Week one started with a lot of reading. At my corner of the lab I have a pile of seven books, two manuals (one is on a CD because its 354 pages were a bit too much to print) and three scientific papers.
The lengthy manual is for the environmental room — a space with a programmable, temperature-controlled, humidity-controlled, light-controlled climate. But when I stepped inside, the light switch didn’t even work. I spent an embarrassing amount of time reading the manual and poking at buttons on the control panel to no avail. Finally, I gave up and called the manufacturer to come in and get it set up.
With the room up and running and some basic readings under my belt, we were ready to start with the fun stuff. On Friday we embarked on our first invertebrate wrangling adventure. Leanne drove Kasey, a high school intern, and I to the University of Rhode Island where we met up with Niels Hobbs and J.A. MacFarlan, professor and teaching assistant, respectively, of a marine invertebrate class. We all hopped in a university van and headed to Allen Harbor.
I thought I was pretty familiar with docks and coastal lifeforms, but I realized I had a lot of learning to do when I looked down at the crust of organic matter on the edge of the dock and asked Leanne, “So, these are mostly plants, right?” A novice question because most of the dense mat was, in fact, the invertebrates that we had come to collect. Leanne scraped a couple critters from the edge, pointing out the mossy brown tunicates (“sea squirts”), branching bryozoans, and countless tiny caprellid amphipods.
Lying down on the docks and staring over the edge you can see the barnacles fanning their feathery legs to catch food, the little transparent shrimp bouncing around, and bright orange sponges (reminiscent of the macaroni and cheese Crayola color). For our project, we’re after the caprellids and anemones. The caprellids were easy, there were thousands of them dancing and waving from their murky substrate. The anemones were more difficult to find, and gently scraping them off the docks was even more difficult than finding them. But, I’m not complaining. I could spend countless hours observing the dock life.
With our buckets full of specimens and my mind full of new words, we headed back to New Haven to put the critters in the successfully chilled environmental room.