Missing the Islands

 The Cook Islands definitely delivered when it came to giving us ample research opportunities. In particular, the Reef Team was able to travel all over the lagoon in Aitutaki studying and surveying reefs. From less than a meter to over 6 meters deep, the reefs provided us with a multitude of species to learn and study, including corals, invertebrates, and fishes. With our ability to see and learn from these amazing ecosystems, we now have the knowledge to delineate a healthy reef compared to an unhealthy one. We can use this baseline information in our future studies, whether it be in marine or terrestrial ecosystems, as we can determine indicator species and the abundance of algae within the habitat. Overall, I could not have imagined a more amazing place to study such important ecosystems. Healthy coral reefs are a major indicator of a healthy ocean (or lagoon, in this case). The amount of knowledge that I gained during my time in my wetsuit surveying is unbelievable, and I cannot wait to get back in the water and study more. 

The reef team all together (Vanessa, Aimee, Laura, Dr. Steele) on the last night in Aitutaki.

 After two weeks on an island, one can get quite tired. Of course, leaving such a magnificent area was difficult. However, I was beyond excited to get home and start our data analysis for all of the data that we collected (I was dreaming of data analysis in this picture).

Waiting for the airplane home: Aimee’s pillow became very comfortable.

I could not have imagined having a better group of students to learn with and professors to teach us. We all come from various backgrounds and have different perspectives on life, but we all share a common admiration for the world around us. I cannot put into words the amount of respect and compassion I have for these people. Studying with them on a remote island was a breeze and I am so excited for future research opportunities we may have together. 


Point-intercept substrate research 

The reef team is in charge of all things coral reefs, including a point intercept focus on lagoon bottom substrates. This allows us to get a better determination of the health of the reef systems and characterize the lagoon, in general. 

We look for dead and live coral Bommies, as well as coral heads. We also note as to whether the bottom is sand or coral rubble. We then characterize the coral cover, including the type of algae or the species of coral. In addition, we measure the height of the Bommies from the lagoon bottom. 

All of this combined gives us an idea of the health of the reef and the lagoon. 


Marine Lab

The Marine lab on Aitutaki is housing a multitude of giant clams, while doing research on the impacts of amino acids in their survival. With the addition of these acids to their diets, the clams were found to survive longer and thrive better in their environment. In the wild, these clams are unlikely to survive past the first three days, with almost 99% not surviving past the first 24 hours of life.    
Their amazing colors are because of a phenotype variation, just like that of eye color in humans. 

Life in the tropics

This morning we ventured from Rarotonga to Aitutaki, arguably the most beautiful island to ever exist in the South Pacific. As we approached the island in the very small (I mean VERY small) plane, the various colors of the lagoon became very apparent. As you passed over, the patch reefs and sandy bottom beaches became so much easier to distinguish. What we had seen in our meetings and pictures on the internet were nothing in comparison to the beauty that we were seeing before our eyes. We had officially arrived in paradise.  
After we unpacked and ate a DELICIOUS lunch (It was devoured by all), we took to the streets and headed down to the beach on the edge of the island. Here, we spent time fiddling around in the lagoon and attempted to locate as many invertebrates and sea cucumbers as humanely possible. Among these, the beach was covered in dried coral pieces, which we naturally tried to recognize and name (and take pictures with).

After a nice snorkel among the vast sea cucumbers within the lagoon, we enjoyed some true coconut juice as the sun set on the horizon. While it was a little sour, it is better than anything you can ever buy in a bottle. 

Overall, I’d have to say it wasn’t a bad day in the slightest. 

Welcome to pradise, y’all.