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St. Croix

Swimming with the Jellies

The first time I came to St. Croix, I was too cheap and too poor to buy goggles with corrective lenses. My vision is pretty poor without glasses. One eye is quite different than the other. So I got regular googles and just accepted I couldn't see very much while snorkeling.

Using lenses from old glasses, I made two versions of my own corrective goggles. The first time, I put a single drop of super glue and stuck the lenses in the goggles. It worked pretty well, except that the middle of the lens is exactly where you're looking -- so you can see pretty well, except for what you want to look at. :-/ The next time, I glued lenses onto three buttons placed at the corners of the lenses and then glued the buttons into the goggles, They worked pretty well and I used them for years. They catastrophically failed the last time I was here: I put my face in the water and they immediately filled up with saltwater -- which was a huge surprise.

I had intended to replace them at my leisure before I came down. But I'm by nature too lazy to get around to things like that. But I brought my prescription hoping that maybe I could buy something while on island. When we arrived, I went to one of the local dive shops who said they didn't really have anything for sale. I was ready to give up, but Alisa checked with another local shop and found that they could order something promptly that used individual pre-ground lenses for each side. They just correct for distance -- not for astigmatism -- but probably good enough, I thought. So we put in the order and held our breath.

I was very excited when the lenses came in: I took my goggles back to the shop and he installed the lenses. We came back to Cottages and I ran out to the beach and jumped into the water. AND I COULD SEE! Jellies! Jellies! And more jellies! EVERYWHERE! Not wanting to get painfully stung, I promptly jumped back out of the water.

I was about ready to give up when Daniel brought one back in a bowl and I realized they weren't jellyfish -- they were Ctenaphores, or Comb Jellies. They're not stingy. Actually, I had always wanted to see a ctenaphore -- they're almost transparent and have rows of cilia that are supposed to bioluminesce. So I ran back out and jumped back into the water. There were so many ctenaphores, it was like swimming through jelly. There were millions of them. Billions of them.

And I could see! I could see the sand! I could see the rocks! I could see the fish and the flounder and the crabs. And the tube worms and the sponges and coral.

At night, Buzz and I took dive lights out for a night-dive. There was a huge bunch little planktonic organisms and came along with the comb jellies —— maybe larvae of something. But the water was thick with little critters swimming around. If you turned the lights off a lot of them would flicker and flash like fire flies. We swam out to a big rock and watched the fish in the lights. We saw a big spiny lobster -- their eyes glow in the lights. On the way back, I looked for comb jellies without the lights. They didn't seem to luminesce much, but then I bumped one and the rows of cilia lit up like Christmas trees. Beautiful.

In the morning, I went out early to collect cullet for another old rum bottle filled with sea glass. It's a lot easier to find it when you can actually see. Who'da thunk it?

Last full day

Today is my last full day on island. The time has passed quickly. We've been busy launching the trapping program (getting traps out of storage, getting access to the refuge, putting the traps into service, etc). We also had to move to a different cottage, which was surprisingly disruptive: afterwards you can't find anything.

I don't usually plan to come down for such a short stay, but this was a special occasion. And today we celebrate that occasion: Buzz's 60th birthday. Buzz is expecting around 20 people. The plans are all laid: we've arranged for the food from Rose's and will pick up the drink this afternoon. We couldn't get beer from the Fort Christian Brewpub -- they didn't have any IPA ready. But we can get some Island Hoppin' IPA in the bottle, which is pretty good. And maybe a bottle or two of rum as well.

We've had good success in the field. We've had nearly 50% trap success: a mix of recaptures and new animals. We had one rather harrowing experience with an Africanized bee colony in a tree hollow that became disturbed and wouldn't let us get to one trap site. So, after the colony calmed down, we moved that trap to a different site. Buzz only got one sting, but it's amazing how terrifying it is to have bees swarming around you, buzzing, and bumping into your head.

Yesterday we visited Christiansted to visit the boutiques and watch the crab races. I mostly walked around and played Ingress. We took three hermit crabs and entered them, but didn't have any win. But it was fun. The view from the boardwalk is amazing.

With Venus to guide us, we walked back to the car in the lot with the Baobab tree and drove back to Cottages.

On island

Buzz, Jonathan and I arrived "on island" yesterday afternoon. We made a quick stop at the store to get a few supplies (beer and breakfast, mostly) before checking in at Cottages. Then we had dinner at Lost Dog -- our usual first stop when we get here.

Today, Buzz had ambitious plans. He wanted to put some data loggers into the salt pond. We borrowed a kayak and, after getting stuck once, he headed off across the salt pond.

It turns out the pond is only about two feet deep. He gets to slog back tomorrow to collect his data loggers.

We met a new friend at the refuge who helped us collect our traps and other stuff and get a key to the gate so we could set some traps. We put out 15 traps and should have some animals to work with tomorrow.

One new toy is a thermal camera. I saw one at Home Depot and sent a picture to Buzz who ordered one instantly to be delivered directly here: It arrived today and we've been playing with it since. The last time I had checked, thermal cameras still cost in the $1000s. But they're down to ~$250 now.

Buzz has more friends arriving tonight in advance of his birthday party on Tuesday. Everyone who's anyone will be there. With catering by Rose's Dream Cuisine and beer by the Fort Christian Brewpub it will be a night to remember.

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