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Extraterrestrial Contact

You and your partner are floating weightless, gazing out into the dark abyss. It’s cold in your suit, and the oxygen tank makes your movements slower because of the extra weight and bulk. You can’t hear much outside the noise of you breathing into the regulator.

Quietly, between breaths, you begin to hear creaks and clicks and long whistles. You look over at your partner, but she doesn’t appear to hear anything unusual, so you go back to your business, occasionally glancing back out into the blackness.

Suddenly, something begins to materialize in your peripheral vision. Two huge dark figures come swooping out of the darkness. Are they coming straight at you? You look over at your partner and her eyes are as wide as flying saucers. It registers. Aliens! Two huge alien space ships are flying at you and you are frozen.

They’re humpback whales, not aliens, silly.

(Camilla and the aliens)

(Camilla, Tess, and the aliens)

 

Ok, I have not suddenly become an astronaut, I’m still in the Turks and Caicos, but yesterday I had an out of this world experience. Our dive team got a greeting from two humpback whales, and my dive partner, Sophie, momentarily thought that we were having extraterrestrial contact with aliens. It was unequivocally the best dive I have ever been on. The whales passed within 60-80ft of our dive group, swimming along the edge of the TCI deep water trench. Camilla cried underwater, and I’m sure one of us peed a little in their wetsuit. With the seemingly infinite visibility of the Caribbean, we watched them glide across and back out of view into the dark blue waters.

After the whales were out of view our dive group had an underwater party. We danced and hugged, and high-fived, and used up all of our air in our excitement, so we soon had to return to the surface.

(Story inspired by this wonderful dive buddy Sophie who thought we were having an extraterrestrial encounter)

On another note we also saw two massive nurse sharks on this dive.

(Me just trying to blend in with the local crowd here. Ft. two 20ft nurse sharks)

 

PSA: It’s not all fun and games out there kiddos.

[Pic left to right: Sophie, Tyler, Cat (me), and Olivia rocking the eye protection on our dusty ride back from our first exam of the semester]

This post is for all you people out there thinking, wow this looks like a lovely vacation! She must be getting such a nice tan.

PSA: It’s not all fun and games out there kiddos.

Ok so it’s pretty fun, and yes I am getting a very nice tan, but we do a lot of pretty awesome work out here too. Most days are actually spent in the classroom with time split between our marine ecology class, resource management class, and environmental policy and socioeconomic values class. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we dive (weather permitting) and do community engagement. Throughout the week we rotate through cooking and cleaning crews, and student of the day responsibilities. We have homework assignments and exams, in fact, yesterday we had our first exam, and I can now give you the genus and species for over 30 Mangrove community organisms.

When studying and learning it is common to face challenges, and the challenges just look a little bit different here. Sometimes learning involves getting stung repeatedly in the face by a Cassiopea sp. jellyfish while “snorkeling” in 1ft deep water, because you can’t stand without getting sucked knee-deep in mud. Or maybe sometimes it means suffocating in a wetsuit on a boat facing 5ft wind swells as you wonder what puking in a regulator would be like. Last night, learning meant staying out on a sharking research boat till midnight on Valentine’s Day, making bad puns about being a master at bating hooks, all the while catching zero sharks.

Challenges and all, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be right now. The complete emersion of this program gives us the academic tools to explore the world in a new and incredible way. Every day I am amazed by the welcoming and respectful actions of the students, community, and staff who live and work here. Just this morning I got the grandest of welcomes from a hawksbill turtle who swam over, so close that I could have (theoretically) reached out and touched him, and said hello.

[Pic left to right: Olivia, Tess, and Camila baiting hooks for the sharks that never came]

The Internet Runs on Island Time

The first thing I learned on South is that the internet runs on island time. For instance, while I was attempting to upload this photo I had time to…

  1. Play a game of ping pong
  2. Sit and watch the sunset over the water
  3. Go night snorkeling to look for octopus
  4. Find an octopus changing colors and proceed to change colors as well from sunburnt pink to excited and asphyxiated purple.
  5. Follow the octopus until I start to shiver from cold (yes it actually gets kinda cold sometimes here)
  6. Come back to my computer still encrusted in salt (freshwater showers only once a week).
  7. Hurray the internet works because people are finally starting to go to sleep!
  8. Post the photo.

Now I’m off to sleep. I’ve got my first dive tomorrow and I’ve got to get my rest in preparation for when the 50 South Caicos students show up at the center for games and activities.