Reflections on the last 5 weeks! It was an incredible 5 weeks at Friday Harbor Labs for the Ecology of Infectious Marine Disease course. After 6 years heavily immersed in the field of coral disease ecology, it was refreshing and invigorating to take a step back and remind myself how my research fits into the larger field of marine disease epidemiology/ecology. There are so many incredible diagnostic tools and during the course we learned how to take a stepwise approach to diagnosing a disease and navigating the inevitable challenges that accompany studying disease in the marine environment. As a field ecologist, I also appreciated our instructors’ patience as we discussed and used several molecular techniques. As a graduate student, I think the aspect that I enjoyed most was the collaboration I developed with our instructors and students.
The Adventure Continues! After a few days of R&R in Seattle, I hopped on a plane for Indonesia to meet up with Dr. Erinn Muller (post-doc at Mote Marine Laboratory, Fl) and several collaborators from Hasanudin University. Over the course of the next 3 weeks, we will be conducting coral disease and fish surveys inside and outside marine protected areas (MPAs) at 3 locations to test the effectiveness of MPAs in promoting coral health. Indonesian coral reefs lie within the Coral Triangle, the center of coral reef global biodiversity. Comprised of over 17.000 islands, Indonesia contains the second largest reef habitat in the world and is a mecca for any coral reef biologist. During the last decade, Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (COREMAP) aims to promote the recovery of fish populations from over-fishing, as well as increase coral health and resilience. In 2011, a team from Cornell University, Mote Marine Laboratory, James Cook University, University of Guam, The Nature Conservancy and Hasanudin University visited Indonesia to help initiate a coral health and disease working group. This group also conducted a series of baseline coral disease surveys and found that regions such as the Spermonde Archipelago have relatively low levels of coral disease. However, there are significant coral diseases present, all of which have been described from other reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, making this a critical time for completing baseline surveys. I arrived into Denpasar (Bali) on the 28th after ~30 hours of traveling with 4 different airline carriers…and believe it or not both my bags made it! After a quick overnight stay, I set off for Maumere to meet up with our collaborators. Maumere is a port town on the island of Flores, which is situated in the south-central region of Indonesia and is directly in the “Ring of Fire.” Flores is well known of its 5 active volcanoes and spectacular reefs! We arrived to the Wailiti Beach hotel, which is a beautiful quaint hotel on the beach. During the first day, we spent a lot of time discussing experimental design and general logistics and luckily Erinn finally arrived after a torrent of horrible travel issues (I thought I had bad travel karma). We just got back from our first day in the water and I am afraid I will have to keep you all in suspense a little bit longer because today deserves its own blog entry. Suffice it to say today was one of the highlights of my scientific career! Stay tuned! ~Courtney