SCUBA Bootcamp: Conservation in Curaçao

Since returning home from the lovely island of Curaçao, I have slept in, taken time for myself to relax and recover from the extreme physical requirements that each day abroad entailed, and sorted through hundreds of photos and videos, all attempting to shed light on my many experiences inside the Caribbean Sea.

Playa Daaibooi, Curacao

To sum up the ten days I spent abroad, I will use the word: Intense. It was intense because for 8 of the 10 days, I woke up at 6am, loaded the vehicles with tanks, regulators, fins, BCDs, weights, and towels, and rode off to the first of three dives to be completed that day. The first few days included dives that were meant to introduce us (the USF students) to the benthic biodiversity of fringing reefs surrounding the island. It was in these days that we learned how to lay a transect line safely over reefs at depths of 10-14 meters and perform belt transect fish counts, reef visual censuses, and point-intercept data collection procedures. We were also given a list of coral and fish species to study during our [very] limited down-time, but were able to practice identifying organisms while submerged.

Site: Sunken Tugboat near Fort Beekenburg in Curacao. Pictured: Joshua Boling, a PhD student studying coral genetics.

Once the first 12 dives were completed, I became an American Academy of Underwater Sciences scientific diver and could continue diving for the purpose of research. Data for this research was collected at various locations on the West side of the island in four different coral reefs. Depending on the day and which group I was scheduled to be with, I would take photos of coral juveniles inside of 2′ quadrats, record components of the benthic cover in 10cm intervals, count and record fish species based on size and rarity, or use a blunt-tip knife to collect coral tissue samples.

My dive buddy Mark Walker correctly identifies an Orbicella faveolata.
A Scorpionfish shows off its colorful pectoral fins.
Some USF students prepare to enter the site at Boka Sami, Curacao.

During these dives, I was taken aback by the beauty of the life within this ecosystem. I fell in love with the colorful diversity of fishes, plant-like gorgonian corals, the labyrinths within brain corals and their florescence under UV light, and the absolute tranquility of sea turtles. During one dive, I even spooked a squid and saw it ink me!

The cutest Smooth Filefish
Alyssa correctly identifies a Pseudodiploria strigosa during her underwater coral ID exam with the TA, Abby.
A shy squid changes color to camouflage itself against a potential threat (me).

After each day of diving, the crew was allowed two hours or so to rest, study, or catch up on course assignments including outreach presentations and blog postings. This was difficult because the internet was very slow and sometimes unavailable at the CARMABI research station. Some days, groups would get together to study corals and fish, while others caught quick naps or snorkeled near the docks. Local women cooked dinners for our group during this time which usually consisted of rice, salad and a form of protein. One night, we had the pleasure of enjoying lionfish ceviche courtesy of the Diveshop owner, Lizzette. Lizzette owns her own business where she sells jewelry made from lionfish that she hunts during her dives. Lionfish are an invasive species that are disruptive to the natural order of predation in coral reef ecosystems and are a #1 best sustainable fish product with regard to human consumption. Lizzette includes a brief summary of why she hunts lionfish for the benefit of Curaçao’s reefs in each hand-packaged order.

My experience in Curaçao is one for the books. Although the requirements were taxing (as if fitting an entire semester worth of credit into 10 days wouldn’t be), it was well worth the experience I received. I feel confident as a SCUBA diver and I made some good friends along the way. I look forward to using the skills I have acquired in marine conservation and to diving as deep and as often as possible in the near future.

My two best mates, Becky and Teah, and I stopping for a selfie.

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