Who is Under the Dock Today?

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This “short film” (30 seconds) takes a peek under the dock at the UC Berkeley research station. Just before I stuck my camera in the water, there was an adorable box fish and other times I’ve seen lots of other fish that seem to like the dock as shelter. The algae that drifts in is mainly Turbinaria and Sargassum brown algae, and the mats come and go quite rapidly, but may act as refuge for juvenile fish, invertebrates, and other algae. I’ve also seen trash get swept in by these mats, so I imagine them as giant brooms sweeping along small critters and debris as they make their way across the water. Unfortunately, it seems to grow on almost every coral head on the nearby reef (the floating stuff had to come from somewhere!), but it is hard to say whether these algae are a cause of coral die-off or if they are simply taking advantage of a vacant space after coral dies of other causes. Luckily, there is active research on this topic and regular monitoring of Turbinaria and Sargassum by the Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research team at the Gump station by UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge scientists. There is also an excellent French research station in the next bay over (Opunohu Bay, we are in Cook’s Bay) called CRIOBE (Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement) that has excellent long term reef transect data and has also published studies on the effects of Turbinaria on the coral reefs in Moorea.

These algae that frequently startle me with their abrasive touch while swimming have also caught the attention of some of the students in the UC Berkeley course. For some, it is one factor of many in coral reef diversity studies, but Imari Walker is interested in the communities Turbinaria itself supports and how that community shifts once a mat is washed ashore, leaving the marine for the terrestrial realm. I’m looking forward to seeing what she discovers!

A Turbinaria mat has washed ashore along the research station in Cook's Bay, Moorea.

A Turbinaria mat has washed ashore along the research station in Cook’s Bay, Moorea.

Flippin’ my fins…

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…I might not get that far, but you sure can see a lot of interesting critters if you stick your face in the water around here! I took a bunch of GoPro clips snorkeling around different spots in Moorea the first week here and took some time to compile them and set them to music from the Bali Hai dance show. I hope you enjoy it!

Resisting Dissipation

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Three weeks have gone by and I’m not exactly sure where they went. Time seems to dissipate into the tropical breeze and I have an unshakable lethargy that saturates my being day in and day out. The other two graduate student instructors seem to be suffering from the same languid stupor that I am plagued with, inspiring half-joking conversations about mononucleosis and the possibility that something like that could wipe out the whole class. A couple rounds of the common cold and a malicious stomach bug have already assaulted our faction, so I hope we have already seen the worst of any maladies that might crop up.

I do not actually believe I have contracted any diseases and I should be over that stomach bug, but still I find myself scattered, pursuing neither work nor play with heartfelt fervor when I am not “on duty” for the class. This is not to say that I have been without any purpose or that I think these three weeks have been a spectacular waste. I have given myself time to pursue impulses and curiosities, read, cook, do art projects, have conversations, and simply do nothing, all without worrying about my dissertation.

I think that is actually the most surprising and somewhat unsettling thing about how I feel. Continue reading

Video tour of Mo’orea

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During our first week on the island, I shot lots of GoPro footage both on land and swimming with the fishies. Here is a compilation of scenes around the island from jagged mountains, to mangroves, and the stunning aqua blue lagoon. The music was recorded on my iPhone at the Bali Hai Club Tahitian dance show last Friday, which was quite an experience in itself!

Fruits for days

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Pineapple, banana, noni, papaya, grapefruit, avocado, Tiare, Chinese cabbage, Tahitian lime, vanilla, passion fruit, and the list goes on….

View of Mount Tohivea from the agricultural school.

View of Mount Tohivea from the agricultural school.

These are some of the fruits, flowers, and vegetables that we learned about on our class trip to the Lycée Agricole Opunohu aka “the ag school” which offers a 2-year post high school program in various agricultural specialties focusing on crops grown in French Polynesia (see the fun video tour on their website which is of course in French). Any visitor can purchase delicious ice cream and jams and other products made with fruits grown at the school or go on self led walking tours to learn about the crops.

We had a special treat however in getting a special tour from 8 of the advanced students at the school. As part of their English exam, they each gave a report on a different fruit, flower, or vegetable as we walked through the property. I found it interesting that there is no need to use any pesticides on the

Tio explains the history and agricultural practices for growing bananas to the class.

Tio explains the history and agricultural practices for growing bananas to the class.

crops because they were introduced by early Polynesians and the islands here are so isolated that their associated “pests” (the insects that like to eat them as much as we do) have not made it here to infect the crops. Also, since it rains regularly, there is almost no irrigation system in place since watering is so infrequently needed. However, they did have a clever recirculating water system in the green house used for raising Chinese cabbage that retained nutrients and gave a consistent level of moisture to the new and maturing plants (see photo).

After the tour, we joined the students and the rest of the school (about 200 students total) for a lunch of beet and corn salad, meatballs with rice, and pineapple in the cafeteria. Most of the students at the school are from far reaching islands throughout French Polynesia, so they board at the school during the week and stay with host families on Moorea or Tahiti on the weekends.

Chinese cabbage cultivation in the greenhouse.

Chinese cabbage cultivation in the greenhouse.

From my small glimpse into life at the school, it really does seem like a great place to get a hands on education in sustainable agriculture. And it seems like the kind of education that will be especially relevant and profitable for many of the young people going back to far away islands (and I think I heard they offer courses for adults too).

Over the last 24 years the Berkeley course has been taught here, many of the student projects use the ag school as a resource if not a study site, so it was nice to get such a great orientation early on. And even if none of the students end up having projects there, they have a link through the deliveries of fruits and vegetables they receive from the school, which last week resulted in a huge daikon pancake feast! Many of the students had never heard of daikons until the loads that were delivered, so I’m sure they will continue to learn about local produce and get creative about cooking with it as the weeks go on. I hope there will not only be a one-way exchange of produce but also a cultural and educational exchange that will continue over the course of our time here.

Greetings from paradise

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I have been on the island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia for 10 days now, which is the typical stay for most of the vacationers here. Myself on the other hand, has 63 more days on this island in the middle of the South Pacific. What has brought me here for such an extended stay you might ask? Why, my job as a Graduate Student Instructor for the Biology and Geomorphology of Tropical Islands course taught on the UC Berkeley Gump station here in Mo’orea. Most teaching positions I’ve had haven’t taken me out of the Valley Life Sciences Building, let alone a tropical island.

Students noting what they can find in streams on the island!

Students noting what they can find in streams on the island!

The first three weeks did consist of lectures held on the Berkeley campus, but last Sunday, 20 students arrived at the station ready to dive in! And that’s exactly what we did this week; a whirlwind tour of the island with explorational forays into its various reef, forest, stream, mangrove, and developed environments. By now, the students have a sense of the kinds of organisms and habitats available to them to develop independent projects around, and this week they’ll be tasked with narrowing it down and developing proposals for the projects they will pour their blood sweat and tears into for the rest of the semester.

There’s not much to report yet, except that the entire bunch of students is delightful, and I am looking forward to getting to know them better and encouraging them to follow their ideas and make the most of their time here. Luckily, I have two other TAs to help share this responsibility (Seth Kauppinen and Jason Hwan).

Heading out on the Temae reef to take a transect that has been repeated every year (in different ways).

Heading out on the Temae reef to take a transect that has been repeated every year (in different ways).

Although the three of us are the only instructors that remain on the island for the entire duration, four professors co-teach the course and I’m pretty sure at least one of them will be here at any given time. To kick things off we have Brent Mishler and Stephanie Carlson, and later on Jonathon Stillman and then Vince Resh will arrive, each bringing with them a wealth of experience with the island and expertise in taxa and systems ranging widely across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial systems.

My goal here is to keep you updated on the course as it progresses, and hopefully give you some windows into the projects the students are pursuing. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with! Also, for updates in the moment (or at least within a day or so) I’ll be tweeting with #Moorea2014 from @jenna_judge.

Behind me is the Sofitel over-water bungalows which are next to the public beach we went to next to get our snorkel on.

Behind me is the Sofitel over-water bungalows which are next to the public beach we went to next to get our snorkel on.