10 August 2007
Location: Dry Tortugas
Just after 7 a.m. the launch took us ashore to investigate the Dry Tortugas, farthest west you can travel in this archipelago. The island was a small patch of sand overwhelmed by a massive fort strategically located to protect the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys. It's a thick-walled fortress of 16 million bricks encircled by a moat with a wide promenade. You could actually watch reef fish while walking around the moat. Recall the rallying cry, "Remember the Maine", when the ship MAINE was sunk across the straits in Havana at the end of the last century and all onboard died? This was a strategic area in the Spanish American War. Nearby, Bird Island is the home for thousands of seabirds, particularly Brown Noddy and Sooty Terns, and apparently two crocodiles. Another low sandy key supports the spindly Tortugas lighthouse marking this landmark. Dry Tortugas National Park is a research natural area, a 46 square mile no-take ecological preserve, creating a sanctuary for the marine life. Back to the boat.
A call from the bridge announced, "dolphins bow riding", each bow (remember this is a catamaran) had a fast moving dolphin swimming with the boat and making shallow surface dives, its spotted back glistening in the sun. Is this great or what...
Talked with graduate student John Athan who recently joined the boat at Key West. He is interested in theoretical population genetics and will be defending his thesis this spring. In Dr. Cowen's lab, he develops simulation models to help determine areas to conserve, protecting species richness and diversity thus maintaining healthy ecosystems. Recent evidence shows that reefs are self-recruiting and yet there are interconnections, some populations are distinct and some are connected. He worked as a cartographer in Washington D.C. identifying diverse resources. He got his undergraduate degree at McGill in wildlife biology and his masters at Duke U. He likes the practical aspects of resource management. Someday John would like to get a job with environmental nonprofits or in consulting.
Carie Bikson is a junior at U. Miami majoring in marine science and biology and has been working in Dr. Cowen's lab since January. She is from Kansas and got interested in marine biology from visiting her grandparents in Florida. In high school, she had some interesting exposure to research activities. She'd like to spend a semester abroad in the Canary Islands. Her interests are in genetics and marine mammals and would like to get her PhD. someday. She likes to play volleyball, watch movies and SCUBA dive.