Friday, June 17, 2016

Settling in and snorkeling!

It’s early Friday morning and we have been on site now for nearly two days. Tela is amazing!! I don’t want to brag but this is like a holiday resort! We have two pools; one at the house and one at the beach club. The beach club is like the action base, with a dive shack and the lab and wifi connection, while at the house we just have lectures in the evenings for the first week. I must admit that in the weeks and months preceding this expedition I didn’t dare to imagine a lab as new and shiny and FUNCTIONAL as the one we have here; it is by the sea so our seawater is pumped in and conveniently comes through a hose inside the lab, we have more than enough plugs for electronic devices like heaters and filters and the like, and perhaps most importantly, there is air conditioning! Because believe me, it is hot in here....

Let me introduce you to Trebol, my home for the next few weeks.
The day we arrived to Tela was a very still day, the wind was only but a little breeze and the sun was out. We brought our belongings to the house (which I could seriously live in on a long term basis, it is so nice!) and made our way the 10 minute walk to the beach club for lunch. There, sitting by the pool eating we were introduced to most of the staff we’ll be working with. My field supervisor, Max, is a nice guy with a sarcastic sense of humour, so I think we’ll be getting along juuuust fine ;). After lunch we went back to the house to get a welcome talk and go through some health and safety rules. We then walked back to the beach club (a lot of going back and forth in the 36 degrees!) to go and set up cork mats under our tanks in the lab, so cushion them against the hard table tops (which I might add are amazingly shiny!) and once that was done it was time to head to the beach and play volley ball!!! First I thought I would die in the heat, but it was already nearly 5pm and the sun was on its way down so it wasn’t THAT hot anymore, only about 32 degrees...... I picked the wrong side of the net too and more than once just put out my hands hoping the ball is coming directly from where the sun was, as I couldn’t see a thing. A couple times this actually worked! :D Sweating and laughing, I was ready to hit the sea at 18.15 to cool off before dinner. Running to the water I was expecting a cold rush that I always associated with sea water. And if not cold, then at least a cooling feeling. None of that here! The water was pretty much the same temperature as the air, at that point ca. 30 degrees!! Floating in the water we watched as the sky turned bright red with the sunset, and for a moment everyone was just quietly appreciating the beauty of the scene... What a way to end the first day.

On our second day me and Helen (who is the other dissertation student from UCD on this site in case I haven’t mentioned her before) got to go snorkelling in Punto Sal, the western point of the Tela bay. As neither of is able to dive (medical reasons, let’s just say that for now) we were brought first to this beautiful forest trail that lead through an army of mosquitoes the most beautiful pirates cove.. Hidden away, the soft waves gently hitting the beach and the birds singing in the forest behind made me feel like I’m in a movie, just after discovering a hidden bay where the treasure ship is lying somewhere beneath the sea surface. Because I didn’t particularly want to wash off the bug spray that kept me from being eaten alive on the way to the cove, I stayed walking on the beach while Helen and Max went for a swim to cool off. I was surprisingly fine with the heat, just wondering around listening to the sounds around me. Once the two had had enough of soaking in the hot water, we made our way back to the boat which would take us to our snorkelling site.
A secret pirated cove. I would hide away here no problem!

We began snorkelling from the beach toward shallow reefs approximately 50m from the shore. We began seeing some elkhorn corals which are actually very rare (Acropora palmata). They are a coral that grows its branches as these big plates, under which many fish and other critters can find shelter. We saw many a parrotfish, a couple of wrasses and other fishes (I am still to do a fish ID course, the next description will have much more detailed information :P ), but there were two things we saw that really blew my mind. First, Max pointed us to peek under a ledge of coral and try to see a lobster. I thought “OK, a lobster, so just a big crayfish, got it”. It took me a couple of dives to see it and when I did I involuntarily let out a surprised “oh!”. Not such a good idea underwater with a snorkel in your mouth.... up to the surface I scrambled spitting sea water from my mouth trying to catch my breath, but that didn’t bother me long as I wanted to see it again. The lobster was the size of MATS (that’s my dog for those of you who don’t know)!!! Absolutely huge.... Like some sort of pre-historic remnant... 
Our happy skipper Hernan :) 
But enough with the lobster, what we found next was something I never thought I would be comfortable sharing same water space with: a shark. Granted, it was “just” a nurse shark, but you know how sharks all tend to look really similar? Yeah, it was still a shark. And I voluntarily dove right beside it multiple times, at awe with both the animal itself and the fact that I was so at ease with it! It was hiding under some of the elkhorn coral and we could dive right next to it both behind and near its head. It was just staying there, not minding us really. Unfortunately, as my GoPro was not ready for the trip and so I have no underwater filming device... But I swear, I swam with a shark!

A small fishing village on the coast of Tela Bay with ca. 200 inhabitants
Another funny moment from this snorkel was when we went to move across the little bay to go and see some old submerged cannons, probably from pirate ships. In the deeper water where we could barely see the bottom, we were suddenly surrounded by moon jellyfish! If you’ve ever seen finding Nemo, you’ll know what I mean when I say it was like directly out of that.... Straight! Left! Right! More right! Left! Straight and FAST! Ok, ok, the moon jellyfish very rarely cause a sting because their tentacles are so short but having to swim directly through a swarm of them, not so assuring! Luckily none of us got stung and we made it through to the other side, and got to see these age old cannons covered in sealife. Our boats captain reckons they have been there for over 300 years! After nearly 2 hours of snorkelling we got back to shore (this time a different route to avoid the jellies...) and loaded onto the boat to go back to the beach club. On the say we stayed close to shore and passed by a small fishing village and only 5 minutes later the only 5 star resort in Honduras.
The only 5-star resort in all of Honduras.

This ended up being a lot longer post than I intended, but if you made it this far, thank you for reading! Next post will likely describe the beginning of a small pilot study that will help us determine some of the logistics for my study. The first urchins are in the tanks, and we are nearly ready to roll! 

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