Coral Restoration

Bon Dia!

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!

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Gearing up!

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Dive buddies!

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Hello from below!

 

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.

https://coralrestorationcuracao.org/

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.

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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.

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The big blue…and lots of fishies

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the nursery

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grid/grate thingy

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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!

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Can you spot the fish?

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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!

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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.

K

 

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Done. Deal! Officially Coral Restoration Certified!

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1 month in…

Bon Dia! One month in. We’ve been island side for 30 days or so now and I know the question on everyone’s mind…the inevitable…How is it? DO you love it? Could you live here longer than two years?

You know those are your burning questions…and I won’t disappoint by waiting to reveal the answer. In short, we love it. There are certainly things we need to get used to (heat being the biggy)…but I think once we acclimate all around, it’s a great place to be. I think the staff at my school can attest to that. People have been at the school for 10+ years. In fact, the middle school principal came to the island for ONE year…it was only meant to be ONE year (from somewhere in the USA). She’s now been here 19 years. Working on citizenship. She’s been at the school + the island for about that long. That does say something…to me anyway.

How is the school you ask? It’s a good school. Everyone cares about their students, and each other. It’s a close community yet everyone has their “niche” as most schools will. I have felt very welcomed and for the most part, supported as well. My buddy aka my landlady has been the most welcoming and helpful. Since she lives upstairs, it’s been very helpful to have her around. She was born and raised on the island, moved away for several years at 18 for schooling, lived in Spain with her husband and family for several years, and finally moved back here 5 years ago. Her daughter is in college in the Netherlands and is obsessed with Japanese culture (go figure right?) Her son is a junior, into technology, water polo, and diving. He’s been a GENIUS helping us out with various things. Her husband has also been very helpful in driving us around and offering advice and tips. Without these key figures, the transition would have been much more painful.

It was a different transition from Japan…and I can’t really explain how. Two opposing cultures and societies. There are so many similarities to starting out in a new country that I doubt it will be much different wherever you are. Some key things still remain: getting used to government policy…slow government pacing…odd hours for paperwork (and odd requests). The language isn’t an issue…which is nice for a change. Though most people speak Dutch or Spanish (or the mixed local language), everyone can speak English. We try using some local dialect in greetings, thanks, and good byes, but mostly we speak English. That’s helpful when trying to buy things, ask questions, look for cars, etc.

Hassles? BANKS! This is has been the focus of my ire for a couple weeks now. The school could be a bit better at communicating with us…that’s mostly one person though and I won’t get into that. We have been given fairly late and conflicting information in regards to our car search. That’s been the slowest process of this transition. We spend our 3rd day on the island car shopping in excruciating heat for an automatic within 10,000 guilder (loan maximum). Ya’ll, that was nearly IMPOSSIBLE. There are so many freaking cars on this island…seriously. And they are all so expensive. We could have had a really nice newer car if we had brought about 3,000 of our own USD…that’s not going to happen. So once we finally found our car…the loan process started, which should have been simpler as it’s through the bank and school. Not so much. I won’t go into those details, but it took 3 weeks of “one step forward, two steps back” before the loan was delivered to the car dealer. Luckily, Bruce was a cool, chilled guy (for a car salesman no less) and he was easy to work with. He took care of the paperwork, transfers (waiting in lOOOOOONg lines) and had things ready to go. That’s a big battle one as it takes AGES to wait in lines for government things. Even picking up a package at the post office can take half a day. You heard me right…half a day! Who’s got time for that? In fact, no one does really. It’s so bad, that the school has a hired man. You pay him 25 guilders (that’s nothing) and he will go wait in line for you. I mean come on. You literally can say, “I gotta man for that.” I guess that’s island time. And it’s real. And it sucks. Especially if you like efficiency and punctuality. I suppose I will adjust.

This was a week 1 accident…tripped in my drive way and busted up bad. It’s finally healed, though the fresh skin is whitish/pink and looks funny on my tanned knee. Oh, you wanted evidence of this random act of clumsiness…fine. Here. Locals said soak it in the ocean for 3 days, at least 15 minutes each time. It will heal faster. Took me almost a week before I could get to the beach…and yes, it healed faster. Locals know man. The ocean is amazing!

Let’s see…on to some fun stuff? Yeah, if you’ve read this far, you deserve it! The past couple weeks have been busy in a good way. We are actually kicked out of school at 4:30 each day…to save electricity costs and to have a life outside of school.It’s a novel idea, but I guess I can deal with that. It was hard at the beginning because new school, new grade…lot’s to do. I’ve had to lean to manage my time really well. In fact, though the school closes at 4:30, most people leave at 3:30 (school is out at 2:00 for elementary, 3:30 for secondary). I’ve adjusted to that ok as it seems now by the time 3:30 rolls around I am usually ready to go! Crazy right? I do bring home some things…but that’s minimal and might be some grading needed for the next lesson or homework planning over the weekend. Stuff I can do from a computer at home. After work, I come home and swim, read, check London for ticks (don’t GET me started on the tick problem here). Wait for the sun to go down so I can cook dinner…(did I mention there isn’t any AC in the living room/kitchen area?)…with a gas stove/oven (that I have to use a lighter to light), it gets reallllly hot in the kitchen as the sun is setting. We face west, so the hot sun + no AC + fans doesn’t cut it. So we either eat outside during the sunset if we are just too hungry to wait, or cook when the sun in down. It works out alright. I can find anything I need for cooking. That’s a relief after going so long without those “must haves” that remind you of home. This is a different experience from Japan all around. But I wouldn’t trade either experience for anything!

This random grouping of photos was from a day at the salt lake…muddy and smelly. Doggies run freely and play in the water. Not London of course…too proper for that. These salt lakes are home to flamingos! A couple weekends ago we went to another beach about 45 mins away where there was a salt lake on the way. More flamingos! Paul tried to get a good picture.

I’ve already finished one book and on the way to finishing another as I read by the pool after school. That’s a novel experience. (bahahhahahah, get it…novel…reading?) I crack myself up.

We go to the beach mostly on the weekends, although I am keeping my eye on beach options for after work.  We get discounts at different places because we are staff at ISC…there is someone who owns something attending the school. That’s helpful, right?

Photos of the beach at Port St. Maria. We drove about 45 minutes on various desert roads. You’ll see a picture of one such desert road…and then suddenly the horizon looms in front of you with a spectacular ocean view. Love it!

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We get a discount at a local gym. Spa, cafe, AC, classes (yoga/pilates/boxing-dancing hybrid thing, Zumba…). Looks good. We also get a membership discount to the Hilton Hotel beach club. Beach, spa, pools, gym, cafe with discounts. I can’t decide which….one has yoga and other classes I am interested in and is also closer to home. The Hilton is a 25-3o min drive without traffic. But, it offers more (like the beach!). There are some people who already have the Hilton membership and go after work several times a week. Workout, swim/snorkel, snack, drink at the bar, then go home. That’s what I am thinking I’d rather do. Leave school at 3 or 3:30, go straight to the beach-do some snorkeling, swimming, tanning, have a drink…chill out. Could leave by 6:30 or 7 and come home to cook if I didn’t eat there or go out. Sounds perfect to me! We shall see 🙂

Paul’s schedule is shaping up. At the moment he is teaching English classes to the community through the school twice a week from 6-8pm. Other classes might start in November. He is also talking with a retired local teacher who is trying to set up an education center, not unlike a tutoring/after school center. Shall see where all that goes.

Speaking of Paul, Happy Birthday Darling! Fantastic tapas dinner at Kome. Check out these plates! We had cupcakes at home after 🙂

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Have my first diving trip scheduled for next weekend! The dive club at the school does coral restoration and next week Jen and I (another diver and new teacher) are taking a locally credited certificate course in coral restoration. It will be classroom time Saturday morning with an afternoon dive, then a dive on Sunday morning. Not very deep-but it will get us up and going to work with the students during their monthly dives. The greatest part…when we go with the students it’s only 45 guilder (that’s like 25 bucks or something) for the trip and gear rental. So cheap! Yeah!!!

Random photos…

Our little house is cute. It’s the basement (1st level) of the main house. 2 Bedrooms (both with AC) and one bath (no AC). The living room, dining room, and kitchen are all one big space. We have a washing machine in the kitchen and we line dry outside. It’s great though because it all dries in a couple hours with this wind and heat!

We have our water, internet, and cable tv included in rent (which school gives money for). We have to fill our own propane gas tank for our stove. That’s handy. No monthly gas bills there! And we pre-pay for our electricity. Which is also handy. We go to the registered places, give money and our account number. When we get home, we key in our account number on the little electricity key pad and voila! We have updated electricity. SO no monthly payment there. As for my cell phone, I have my unlocked galaxy type phone from home, and a prepaid local sim card. I just add money and there you go. Pretty easy. Mom can’t stand that we don’t have “hot water”…technically you turn the left tap and nothing. We have the option to get a hot water box for the shower…but you don’t need it! The water is delivered to houses in giant cubes. So it sits above ground all day in the sun. When the water comes out the tap, it’s warm to hot-ish anyway. Usually, I wish it were cooler…and when I shower? I like the colder water. Remember…it’s hot! Now these are the two hottest months of the year. Everyone says it will cool down (75-80ish) starting in October. It’s windy year round which in the shade, makes 10 degrees difference. Right now it’s been about 95-100 degrees in the direct sun, maybe hotter. Today it’s storming and raining (thanks tropical storms north east of us!) which has cooled things down.

Volleyball tournament! For charity, we put together our “company” team to compete against other company teams. We signed up thinking only 4 games…nope. Try 8! Sheesh that was a long night. It was great fun though. SO fun in fact, we are now playing Fridays after school. Maybe next year we can take 1st place, rather than 3rd 🙂 (3rd is really good considering we practiced one time!).
Oh, and I won a raffle! Whoa! Dinner voucher at a local beach club. SO pumped!

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Wearing the school soccer uniform…because the soccer team wanted to wear the school volleball uniforms. What?

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So much fun! We had a star! The girl jumping is a former ISC student, volleyball player, and PE teacher’s daughter. We were allowed one non-employee to play. She’s studying art at SCAD!

Yesterday we went to explore the Hilton to see if I want to become a member. We ate at a pirate bar (food was ok, view was most excellent). Dinner at Indonesian restaurant and an evening on the beach after. The local beach area known as Papagayo and Zanzibar kind of turn into a club Saturday nights. It’s free parking all over the island after 6pm and no cover fees or rules really. We didn’t want to be in the middle of the club chaos, so opted for tiramisu gelato and sat on the beach chairs looking at the stars and listening to the outdoor club music. It was nice…until about 10 when the crazies came off the dance floor for evening swims-in various states of undress 🙂 They weren’t wild and crazy and loud, but we had been out for about an hour and decided it was time to head home and let the 20 somethings have their fun.

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So, one month in and things are settling down. Now we have our own wheels we can explore more. It’s been fun getting to know the island and learn the local way. I look forward to more memories, diving, beach time, and hopefully having some familiar faces join us in our little blue lagoon.

Pasa bon dia (have a nice day),

K + P + L