Alexandra Gluschenkova's Diary


Friday, January 5, 2007 Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Tuesday, May 1, 2007 Saturday, September 1, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007 Friday, November 16, 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  

Friday, January 5, 2007 When I received a letter about the opportunity to participate in ecological expeditions around the world, I did not hesitate. Traveling, new places, and communication with new people attracted me. The most important thing about the program was not just the possibility of traveling—it was a real chance to do something for our Earth.

I think the environmental protection issue is ignored by most people in the world. I believe that. People squander natural resources and don’t care about environmental protection. This will result in an eco-catastrophe for the next generations. I want to make my contribution to improving the environmental situation. Most people just read other’s articles and don’t do anything themselves. Maybe it would be only small changes that I can do, but I hope…

So, I filled in all the forms and sent them in, as I remembered it was the deadline for the submission of applications.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 I’ve been selected as a 2007 Alcoa Earthwatch fellow. I’m headed to the Bahamas to work with field scientists conducting a Bahamian reef survey.

Wow! I cannot believe it! The Bahamas? Cool!

It’s quite difficult to describe my emotions. It was one of the most exciting emails of my life.

My colleagues congratulated me, and I received many nice and warm words. It’s funny, but many people didn’t know where the country was. I must confess, my knowledge of the country was lacking, too. I just know it is not far from Cuba.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 I found a lot of information about the Bahamas. This distant land became very close to me.

I carefully studied the general information about the project. Reef surveying is something unusual for me. I’m discovering a new world. Colorful, amazing photos impressed me.

My trip will be in November. I have time to learn something about corals and the underwater world.

Saturday, September 1, 2007 Just two months. I’m waiting impatiently….

Thursday, November 15, 2007 Hard day for me.

Due to the fact that the British embassy in Moscow was not working for a couple of weeks (implementation of a new system), I was not able to get a Bahamian visa on time.

My advice to anybody is to do all the necessary formalities as soon as possible. I thought two months was enough, and it was my mistake. I cannot describe my disappointment. All I could do was cancel all the hotel reservations and write to my coordinators. All the people were very supportive. Alcoa’s Earthwatch coordinator asked me to wait…

Friday, November 16, 2007 Fortunately, I got my visa today. It was great news. The soonest flight was tomorrow, and I have to stay in Moscow for one night. Anyway, I’m happy that the trip is possible.

Sunday, November 18, 2007 It took almost two days for the trip, and the time difference had an effect—I was asleep when we arrived in Nassau.

Warm climate, colorful flowers, amazing ocean.…  But, I had energy only for a short walk on a hotel beach. Amazing!

Monday, November 19, 2007 I’m here on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. I can’t believe it. It’s a terrific place! This island is something special.

The colors of the ocean are from deep blue to turquoise. The civilization is like something from another world.

I arrived at the research center at lunch time and could meet all the members of our group. They were such nice people. I really give thanks to God that I could meet them.

I must confess that during my trip from Moscow to Nassau, I felt so lonely and all the circumstances were quite difficult. But, all the people from the expedition team were so supportive and open that I forgot all my problems. 

After lunch, we went to work. It was my first experience here. We divided into three teams, took our masks and fins, and swam to a coral reef. I cannot describe the underwater world—it was a magic kingdom of fish and corals—all of which looked a little bit different than in books. It surpassed all my expectations.

I read that San Salvador provides an ideal setting to study coral reefs. These reefs are a very important part of the ecosystem for a large territory (for example, the Caribbean). Reefs give protection from hurricanes, storms, and strong currents. Many species of fish live and feed around reefs. Corals also help maintain the balance of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the water.

In recent years, water pollution and climate change have had a negative impact on the corals’ health, usually in the form of the bleaching of hard corals. This dangerous disease is when the corals expel the zooxanthellae algae that live inside and impart their color to the corals in a symbiotic relationship. When the algae are expelled, a white spot appears on the coral.

I hope to make my contribution to the reef research project. Our tasks will be to collect some data that will give an indication of the chemical and biological conditions of the marine environment. We will register incidences of bleaching, too. Scientists collect data several times a year and therefore can understand all the changes and evaluate possible risks. If we have full knowledge about the condition of the coral, we can prevent damage.

Our team leader, Michelle, explained to us (I think it was special for me—all other members had training last evening) how to perform the tests we would be conducting. These included temperature measurement, collection of water samples, and a measurement of visibility in the water.

Michelle found the right place on a coral reef and stretched a five-meter (16-foot) line (we used orange ribbon) under the water. At three points (outermost left and right and middle), we took a water sample. Several days later, we used the water to perform some chemical tests to evaluate cleanness and composition.

At the same points, we measured the temperature. One of our team members dove several meters under the water and held a thermometer. The temperature was about 24° Celsius (75° Fahrenheit). The difference was just several hundredths between the points. John said that was normal for this season.

The comfortable temperature for corals is between 24° Celsius and 31° Celsius (88° Fahrenheit). A rise in temperature could kill all corals, and low temperatures provide poor conditions for growth. (No corals exist in waters below 18 °Celsius, or 64° Fahrenheit). We must measure the temperature precisely near the coral. If we measure it in the top layer, the sun’s heating of the water gives us incorrect information about the condition of the surrounding corals.

Visibility testing allowed us to evaluate the cleanness of the water, too. One member of our team stood at one place, and another one swam with a white-orange ring in his hands. The first member would say “stop” when he could not see the ring anymore. Since this test also depends on a person’s eyesight, we preformed it several times to get an average result.

The visibility was 12 meters (39 feet). This was a good result. I cannot imagine the same result in the Volga River (the largest river in Europe and one that flows through Russia).

All the tests took about two hours. It was very pleasant to work in such a warm atmosphere.

After dinner, Andrea—my new Hungarian friend—showed me the research center territory. It was very interesting, and I was really impressed with the infrastructure. The center has a good library, Internet access, and several labs.

Some high school students were doing research work in San Salvador at the same time we were. It’s super that students have such possibilities!

We had some lectures in the evening about corals and our plans for tomorrow. I took a very useful book about the corals and fish of the Caribbean and spent the rest of the day reading.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 It was too rough today, and the wind was too strong. We felt comfortable on an island, but it was dangerous to snorkel. Therefore, we had a good excursion to a lighthouse. It was built at the end of the 18th century, but people use it right now, too. The view was wonderful. We all took many pictures of the lighthouse. It was possible to go up the stairs, so we did it.

We were able to see that the island has many lakes. Of course, all of them have saltwater.

I know that today the island looks very different from what Christopher Columbus saw in 1492 when he first stepped onto the coast. I read about huge trees, iguanas, parrots, and seabirds—all of them greatly impressed Columbus. At the present time, we saw just low vegetation on the island. Plantation owners felled the majestic trees to raise cotton. But the endeavor to grow something failed.

We did not see parrots at all. They do not live on the island anymore. The iguana is a symbol of San Salvador, but this rare species needs to be protected. The influence of civilization can destroy this small ecosystem.

After the lighthouse, we followed a small path. It looked like the beginning of a good adventure. At the end of the path was a big hole. It was a cave. I’ve visited a lot of caves in my life, but this one was something unusual. It was not a place for tourists, so we needed our lights to see something. Some stalactites and stalagmites were very peaceful looking, but the most unusual thing for me was the underground river! (I know—it was part of the ocean, but it looked like a river.)

I remembered an old movie about Indiana Jones and I felt like I was part of a movie. It was unbelievable! We swam under the ground, and our lights showed us the walls. At the end, we switched off all the lights and spent several minutes in silence and darkness. This feeling I’ll remember for all my life.

It’s interesting there were many small fish in the water. Elizabeth was surprised, because she’d never seen fish there before. A small riddle could be part of new research work. I think the climate is changing and results could be very different. Anyway, John and his team will give attention to this issue.

In the afternoon, we went to Rocky Point to do beach profiling. It is a simple way to measure the transverse profile of a beach using a tape and leveling rods.

I cannot say it was difficult to work in these pleasant conditions. The sand in San Salvador was so soft and white. The colors were unbelievable!

In the evening, we had a party. John cooked some Mexican food and made a cocktail with guava juice. It was marvelous!
 
Everybody introduced himself or herself. I was impressed. All the people here are so interesting and unusual. I studied what kind of person I wanted to be….
 
After the party, we were walking in the moonlight. Andrea was singing, and we were dancing a Hungarian dance.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 It was still rough, so we did beach profiles at Rice Bay and Lindsay Beach. The purpose of this research is to record beach topography changes from month to month and to document the effects of development, coastal storms, and rising sea levels.
 
For beach profiles, we used two leveling rods and a three-meter (10-foot) tape. First of all, we made a profiling line—a line of our measurement. It began at the end of the beach line and ended 10 meters (33 feet) in the water. Then we measured distances and heights along the profile line. Keeping two rods vertical, we stretched a rope between them. The rope should be horizontal (we used a level gauge to be sure), and in this case we could see a big difference.
 
All the beaches here are so beautiful, and there are many beautiful shells. Most members of our team created a good shell collection.
 
Yesterday, Paola, a fish expert, came to San Salvador, and today was the start of my fish study.

After lunch, we went to Snapshot Reef and snorkeled. Fish living in the Caribbean Sea have a variety of food sources, including plankton, other fish, and invertebrates. Usually, fish can feed on the coral reef. It’s clear that fish population and health depend on coral reef conditions, so scientists study corals and fish together. Reef fish play many important roles in coral reef community dynamics, too.
 
It’s funny, but I don’t know the names of the fish in Russian—only in English. Blue tang can be not only be blue in color, but also yellow. Parrotfish are more colorful than real parrots. Grouper, surgeonfish, blue tang, barracuda—I can distinguish between species now.
 
In the evening, we had a lesson in the lab. Elizabeth showed us slides of different species of corals and fish, and we learned how we can distinguish them.
 
Generally, there are two types of coral—hard and soft. Hard corals (like brain coral) have hard, limestone skeletons that form the basis of coral reefs. Soft corals (like sea fingers) do not build reefs. Soft corals look like colorful plants or trees. They do not possess algae but do produce a small amount of calcium carbonate to help them maintain their shape.
 
It was interesting that corals and reef inhabitants were used widely in medicine. There are many drugs that have already been developed from coral reefs. Ingredients extracted from coral reefs are used as treatments for cardiovascular diseases, leukemia, and skin cancer.

Thursday, November 22, 2007 It was my first Thanksgiving, and I really wanted to say “thank you” to God, to my new friend, and to Alcoa….

In the morning, we went to another side of the island known as Pigeon Creek. We were swimming about an hour in a very beautiful bay with mangrove trees around. Unfortunately, we could not spend more time there, because it took about 40 minutes to get to the research center. The one sad thing today was that Michelle left us. I so miss her—she is such a nice person.

After lunch, we went snorkeling again. I was so happy that we did not see much bleaching on the reef. 
 
Bleaching is caused by various human influences and natural variations in the reef environment, including sea temperature, solar irradiance, etc. Global climate change may play a role in the increase of coral bleaching events and could cause the destruction of major reef tracts and the extinction of many coral species. Therefore, any sign of bleaching was the most important focus of our searching the reefs, and every evening Elizabeth taught us how to distinguish between bleaching and healthy coral.
 
There were many fish at the reef this day, as usual. And, I saw several stingrays!
 
The dinner was really typical for the United States and unusual for me. It definitely was delicious: turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes, beans, and pumpkin pie.  
 
A nice lady who was a representative of the Bahamas National Trust gave a presentation on the protection of the living jewels of the Bahamas: grouper, turtle, conch, and others. It’s difficult for the local government to manage all the islands, as some are too remote and small.

Bahamas National Trust chose the path of popularizing the idea of environmental protection. The trust manages 12 national parks and protected areas and proposes to expand the park system to include more of the country’s most significant natural and historic resources.

Friday, November 23, 2007 Today is a last our working day.
 
The ocean was quite calm, and we could concentrate on studying coral and fish. We divided into three teams again to do as much as possible. Our team performed fish observations.
 
The reef was marked out into eight-by-eight-meter (26-by-26-feet) quadrates. We had eight sessions, and each session was five minutes. During that time, we observed how many of the different species of fish appeared in the area. Accordingly, we wrote down the statistics on our board. Blue tangs, parrotfish, doctorfish, surgeonfish, and damselfish were on our list.  
 
The other two teams did point intercept transect and rugosity testing.
 
The point intercept transect method collects data on how many different kinds of coral (hard and soft coral) are in a pre-specified area, how much is bleaching, the size of bleaching, and so on. 
 
Today, we had our lunch outside. Elizabeth and John invited us to a nice, small restaurant in a village. It was in a very interesting style: T-shirts from many different countries, some of which had short inscriptions on them like “hello from Germany,” adorned the walls. Delicious food and a warm atmosphere.
 
In the afternoon, we took an informative trip. Elizabeth is a very smart person, and she is a good storyteller. Besides, she knows so much about San Salvador, corals, and history.
 
The time with Elizabeth was very pleasant and useful. We stopped in the middle of the island and went into the big lake. It was not very deep there, but the water was really muddy. Silt at the bottom made the color of the water brown. Several meters from the shore, Elizabeth put her arm into the water and tried to find something. After the fourth attempt, she asked us to come in. The gray pieces in her hands were the ancestors of corals. Well, evolution did a good job. All of today’s colorful corals have these modest gray ones as their ancestor.
 
After the lake, we visited the ruins of an old plantation. It was a vain endeavor to grow cotton on San Salvador. Several buildings were probably for slaves, and we saw pictures of ships on the walls. It looked like somebody tried to calculate the ships using pictures. That time (17th to 18th century) was a turning point for the Bahamas. The influence of European civilization has resulted in many serious changes in the ecosystem of the islands. Aboriginal populations have completely disappeared. And, many species of animals and plants are now under the threat of disappearance. 
 
After dinner, we did some chemical tests in the lab using the water samples from the reefs at Monument Beach. Controlled water conditions are of primary importance for animals found in a reef environment. We performed salinity, pH, nitrate, phosphate, bromine, strontium, alkalinity, ammonia, and nitrite tests. I did nitrate and calcium tests with Sarah.
 
High nitrate levels will stress marine fish, making them susceptible to infection. Fortunately, the nitrate level was normal.

Calcium is an essential component in the skeletons of corals and is therefore constantly depleted from the marine environment. To promote healthy coral growth, a natural level of calcium must be maintained. The level of calcium was normal, too. This was no surprise—the water around San Salvador was clear.

The last day was so rich. After all the events, John cooked a marvelous cheesecake for us. We all said “thank you” to John, Elizabeth, and Paula for their work, for the knowledge we got, and for their patience and kindness.

Saturday, November 24, 2007 It was so sad to leave San Salvador. The six days here were unforgettable.
 
We made a list of our email addresses, hugged each other, took our “last” pictures, and went to the airport.
 
Now, I remember the sunny days in San Salvador and want draw some conclusions.
 
Coral Reefs
It’s an unbelievable underwater world. This world is so beautiful, and I want to be sure my children will see the same colors I saw in San Salvador.
 
Coral reefs are not only beautiful things, they are also a very important part of the ecosystem. They provide protection and shelter for many different species of fish. Without coral, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the water would rise dramatically. In addition, corals protect coasts from strong currents and waves. Around San Sal, there are barrier reefs separated from the shore by wide lagoons.
 
People
The great value of my expedition was the people.
 
Earthwatch people—John, Elizabeth, Michelle, and Paola. These people helped me discover a new world. They are keen on studying and protecting marine life, and they gave us a part of this passion. 
 
Volunteers—all the teams. These people were so smart, interesting, and kind. It was very pleasant to have dealt with them. They always were ready to support each other, to share new knowledge, and to give good advice. Andrea and Kirsten became very close to me. I admire Sarah’s enthusiasm (she is a teacher from a public school in Florida). Her students are very lucky. On the last day, Sarah did some interviews with the scientists and members of our team for her class. I think it’s so important to show children what kind of life they can have and how our world has great variety.
 
Elizabeth gave me a new point of view for my life. Her life experience impressed me.
 
I want to say “Thank you” to everybody from the expedition. I’m so happy I met all of these people.
 
Thank you, Earthwatch. I hope to become a participant in other programs.
 
Thank you, Alcoa, for this possibility to learn so many new things and for this unforgettable adventure!

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