Deborah Cronin's Diary
Jamaica's Coral Reef

Friday, August 13, 2004

Thursday, August 12, 2004
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Monday, August 9, 2004

Sunday, August 8, 2004
Saturday, August 7, 2004

Friday, August 6, 2004
Wednesday, August 5, 2004

Thursday, August 4, 2004
Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Saturday, July 17, 2004
Saturday May 1, 2004

Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Monday, January 5, 2004


Related Sites

Friday, August 13, 2004

As I wait for the taxi to pick up Gail and me to take us to the Montego Bay airport, I reflect on what an incredible time I've had on this expedition. My world for the last 10 days has been all about coral, and how lovely it's been to have such focus. I've worked with a wonderful and diverse team of staff and volunteers that has made the experience all the more enjoyable. I feel so privileged to have been selected by Alcoa to be part of such a worthwhile project. I really feel as though we've made a big contribution to James' research, with lots of valuable data collected that in the longer term should assist in protecting coral reefs around the world.

My view of the world has been broadened by this experience. Thanks to my manager, Kim Horne, Alcoa, and Earthwatch for this wonderful opportunity.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I had a restless night with the storm passing through overnight—lots of very loud thunder, lighting, rain, and strong winds. I seemed to be the only one that really heard it, though, as everyone else slept through it. This morning, the sky was clear but there still were very strong winds.

After breakfast, we all met at 9 a.m. for a snorkel project James wanted us to do around Discovery Bay. We were asked to get in our dive buddy pairs and snorkel out to the reef crest, which was approximately 1,640 feet (500 meters) offshore. He asked that we record any of the corals we had been checking for at the other sites—identify and measure them and record approximate distance from the dock so he could attempt to map coral colonies within the bay. Each dive pair swam out from a different location so most of the bay could be mapped. Dan and I got about halfway out when, unfortunately, both my feet cramped up. I tried to get rid of the cramping, but it's a bit difficult when both feet are doing it. Dan was kind enough to tow me back in. I felt bad, but there was not much I could do about it. My cramps were gone by the time we reached the dock, but I thought it best not to go back out. Dan continued to measure coral around the mangroves closer to the dock. The rest of the team came back about 10 minutes later.

The rest of the day was spent relaying data to James, reading books, swimming, snorkeling off the dock, and chatting to each other about all sorts of interesting things. For dinner, we had a very delicious barbeque with Jamaica's famous jerk chicken. After dinner, we all sat down at the dock for a couple of hours just chatting, looking at the calm water, the stars, and the lights off in the horizon, and reflecting on the diverse group of people that had come together to work toward a common goal. It's all very sad that this is our last night together.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I rose out of bed a little sleepy again this morning, and the sky was looking a little gray. We all went about the routine of getting our dive gear set up and loaded in the two boats called "Sea Horse" and "Panularis." We didn't get off to a great start. On our way out, one of the boats had a light come up on the dash, and the engine started making strange noises. We headed back to the dock, where Antony topped it off with oil and fuel in hopes that would fix it. This seemed to do the trick. Because of the delay in getting out for our first dive, the wind had already picked up and the sea became very choppy, with swells of up to five feet (1.5 meters) to 6.5 feet (two meters).

Not too far into the trip, our plans of going to Pear Tree Bottom to re-lay the transect that had gone missing were changed. Antony recommended we go to the Dairy Bull site, which was much closer. The storm was obviously closing in. We reached Dairy Bull, and most people had gotten in the water already when Antony decided to abort the dive. With the big storm forecast, it was seen as too great a risk. We were all very disappointed, because this probably meant we wouldn't get anymore dives in before the end of the expedition. But we all agreed that Antony had made the right decision.

When we got back to the dock, we were told that the storm had now turned from Tropical Cyclone Charlie to Hurricane Charlie, and it was just about to hit the southeast coast of Jamaica. It was decided to get the boats out of the water and buckle down for the storm. We taped windows, stored away loose items, and topped up the fridge with our hurricane essential—beer.

We didn't do too much for the rest of the day. I was actually quite disappointed we missed out a full day of data collection for James' research project, but the weather is an unpredictable beast, especially when we are in the middle of hurricane season. I spent the rest of the day reading a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. For those of you that haven't read it, I highly recommend you do. It's a wonderful book. Some of the others passed the time playing Scrabble® and cards. In the evening, we all watched an animated movie called Spirited Away, which has apparently won several awards. To be honest, I found it to be very weird.

Still no storm, but the wind is picking up and the sky looks very dark. Maybe the storm will hit tonight.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

This was the first morning so far that I was awakened by the alarm. I must still be catching up on my sleep.

We all met by the dock at 6:30 a.m., and the water was so calm and inviting. The first dive was at a site called Pear Tree Bottom. James has recently laid three transects here as there are plans to build a very large resort directly in front of the reef. James is keen to get some data on the health of the reef before the resort is built so that the effects of such resorts can be studied and documented.

Because the sea was so flat (hopefully this is not the calm before the storm), it was lovely just bopping around in the water with a bit of air in my buoyancy compensator. James said we would first have a look at the reef wall before getting started on measuring along the transects.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dive. There were hundreds of different and brightly colored fish and a great diversity of corals. Unfortunately, the transect Dan and I were supposed to do had disappeared, so we measured another transect and did opposite ends to another buddy pair. Between the four of us, we got the transect finished, which was really good. It was the most enjoyable dive yet—very calm water, water temperature of 86o Fahrenheit (30o Celsius), visibility of 98 feet (30 meters), depth of 66 feet (20 meters), great buoyancy, great dive team, amazing scenery. What more could you ask for. I love Jamaica!

Still no storm, but we've been told it's heading our way. We better enjoy the calm seas while there here. Tomorrow could be our last day of diving—oh no!

The second dive for the day was at site M-1. This was the first site we dived at when we arrived at the DBML, and it was amazing how much more I enjoyed and appreciated this site a second time around. It just goes to show how much more confident we are in identifying the corals and other underwater critters.

This dive lasted 60 minutes to a depth of 44 feet (13.4 meters), and Dan and I measured 40 random corals. We also got lots of really good underwater photos. After the dive, we did our usual wash down of gear in fresh water and headed for the showers. My hair normally gets a lot of knots when I dive because I have long hair, but this time it was all in one big knot. I was having so much trouble getting it out that I asked Andy to help me. We had a good laugh; I don't think he's had to do something like that before.

James asked that we all meet in the conference room at 2 p.m., where we were fortunate enough to meet with about 25 Jamaican kids of varying ages who were visiting the DBML as part of their Kingston summer camp program. They were here to receive a brief presentation from James on the research he's doing and to learn more about the coral reefs along the Jamaican coastline. Each member of the Earthwatch team introduced themselves, explained where we were from, what job we do, and why we're here. It was great watching Gail and Dan. Being teachers, they were in their element up there talking to the kids. Gail in particular is so calming to talk to. She's my roommate in our flat, and I've really enjoyed spending time with her. She's been coming to Jamaica for more than 30 years, so she has told me a lot about the country and stories of when she visited here.

The kids only stayed for about 30 minutes, and then I was asked by Gail, Richie, and Charlotte if I wanted to visit Nine Mile, where Bob Marley was born and is now buried. I thought, why not...I can't really come to Jamaica and not visit where Bob Marley grew up. The drive took us just over an hour and led us up through the beautiful mountains and quaint villages. Nine Mile is located in a village called St. Ann. It is where Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, and it is the same place where he wrote many of his famous reggae songs. He was also laid to rest there in the late 1980's. The trip and tour were very worthwhile. The locals are certainly all very laid back in that part of the island!

Monday, August 9, 2004

Had a fairly late night, so no jog this morning. We met at the dock at 6:30 a.m. for a trip to Rio Bueno, which is the farthest site from the DBML. The winds were very strong this morning, so the sea was choppy. This site had a huge reef wall that was so deep we didn't get anywhere near the base of it. We were asked to measure random coral, and Dan and I managed to get 45 measurements over a 60-minute period down to a depth of 59 feet (18 meters).

After lunch had settled, we headed out for our second dive at a nearby site called Columbus Park. The seas were still very rough, so I was glad we didn't have to travel too far. Dan and I were asked to measure two new transects during our dive. As much as it was nice to be asked, I didn't think we'd even go close to getting them finished. I felt bad for Andy and Gail as they were asked to hold the transect lines while Dan and I did the identifications and measurements. This must have been a bit dull for them—50 minutes of staying in virtually the same spot. There was quite a strong surge underwater, but Dan and I powered through and managed to finish both transects and did 77 identifications and measurements. We were pretty proud of ourselves, but I must say it was a fairly stressful dive. I didn't come back up to the surface with too much air left in my tank.

In the evening, James gave us a presentation on the research he's been doing at three sites in the Wakatobi Marine National Park in Indonesia. It was a very interesting presentation, and his work has highlighted the adverse impacts of coral mining and blast fishing on the coral reefs in the area. Tonight, we were also told a hurricane or a very big storm is on its way to Jamaica. It's due to hit on Thursday morning, so we're not too sure if we'll get our last two dives in on that day. We're all supposed to be flying out on Friday, too, so we'll see what happens. Jamaica's not such a bad spot to be stranded in, though!

I told James today he reminds me of Austin Powers. I say this, of course, as a compliment because I love the Austin Powers character and his movies. James has the same accent as Austin Powers and is a very dramatic speaker with lots of hand movements. He also uses lots of words like "fabulous," "wonderful," "absolutely," and "splendid." Everyone else in the group strongly agrees with the comparison, but we've told him he needs to add "smashing" to his vocabulary to truly fit the part!

Sunday, August 8, 2004

When I woke up this morning, Dan was already out jogging around the DBML grounds. He's a marathon runner, so there's no way I can run for as long as him; but I joined in for about 20 minutes anyway.
We were all pretty excited about today because we had a big day of sightseeing planned. Some of the team had made other plans, but James, Gail, Richie, Andy, Charlotte, Dan, and I arranged for two cars so we could see the sights together. We headed off at 9 a.m. to Dunn's River Falls, which is not too far from the town of Ocho Rios. Ocho Rios means "Eight Rivers," but the waterfalls in the area are probably the most striking feature.

Dunn's River Falls was lovely, but you could definitely tell it was one of the major tourist attractions on the island. The waterfalls are climbed by thousands of people each year. It's quite funny to watch those on a guided tour, because they are all told to hold hands while in their swimsuits (about 40 people). Then one couple at a time poses in certain spots on their way up to the top of the falls—very corny!! I didn't climb the falls myself, although a few of the others gave it a go. I got some good photos of the locals on the beach at the base of the falls.

Next stop was Ocho Rios. Over the last 20 years, Ocho Rios has developed from a small town to a thriving tourist resort, mainly because of a deep-water pier that has been constructed with berthing space for three cruise ships at a time. This brings in huge numbers of cruise ship visitors, and six shopping plazas have been established to cope with this influx. We were lucky enough to avoid such crowds.

First we checked out the crafts market, and I must say the vendors were pushy, but it was fun. I bought a couple of T-shirts and magnets. The vendors seemed to really like Andy. They kept telling him what a great beard he had, and then they would try to coax him into their stalls. He must fit the profile of a "big buyer." After the markets, we had a delicious Indian lunch.

Another feature Ocho Rios is well-known for is Fern Gully, which we drove through. It's a very deep gorge that zigzags for about three miles (five kilometers) from the Ocho Rios coast up to the central mountain area of the island. It was a very worthwhile drive to see the huge variety of tropical ferns (apparently over 500 species) and the kind of foliage you only find in a tropical rainforest.

The next stop was by far my favorite. What was so great was that there were no tourists; only Jamaican people. The Cranbourne Gardens is a delightful, beautifully laid out botanical garden that leads up to some spectacular falls. A freshwater river meanders its way through the gardens, which are full of the most lush, tropical, and colorful plants I've ever seen. We walked to the end of the path, where we found a beautiful freshwater pool surrounded by a deep rocky gorge. We all went for a swim, and the water was so cool and refreshing. The whole experience was extremely memorable.

I'm so fortunate to be part of such a great team of people. We all get along so well, and I'm also very glad we come from different parts of the world. We've had lots of laughs on this trip, comparing the names and sayings each country has for different things. It's also wonderful to hear everyone's differing views on things, from moves, books, and music to politics, etc. It makes for a very interesting and educational trip.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

Went for my jog again this morning and saw a beautiful sunrise over the dock, which was a lovely start to the day. I still find it hard to believe when I wake up in the morning that I'm in Jamaica.

The first dive today was at a site called Dairy Bull, and it lasted just over 60 minutes. I'm definitely feeling more confident with diving now. I can make my air last much longer, I've dropped my weights from 20 pounds (9 kilograms) to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), and my buoyancy is the best it's been.

Once again at Dairy Bull, Dan and I were asked to measure a new transect that "Thor" hammered in for us. This site was very similar to Dancing Ladies—very diverse, but there were a lot more sea urchins we needed to steer clear of. We maintained our 40 measurements, but because there was so much coral, we only made it about a third of the way along the transect before we had to head to the surface due to low air.

After lunch, we headed out for our second dive. We could see a storm brewing on our way out to the site. We were excited to be heading back to Dancing Ladies, and this time we were asked to do random coral identification and measurement rather then along transects. Everyone was very happy about this because it meant we could absorb a lot more of the underwater scenery and take some photos. The dive was the best yet—so many fascinating things to watch.

The storm hit not too long after our second dive. The rain was so heavy that the water quickly formed into very large pools. The weather was still very hot and humid, but I'm really used to this now. I just seem to be constantly sweaty.

Listening to James after our data entry session today was great. He's so charismatic and motivating and always encourages everyone by telling us what a good job we've done for the day. I find it very fulfilling to be able to contribute to his research. It's such as worthwhile project.

The storm passed within a few hours, which we were all glad about because tomorrow is our day off from diving. We were hoping for some fine weather so we can see some more of Jamaica.

We watched another Blue Planet movie tonight called Open Ocean, which is narrated by David Attenborough. I haven't seen this series before, but it's so interesting (and I know my husband would love it). I plan to invest in the DVD series when I get back to Australia.

Friday, August 6, 2004

Rose from bed at 5 a.m. this morning and went for a jog around the DBML grounds. With all this lovely Jamaican food we've been eating at the lab, I don't think diving is enough to keep me fit. It's much cooler in the mornings so definitely the best time to run.

We've been told by James that we've been very fortunate with the weather since we arrived, with the last few days being the calmest in a long time. The wind can tend to pick up, making the seas quite choppy and more difficult for boat diving (not that you notice it much once you're underwater). We've been told a storm is on its way, though!!

Our first dive today was at a site called Columbus Park. Dan and I were asked to identify and measure corals along a new transect that was to be laid. We feel privileged that James has asked us to do this because we presume he trusts our identification and measurement skills and also because all other transects have already been measured previously (well, that's what we're hoping anyway!). Andy (also from Alcoa), who has been nicknamed "Thor" because he's so big and strong, is the nominated hammerer when we need to lay new transects. I think it really suits him, and I think he likes it, too.

The dive at Columbus Park wasn't too bad, but it's definitely the most degraded of the sites we have seen so far. It got really damaged by Hurricane Allen in 1980, and it is also adjacent to a bauxite ship-loading facility, which causes a lot of bauxite dust to settle on the reefs. Our 49-foot (15-meter) transect was also a bit tedious because it only contained two types of coral—Agaricia agaricites (lettuce coral) and Siderastrea radians (starlet coral). The coral was surrounded by fire coral and sea urchins, which can give a nasty sting and made the experience a little more difficult. James doesn't want us to wear gloves as people can tend to touch and damage the coral more easily, which is understandable. The dive lasted 65 minutes, and we made 33 measurements (an improvement on yesterday, which is good). It would have been nice to have a bit more of a look around at other corals, but plenty more time for that.

Our second dive was at a site called Dancing Ladies, and this site was amazing. The water was crystal clear, with a visibility of 115 to 130 feet (35 to 40 meters). The water temperature was 86° Fahrenheit (30o Celsius), and the diversity of coral and small fish was breathtaking. I was so excited underwater, but the only problem was I couldn't speak. I was just lucky to have a dive slate to write things down on. We got 40 measurements this time—our best yet!

In the afternoon, six of us walked into the town of Discovery Bay. The actual walk was quite terrifying, because the roads are narrow with no path to walk and cars fly by at maximum speeds. But it was great to see local houses, shops, and colorful and unique. It turned out to be a great time to walk into town, because it was a public holiday for Jamaican Independence Day (which happened in 1962). There were hundreds of locals, the reggae music was thumping, and all looked like they were having a good time at the celebration. We all stood out like sore thumbs, though, as I get the impression not too many tourists visit this part of the island (especially not on Independence Day, anyway). But I really enjoyed the experience and also stocked up on the all-important bottled water and chocolate.

In the evening, we indulged in some local produce and Jamaican beer and watched a movie called Blue Planet—Coral Reefs, which was very enjoyable and, of course, suited to the research we were undertaking.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Some excellent news. I had a tap on my window at about midnight last night, and low and behold my luggage had arrived. I was so excited it took me a while to settle, but once asleep, I slept like a baby.

Today was a great day. We met at 6:45 a.m. at the dock and kitted up for our first orientation and test dive with Antony, the Jamaican dive coordinator. We headed out to our dive site in two 22-foot (6.7-meter) aluminum boats. Wow, the water was so crystal clear and the water temperature was 84º Fahrenheit (29º Celsius)—even down to a depth of 46 feet (14 meters). I was a little nervous about the first dive, but all went very smoothly. James pointed out and wrote names of coral we need to remember (which will take some time!). The fish and coral were spectacular. It's just a shame some areas have become so degraded by hurricanes, over fishing, etc., but I guess that's why we're here.

After breakfast, we had our second dive where we buddied up into pairs (I was with Dan). Dan is a marine biologist and science teacher and seems very knowledgeable about corals, which is handy. On the second dive, we used dive slates and measuring tapes to identify, measure, and record information on hard corals along belt transects, most of which have already been set up in various sites along the north coast of Jamaica and within Discovery Bay. All went well apart from an equipment malfunction for Dan, which was frustrating for him. His buoyancy compensator (BC) kept filling up with air.

James seemed very happy with the quality of the data we collected. There's definitely room for improvement, though. Dan and I only measured 25 coral today, but we have another 12 dives to refine our skills! The most important thing is mastering your buoyancy underwater so you don't damage the reefs while measuring and recording. I should be an expert by the time my 10 days is up.

At 2:30 p.m. each day we meet in the conference room to read out to James the data we have gathered during our dives. He records it on his laptop to be later used in his research.

We had a fairly early night as we were pretty buggered from our first two dives.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

This morning I met a few of the members from the first research team. They were all from the United States and seemed like lovely people. They told me what a wonderful time they had had and about their experiences over the past 10 days. They said it's so unusual to be able to spend day-in-and-day-out focused on one thing—identifying and measuring corals. So, I must say I'm looking forward to removing myself from the usual hustle and bustle of home life and focusing on the task at hand. I also met Professor James Crabbe, who is the coordinator of the project. He's from the United Kingdom and is such a lively and excitable character. Team 1 left the lab around 12:30 p.m., after which time other members of our research team (Team 2) started arriving. We also moved our gear into two three-bedroom flats, which were basic but very comfortable. I had the choice of an air conditioned flat but decided against it because I think the hot, humid weather adds to the Jamaican experience.

I've been calling people all day trying to track down my luggage, but so far no luck. To be honest, the people on the phone don't seem too fussed about it, and they don't have any record on their computer of where my luggage could be, which seems strange to me. Anyway, I'll keep my fingers crossed that it turns up in the next couple of days. I'm not so fussed about the clothes, but I don't want to miss any diving! In the meantime, my flat mates Gail, Andy (also from Alcoa), Dan, and Neill (all from the U.S.) are helping out with toiletries until my luggage arrives.

At 6:30 p.m., the whole team of 10 met in the conference room. In addition to my flat mates, there was Julie, Carol, and Alex (also from the U.S.) and Richard and Charlotte (from the United Kingdom). The team ranges in age from 20 to 54, and all seem very friendly. I'm looking forward to getting to know them all better. Quite a few of them tell me they love my Aussie accent, which is kind of weird.

James gave us a debriefing and explained what the aims of the project were and what we would be doing. It all sounded very interesting, but I must say it made me realize how much I needed some more sleep after all my flying because I found it pretty hard to keep focused (I guess that's what people call jet lag). I hit the pillow about 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

What a start to my journey. I'm very glad to say that after 31 hours of flying, an extra 14 hours of waiting at airports, four flights (of which the final one was delayed four hours) and a 1.5-hour taxi ride, I've finally made it to the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory (DBML) in Jamaica. My travels took me from Perth to Singapore to London to Miami and then to Montego Bay.

I arrived at the DBML at midnight (in Jamaican time, that is). In Australian time, it was noon. In the 48 hours prior to arriving in Jamaica, I only had about six hours of sleep. I was feeling kind of zombie-like, but that's okay. What isn't really okay is the fact that the airline has lost my luggage, so I have no clothes, towels, toiletries, etc. I was too tired at the airport to stress about it, so I filled in the necessary forms along with about 25 other people from my flight and headed out to find some transport.

The smell of the Jamaican air and the warm, humid tropical weather immediately invigorated me. It reminded me so much of when I traveled through Thailand. Because of the time of night, I didn't really have any choices in the type of transport I could use. I would have preferred to catch a tour bus, as they are much cheaper, but a taxi it was.

The Jamaican driver was extremely friendly, but my goodness me, what a crazy driver! I knew the roads in Jamaica were average by western standards, so I was prepared for that. But this driver called Norman drove at a consistent 75 to 80 miles-per-hour (120 to 130 kilometers-per-hour) on very narrow gravel roads with huge pot holes. He tailgated everyone, overtook on sharp corners and hills, and had high beams on the whole time (and his oil and fuel light!). But then after about half an hour into the journey, I realized all locals drove like that. I told Norman he was a crazy driver, and we both had a laugh. What else can you do, really. It all adds to the adventure! Later I found out that locally the taxi drivers are called PhD's ("pot-hole dodgers"), which I thought was quite appropriate!

Upon arriving at the DBML, security opened the gates and gave me the key to the six-bed dorm where I was to stay the night. I slept for a few hours, but I think I was overtired. Once I woke up at 4.30 a.m., I couldn't get back to sleep. I went for a walk around the lab and down to the dock and had a chat with security personnel who were washing their car at the time.

The weather will take some adjusting to, mainly because I've come from winter in Australia. Here it is very hot and humid.

Today my mission will be to track down my luggage!

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Well, only two weeks to go. I'm feeling pretty well organized. The flights are booked, the Jamaican visa and tickets are being sent out next week, and I've dragged out the suitcases. I'm a hopeless packer, so I thought I better start early!

I've been feeling a bit like a pincushion lately. I had to have three sets of vaccinations for the trip. My left arm is becoming much tougher...but better to be safe than sorry.

I'm a little nervous. It's now winter over here in Western Australia. Because it's been so cold, I haven't dived for three months. I'm hoping it will all come back to me when I arrive in Jamaica on August 4--hopefully so, because we have to do a test dive!

Saturday May 1, 2004

It's been a while since my last diary entry, and I'm happy to say I am now a qualified diver. I wouldn't say an experienced one, but nonetheless I now have my PADI Open Water Dive Certificate and have 12 dives under my belt (both shore and boat dives). I can't believe I haven't taken up diving before--it is such an incredible feeling. I remember my first dive out at Rottnest Island, which is located off the coast of Perth in Western Australia. We descended down to 18 meters for the first time--it was like landing on the moon. The water was so clear, and there were only two other people around. The feeling of weightlessness is amazing. You feel like you can fly, and you look up and can't even see the surface. Still three months to go until the trip, but I can't wait--getting very excited!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Having gotten over the initial excitement, it was time to get down to business and start reading up on the expedition. I downloaded the expedition briefing from the Earthwatch website. The expedition will be lead by British biochemist Dr. James Crabbe, and we are to be based at the Marine Research Laboratory in Discovery Bay on the north coast of Jamaica. What James and his team have found is that over the past two decades, reefs throughout the region have been seriously degraded by environmental changes, including more frequent hurricanes, coral-smothering algae, and a plague of coral diseases. It has been shown that these environmental factors are not only damaging established coral colonies; they are also destroying young colonies that represent the future of the coral reef.

The aim of the research is develop a computer model of hard coral recruitment and growth. To do this, the research team (including me) will identify, measure, and document up to 11 species of hard corals along transects. We will do two dives a day (in crystal clear water--I like the sound of that!!) and then analyze the data in the afternoons. We will also spend time with schoolchildren and the local community to help them understand more about their reef environment and how to protect it. By doing this, James Crabbe and his colleagues will be able to simulate normal growth of coral and predict scenarios for how they will withstand future environmental change.

Not too far into the briefing, it became obvious to me that to be part of this expedition, I needed to be a qualified scuba diver. Yes, you guessed it. I have never dived in my life (not that I haven't wanted to; I've just never got around to it!) I contacted my fellow Alcoa employee, Andrew Blair from the United States, who will also be going to Jamaica. I asked if he could give me some guidance on how to become a qualified diver. Fortunately for me, he is a very experienced diver and part way through his divemaster training, so he offered lots of advice on what to do.

Monday, January 5, 2004

It was to be a Monday like all other Monday's--that is until I opened up my e-mail and read "Congratulations! I am truly pleased to be able to advise that your application to participate in the 2004 Alcoa Earthwatch program has been successful and you will be heading off to Jamaica to work on the Jamaica Coral Reef between 8/4/04 and 8/13/04."

I was working at Willowdale Mine at the time. I was so excited, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry--so I did both! I yelled out so loud a few people came out of their offices to see what was wrong, but there definitely wasn't anything wrong. What a great day this had become. What an amazing opportunity!

Having been a member of Earthwatch for a few years back in my university days, I knew all about the organization and the kind of expeditions they were involved in. Unfortunately, back in those days funds were scarce, so I was never able to take up the opportunity of volunteering on one of the expeditions. Now, thanks to Alcoa and my supervisor, that's all about to change.

Related Sites

The Coral Reefs of Discovery Bay
This interactive site lets you explore the different zones of the reef system.

Discovery Bay
This paper on the bay provides in-depth information about the geology, climate, and environmental impacts.

Photos of Coral Reef Environments
Forty full-color photos of coral reef environments and explanations of reef ecology.

Coral Reef Action Plan
This 12-page action plan by a stakeholders group workshop at Jamaica's Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory addresses pollution control, coastal zone management, monitoring, education, and financial considerations.

Photo Gallery

View the images from Deborah Cronin's diary.

Earthwatch Institute

Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.

Jamaica's Coral Reef

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.