This is a special blog edition! I know…two posts in 1 month?! It’s unheard of! Well, I had a lot of pictures and information to share from this weekend’s diving extravaganza, so I figured I might as well blog it. Besides, I’m too tired on this Monday to do much else..so I figure I will let my mind replay the weekend.
By the way, 3 dives in 2 days between working is no joke. Plus, this coral restoration stuff is hard work! It’s fun…but it’s work. I have cuts, scrapes, bruises, sore muscles, and burning/stinging skin (from fire coral, ouch!) to prove my point! This post will have great photos taken from my underwater camera (gopro knockoff) and some information on coral restoration. Enjoy!
It started out a bright and beautiful Saturday morning. Well, it ended just as bright and beautiful, but it’s a good way to start, right? 🙂
8:00 am and I pick up Jen to drive to Ocean Encounters where we will have our coral restoration course through Padi and Coral Restoration Foundation Curacao. Why did we do this? Well, there is a dive club at school who works monthly in the nurseries here, and we thought diving with the club would be a great way to get in the water frequently. Another reason we chose to take this course, is because divers and snorkelers contribute largely to coral destruction each year. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are so many more contributors to coral destruction than divers. But, if we intend to enjoy the ocean, we should help to replenish that which is being destroyed. Makes sense to me. Plus, you get to play underwater while doing it. It’s a win-win!
I’ll do a little plug now, check out the link to Coral Restoration Foundation Curacao to find out more info about restoration and coral in general. There is a great video on how the nurseries and restoration project started! You should watch it as everything I did this weekend is a direct result of what happens in the video. Good stuff.
So, back to Saturday morning. I pick Jen up for our course. We are due for a theory class in the morning and a dive in the afternoon. During theory we learn about the foundation, about coral, how they have been destroyed and how they reproduce. We learn how to clean the nursery “trees” and how to affix new coral to the tree. It was very interesting. Especially how we are “cloning” the coral by cutting off pieces (asexual reproduction) and growing the coral bigger from those tiny cuts. There are two kinds of coral in the nurseries: elk horn and stag horn. This weekend we worked only on the stag horn (both corals are a hard coral). Anyway, so the theory was very informative!
After our lunch break we suited up and gathered our cleaning materials. We use sophisticated equipment folks: toothbrushes, green brillo scrubbers, and white scrub brushes. You read that correctly 🙂 An army of 7 divers walking into the ocean with toothbrushes in hand. Fighting the front lines of the battle again coral destruction. Arming ourselves for victory against the foe that is…okay enough of that. Sorry.
I won’t lie, I was a little nervous. I haven’t been diving since my certification in March so I was rapidly remembering all the stuff that I needed to do. Everyone on the dive has their open water certification and at varying levels. My dive buddy, Jen, completed her 199, 200, and 201 dives on this course. She’s a rescue diver among other certifications…so she knows what she is doing. I felt better knowing she was there. However, I am proud to announce that I didn’t need the mind and experience of anyone else during the dive as it all came back to me. So, that was a relief. I needed some support on setting up my kit as the hookups were a different model than the ones I used previously, but it was easy and no biggy.
There were a lot of firsts for me with this dive-first time without my instructor (who I depended on!!), first time new waters and on my own (minding my own wits), first time working underwater (that’s no joke), first time walking into the water from the sand (beach diving)…so yeah. A lot was going on. I actually rather enjoyed the beach entrance better than the boat entrance. Just walk right in, put your fins on, mask on, and go under.
Because the dive site was so shallow (3-6 meters tops) we stayed under for ages! Seriously…I think my longest dive was 45 minutes or so in the Philippines…I’d have to check my log. Our first dive was 88 minutes! Whoa!
As we swim to the nursery we get to observe and enjoy the world around us. That’s the main reason we dive anyway, right? To be a part of that world (thanks’s Ariel!)…and it was beautiful. Visibility was great-maybe 15 meters (with a clear mask…mine started to fog early on). Lots of sea life all around. Well, we take a 7 minute swim to the site and are appointed our trees. Starting from the bottom (and standing on the sand) we start cleaning. Using the green brillo pad to clean the algae off the tree itself, then off the line that is holding the coral. Using the toothbrush, we clean off the connector/clamp that’s looped and secured around the coral. There are little bits of algae that get stuck in the small crevices that need to be cleaned. Sometimes, the little white snails get in the spaces and eat the coral. So we had to watch out for those guys and get rid of them! We then used the big white brush to clean the main base or stand of the tree. Here, we had to watch for fire coral or clams that would just add weight to the trees. We could clean those off using pliers.
The two instructors were coming around to each tree to frag coral. Ones that are getting big enough and have enough fingers on them would get cut and rehung. We worked together to cut and rehang the coral. Each tree can hold about 100! We pretty much did that the whole time! It was enough though because it takes a lot of energy to clean and not get blown away by the water surges (they were pretty intense, especially on Sunday!).
On the way back we have a look at the elk horn nursery. No time for those on this trip. We were on our minimum air limits as we swam back (I kept up with everyone else, not using up all my air before them! GO me!).
Overall Saturday was a great day-lot’s of information, a great dive-and some giving back. I sure was tired though…
Sunday morning we started around 10 since we worked efficiently it wouldn’t take us long to get going. We had a briefing about the day’s tasks and suited up. Today, in the morning dive, we’d do some more cleaning while the instructors got the coral ready. I finished cleaning my tree (it’s so pertty now) finally, so that’s good. To prepare today’s restoration, we clipped medium sized elk horn coral from the tree and used zip ties to secure them to an iron grate like thing which is anchored in the sand. It’s long and low and domes in the middle. We affixed the corals (fitting them together like a puzzle). This was especially hard work as the surges were coming in stronger. We had to keep ourselves buoyant and anchored to the grate so we could work. It was hard letting go because we needed to hands for the zip ties to work…but when we let go we would get pulled away (hence the sore muscles I spoke of…). We had about 8 corals to attach together-and of course we did. We are awesome, right! That dive was 90 minutes! Yowza!! It was a much nicer diver for me as my mask was clear the whole time which gave me much better visibility…and just overall I felt more comfortable with our tasks the second time out.
We swam back to shore and had lunch-an hour later we suited back up and went in for our 3rd dive of the weekend. I was so tired and as I sat nibbling on my fries and ginger ale I remember telling Jen…is it bad I just want to go home a sleep? She agreed…but then we both grinned and said once we are back in the water we forget alllll those things that made us want to go home in the first place. It’s true. It’s pretty much perfect under the sea (Geez, I think I need to watch The Little Mermaid or something!).
We had a briefing on what we’d do this time…which was a different type of restoration from the morning dive. This time we armed ourselves with hammers. And two containers holding separate gooey agents (like putty) that we mixed together make a earth friendly glue like substance. For this dive, the bigger corals were getting placed directly on the house reef. We were give about 8 corals, one tagged, a hammer, and apoxy…or epoxy? I think it’s a combo. I felt either really funny…or really important walking to the beach with two large hammers clinking to my BCD. We are walking among beach goers who watch us going out. It’s kind of fun 🙂 I felt like I was going into a Minecraft game. Anyway-hammers at the ready we made our way back out to the nursery.
This time, we played around and explored while they gathered the final corals for this weekend’s project. Lazy floating, making water bubbles with our hands (pow!), floating upside down, exploring fish and corals…we had about 10 minutes or so of this playtime, and it was fun! I didn’t do that last time, but I am learning to explore the limits and possibilities of the equipment, and it’s just plain fun!
Jen and I were given a part of the reef to work on. We had to find the spots (again, like a puzzle) where the coral would naturally fit and lay on 3 points. Then we hammered and chizzled the algae off the rock, make apoxy/epoxy balls the size of a blueberry (we took turns. One hammers, one makes the balls). Then we fit the balls onto the clean, white spots. Form the balls into little volcano like mounds (on all three spots) then attach the coral. Make sure it surrounds the tips of the coral a bit…throw some water at it. If it moves, start over. If it doesn’t move…success! Start the next one. This phase of the restoration was almost harder because the surge was even worse. The weather did become a bit windier and more overcast on the surface. I had a really good grip on two rock pieces so I didn’t blast away. Jen was having a hard time staying in one spot too, so it wasn’t just me. Most everyone else finished first, so either we were slow, or we had more. Granted, some of them had done this before, but were just now taking the official course. Either way, our instructor Paul came over to help us with the last coral. It was one we started with that was giving us such a hard time. He struggled with it as well. In fact, a poor fish was decapitated as it got in between the rock and his hammer…”free food”-between the fishy guts and sound of the hammers, quite a few fish came to investigate and began eating the poor headless fish. Nature rules!
We finally affixed that coral to the rock and we started to head back. That dive was about 85 minutes. There were lots of little things that made the experience cool. Paul said after a post-dive briefing, “even with all this good work you were doing, did you get the chance to stop and experience the beauty and wonder surrounding you?” And he was right. I was really focused on my work. Making sure I did it right-not damaging the coral as I worked. Remembering my breathing, and trying to not float off! I did take some time, especially the third dive with my camera to experience the wonder that is the ocean. The fish were so curious. They were hovering by us the whole time. A couple cuties were playing with my mask and kept swimming right into it (my eye or his reflection…not sure). They would nip at your fingers, swim through your fingers. It’s so beautiful! I saw an amazing array of fish and even a few squid (who love to explore the algae we are kicking into the water). I missed the huge tarpon though…Jen thought is was a shark swimming away it was so big (apparently their aren’t sharks in our waters…? I might need to investigate this more).
When we arrived back on the beach we floated for a bit talking about what we saw, and how we felt about the weekend’s work. We then marched back into the shop, cleaned up, took a “we did it” photo complete with hammers out! Finished some paperwork, took photos for our new certification cards, and called it a day. It was a loooong day full of hard work, but it was so worth it. I went home exhausted but feeling great. It’s strange how you can be both at once!
So after 2278 words, you know how my weekend went. My hands have the story written all over them…and my arms, and my ankle I think. Fire coral burns and cuts and scrapes from the coral…a few unknown bruises…would I do it again…yes. Three dives on a weekend in between work is a lot. Especially for this newbie. But it felt good to challenge myself and force myself to do what I set out to do. I came to the island saying I wanted to dive, to work on coral restoration, maybe volunteer at the aquarium, work with the turtle conservatory program…and just enjoy island life. So far, I am meeting my goals rather quickly. I’ve dived, worked on coral (and will continue, at least monthly), and am in contact with the aquarium. Things are good. Life is good.
Thanks for listening and being a part of my journey.