Mama Science Vacation
It was inevitable, although I did it sooner than many moms (and later than many other moms). I left Joey with his Grammy and Papa for a week of luxury baby resort – swimming, beach, friends, relatives, a dog, a big house, and tons of toys and books – while I went off on a science adventure without him. It would be easy for me to spend the week feeling sad and guilty for abandoning my child and husband, but I knew from the outset that I couldn’t do that. Several people including Joey and Simon worked hard to ensure that I could make this happen, and the least I could do to repay them is get the most out of my trip!
I am en route to the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station on St. John, USVI. I am going to help fellow Scripps grad and science mom extraordinaire Jessica Carilli with her exciting fieldwork. Jess makes a living by studying the records left in corals skeletons, and in this particular case is looking for the signature of sediment runoff in the coral record. The first step to getting at that record is extracting cores – long, cylindrical, sections of coral – for her to take back to her lab and study. Divers take the cores from both living and dead corals with an underwater drill, which is powered by SCUBA tanks. That’s where I come in – dive buddy was needed! I’m so happy to be back in the water and for the opportunity to work with a Scripps friend. While we aren’t working on Jessica’s data collection, you can assume that I will either be off exploring the reef with my mask and snorkel or working hard on my own papers. I set an ambitious goal of submitting two additional manuscripts for review before I start work (hopefully September 1), so I have a lot to do!
This is a fun learning experience for me also. I have never taken coral cores before. Simon’s and my work in Hawaii has prepared me for the innovative requirements of fieldwork, as well as for handling large and unwieldy objects underwater. The tools and methods we are using on this trip are new to me though, and I have much to gain from this experience.
In the meantime, Joey is hanging out with two of his favorite people and making the rounds to his Williamsburg fan club. He is already being spoiled by his grandparents, and while he gets excited to see Simon and I on Facetime or Skype, does not seem to be distressed by our absence. I am grateful that he is still small enough to take this in stride and not really understand that we aren’t in the same geographic area as him right now. It will be a very happy family reunion for all three Freemans next weekend, regardless!
We spent today getting settled into the VIERS field station and exploring the nearby reefs to suss out field sites in Lameshur Bay.
The cabin is very nice – two big bedrooms with a toilet/sink each and a kitchen in between. There is power, but everything is open air- a strip of screens around the entire building (all of the buildings), clothesline outside, super nice outside shower with warm water (soooo pleasant last night! moonlight, stars, crickets and frogs… I was in love). There are ceiling fans and it is cool enough to sleep inside. Our kitchen has a stove-top only, coffeepot, and small microwave. Most of our meals will be prepared in our cabin. There is a large ‘camp’ with many cabins, a communal cafeteria, office, little museum from the tektite project, and other living amenities. They have short (2 day) camps for kids here. Then it is a short walk or drive to the ‘lab’ which has lab space, a little dive locker (closet with lockers and drying rack), pier, small boat, freshwater shower, etc.
We visited the lab today to set up and run through our basic procedures. We are planning to start diving/collecting cores tomorrow morning. Today we went for a long snorkel to explore Lameshur Bay near the field station. The land part of the park is beautiful, dense jungle singing with birds and insects (no frightening bites yet!). The underwater park has scattered coral reefs and seagrass beds, with a wide variety of fish. The water is unbelievably warm – far warmer than anything we experienced in Hawaii.
I of course left my camera in the dive locker so photos will have to be added later, but wanted to leave a little bit of an update ☺