9 months ago, I prepped everything I needed for the trip until I was finally on my way to the other side of the world! On this expedition, my role was a research assistant, where I was helping to collect annual data that is used to help monitor and protect the coral reefs in Hondura
9 months ago, I decided to sign up for a 4-week marine expedition in Honduras with Operation Wallacea. During these months, I fundraised (OYA was a huge help!) and prepped everything I needed for the trip until I was finally on my way to the other side of the world! On this expedition, my role was a research assistant, where I was helping to collect annual data that is used to help monitor and protect the coral reefs in Honduras. I was situated on a small island called Utila, which is where some of the main coral reef sites are located. During my first week on Utila, I completed my PADI Open Water, which enabled me to contribute to data collection in the upcoming weeks. I also had the privilege of swimming with wild dolphins on my day-off during the first week, which was a truly memorable experience I will never forget! During my second week, I completed the Coral Reef Ecology course, where I learnt how to identify the most common fish and coral species on the reefs at Utila, as well as completing my PADI Advanced Open Water! For my final two weeks, I was a research assistant for two different projects. The first project involved looking at damselfish behaviour by setting up GoPros underwater near their territories. Damselfish are a group of fish that are often found on coral reefs. They act as algal farmers and chase away herbivorous fish from their territories (regardless of their size!) to prevent the herbivores from grazing on the algae. Without these grazers, this can hinder coral growth, which can negatively impact coral health. This is why it is important to look at the impact damselfish have on coral reefs so future research can look at how to protect them. For the second project, I was a research assistant for sea urchin data collection. This involved counting the number of sea urchins and documenting the substrate that they were found on at different depths (2m, 5m and 10m). 50m benthic transects were reeled out along these depths underwater and the number of different sea urchin species that were found along each transect were counted. Collecting this data annually enables us to see the impact that different environmental conditions have on sea urchin numbers, which is important because they are algae grazers that help to maintain the balance between algae and coral. Additionally, one day I also helped as a research assistant for one of the projects on a small coral reef island called Morgan’s Cay. On this day, I helped carry out transect surveys underwater and collected sediment samples both underwater and on land (we dug a hole in the island to enable a sediment core to be extracted for later data analysis!). Much of the data I helped to collect contributed to dissertation projects and/or PhD research, with some of these projects having data collected annually.
This trip has truly opened my eyes to what I want to do and what I want to study in the future. Now I know that marine biology is the degree I want to pursue and that a career involving travelling, a tropical or hot climate and researching marine life (cetaceans in particular!) is the one for me.
Honduras and working with Operation Wallacea was truly an amazing experience and I have OYA to thank for helping me fundraise to make this journey happen.
Heidi (2021 OYA intern)