I have always been fascinated with fish. When I was growing up and people would ask me my favorite animal, my response was always “fish” or maybe “turtles.” Before going to the Cook Islands the only places I had seen fish were in lakes, rivers, or right off the coast of California. The fish I had seen in those lakes and rivers were always bass or trout that tend to be dark green and brown. Even though these fish may seem boring in terms of their color, I still found fish species to be extremely interesting! The brightest and prettiest fish I saw in the ocean growing up were Garibaldi. On our first day of the Cook Islands my eyes were opened to so many beautiful fish I had only seen in pictures and movies. As soon as I got into the water, I immediately wanted to learn every species of fish. My team member, Laura, also grew up with a fish fascination. We were both apart of the reef team with Dr. Clare Steele who is a true fish expert. This was very convenient as we were to soon spend long days in the water and were constantly seeing new fish. Dr. Steele had taught us a large number of fish species by the end of our trip. Of all the fish I saw over the course of those two weeks, my favorites tended to be tiny damselfish that swam in schools and inhabited Acropora corals. Close seconds that often intrigued me while we were running our reef transects were the pipefish (Corythoichthys spp.). These small syngnathid fish normally were most frequently spotted by themselves on top of coral bommies looking like a tiny snakes swimming in throughout water.
At the beginning of our trip my interests were primarily fish-oriented. I was blessed to be a part of the reef team where I was able to see a wide variety of fish while also monitoring invertebrates. My contributions to the reef team included counting and identifying the invertebrates as well as measuring the height of the transect. Originally I was not interested in invertebrates at all, but was thrilled with my task as I was able to see those fish I loved so much. This quickly changed. After being exposed to so many different invertebrates, my interest in them grew. Tridacna clams are the so-called giant clams, but vary is size and are covered with so many amazingly different colors (thanks to their commensal zooxanthellae). Once I saw those in nature, I became interested in learning specific details about the Tridacna species we were seeing as well as other invertebrates. My curiosity has grown and pushed me learn about the life cycles of these species…and I now plan to take an invertebrate biology class!
The fieldwork aspect of our community-based research and service was typically what I enjoyed the most. However, that is only the beginning of the research. After long days in the field, all that collected data must be entered. I actually enjoyed doing this task. When we entered our data, we were able to look over numbers and see patterns emerge among the different sites. For example, I noticed that the shallower sites had more sea cucumbers and sea stars, whereas the deeper sites had more Tridacna. I look forward to continue working with my team by analyzing the data more in depth!