Our seventh day on little Cayman, we were still struggling to adapt to the warm and humid weather here. After a sweaty and sticky breakfast, we packed all our snorkeling gear and headed to Preston Bay for our morning snorkeling session. However, when we drove to the Bay, got all our stuff out of the van, trudged across the wooden walkway through the forest and reached the beach, we found out that the waves were huge. We hesitated just for 2 seconds then decided not to get into the water and risk injury or worse. So, we drove back to the station and snorkeled in Grape Tree Bay. We were looking for Acropora palmata (APAL for short), also known as elkhorn coral, to see their condition—whether competing with algae, bleaching or dying. Luckily, we found some APAL that were newly recruited in the past two years old, and also some very healthy older ones that had no algae on them, but not all of the older APAL could survive the competition with algae. We used a quadrat to estimate the size of the corals which made it easier to visualize and quantify the size of the coral colonies. Unfortunately, we also found two Pseudodiploria strigosa colonies that are suffering from black band disease.
After lunch, we spent some time discussing our research projects. My group is particularly interested in studying spawning and bleaching of local staghorn coral. While Little Cayman used to host large staghorn coral thickets, most perished to disease several decades ago. Fortunately, there is a staghorn coral nursery at the Little Cayman Research Centre. So, after serious discussion, we decided to focus on different factors that impact staghorn corals health in the nursery and their eventual out-planted sites. We will measure the temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, depth, and benthos in these variable environments, especially at the staghorn coral out-plant sites.
As a break from the serious research discussion, and to not bore ourselves by staying in the classroom too long, we went to clean the beach. Basically, we just picked up all the plastic and debris on the beach, which I thought it was easy work to do. However, the amount and variety of plastic waste blew my mind! We were only able to clean about 50 square meters in total before we got filled 5 large bags of plastic trash. It shocked me for how much plastic was in such a small area, and Little Cayman is an isolated island that has been protected from industry and development quite well. Just imagine how much plastics are out there in the rest of the ocean!
After our beach cleanup we went for a bike ride before dinner. We rode about 3 miles along North Coast road and raced with each other, but we regretted it immediately after we got off the bikes. Nicole was especially regretful, It seemed like every muscle in her body was tied to each other, much to the rest of our amusement.
Finally, after a nice dinner, we ended the day with another weekend movie night. Quite a big day today, we snorkeled, learned, and exercised. Most of all, we were slowly making progress towards saving the world today!