Khurram Chaudhry's Diary

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 Thursday, November 15, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007 Saturday, November 17, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007 Monday, November 19, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007 Friday, November 23, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007  

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 Welcome to my diary. My name is Khurram Chaudhry, and I was offered the opportunity by Alcoa and Earthwatch to partake in the Bahamian coral reef survey.

When I first received the offer, I was shocked and lost in the moment. I in no way expected that I would be offered the opportunity because of the number of potential participants it was open to (124,000 Alcoa employees). It’s a bit like winning the top prize in a raffle competition.

I am attracted to the Earthwatch Institute for several reasons, primarily because an Earthwatch fellow is not only concerned with the environment but is also taking an active role in trying to help, in a small way, to resolve a problem that is severely affecting our planet. The fellows are thus trying to ensure sustainability for successive generations.

I feel fervently about this planet, for it is profoundly beautiful in many ways that can never be fully appreciated by us. So much is left unexplored. Yet the parts we as the human race have encountered have, to some extent, been scarred due to our carelessness at times.

I want to be a part of a positive change that will aim to reverse the damage we have caused to our beautiful planet. As an Earthwatch fellow, I will be given the ability, resources, and guidance to help me in my goal.

I expect to learn about an area that I was last taught in school a decade ago over several geography lessons. Since then, I haven’t really revisited this area due to concentrating on other areas, such as community development projects.

I hope this expedition is the first step to expanding my community development activities to involve local and national environmental issues.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 I arrived at the airport (London Heathrow) on a cold winter’s morning with my mother and wife at around quarter past seven. We left the house just after half past six in the morning. I was excited but also very tired after having gone to sleep at about midnight the night before due to packing my suitcases.
One suitcase contained presents that were for my cousins, whom I would meet in Miramar, Florida. The other was a rucksack with my eagerly awaited wetsuit, snorkel, and mask, as well as clothes for the forthcoming expedition. (The wetsuit arrived just in the nick of time on Tuesday morning, and this was to prove invaluable in the trip ahead.)
There was no queue at the check-in desk at the airport, although I didn’t get a seat of my choosing because I hadn’t checked in online. I wouldn’t be making that mistake again!
I made my way to the departure gate after having said goodbye to my family, and I found my seat next to an elderly woman in the Airbus A340-600 series plane. The plane was half an hour late taking off due to one of the wings having formed ice on its tip.
The plane journey would be about 10 hours. During the flight, I watched “Sicko,” a documentary produced by Michael Moore. It contained many excellent sources of reference. However, it was extremely provoking, and I am sure there is also substance to the arguments of having health maintenance organizations (HMOs). What they are, I don’t really know.
I had taken off my scarf once onboard the plane, but I left my jacket on. This and the white shirt below it I stained with chocolate, probably by dropping a piece of the crispy chocolate shell of the Choc ice that was given to me as dessert.
The airline service was reasonably satisfactory. I would recommend the airline to anyone, although the meal could have been improved. I had ordered a special one, which I guess was difficult to cater for, but they did well. 
This was the only airline that answered my customer call when I sat in the economy section, but the flight attendant forgot to bring me what I requested! But that’s cool, since I really enjoyed the whole flight.
The entertainment service was the best I have seen, and the interactive map system was extremely informative and easy to use. This was important for me, since the map could tell me the direction of Mecca. Performing my prayers in the right direction was made easier. 
Immigration was quite a memorable experience, especially when entering the U.S. I ended up trying to explain the purpose of the expedition to the customs official who was questioning me by rummaging through my bag to get all the relevant documents and briefings. After the discussion on coral reefs with immigration, I proceeded to the baggage reclaim. The discussions were a good way to test my level of knowledge and understanding for the challenge ahead.  
I left the airport like I did the previous year and recalled the route back toward my cousin’s house. Nothing much had changed, except I saw no dead trees along the side of the highway this time. South Florida as you know, is subjected to hurricanes that are so powerful they uproot trees. Amazing but terrifying, I would think! 
To contrast this with the year before when I drove out of the airport onto the highway, I witnessed a graveyard of hundreds of thousands of branchless trees stripped to the bark and laid out horizontally. It was an ugly feeling. Thankfully, it was not the case this time round.  
My cousins greeted me with no great warmth, although my uncle and aunt did. The reason was my 18-month-old cousin probably didn’t recognize me, and the other one was four-years-old and fast asleep.
My aunt had made me beef lasagna with a variety of assorted kebabs—Desi (Indian) style. I filled up with food, my eyes quelled, and I went to sleep ever so tired.

Friday, November 16, 2007 I woke up in the morning before sunrise to a thundering sound—it was the sound of my alarm clock (a deafening sound). I then went to the washroom to perform my ablution before offering my morning prayer.
To my surprise, my four-year-old cousin was waiting in the room I was staying in. She gave me a big hug, and we hung around talking to one another until breakfast.
After breakfast, everyone left except my four-year-old cousin, and we performed various activities. It was great that I got time to spend with her. After lunch, my uncles took me out to the local community center/school, where my aunt teaches. It was wonderful.  Only at that point did I realize the spectacular weather. It wasn’t humid, and the sun was just the right intensity. 
Later that afternoon, I made a visit to a local store—a Target. I picked up a first-aid kit and a sun hat, which I would use throughout my expedition. I was also given some mosquito patches by my aunt that I added to the first-aid kit.
In the evening, I had a Philly sandwich, which actually is a baguette, even though initially I thought it was a sandwich! It was lovely. It had green peppers and chunks of chicken coated with a sweet-and-sour sauce. Try one if you haven’t already.  
Later that night, I packed all my equipment. I was quite excited about the trip ahead of me but at the same time a little apprehensive. 

Saturday, November 17, 2007 I woke up early in the morning to offer prayer and to pray for safety and productivity in the seven days ahead of me. After the Miami sunrise, I loaded my uncle’s car with my rucksack that I had packed the night before with my baby cousins, who made packing very difficult by questioning me about almost everything I was packing.

Before departing the house, I had a beautiful Indian parata (flat, circular bread cooked with oil) filled with scrambled eggs and red and green peppers, although I didn’t have my fill since I was nervous about the journey ahead.

This was and is quite unusual, since me not eating good homemade food is rare! I was going to miss the Thai chicken curry, and all the meat curries, because on the island of San Salvador, there would definitely be no Halal and Kosher meat. But that’s cool, since I wanted to cut down on my red meat intake.

I got to the airport at Fort Lauderdale, and the drop-off was nice and simple. I checked my baggage and made my way to the departure gate. While going through security on the way to the gate, all my toiletries were confiscated (I had forgotten to leave my wash bag in my suitcase). This was a really expensive lesson that a lot people go through. I was given the option of rechecking that bag, but I didn’t really want to go back since the queue through security would mean quite possibly missing my flight. I had no toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, etc.

The Beechcraft plane from Ft. Lauderdale Airport took us from Florida to Nassau (on the island of New Providence)—something in the region of 30 minutes. The plane was a third loaded just like the one that left 10 minutes earlier (I think to the same destination!). Anyway, the plane was relatively small. It accommodated about 25 people. The engine had scratches on it, and I was sitting just a hand span from the actual blade, separated only by the fuselage.

While flying, I took several pictures you can find in my photo gallery. I liked the way the shadow of the clouds rested on the ocean bed.

Once in Nassau, I made my way to immigration, passing through the hall of fame of Bahamian sports people. Once there, I saw advertisements for Paradise Island and Atlantis, both of which were luxurious resorts. Once it was my turn, I was told to go back and fill in a form, so I did like the other passengers. Why we weren’t given these on the plane, I don’t know.

After this, I made my way to the airport convenience shop, which was very small, to purchase a tube of toothpaste. It cost three times the normal price in the United Kingdom.

Going from the international to the domestic terminal is quick and easy, and I checked in for my connecting flight and made my way to the gate.

At the gate, there was liquor bar! From this observation and from what was sold in the majority of shops inside the terminal, I got the impression that things were a bit more relaxed in the Bahamas in regards to drinking and traveling.

Once in the departure lounge, I walked up and down the terminal wearing my Alcoa shirt, hoping some of the others would recognize me as part of the Earthwatch expedition. No one did, so I sat down and opened up the Earthwatch briefing. Someone then came to me and said “Hey,” explained a group of fellow volunteers were sitting together, and asked if I would join them. I did, and these four wonderful women were from New Jersey. They included a mother and daughter and a teacher and her former student, who is now a teacher as well. These latter two were also sponsored, but by HSBC Bank.

The plane was delayed by more than two hours, so I rang home and spoke to my family. We got on the plane (a Dash Turbo 8) and met the principal investigator (PI), John, and other volunteers. We were told we were the first group after the hurricane season to come to the island. John runs four expeditions a year in each season, and we were the last of the year.

On the way to San Salvador, originally known as Guanahani by the indigenous Lucayans (an Indian population that lived by fishing and agriculture), I fell asleep until landing. When landing, we touched down just as the shore began. It was quite amazing, because it felt as if we were going to land in the sea!

After landing at the airport, which was the size of three ordinary sized garages, we collected our luggage. I greeted the other volunteers, all of whom were women except one. That man would be by roommate, and I really enjoyed his company.

The coordinators made themselves known, and they were really pleasant. We then got onto a truck—a blue 1950s ex-naval vehicle—and made our way to Grahams Harbor on the north of the island where the research center was positioned. It is reported that Columbus said that this bay “would hold all the ships of Christendom.”

We arrived at the research station, which was one of many former 1950s/60s naval bases that sprang up during the Cold War. Later in 1971, it became part of the College of the Bahamas.

It was decide that we would not go for a swim since it was approaching dinner time and then it would be sunset thereafter. I unpacked and made my way to the cafeteria, where I was told that we would have a lecture on coral reefs in the evening.

The same time, we had 70-some Virginian teens on a fieldtrip who would stay for the next seven days with us! This meant that we would have to wait for meals, since those guys were right in there.

Later that evening, I made my way to the labs, where we were given an introduction to the island. One key image was an infrared image of the island that showed us why San Salvador was just right for coral research.

On the image (found in the photo gallery), white shows development and light blue indicates inland lakes surrounded by red, which represents vegetation. Shallow waters are light, and dark blue is the deep ocean, which is in excess of 7,000 meters (4.3 miles) compared to 30 meters (100 feet) deep for shallow waters.

From the infrared photo, it was apparent that the island is unspoiled by humans, and this made the investigation into coral bleaching easier to study in the coral’s natural environment.

Here is a much more erudite description of coral bleaching by Hoegh-Guldberg than any I could convey. Coral bleaching refers to the loss of color of corals due to stress-induced expulsion of symbiotic unicellular algae. The corals that form the structure of the great reef ecosystems of tropical seas depend on a symbiotic relationship with photosynthesizing unicellular algae called zooxanthellae that live within their tissues. Zooxanthellae give coral its particular coloration, depending on the clade living within the coral. Under stress, corals may expel their zooxantheallae, which leads to a lighter or completely white appearance, hence the term “bleached.”

We discussed the feasibility of transporting coral from labs to the ocean floor to increase their population. This is a possibility and is one of John’s future plans, although he hasn’t practiced it as of yet. There may be other researchers who have tried this, but I haven’t come across any literature to that effect.

John next went through the beaches we would visit during our stay. We also went through the site map of the surrounding facilities at the plant. One really interesting piece of information was that the sand on the beaches is calcium carbide, which remains cool. This is unlike sand that is silicon carbide, which heats up during the day and makes walking on the beaches really uncomfortable.

We were told that coral is an animal and not a plant, as may be naturally assumed by most people. We also were shown various corals that we would see out on the reef.

Coral has a symbiotic relationship with the algae that lives on it. However, the algae in some places are taking over the reefs due to bleaching. During early 1990s, a worldwide bleaching event occurred, and this was probably because of increased ultraviolet absorption by the coral due to the unusually calm waters and increased thermal stresses in the water. This meant the temperature for the coral was damagingly high, and too much radiation was—and still is—bad for them. (Be sure to check this information before referencing me for a thesis on causes of coral bleaching in the Bahamian waters of San Salvador!)

We were told a little about the geology of the islands and the purpose of the research. We were going to collect data and learn about coral, mainly the breeds that live in the patch reefs in the shallow waters surrounding the island we were on. The information we collected would be added to the existing data set, which is the longest running coral reef survey in the western world. The data is used to monitor and evaluate the impact of numerous variables that affect coral health.

Activities and measurements we would do include water sampling and temperatures, air temperatures, and an estimation of bleaching on corals within certain areas that have been monitored since 1992, the year this Bahamian reef survey began. Ever since, I believe the corals have been monitored in all seasons—about four times a year.

The structure of the day would be eating breakfast at 7:30 a.m., loading the trucks at about 9 a.m., going to a beach to collect data, and returning by noon for lunch and to clean our gear. We’d get back on the truck and head out again at 2 p.m. and be back by 5 p.m. for dinner at 5:30 p.m. We’d then have class from 7 p.m. to about 8:30 p.m.

In terms of work, we would collect data twice a day and have an evening lecture. The rest of the time we would relax. If we had energy to relax! The swims were certainly draining for me, especially since I had done very little ocean swimming the years before the trip.

Sunday, November 18, 2007 I had toast and eggs for breakfast. In fact, bread would be my staple and most consumed food on the trip. I lost a lot of weight in these seven days, believe or not, and I was questioned on more than one occasion regarding the lack of meat intake. This wasn’t too bad, since not eating meat for a week did me the world of good.

We went to Monument Beach after breakfast. This beach is south of Cockburn, the largest town on San Salvador and consisting of some 20 houses and shops. This beach saw the Olympic torch land on its shore en route to Mexico in 1968. Christopher Columbus first landed on this beach in 1492, and now I was here in 2007. Wow!

I went into the water for the first time. It was a good feeling, however I had big problems with the snorkel. I was having trouble breathing, since I had never snorkeled before. The instructors said it would take a day or two of practice. In the meantime, I swam between the patch reefs with my goggles around my neck while holding my snorkel. It was good getting out and swimming around.

Branching coral pricked me from time to time. They were bigger and longer than I had expected and yellow/brown in appearance.

Coral identification was difficult due to the low levels of visibility in the water because of swirling sediment caused by the wind.

After lunch, we set out again to another site. Since the wind was choppy, we didn’t get into the water and went back to the lab to study transects and other field data-collecting techniques. All this data were kept in my self-written handbook on corals and the Bahamas, which I hope to populate in the coming years.

Later that evening, we went through all the different types of corals we could hope to see in the reefs and also collect data from. During this lecture, the lights went off, and so did I.

I apologized like the day before, when I also knocked out toward the end of the lecture. We did review everything, so I got all the information I needed. Similarly, I will take copious notes when we have the repeat of this evening’s lecture.

Monday, November 19, 2007 During the night, it was lightly raining, and there was a light breeze. We had pancakes and toast for breakfast, and then we saddled up for our ride down to Monument Beach. Water clarity was better than yesterday.
I practiced snorkeling and managed 15 minutes without having to surface. Pretty good, I’d say for a beginner. I saw star coral, although I didn’t see much else like the brain or cactus coral I had seen in the slideshow the night before.
After lunch, I was fatigued, but we went down to the next outside laboratory, as I like to think of it (i.e., the beach). I figured out, with the help of others, how to use the snorkel. You hold your breath, bite on the snorkel, put your face down, and then breathe like normal, preferably concentrating on something other than breathing.
The mask needs to be tightened before putting your head in the water. In case of leaks, use Vaseline, which should prevent any leakage. I found breathing in deeply through the nose makes the mask tighten on the face. Steaming of the mask is also a real problem. I know that from when I use a mask while paint balling. To prevent steaming, it’s advisable to rub your own spittle on the inside lens of the mask, wash the spittle off using a little water, and then quickly put on the mask. This technique does work, but on many occasions it did not for me. I kept taking off my mask and readjusting it due to leaking, which became an annoyance from time to time. 
At this beach, we had to collect data using the tools and techniques we had learned the day before. Here is a quick overview of the techniques we used for data collection.
Transects have been in place since 1992 in the same areas of the patch reefs around San Salvador. Transects are straight lines of a defined length. In our case, these transects were 10 meters (33 feet) in length and typically 100 meters (328 feet) offshore. These transects, made of string and ribbons, were placed at one-meter (3.3-foot) lengths. The strings were nailed at the ends and in the center to prevent the transect line from floating away.
We were to monitor a half meter on either side of the entire length of the transects, which was pretty difficult in wavy water. On several occasions, we failed to gather any data. We were recording the percentage of bleaching on coral within this area. On top of the pins, we took water samples and temperatures.
Visibility readings were also taken using a secchi wheel, or disk. This is a disk a quarter of a meter in diameter that has opposite quadrants colored black and white. The purpose of the wheel is to measure the visibility of the ocean in the reef area where the transect is situated. Attached to the disk is a string with ribbons tied to it at every meter.
The way the measurement is taken is for one person with 20/20 vision (not me then, since I wear spectacles, although one may purchase fitted lens goggles) holds the string and swims back facing the wheel until he or she cannot distinguish between the white and black quadrants. This is done underwater. In clear water, visibility can be in excess of 30 meters (98 feet). I think our best was five meters (16 feet)! 
Point intersect is basically a grid. A frame measuring one meter by one meter is split into 25 or 16 intersects and is thrown on the reef. The volunteers then count what is at each intersect point. We were given a tablet and pencil and paired up. The tablet, or score sheet, contained rows with hard coral, soft coral, algae, sand, rock, and rock and sand (defined as sand greater than 5 millimeters—0.20 inches—on the rock.). We ticked what applied, and we managed to get more than 500 points. Good!
That’s another activity where we were partnered up for safety reasons. It was a good thing, too, since at one point I started to breathe heavily and was very uncomfortable in the water, perhaps due to the waviness. My partner, a senior staff scientist, told me to swim on my back and breathe in slowly. This worked, and thereafter I became relaxed.
Elevation readings are performed to measure sedimentation buildup or coastal erosion. These readings are taken by going to a pre-designated part of a beach that has been monitored for years to get a reference and idea of the degree of erosion.
To take these readings, we required two one-meter sticks with a string attached that had a flatness-measuring device, i.e., a bubble rule (level)! The meter sticks face each other going down the slope in a straight line to the sea, and readings are taken until the sticks are in the water. 
In this run to the beach, I saw fish for the first time, and it was wonderful. I don’t really know what I saw, but they were big. It was awesome and a little apprehensive since I was used to teasing my cousins’ fish in their tank, and now I was in their natural habitat. It felt as thought the tides had turned for a second. 
In the evening, we covered the geology of the islands, which is explained beautifully in Neal Sealey’s book entitled “Bahamian Landscapes.” The Bahamas are unique in the sense they are made from limestone. San Salvador, being three miles wide, 10 miles long, and shaped like a rectangle, has about 80% of its area covered by inland lakes, which were once dunes in the sea that have been blocked off by sediment. These lakes are also three times as salty as the sea due to evaporation. Salt is also present on the banks of these lakes. 
Beach rock is present on the island and, as it sounds, is made from the calcium sand that’s also present. The calcium hits the sand and is dissolved. This reaction causes the rock to be formed.
Another unique feature of the island is the presence of red soil, which is rich in iron. This is unique, since the Bahamas are limestone-based islands. In fact, the red soil is from the Sahara Desert in Africa. It was transported from there via atmospheric winds—similar to how Gobi Desert sand is transported from China to Hawaii via atmospheric wind channels. The principal investigator did tell us of West African fisherman finding frozen locusts on their boats. This was due to the locusts being sucked into the atmosphere, frozen, and then transported via winds to the African coast.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 In the morning, I went to the dilapidated pier in Grahams Harbor and watched the waves pounce on the beach while praying on my rosary. Then I went to back to my room, where I started taking to my roommate about the reason why my alarm clock goes off so early in the morning. He was only teasing me to an extent, since he’d traveled in Indonesia for four months. I guess he understood all about praying and praying times, since the call to prayer is performed publicly in that country.     
It was decided that it was too windy to do any research, so we went on a recreational visit to a lighthouse and lighthouse cave. The lighthouse is one of three manually operated ones in the Bahamas that are operated by two keepers. The lenses were made in Birmingham, England (that’s where I live).
In the cave, I saw stalagmites and stalactites. The cave was filled with water, which reached five feet at its deepest! At one moment, we all stood still and observed the cave in pitch darkness. I swear it was pitch dark. I couldn’t see anything. It was like I was alone even though there were more than 10 of us. I felt bodiless, like a soul, a spirit, or a particle.    
By noon, we were back at base after having trekked back through the jungle to get to our truck. My fingers required moisturizer, which I didn’t have! I guess they were like that due to the seawater.
We went to Rocky Point and found it difficult to perform any water-based data gathering in the area. We performed elevation readings instead.
In the evening, we had a group bonding session, where every member of the team described his or her life in five minutes or so. I felt very comfortable and was amazed by their life stories.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 In the morning, I went to the beach before breakfast and joined another volunteer who was picking up litter. 
We stopped at Cockburn Town (pronounced Coburn Town), and I rang my mother and spouse. It cost around US$10 dollars for the five minutes I spoke with them. It was a good line, too!
For breakfast, one of the locals made me bush tea using leaves from a bush near the base I was staying at.
In the morning, we performed elevation readings at Lindsay and Rice Bay. I also played football (soccer) there with my roommate. For lunch, I had broccoli soup with my fiftieth slice of bread, if not my fifty-first.
After lunch, we went down to Snapshot Reef, where we had a great opportunity in the clear water to take videos and photographs of the various corals and algae-eating fish, such as parrotfish, tigerfish, bluefin, etc.
There, I also learned a saying that has stuck with me since: “Don’t let school get in the way of education.” I like this, because school sometimes, at certain ages, isn’t the best place for a child or teen. I would probably have liked to travel more while growing up.     
In the evening, we had a slideshow on the various corals we’d see in the waters around San Salvador. This was a repeat lecture, so I made copious notes. There were three different star corals we’d see—elliptical, mountainous, and cavernous.

Thursday, November 22, 2007 In the morning, we found Rocky Point to be extremely dangerous to perform any research. Instead, we went to Pigeon Creek, which is a lovely place to just go and relax. It has numerous mangroves with lots of juvenile fish and conch. I didn’t get to see them, since I was struggling with a pair of long fins I’d borrowed from the base that were hurting my feet. Eventually, I took one off, threw it into the truck, and carried on with only one. Later, we rode down on the waves to near the mouth of the creek.
For lunch, I had French fries, bread, and half an orange. In the afternoon, we went to Rocky Point and Sand Dollar Beach to perform elevation readings. Sand Dollar Beach is nicely tucked away, and its water is calm and lovely to swim in. It’s the most secluded and relaxing beach on the island.
It was Thanksgiving today, and we had the traditional dinner of the day, with a menu that included turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, etc.
In the evening, we were given a presentation by a member of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). The BNT is aligned with the Nature Conservancy group. The presenter was also a part of the San Salvador Living Jewels Society, which was the main purpose of her talk. She is proposing protected areas—under the auspices of the BNT and under the trust of the San Salvador Living Jewels Society—to protect the Nassau grouper, Bahamian lobster, and conch. These three species are being over-harvested at an alarming rate, and the Living Jewels is proposing to the Bahamian government a range of protected areas around the island that will reinvigorate the populations of these species.
This protected area would also include the three keys (rocks in the sea) close to the island named Green Key, White Key, and another whose name I cannot remember. Green Key houses a species of land iguana native only to that island (found nowhere else on the planet), so it is evident how important it is to take care of the islands and keys species, because tourism and fisheries will continue to endanger them if they aren’t protected.
The Living Jewels initiative seems impressive. With Bermuda currently banning lobster fishing around its waters for the next 25 years due to low stocks, the Bahamian government may want to start banning fishing in certain areas now rather than waiting until the future. Even if a ban is accepted, it may not be successful since there is no one to police these areas due to a lack of funding.
After this quite impressive presentation, we were given a marvelous lecture by one of the senior staff scientists, who was a great help during my stay and made our trip so fulfilling due to her expansive knowledge of the island. In fact, I think she is one of the most experienced visitors to the island. For instance, she has a brilliant awareness of the beaches on the island and of tidal behavior at those beaches.
Her presentation was on flame working, which is what she does to pay the bills. Flame working is a process of working with glass on a small scale using an oil-burning lamp as the heat source.

Friday, November 23, 2007 We went to Lindsay Reef to perform data collection. However, we found it far too difficult due to the windy conditions. The current was so strong that when we placed the point intersect frame on the floor of the reef, it was moved by the current. We managed to do one throw but gave up since we began to hit the coral.
There was a group performing fish data collection and another doing rugosity (three dimensional) mapping of the reef, but I couldn’t join them since they were part way through their activity.
We were offered the chance to draw the perimeter of the reef using a global positioning system (GPS) device. I accepted at first along with the others, but I went back to shore because I only had one short fin and one long! It would also be a one-kilometer (0.60-mile) swim, and I knew I wasn’t strong enough to avoid bumping into branching coral due to their height (which reached the subsurface layer of the water) and the strong wave action.
For lunch, we went to a restaurant. I had the vegetarian meal, which involved macaroni and cheese with rice accompanied by dried potatoes and triggerfish.
After lunch, which was compliments of the PI, we were given the option of either doing water chemistry or visiting plantation ruins and an owl hole and taking a ride around the perimeter the island. I went for the tour and had pictures taken.
In the evening, we got to perform some water chemistry using standard school chemistry kits. We also measured the alkalinity and salinity of the water.
In our debriefing straight after the water chemistry, we were told the reason for collecting the data.
Data collected through monitoring the transects and performing the various tests are added to and compared and contrasted with the existing data set. This allows the researchers to monitor if there was an increase/decrease in bleaching of the coral population.
A future, long-term aim of the project is to restore the coral reef by transplanting coral tissue into the reef and encouraging reef growth by deploying a concrete cast to help the three-dimensional aspects of the reef—thus increasing the fish population.
The project also wants to get the local population to collect data, which would mean more information gathered throughout the year and less reliance on volunteers who pay to help. The only problem is that many of the locals cannot swim, so there needs to be an incentive.
Currently there is no serious bleaching event occurring in the Bahamas. This was consoling for the PI, because we as a group didn’t collect as much data as he had hoped. The PI will get back to us soon regarding the analysis he will perform on the data we collected, although the overall picture is that variables, such as temperature, water clarity and chemistry, are steady.

Saturday, November 24, 2007 This is when we said our goodbyes and made our way back home. It was a real honor to be on this expedition and to have met all the people on the trip. I have always liked Americans, and this experience enhanced that feeling.
Here’s what I would do differently on the trip if I did it again. In addition to checking in my toiletries at the airport instead of packing them in a carry-on bag, I would take the following:
  • Two extra large towels;
  • Long fins (short ones are ineffective);
  • Sunscreen with SPF 35 or higher;
  • Strong mask; better still, one that has lenses;
  • Underwater torch (flashlight);
  • Two waterproof watches;
  • Alarm clock;
  • Two pairs of shoes;
  • Dive bag for snorkel and fins;
  • Jungle pants/shirts to protect against mosquitoes; and
  • Prescription sunglasses.
The things I really enjoyed on the island included Coca-Cola, triggerfish, the culture and attitudes of the people, coral, swimming with fish, snorkeling, wearing my wetsuit, caving, San Salvador, Nassau, the plane journey on the dash turbo, getting to know experts in their field, and, last but not least, contributing to the longest running coral reef survey in the west.    
In the days ahead, I went back to Miami and visited my cousins once more. We enjoyed spinach lasagna and went to malls. I saw Flipper (from the 1960s TV series) perform tricks in the Miami Sea Aquarium.
The killer whale was my favorite show, because the whale’s tricks were spectacular. These included splashing the audience with its tail and fins. Not surprising, my baby cousin was more interested in eating her cookies than watching the whale.
I believe everyone should go on one these expeditions, because I think it will enrich most peoples’ lives in the way it did mine and help researchers gather data to maintain the planet’s many wonders.
(View a presentation Khurram developed following his trip. go )

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Earthwatch Institute

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Bahamian Reef Survey

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.