By Jacoby Baker, Ichthyology Lab

"Every day we worked with locals, spending hours with them in the pangas, learning the areas where we were diving and what species we may find. Our relationships quickly morphed from strangers, to colleagues, and finally to friends as we shared our dives and helped each other with our projects. The diving was fantastic, but the chance to be taken in by the town and being accepted so fully into their culture was an experience that you can’t find just anywhere."  Read more...

11) Snails and Goat Tacos: The Flavors of Baja

By Dan Gossard, Phycology Lab

"Science is not typically described as "easy". This trip to a beautiful, remote, desert island wasn't the easy-going vacation-esque experience one may have expected. Hard work was paramount to collect as much data as possible in a relatively short amount of time. Conducting science at Isla Natividad was a privilege that I greatly appreciated and I hope to return there one day to follow up on my research."  Read more... 

12) 600 Miles South of the Border

By Lauren Parker, Ichthyology Lab

"If there is one thing I have learned from traveling, it’s that nothing turns out exactly the way you plan it. Tires crack, caravans split up, radios fail, water jugs leak, and you realize that coffee for 20 people cannot be made quickly enough to satisfy the demand. However, beautiful things happen just as often as the unfortunate. Friendships form and others strengthen; new skills are discovered and developed. A flowering cactus forest turns out to be one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. The wind slows and the sun comes out."  Read more...

 


Eager to reminisce about previous trips to Baja?? Check out our previous posts:

 

Adventures in Mexico 2018: Catching Lizards… For Science!

By Helaina Lindsey, Ichthyology Lab

I left Isla Natividad with six blisters on my feet, two ways to say “lizard” in Spanish, and thermal ecology data for thirty-seven impossibly fast reptiles.

Every inch of the island was covered in my chosen study species: Uta stansburiana, the side-blotched lizard. At first glance these lizards are unremarkable; they are small and brown, infesting every home in town and scattering like cockroaches when disturbed. However, if you’re able to get your hands on one, you’ll see there’s more to them than meets the eye. They are adorable, managing to look both impish and prehistoric, and have a brilliantly colored throat. They are heliotherms, meaning that they rely on the sun to maintain their body temperature. I aim to explore the nature of their behavioral thermoregulation, but first I need to catch them.

HL_1
A more colorful example of Uta stansburiana, showing off his characteristic side blotch.

It is 9:00 AM, and I have already been awake for three hours. One of the many secrets to catching lizards is to wake up before they do. Like most people, they are sluggish and slow in the morning, and thus much easier to catch. I stalk around the edges of a dilapidated palapa that sits on the beach in front of our cabins. My lizard-catching partner, Mason Cole, circles around to the other side of the board that I am eying. We each crouch next to one end of the board, taking a moment to make sure that our lizard nooses are ready to go. The nooses in question are crudely constructed metal poles with a loop at the end to tie a slip knot of dental floss that can be slipped over the lizard’s head. We lift up one end of the board and I duck my head underneath it, scanning for movement. I see a small brown flash dart across the sand, and I yell “Lagartija!” We stick our nooses under the board, angling to trap the little guy between the two of us. He puts up a fight, fleeing under another board, then back to the original. Eventually I get my dental floss loop around his neck and jerk up, and the hunt is over. I gently take the loop off the lizard’s neck and flip him over, examining his underside. We record his sex and throat color, then I take the temperature of the lizard and the sand under the board with an infrared temperature gun. Before I take a picture of him, I pull out a tiny bottle of white-out and paint a “23” on his back, marking him as my 23rd lizard caught on the trip so far. I snap a few photos, then place him in the small cooler that is draped around my shoulder. The cooler is filled with the other lizards I have caught today, looking like a team of football players in numbered jerseys.

HL_2
The result of a hard morning’s work: a cooler full of lizards

When we have caught enough lizards, we begin the familiar trek up to the research house where I have been running my experiments. I immediately get to work, setting up my row of wooden tracks with heat lamps at one end. As the tracks heat up, I measure and weigh the lizards before placing them back in the cooler, now with a frozen water bottle to cool them down a little. For my experiment, I am looking at how quickly the lizards heat up and how their behavior affects their body temperature, so I want them all to start at a similar body temperature. I place a lizard in the middle of each track, then cover the track with a sheet of mesh. Because of the heat lamps at one end, each lizard has a temperature gradient ranging from 25o C to 45o C, allowing them to move up and down the track to control their body temperature. After allowing them to acclimate for 5 minutes, I begin taking their temperature every 2 minutes for an hour while also taking note of their behavioral changes.

HL_3
Taking the temperature of the lizards using an infrared temperature gun.

The last step, of course, is to release them back into the wild, confused but otherwise unharmed. With this data I hope to quantify how the lizards on this island thermoregulate, compare them to other populations of Uta stansburiana, and hypothesize how they may react to climate change and rising global temperatures.

Adventures in Mexico 2018: The journey to Isla Natividad

By Vivian Ton, MLML Ichthyology Lab

It was thanks to the Baja class offered at MLML that I got the chance to travel to Isla Natividad. Isla Natividad is a beautiful place full of life, despite being a small island right off the point of the Baja California Sur peninsula. The people there made you feel welcomed and part of a family. It felt like a mini vacation rather than work as time slows down there as you sit in front of your cabin that is facing the beach and watching the dolphins swim by.

VT_1
My cozy cabin for the week on Isla Natividad.

The Journey

While there are many ways to go down in Mexico and get to Isla Natividad, preparations must be made beforehand. It took months of planning and working out the logistics. Everyone had a role and a research project to conduct while on the island.

We left early from Moss Landing, stopping in San Diego for the night. From there it was a scenic route to Ensenada. Ensenada was a bustling city and it was there where we met Andrea and Jeremie, fellow graduate students from Mexico who’ve joined our trip. Jeremie showed us his favorite place for fish tacos and they were delicious!

VT_2

 

Once we’ve had our fill we left for Cataviña, a desert valley full of endemic succulents and cacti.
VT_3

VT_4
Some plants during the trip. Boojum, lupin, busera (top); Boojum(closeup), unknown plant, cardon (middle); Poppy, octotillo, ocotillo flowers (bottom)

The trip there was quicker this time around passing into Baja California Sur by the afternoon. We were rushing a bit since conditions for the ferry weren’t looking good and would only going to get worse later that day. However, the fishermen from Isla Natividad managed to pick us up in the end. It was a little scary going full speed through the waves and there were times where I was lifted off my seat and my feet wasn’t touching the boat, but our driver was skilled and got us to the island safely.

Island Life and Research

Once we were onto the island, everything seemed to have calmed down, literally. The wind wasn’t blowing and the sun was out and shining. Our guide, Mayte, the head of ecotourism on the island gave us a tour of the island. The views were breathtaking and I love how everyone knew one another and chatted as we walked by.

Over the next week and a half, those of us with projects in the water dove practically every day. Diving there was an amazing experience. There were many habitat types such as rock reef, sandy bottom, surf grass beds, sea palm and kelp forests. There was kelp everywhere, the most they’ve had in the past 10 years. Along with the kelp, there were also so many fishes (especially kelp bass) to be seen and quite a few of them were massive in size. The Sheephead there were the largest I have ever seen. I was also lucky enough to see a couple rare and tropical fishes such as the longnose puffer.

My project was to compare total fish abundance and communities inside and outside of the MPA (marine protected area). Isla Natividad is special in that it has two MPA under its jurisdiction. These MPAs were created recently in 2006 and was set place by the people living there. The people of Isla Natividad are mainly fishermen where invertebrates are their main source of income such as abalone, lobster, octopus, wavy turban snails, and sea cucumber. Although there are fin fisheries around to a smaller extent, finfishes are mainly caught for subsistence. While Isla Natividad fishermen have exclusive rights to fish for invertebrates within Island waters, anyone can catch the fishes as long as they have a permit. MPAs are important in protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem within it. Some benefits for implementing MPAs include higher ecosystem resilience against storms, creating essential networks and refuge for fishes and invertebrates, and increasing total abundance and biodiversity of kelp forest organisms,  causing a spillover effect for fishermen.

Anyone with a diving certification should dive there at least once, you won’t be disappointed. By the end of our stay it felt like we have been living there for months as we got used to the island life and I was sad to go when it was time to leave. I had a lot of fun at Isla Natividad and would like to thank the people of Isla Natividad for helping and lending out their facilities to us during our time there. I hope to visit them again in the future!

Adventures in Mexico 2018: What does a Sheephead eat?

By Rachel Brooks, Ichthyology Lab

The sun was beaming down during our 15 minute commute to our designated “dive locker” near the abalone farm. I was on my way to get geared up for our first dive day at Isla Natividad. As I walked, a mixture of emotions ran through my head. I was excited to get in the water and explore the luscious kelp forests surrounding the island but I was nervous as well.

rb_3.jpg
California Sheephead

For my project, I was interested in exploring the variability in diet of California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) across the island. To do this, I would be spearing Sheephead with a goal of collecting 20-30 individuals among three distinct areas for a total 60-90 fish. Being a virgin spearfisher (wo)man, my biggest worry was not being able to get one Sheephead, let alone 60+ across the seven days of diving…
As we began unloading gear off the truck and into the boat, I had the opportunity to meet our diving guide (Ivan) and boat captain (Jesus), who would be with us for the remainder of our diving expeditions. Our first dive site of the day was at Punta Prieta, one of the two Marine Reserves surrounding the Island. After a couple failed attempts to enter the water, we finally found a site where the current backed off and within minutes our team was in the water. Our first dive was strictly exploratory; we practiced our skills, got a lay of the land, and determined whether or not there was a need to tweak our projects before our next dive.

For our second dive, we ventured over to La Guanera, a non-reserve fishing site. This was the site where I would begin to collect my Sheephead samples. Before we hopped in the water, my dive buddy, Laurel, and I got a quick run-through (again) on how to use our speargun and sling. Ivan, who was either (1) interested in my project or (2) cognizant of our spearfishing experience (or rather lack thereof), was adamant on diving with us. Once we were suited up, Ivan, Laurel and I flipped over the side and began our descent through the lush kelp canopy towards the bottom.

It took only a matter of seconds before I saw my first Sheephead swim by. Eager to get my first fish, I loaded my speargun and zoned in with little success. This was the general theme for most of the dive: load, point, shoot, miss, and try again. It took what seemed like an eternity (20 minutes) before I got my first fish, but when I did, I was overflowing with excitement. Throughout my time on the island, I was able to hone in on my spearfishing skills progressing from collecting 5 fish a day to 20-40 fish a day.

rb_2.jpg
Rachel Brooks diving for Sheephead.

Overall, I was able to collect a total of 80 fish for my project. I am truly grateful towards the people of Isla Natividad; not only were they eager to share their resources and knowledge for our projects, but they accepted a group of 20 gringos with open arms and made us feel like family. So, to the people of Isla Natividad, thank you and I can’t wait to see you again!

RB_1
Graduate student Rachel Brooks with Sheephead for research project.

Adventures in Mexico 2018: 600 Miles South of the Border

By Lauren Parker, Ichthyology Lab

I can hear the waves crashing on the shore somewhere nearby and the bristle of polyester as someone shuffles in their sleeping bag. It’s not enough to make me open my eyes to check the time; I’m hoping its early enough for me to let the sounds of the ocean breaking on the sand lull me back to sleep. Then someone’s alarm goes off; someone else unzips a mummy bag. I open one eye, then the other. I resign to untangling myself from my sleeping bag and crawling towards the ladder that will let me down from the topmost bunk. I hit my head on the ceiling because it’s about a foot above my face where I sleep. Someone has started water boiling for coffee on the camp stove to keep the caffeine vultures at bay for the time being.LP_1

LP_3

Island life is quiet, aside from the gulls and the waves. The town is nestled at the south end of the island where it is more or less protected from the prevailing northwest winds. It is characterized by colorful houses and even more colorful people. Everyone here has been more than willing to share food and drink with us, open their homes to us, and pick us up in the back of pickup trucks as we hike a mile from our cabins into town. Our boat captains and dive masters are indispensible aids as we adapt our class projects to the rotating dive teams and changing ocean conditions.

LP_2

Our first dive was rough. Strong winds resulted in rough seas and a boat full of vomiting scientists. What is more, we jumped in the water and our carefully planned dive fell to pieces. Currents were strong, visibility was poor, and everyone was a little rusty. I surfaced from that dive thinking we all seriously needed to re-think what we were doing here. However, after spending a much-needed surface interval in the sun, we followed the recommendation of our crew and jumped back in the water somewhere nearby. I rolled backwards off the boat and into an aquarium. The kelp reached 50 feet from sand to surface in thick vertical pillars. Sheephead weaved in and out of the underwater forest and Kelp Bass stared at us from the darkness between the columns as we descended. Sunlight shown through the kelp fronds creating beams of yellow in all the green. It was beautiful, and completely unexpected.

LP5

We spent two weeks systematically planning, failing, and re-making our plans. If there is one thing I have learned from traveling, it’s that nothing turns out exactly the way you plan it. Tires crack, caravans split up, radios fail, water jugs leak, and you realize that coffee for 20 people cannot be made quickly enough to satisfy the demand. However, beautiful things happen just as often as the unfortunate. Friendships form and others strengthen; new skills are discovered and developed. A flowering cactus forest turns out to be one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. The wind slows and the sun comes out. We stared with open mouths as the desert changed around us: from city to farmland to high desert to salt flats. We sped along cliffs dodging semi-trucks and stray cows, ate fresh fish tacos and slept among the boojum trees.

LP7

I hope other students took away from this expedition as much as I did. But for now, I will focus on lessons I have learned. Always talk to people and make as many new friends as you can. Each person is unique and can be learned from. If you do not speak the language, make an effort learn it. A word or two, even. Take advantage of every opportunity: go yellowtail fishing after no sleep, eat snails straight out of the ocean, stay an extra night in a foreign city, take a shower in the freezing ocean. You may never be here again. Lose your expectations. More importantly, if you have expectations, be OK with it when they are not met. It is my experience that, usually, things will work out.

LP8

LP6

Adventures in Mexico 2018: From Scientist to Local

 By Jacoby Baker, Ichthyology Lab

JB_1
Boat crossing to Isla Natividad.

After three long days of riding in a car through the desert the glint of sunlight on water was finally on the horizon. The energy in the van shot up as everyone shouted in excitement, eager to get out and stretch their legs. When the caravan finally pulled into Punta Eugenia we unpacked, made camp, and hoped that the wind would settle down enough that we could cross over to Isla Natividad the next day.

In the morning many, if not all of us, were skeptical on the conditions and thought it might be better to wait another day for the winds to slacken, however, we had put our faith in the locals, who knew the area better than any of us ever could.  The boat captains seemed to laugh at us as our faces showed our apprehension to get into open water, and soon enough our apprehension calmed as we saw how masterfully he navigated the waves and we began chatting about the local waters and were amazed by the environment around us.

After we arrived on the island we met with the local fishing cooperative, and proposed our field projects to them to gain permission to dive and collect samples  in their waters. The whole process was a little nerve wracking as our projects hinged on their decision to allow us to enact our research. Our  “translators” (a pair of students from La Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) in Ensenada, Jeremie Bauer and Andrea Paz) helped to relay our proposals to the locals. As each of us gained permission relief set in and we began planning our next steps. After the meeting we dove right into working on our projects, with help from the locals. The days seemed to fly by as we rose with the sun and went to bed well past dark.

It is easy to get caught up in the research and logistics while out in the field, constantly reminding yourself to not forget your data sheets, quizzing yourself on your field methods, and strategizing on what site would be best to sample next. Granted, the larger scope of the class is to learn, develop, and enact methods while in the field and learn how to adapt to situations as they arise. Something that pairs right alongside with that is navigating a new environment with locals who may, or may not, even speak the same language as you and is an experience that ordinary classes cannot prepare you for.

JB_2
Students (Jacoby Baker, Lauren Parker, and Ann Bishop) with Divemaster Jhonny and Captain Rafael.

Every day we worked with locals, spending hours with them in the pangas, learning the areas where we were diving and what species we may find. Our relationships quickly morphed from strangers, to colleagues, and finally to friends as we shared our dives and helped each other with our projects. While on Isla Natividad, the cultural festivities of Semana Santa occurred and we were all invited to join the town on the beach to celebrate, share food, music, and company. As soon as we arrived on the beach we were ushered off to every tent and introduced to the families of our hosts and everyone offered us food and invited us to stay, eat, and visit, their generosity towards us was astounding. As the night progressed barriers broke and conversations blossomed all around the tent and fire. Even though most of us spoke very little Spanish (or some none at all) and they spoke very little English, stories were being told. This had to be one of my favorite moments on the island, sure, the diving was fantastic, but the chance to be taken in by the town and being accepted so fully into their culture was an experience that you can’t find just anywhere.

Seemingly just as quickly as we arrived our time on Isla Natividad drew to a close and we began cleaning up our camp and preparing to leave the island. On our last night on the island we invited those on the island who we worked closely with to dinner as a thank you and goodbye. The small restaurant was packed with good people, food, and conversation. And the tension of being in a new environment that we all felt the week before was no longer present as we all felt like we were now part of the community. It was with a heavy heart that we left the next morning, however, we did so knowing that we would be welcomed back any time and knew that we had found a second home on Isla Natividad.

JB_3
Town on Isla Natividad