UWI student blogs on her 1st coral reef research project

UWI Project student describes her first experience of coral reef surveying in Discovery Bay, Jamaica

Below is a snapshot from one of Dr Suzanne Palmer’s final year undergraduate project students – Chanel describes her first experience of data collection whilst scuba diving for her final year undergraduate project – all in the name of science!

Hi, I am Chanel Raynor a final year student in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica majoring in Marine Biology.

I have the privilege of doing a research project on a coral reef on the north coast of Jamaica and was based at Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory to carry out my data collection.  Methodology requires me to lay transects at different depths and record coral reef life forms present, this will be compared to data collected in 1986 which was published by Wilkinson and team in 2013. I undertook the first set of data collection in March 2014 and here is an account of my experience.

[Day 1]  The following was written MOMENTS after getting off the boat and running back to my room….

Hit the water at 10:30 am….got 1 15m transect  done.  The sea was as Kimani put it “MURDER DEATH KILL worst than Tern Cay”
I wasn’t feeling 100% from earlier in the morning but I pushed through and focused on the task ahead.

I was fine in the water until half way through the transect, then all hell broke lose; I suddenly had the urge to ‘Go’ if you catch my drift. My breathing rhythm was all over the place as a result which messed with my buoyancy control. I could have pressed on but by the end of transect 1 was under 1000psi and was not breathing with ease. Dive buddies signaled a assent then we made our way to the surface.

We dropped off approximately 100m away from the boat, in all the excitement we forgot to use our navigation skills to meet the boat at depth. The swim to the boat was a test of our fitness and resolve. I honestly wanted to give up, and the feeling intensified when I got a muscles contraction in one of my legs. So we pressed on the voice of Dory from ‘Finding Nemo’ singing “just keep swimming just keep swimming” resonated in my mind while we battled storm- like waves and strong currents determined to sweep us westwards along the reef. The boat is now only a couple feet from me and I feel like I just swam for my life!

All aboard we head for land; I sat on the floor of the boat, unsure if I’m even able to stand. As if we hadn’t  had enough the large swells send the the boat leaping into the air crashing painfully back into the water, the ride back seemed much much longer than before.

Made a dash for the flats but not before thinking
‘Land ho!’

Tomorrow should be much better based on the weather forecast, I have one day of experience (HELL) under my belt and plan to have an early start.


[Day 2]
Woke up at 5AM. The plan was to hit the water at 7 but I guess someone couldn’t wake up. Waited till around 8:45. But in the mean time I made sure I had all my equipment in order and went over pointers to improve efficiency of collecting data.

The sea looked ‘moody’ not as bad as yesterday but we stared at it, watched the storm clouds move from directly over the shipping channel to DIRECTLY over my research site – or close enough.

We went out and it was beautiful, more relaxed and I was able to complete all transects and take in the scenery of the Dancing Lady Reef, as the locals call it. We even got a lesson in driving the boat, fun times!

Special thanks to Dr. Suzanne Palmer, my supervisor for charging through all the administrative red tape, organizing everything down to last detail and giving me this opportunity. Thanks to my dive buddies Achsah Mitchell and Kimani Kitson Walters without you and I’d be half way down the coast of Jamaica by now, and to Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory staff  for facilitating my research including accommodations and assisting in the field.