manta-boarding (v.): to be pulled behind a boat with your face in the water, as if you were a manta ray.
We are now getting to the point in the term where we have learned the basic concepts and techniques of resource management, and are now ready to apply them to actual projects. We got to try a little field research last week when we did a dive assessing lionfish, but yesterday was the beginning of our first real research and related paper (for this class).
The objective was to continue a many-year studying assessing queen conch abundance inside and outside the marine reserve to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve. SFS has been collecting this data with its semester and summer students for 10 years now, so a significant data set has been compiled for us to analyze. Yesterday was our turn collecting data, which consisted of a group of 8 going out on a boat for 4 hours (YES IT REALLY WAS 4 HOURS) and taking turns doing transects in the water counting conch. But, the transect method is TONS of fun: partner pairs get to hold onto a wooden board (“manta board”) that is attached with string to the back of the boat, and then get pulled along behind the boat as we drive the transect. Yes, it is exactly like water skiing except you are lying down and your face is in the water. Plus, not so fast. ;) You just wear a snorkel and enjoy the beautiful sea stretch out below you as you are pulled along, recording the conch you see on the dive slate that is attached to the manta board. (I know right?? What a fun research method!).
It is actually harder than you would expect, because conch are clearly sessile so it is hard to tell which ones are dead and which are alive, plus we were classifying them according to 3 different life stages (which all looked pretty similar). It was also hard not to get distracted when you were pulled along 3 feet above a stingray! And since we were getting towed along, it was difficult to see the dive slate behind all of the bubbles so many of my tallies were just blind markings, scattered all over the column instead of in neat rows. Sometimes the board got pulled down in the water and started taking us down under (which would have been fun if I would have had bigger lungs;) and so that was the exhilarating moment where we held our breath and pulled up on the board to direct it towards the surface again! Actually, even when the board was being towed along at the surface, the waves and splashes kept getting in my snorkel anyway. Let’s just say I breathed past a lot of water! (And cleared my snorkel a ton!).
Each boat group was assigned 8 grid transects to cover, which meant about 20 minutes of water time for the snorkelers running each transect, plus the drive time to each site and the coordination time getting in the water. My group was the 8am to noon time slot (already not good…right after breakfast), and we were going to some of the furthest sites from South—Middleton Cay and Six Hills Cay, which you can see in the distance from the field center (also means more in open seas). We started the day with enthusiasm and were quick to jump in the water and count conch or monitor the snorkelers doing the counting. But after the first two hours, the rocking boat (driving at <3mph on rolling waves) started to get to us and we anxiously awaited our next turns on the manta board because in the water we weren’t queasy. It was actually quite humorous to see us slowly get less and less energetic (this was 4 hours!!) and when the last pair came in from the tow, they found half of our group lying on the bottom of the boat with our eyes shut (yes, me included!). None of us threw up, and I didn’t feel totally terrible—just a little queasy with a headache from the rocking—so the manta-boarding rides were completely worth it!
Now we have compiled all of our data with prior years’ and have the fun task of researching and analyzing and report writing. Which I should probably start. ;)
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.