After spending hours underwater, it was time to chase metazoans on land. The Australian Vertebrate class allowed me, as well as my friends and classmates, to become kids once again. During the semester we had one weekend-long field trip where we were allowed to catch everything we could (except venomous and poisonous creatures) to later observe and identify!
This free-for-all occured on the Wambiana Cattle Ranch, a 23,000 hectare piece of land that has been owned by the Lyons Family for the past 103 years! The farm is home to 3,000-4,000 cattle that are primarily sold as beef. Yet this farm has adopted specific techniques that maintains the land's natural biodiversity to keep it healthy and productive. In an additional attempt to maintain the land’s health, the Lyons have also replaced chemical pesticides with camels! These camels feed on an invasive shrub (Parkinsonia sp.) which cattle don’t share an appetite for.
As soon as we arrived, we chose our beds and went through an induction. We were then separated into our groups and left to set several traps, which included pitfall, funnel, camera, Elliot and cage traps.
In the evenings, we left to spotlight. This is prime time for frogs/amphibians. All you need is a headlamp (and if you’re into photography, a camera with a macro lens). I usually do this back home in the Gamboa rainforest in Panama, so I was extremely excited to get my hand on Australian reptiles!
After spotlighting, we arrived back at the camp, where the beautiful night sky greeted us with every possible twinkling star. This became a great night for long exposure photography!
The next morning we woke up before sunrise to see what we caught and to let loose any nocturnal animals before the Sun peaked. We did this because since most of the animals we caught were nocturnal we wanted to give them enough time to find shelter before morning. I believe using animals for education is a great method, but one always needs to put the animals health as priority.
Each group was sent to a specific site and checked all the traps. We were lucky enough to catch a small marsupial known as the striped-faced dunnart.
Marsupials are one of the three types of mammals. Yes, there are three types of mammals: placentals (what the Americas are used to seeing and have mammary glands, a.k.a boobs), marsupials (mammals with pouches for wee babies), and monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). Here in Australia, you are fortunate enough to possibly see a representative from each mammalian group in one place at a single time. There are a lot more differences that go into these separate groups, but I won’t go into those.
Anyways, back to checking the traps. We caught this beautiful marsupial known as a dunnart, and probably became the most adorable creature we captured.
In the end, our whole class collected and spotted a total amount of 57 species of vertebrates. Ranging from small geckos to large kangaroos and even feral cats. Most of our creatures included lizards, geckos, and other amphibians . You can see a list with all these species below.
This trip allowed me to experience the terrestrial side of australian biodiversity up close. A lot closer than any tour would ever expose me to. I am happy to share with you the pictures that captured the beautiful metazoans that I saw.
As part of my curriculum at James Cook University, I needed to take a mandatory field trip to their research station located at Orpheus Island. What a drag, right? Nah, just kidding. I LOVED IT!
All the students woke up at 4 a.m in the morning to enjoy their small nap on the bus ride to the dock. We boarded the boats that led us to Orpheus and once we arrived, we were practically in the water.
As soon as we jumped in the water, my partner Scott Morrissey (@scott_morrissey on instagram) approached the reef. Yet as we swam closer, expecting to see a large gradient of saturated colors, we only saw a desert of white and pale yellow.
For those who don't know, bleaching is when coral polyps expel their photosynthetic zooxanthalleae symbionts, loosing their color and leaving behind their white tissue and calcium carbonate skeleton. When a coral is bleached it does not mean it is dead, although it does not mean it is healthy either. Think about it as an empty apartment complex, where renters can either re-inhabit the apartments, but if they don't that would cause the building to go bankrupt. Those symbionts give corals food via photosynthesis (autotrophic), just like plants, but corals can also get food by catching any small organisms swimming around their tentacles (heterotrophic).
Anyways, as we kept on surveying the reef, we unfortunately saw the consequences of another recent mass bleaching event.
For our individual research projects we were looking at the birdsnest coral species, Seriatopora hystrix. This species is bright pink and is known to have symbiotic crabs and fish. The rest of the weekend was spent collecting data on the symbiotic relationships to see if the symbionts help the coral colony build up resistance against bleaching or mortality.
Once the day ended, the class joined and ate at the research's station dining hall. We later walked down the beach to photograph the night sky and the beach. I must say, nights in that research station were one of the most peaceful I've had. The combination of small waves breaking, and the shuttering of the trees' leaf created a melodic soundtrack for the evening.
The rest of the trip was filled with snorkeling trips and analyzing data. Coming close to the end, the whole class came together to share our results, and experiences. This trip definitiely added a new dimension to my Australaian journey, and I hope I have the chance to return for a second trip.
Out of the airport and onto Public transportation/roaming the cities before I reach my destination.
Because of the time difference I technically arrived in Hawai'i before I left Australia, so I decided to spend my extra Friday on the iconic beach of Waikiki - after a quick hotel check-in.
Saturday morning was spent diving in 80+ft. visibility. In these two dives I had the chance to use an Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) and zoomed like a torpedo. It was a novel (and ultra comfortable) experience, being able to effortlessly keep up with wildlife that would have otherwise eluded me had I been equipped with mere fins. Our group saw a total of two logger head sea turtles (Caretta caretta), white-tip reef sharks (Trianodon obesus), and spotted-eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari) along with multiple "reef" fishes.
That afternoon, I decided to go to the art market and support local artists. Fortunately, this market opens the first Saturday of every month and is operated by the artists themselves. Famous screen printer Fili, and his company Tribal Edge Clothing (@tribaledgeclothing), was present and I got a cool long sleeve Hawaiian tribal print shirt designed by him. I also had the amazing pleasure of meeting two sisters that made a life-long impact on my trip to Hawa'ii. They had the same crazy obsession as I do over sea glass, showing me their rarest finds from the islands along with their beautiful jewellery and crafts. We spent a whole hour talking about a single piece of glass and its origin, history and journey. I wear their piece of sea glass everyday and rub it for good luck. You can find their Etsy shop, Maiava Sea Glass (@maiavaseaglass), here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/MaiavaSeaGlass?ref=search_shop_redirect
The next day, ASLOMP took all their students to visit iconic sites on the island such as Waimanalo beach, Halona Blowhole and Diamond Head crater. This was the first time I hiked up a volcano, let alone a ~450,000 year old one! That evening, at the Hawaiian Convention Center, I met scientists ranging from undergraduates to professors and a wide-range of scientists working in aquatic systems. We drank, laughed, and spoke about the complex ecosystems of the planet we live in.
This year’s Association of Science for Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) conference was held in Honolulu. I had the opportunity to participate in the ASLO Multicultural Program (ASLOMP) that aims to increase opportunities for minorities in science. This week was filled with trips, talks and happy scientists.
On Tuesday I presented my poster based on the research I did over the Summer in Jacksonville, FL at the University of North Florida. I presented on the Genetic Assessment of the hybrid zone between the mummichog and the gulf killifish.
The rest of the week was filled with mind-blowing 15 min presentations. These, along with the exposure I had to an incredible host of likeminded people, led to what I would consider a more educational experience than a semester at school.
I encourage anyone in the sciences to save money towards scientific conferences in order to participate in them. I have made most of my connections in my field through meetings like these, and have gained incredible opportunities from them.
This trip to Hawai'i gave me a quick preview to the beautiful Pacific Islands and their inhabitants. Their devotion and connection to the ocean and its creatures is inspiring to anyone who experiences it. Because of this week, Hawai'i has definitely become a priority destination in my future travel plans.
Before I end this post I want to thank Dr. Matthew Gilg, advisor for my research project, The National Science Foundation for funding me, the ASLOMP program for flying me out to Hawai'i and giving me the chance to present at their conference, my sponsors, and all the wonderful people I met at the conference for an awesome time.
I arrived in Townsville, Australia. I have finally completed one of my biggest bucket list goals: to have visited all continents except Antarctica. Also, by then end of this trip I will have lived in four of the seven continents.
I arrived to the room that will be my home for the next 4 months and slept. The rest of the week was covered with orientation and social meetings being organized by the university. This semester, I will be taking four classes: The World of Archaeology, Australian Vertebrate Fauna, Evolution and Ecology of Reef Fishes, and the Life History and Evolution of Reef Corals. Fortunately, three of these classes have exciting field trips throughout the semester, where we will be chasing lots of different kind of metazoans.
On my first weekend in Townsville I visited Magnetic Island also commonly known as ‘Maggie’ Island; which was named after the negative magnetic effects it gave James Cook’s compass. On this trip, we visited the Billabong Sanctuary where I held a Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) for the first time! They also had a variety of reptiles and birds, such as, Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) , Red-Tailed Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) and Wombats (Vombatidae sp.).
After that weekend, the first week of school began and I officially became a James Cook University student. Shark Bait hoo ha ha!
We have arrived in Bali, Indonesia! As soon as we got to the baggage claim the smell of incense filled the room. It was actually really pleasant, and strangely familiar. We picked up our bags and headed to The Camp Hostel. We finished unpacking and walked to Kuta Beach which was about 10 minutes away. As we stepped on the beach my heart sank. This was probably one of the most disappointing moments I've had so far (in your life?). A beach known for its surfing, here in Bali, was completely covered in plastic trash and will now be known for the dirtiest beach I have ever seen. It was low tide so a huge portion of the beach was exposed and was covered with plastic debris. The shoreline was perfectly out-lined with multi-colored micro-plastics. The water and foam were tinted brown with floating muck. This is the first time I've ever been disgusted to take my sandals off at a beach. Since it's rainy season here the currents are bringing in all the trash and micro-plastics floating in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean also known to be one of the most bio-diverse oceans on the planet.
The next day we decided to visit the Bali Bird Park. This was probably the best decision I've made. As soon as we arrived I was greeted with a Blue-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) and a Black Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus). I was especially amazed by the Black Palm Cockatoo. It was the rarest bird there and it was especially beautiful. We were handling a female named Ana. She was 25 years-old and incredibly healthy. The keeper was teaching us how to differentiate between the sexes; Females have brown eyes and males have black eyes. They are found in Papau New Guinea and Northern Australia, where they are considered one of the largest cockatoos (species in the world?). We also saw the amazing birds of paradise from Papua New Guinea and their splendid feathers! The park also hosts a very successful breeding program for these birds. As we were walking, a pink dot caught my eye. It was a Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla). A bird that I will also be fortunate to see during my semester in Townsville! I highly encourage anyone in Bali to visit the Bali Bird Park. The day ended by visiting the lovely. Nusa Dua beach on the western side on the Bali Peninsula. The water was crystal clear and a pretty perfect setting to end the day.
After spending five days at the beach, we headed to the mountains near the city of Chiang Mai. We arrived at the airport and took a quick taxi to our hostel, D-Well. I really enjoyed the atmosphere at this place and highly suggest it to anyone staying in the area.
s soon as we unpacked, we began our search for food downtown. As always, the sounds of engines lingered in the background wherever you went. Within two minutes of walking through the streets, the engine roars stopped and everything went completely silent. This was unusual for Thailand. We didn't think more about it and continued walking the city streets. A couple of feet further and a policeman adamantly told us to stop and hide our cell phones. Puzzled, we weren't sure to listen or to disobey. I was very curious so I asked the cop what was going on. He continued by saying "The princess is coming! This will be over in 10 minutes and please hide your cell phones". The police told us to stand further back and to stay put. After 5 minutes two police cars and several mopeds passed by. Then a whole caravan of nice cars including Mercedes zoomed one by one. Once the last car passed, the roads were flooded with Tuk Tuks and mopeds just like they had been before. Thailand has a monarchy that garners the utmost respect in the country. Unfortunately, the last king passed away in 2016 but his son continues his legacy. We were fortunate enough to experience the Princess that day.
The next day Lyle and I were picked up to go to an Elephant-care Project Sanctuary. During this half day tour we had the opportunity to help out the caretakers by feeding, mud bathing, and cleaning the Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) (Probably the biggest and heaviest metazoan I will see on this trip). Their eldest elephant, Ploy, was about 60 years-old. There was also an elephant mother named Natalie who was 28 years-old elephant and her baby: Pi was only 2 months-old. I also met two more juvenile female elephants. We got handed a bag filled with bananas to feed the elephants. We were later introduced to all the enormous hosts. Their titanous frame towered over all our small bodies, but their innocence made them seem smaller and gentle. This made me feel uncomfortably, comfortable. They had the delicate touch of a butterfly when they grabbed bananas.
After feeding them, we went to the mud baths. This is where their gentle touch vanished and the spirit of a small child emerged. They were throwing themselves on the mud, while all the volunteers covered their ears, face, and body with mud. People who know me, know that I would never miss out on an opportunity to have a mud-fight with an elephant. Meanwhile I was trying to get one of the juveniles as dirty as possible, one of the keepers came behind me and gave me a luxurious (very expensive) mud-mask. To show my gratitude, I repaid the favor.
We then washed ourselves, ate lunch, and continued to the river. Here the two juveniles came with the encrusted mud all over their skin, expected to be washed and cleaned. We all got incredibly wet as the elephant were also bathing us with their trunks.
The tour came to an end, but quickly became an unforgettable memory. I was very happy to see and experience the shift in tourism concerning elephants. In the pass, tourism in Thailand use to have a large demand for riding and trekking with elephants. But, after videos showing the treatment of these animals came to light, the demand for riding them has dramatically dropped. Now Eco-tourism has exploded, causing elephant sanctuaries to open. Allowing everyone to help take care of the elephants during their daily routine.
We finally made it to the dock where all the boats departed for their destinations. Each boat carried about 30 divers and some boats even had their own compressors. Tanks lined the edges of the boat and scrambled divers looked for their gear. Everyone got geared up at the same time and lined up in an orderly queue. Ready, set, dive! One-by-one the divers jumped off the boat and looked for their buddies. As soon as we found our group, we huddled together and began our descent.
We dove a total of six times in two days with Phuket Dive Tours. The water was some of the clearest I have ever seen. Lyle and I saw plenty of underwater creatures like the Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus), Pustulose Nudibranchs, Clown Fish (Amphiprioninae), Blacktip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), Zebra Moray Eel (Gymnomuraena zebra), Honeycomb Moray Eel (Gymnothorax favagineus), (MY FIRST INDIAN OCEAN SEA SNAKE!) The Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina), the Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus), and the list goes on and on.
All the pictures and footage was taken using my large SpivoStick which was graciously donated by Spivo for my trip and research. This GoPro/camera extender allows for a total 180° spin which helps in video editing and filming! If you would like to purchase the SpivoStick or anything made by Spivo, follow the link: http://www.spivo.com?rfsn=487131.d78397. We visited a site that quickly became one of my favorites called Anemone Reef. This site is COVERED in well... anemones, but in such a way that it looks like underwater grasslands. The Anemone's tentacles were flowing with the current, almost dancing and it was completely mesmerizing. The areas we dove in quickly became my favorite spots.
The amount of divers that go through these sites was almost unbelievable, which goes to show how amazing and popular these areas are! I encourage more people to see what our oceans look like, but to also learn to how safely dive without injuring yourself or any other living creatures.
The last day we decided to visit Freedom Beach, which was a terrifying moped ride away (why was it terrifying?). We arrived at the entrance and walked our way down to the sand. People who know me, know that my first stop is the tide pools. These tide pools were hiding juvenile fishes of all different shapes and colors. As I jumped from rock to rock, I noticed something jumping in the water. At first, I thought they were crabs but after closer inspection, I noticed they were fish! They looked like some type of Blenny that jumped on rocks and skipped on water. I was lucky enough to sneak some footage of them while they ate and jumped.
After we got back to our hostel, we still had extra time on the rented mopeds. So Lyle and I decided to take it around one last time. We drove all the way around the back of Patong and its main street. This was our Phuket good-bye, and I enjoyed every beeping-moment.
The sound of roaring motor-engines persists through the night and echo through the hostel walls. The smell of noodles, fish, and chicken lingers in the air at every passing street. The sight of neon-lights, automobiles, and street vendors cover the sidewalks. My sensory system was in complete overload the first two days in Bangkok, especially after two days of pure traveling.
Lyle and I left Panama early in the morning (around 1 AM) headed towards Fort Lauderdale. From Fort Lauderdale to Chicago, then from Chicago to Beijing (I know... 13 hours), and finally Beijing to Bangkok. After losing our luggage, we arrived to our Hostel (Hostel 24) which was in a small quiet part of the city. Exhausted and completely jet lagged (a 12 hour difference) we decided to stay awake and go to Wat Pho in the morning. Wat Pho is known for containing the multiple shrines, including the reclining Buddha. I have been to Thailand before, a long time ago, but I clearly remember the Reclining Buddha Shrine. It was a beautiful experience to update my memory. We also bought some coins to put in metal bowls called Baat Sawan for good fortune! Anyways, Bangkok is a city of hustle and bustle.
After the first day we traveled to the Bangkok Aquarium, Sea Life, where they had a wide variety of seahorses such as the half-spined Seahorse (Hippocampus semispinosus), the Zebra-Snout Seahorse (Hippocampus barbouri), the Spotted Seahorse (Hippocampus kuda), and the Tiger-Tail Seahorse (Hippocampus comes). They also had my favorite shrimp, the Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta).
After two days in Bangkok we left for Patong in Phuket. It was beautiful, but unfortunately tourism got the best of it. We arrived to our hostel (D-Feel) and walked to Patong Beach. As soon as we got there, my eyes darted from one sun-burnt person to the other. The beach was littered with tourist that looked like red pancakes. Luckily for me, I was protected by my MANDA sunscreen! Thanks MANDA for keeping me safe during my journey! I have been using this organic sunscreen non-stop. This sunscreen is made from 100% organic ingredients like Coconut Oil, Beeswax, Cocoa Butter, and Thanaka. MANDA proved to me that you don't need sun block with harmful chemicals breaking down on your skin in order to protect you on a sunny day!