Today we went on our much anticipated visit to the coral reef; following yesterday’s lesson concerning coral reefs, we were eager to see them for ourselves! We packed our lunches, gathered our gear and left for the nearby Keys Marine Laboratory. The Laboratory is a nearby research station and educational facility that provides lab space and boating services to visiting groups.
It was a windy day so the waves were a little choppy, but we arrived at the first site known as Coffins Reef. The boat captain explained that this patch reef got its name after a ship carrying coffins capsized, leaving its cargo floating free in the water. We saw no ship remains nor coffins, but it made for a good story. At the reef, the water was much deeper than anything we had visited before, but we quickly learned to re-pressurize our ears, allowing us dive deeper and explore the bottom. We saw schools of brilliantly colored fish, soft coral, a few parrot fish, and even a nurse shark and green sea turtle!
The second patch reef we visited was called Pillar Reef, named after the tall pillar corals that were present there. I found a brain coral six feet in diameter, which was incredible to look at, but sad to see how much of the coral was bleached. Rising temperatures and the acidification of the ocean have contributed to mass-coral bleaching across the world.
On route to the final site, we traveled to a nearby sandbar to relax and eat lunch. While exploring, Reena located and rescued a rather bedraggled little bird. Having rested atop the head of David to dry out, Ryan walked the bird safely to shore.
By the time we reached the final site we were all exhausted, but were determined to get the most out of our last hours at the reef. As we explored, we saw countless sea fans, several spiny lobsters and schools of fish everywhere. Finally, we gathered back into the boat and headed to shore.
When we got back to the research center, many of us collapsed in bed for a nap, but awoke a short time later to study for our lab practical the next morning. Despite the sea sickness experienced by some, a few sore ears, and the exhaustion, it was a ter-reef-ic experience and one I will never forget.
-Alex Steiner ‘19