I’m currently typing this post at a marine biology research station in Willemstad, Curaçao. Since the station is located in front of the beach, temperatures here stay consistently warm from the ocean breeze but don’t get as humid as Florida. This is the perfect summer weather. However, I didn’t come here to tan in the sun. In all honesty, that’s what I hoped would happen coming here, but it’s only a second-hand result of what I’m actually doing on this study abroad trip. Half of my days are spent underwater. The rest of my time is spent on land putting together data for a research paper.
As my 8-day study abroad trip in Curaçao begins to wind down, there is still work to do. I came to the Caribbean island thinking I would look at colorful fish only to find that my schedule is drowning in due dates for quizzes and projects. Regardless of my heavy workload, the experiences I have gained from this trip have thoroughly fulfilled my childhood dreams of swimming in a coral reef. Three dives a day swimming 40 feet below the ocean waters is both a fun and intensive process. Scientific scuba diving involves more interpersonal communication and hands-on interaction with the natural environment than recreational scuba diving. What species of coral are we looking for? How many types of fish can we count in this specific area of the reef? Purpose drives the idea of gathering scientific information.
For my project, I surveyed fish species in different areas of coral reefs to determine how coral biodiversity drives fish biodiversity, essentially how the degree of coastal urbanization affects the number of fish species within a coral reef. During my dives, body language was crucial for underwater communication. Measuring tapes needed to travel in specific directions and new areas needed to be surveyed at new time periods. It is difficult to speak underwater, so hand gestures were the primary form of underwater communication. Over the course of my dives, I managed to gather all the fish species data needed to write my paper. Because Curaçao boasts vast regions of coral reefs, data collection was relatively simple. However, this was in addition to multiple animal identification quizzes and an outreach presentation to teach local high schoolers about marine conservation. Time management and discipline were especially important to prevent me from sitting on the beach all day long (it is heavily relaxing to do homework by the beach).
Though my time spent in Curaçao has been busy, it has also been priceless. 9-year old Wei would have never imagined to live out his dreams exploring the underwater world. Being able to conduct research on coral reef ecosystems has not only satisfied my drive for adventure, but has also allowed me to answer questions about how our world works.