After a late night last night working on surveying, we got to sleep in a bit today and didn’t wake up until 7:00 AM – thirty minutes past our regular wake up time. We’ve fallen into a pretty reliable morning routine complete with bug spray, sunscreen, peanut butter and jelly making, and of course, Hannibal the rooster who wakes us up every morning before the sun rises. This morning, there was even more excitement in the air than usual because we knew that we were going snorkeling later in the day. We were all running around the camp trying to gather all of our belongings – swimsuits, towels, and sunglasses – before it was time to hit the road.
Although we were all very excited for snorkeling, we had to get quite a bit of work done first. We hopped in the van and made yet another trip down the mountain road that we’re finally beginning to get used to. For today’s surveying, went back to Christiansted to spend some time at a couple more local grocery stores. We split up into two groups, with four of us at “Cost U Less” and the other four, including myself, heading to the east end’s “Pueblo.” Although we were off to a rough start with a lot of rejections, those of us at the Pueblo actually ended up having a full morning talking to local shoppers about their seafood preferences – and their ideas about Lionfish.
It continues to be a fascinating experience to hear about the incredibly diverse range of opinions about the Lionfish invasion here in St. Croix. For example, some believe that Lionfish are edible and also quite yummy. On the other hand, some believe that it is a dangerous fish to consume. We’ve also met people who’ve never even heard of Lionfish. Tourists that we’ve spoken with add a whole new layer of complexity. Whether they have heard of Lionfish or not, they view the survey from a completely different perspective than local residents do, allowing us to gather even more unique data about seafood and Lionfish preferences.
All of this diversity and circumstantial behavior is part of what makes this project so interesting. We are studying such a small environment – St. Croix is only about 80 square miles, after all – and yet we are constantly learning more and more about the island. We are starting to have a sense of place that allows us to understand not only where we are geographically, but also why the culture of the area cannot be ignored when examining the Lionfish problem. As Dr. Tookes and Dr. Crosson told us before we left for our trip, the culture here is very proud and diverse. Many people here have grown up eating the same traditional meals and may not necessarily want to try anything different. However, the general affinity for seafood in both local and tourist communities may make St. Croix the perfect place to try to establish a Lionfish market. This is something that can only be determined with more research!
After a quick lunch on the road, it was finally time for some snorkeling! We headed back over to Frederiksted and stopped at Adventures in Diving STX. After a lot of chaos with us all trying to get changed and lathered in sunscreen, the first group of us went out to the pier to begin our snorkeling tour. We spent a lot of time laughing about how silly we all looked waddling around in our gear before jumping in. After getting our masks and snorkels adjusted, we began to explore around the pier. Our guide gave us all a complimentary “Reefcomber’s Field Guide” that we used to identify the fish and coral we saw throughout the snorkel. The pier was a great place to explore because all of the posts were absolutely covered in beautiful coral that was full of little reef fish. Although we had our cards, it was tough to tell exactly what species of fish we were seeing. We definitely saw plenty of Sargent majors, butterflyfish, and damselfish. Towards the end of our tour, our guide took us closer to the beach where a new coral reef was forming. There were plenty of vase sponges that were small now, but they can grow so large that a whole person could fit inside.
There was one thing missing on our snorkeling trip: Lionfish. Although we thought there might be some around, we didn’t see any Lionfish throughout the entirety of our snorkel. Although it was somewhat disappointing that we couldn’t see the fish that we’ve been talking about all week, it can certainly be considered a good thing! Hopefully this section of new reef can continue to grow and thrive without an overwhelming number of Lionfish in the area. Our guide told us that this specific section of the reef had recently begun to support not only more fish, but also bigger fish, a sign of positive reef health that we were all excited to hear about.
After some additional data coding in the afternoon, we went to a restaurant called Turtles After Dark for dinner. We had a great time discussing our trip so far and digging into the all you can eat pasta special. It’s hard to believe that we are already more than halfway through our trip. We’ve learned more every day about this unique island and are getting closer and closer to really tackling the Lionfish invasion. It’s been a great trip so far and I can’t wait to see how the final few days of surveying turn out!