The climbfish have now evolved to cover my life in the US - including very exiting life in downtown Baltimore (aka the wire) and ocean research expeditions with NOAA. I don't promise frequent updates but I will try and cover the most and least exiting times here. Enjoy!
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Sunday, July 28, 2013

A windy road in Paradise - Part 1

Perk1. Picking your own cocunut
July 21. If you think working in paradise is pretty relaxing, I must unfortunately tell you that you are wrong. Though I must admit that it has its perks. Nothing really worked according to plan. It never does when you do field work but this trip has been quite exceptional. Admittedly, I had set up some fairly ambitious goals of what we could expect to get accomplished for the field expedition part 1 of our coral reef habitat-mapping project in Puerto Rico, and I did not expect to meet them all. But I was not quite prepared for what was to come. I should have known something was up when the trip started off by missing my SouthWest flight to PR due to a 1.5 hour line to the check in and an inferno of angry people.
Perk2. Free-diving on a daily basis to document coral reefs
One of my favourits, a juvenile Yellowtail Damselfish hiding in the Elkhorn Coral
A juvenile French Angel fish and a school of Blackbar Soldier fish hiding under a small wreck
A healthy patch of the endangered staghorn coral
Basically we set out to film and document a large number of seafloor locations in our mapping area between Culebra and Puerto Rico. We use the detailed onsite information to verify what we can see on the high resolution satellite imagery I have been working on the last few months. By combining the onsite information and the remote sensing data we can create an updated and detailed marine habitat map of the region. The maps will hopefully be useful to make smarter decisions how to protect and use the marine recourses available in the area further down the road. 
We mapped the deep area during the Nancy Foster missions, the challenge now is to map the 750 km2 shallow area (gray on map) which includes the new NE marine reserve and the surrounding seascape.
Local stakeholder meeting discussing proposals how to locally reduce land based sources of pollutions to the marine environment, such as sediment runoff from roads and raw sewage water released into the bay by restaurants and houses.
Coral farming outside Tamarindo beach, Researcher Edwin Delgado and his group from University of Puerto Rico have been working for years to grow and transplant healthy Staghorn corals to the reef around Culebra.
This years edition of (bad ass) scientists equipped with GoPro Hero 3 and (freeking) laser beams!
Pretty simply stuff (except for the later part). If you have a boat. If your equipment work. If your backup of your backup does not break. If the weather is not a tropical storm. If there is money for gas. If the engine does not break down. If. If. If. I never stopped getting surprised on just what might go wrong each and every day.
Work suspended as a water spout (tornado on the water) started forming not far away.
In addition we lost water in the house quite a few times, and my phone got flooded and only working very sporadically. That meant that my way to communicate with the outside world was very limited (I had a slow Internet service 20 minutes golf car drive away). Fortunately we had our local DNER Captains Junito and Elia (Department of Natural Resources) who did their best to get us on the water while a large pile of administrative BS was going on in the background. 

Captain Junito Romero Checking out our live video feed from the seafloor. Pretty cool to be able to show the enforcement officers the resources they are there to protect. That said, Junito also noted a few good fishing spots outside the reserve to come back too, as did I...
Fueling up the boat took about 2-3 hours, as the DNER staff first had to get a slip from the local Municipality, then go to the gas station that was not on the water (they were out of credit on the boat gas station), fill up the external gas tanks on the car, get through they congested traffic, then fill up the boat, then do it all again... Half a day check!
Me and Will at the DNER boat with our local partners in full uniform (yes, they had guns and handcuffs)
When they actually have a boat that is working and have money for gas, which apparently was quite seldom, they patrol to enforce the no take marine reserve and other areas around the island. The days when our work with DNER came to an halt for any of many reasons we got help from friendly locals who took pity to all the troubles we went through. Among others Percy from Kayaking Puerto Rico lend us kayaks and let us use his brand new dingy for a full day for free. Pretty awesome. The Culebra locals sure makes an effort to make strangers feel welcomed and after a day or two you easily get the illusion that you are a local yourself (no, you are still a tourist).
Perk 3. Getting invited for lunch on Bills Catamaran in Culebrita bay. This fine day we had borrowed a dingy from Kayaking Puerto Rico to keep working through the weekend.
Backup plan C, when Drop Camera fails switch over to free-diving.
Do 30 sites in a day and the novelty starts wearing off... Will is getting his daily dose of workout.
Backup plan D. Free-diving from Kayak.
It might be better to have a kayak that does not have holes in the hull. But this works too.
Busy classifying yet another habitat ground validation point
In the end we did get at least half of the work we had set out to do done in Culebra (which will give me an excuse to come back later this winter!), and we found some golden moments to enjoy the little paradise we have been working in.  I have more or less turned in to a fish and I think I can see some skin starting to form flippers between my toes. I have tried to breath in water but that has not yet worked. I will keep trying.
THE way to get around. For Science!
Perk 4. Getting cosy with a curious green turtle (he took a bite of the camera)
June-July is nesting season for the huge and critically endangered Leaderback Turtle
Is it a..?? Just me, I had to try how hard it is to get up on the beach turtle style. Did not get very far.
We met a local turtle activist who was counting hatched eggs and unsuccessful hatchlings from last nights newborn batch of leaderbacks (the poor cute little guy in the picture did not get very far).
Joining Master student Christian to check on a turtle nest soon about to hatch
Grandma working under the mid day sun.
Perk 5. Body surfing on a remote wild beach
Perk 6. A cold Medalla on the beach
Another sunset on the water
A walking stick! I used to have these as a kid, until mum started to find them all over the house.
Leaving the Island for another week of work in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Wonder what could go wrong this time?

One week left working from the Fajardo (Puerto Rico) side, surely things will run smother there!

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