Start of the algae experiments

On Monday, we began field work on one of our 2 projects. The project looks at how density of one kind of algae, Turbinaria ornata, affects the growth of and herbivory on other kinds of algae. Turbinaria (let’s call it “turb” for short) is a really tough, prickly algae and is all over the place in Mo’orea (see picture below). It’s not very palatable to fish, but we want to see how the abundance and density of turb affects the softer, more palatable macroalgae that grows amongst the turb.

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Turbinaria on top of coral bommies on the northwest side of Mo’orea

For our study, we are marking small plots (25cm x 25cm) and manipulating the density of turb in each plot. Then, we are going to put out some of the soft, palatable algae that the fish like to eat in each plot, and measure if/how herbivory and nutrient limitation on those algae changes with the turb density. Turb has been increasing in abundance around French Polynesia in recent years, so we are interested in seeing what effects that possible increase in turb density will have on the greater community.

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Setting out our plots on SCUBA

We are working at a place called Sailing School, which is a beautiful public beach where kids learn how to sail. The first day we went there, a handful of French Polynesian kids sailed by in a row of sailboats, and waved to use while we surveyed our site. Most of our work is done on SCUBA, so we get to dive down to the shocking depth of 5ft and carry out our experiments underwater. It’s a gorgeous place to work, and there is a ton of sea life. My favorites so far have included a sea turtle, damsel fish, and the anemone featured in Finding Nemo. Basically, it doesn’t take much motivation for me to commute to work.

My group member Justin ready to jump in at our work site (Sailing School)
My group member Justin ready to jump in at our work site (Sailing School)
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