Sunday, January 31, 2010

So far

The breakfast table sounds like a United Nations BBQ with a disproportionate number of English speakers. Eleven of the 14 of us currently at the lab are native English speakers with Swiss, Venezuelan and Quebecois volunteers making up the difference. The Venezuelan and Quebecois women converse comfortably in Spanish.

I have lived in shared housing throughout university and hosteled all over the world, but this is communal living at its extreme. We are literally in each other's bathing suits with up to four people sharing a single sex room, all 14 sharing two bathrooms and meal times resembling musical chairs with a violent twist as everyone clambers for an open seat at the table with too few chairs for the number of people in the mess hall. It's like summer camp with a purpose.

BBFS' Principal Investigator and doctoral student Kristine Stump is examining the effects of nursery habitat loss on juvenile lemon sharks around North and South Bimini Islands in the Bahamas.

A fine location, without question, but Stump's research is heavily tied to a foreign invader on North Bimini, Bimini Bay Resort. Scaled back since its inception, great tracts of mangrove-fringed habitat for the juvenile lemon sharks has still been bulldozed to make way for the resort's condos and estate homes.

All of Stump's research questions focus on changes the resort may have induced in areas such as abundance, first year mortality, prey assemblages, yearly growth, multi-year survivalship, habitat use and home range.

As her minions, the volunteers are responsible for various aspects of her field data collection. I’ve only had a limited sampling of what that might be, having just completed a week of classes and orientation.

Some of it was a refresher, like radio usage, GPS and map reading. The rest was completely new.

We learnt about long lining, a surveying method to gauge how the various shark populations in the area are doing; boat driving, which is extremely terrifying; knots, which included phrases like “the rabbit crosses the road” from Quebecois Valerie and “the tree hangs himself on the rabbit” from dyslexic Americans; and shark handling, which involved eight virgin shark handlers anxiously waiting for their turn with the juvenile lemon and nurse sharks.

Days off are once a week. So far I’ve mooched around the North Island, snuck into both resorts for swims and fresh water showers and popped into the cute, expensively stocked shops.

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