Volunteering at UVI

For the past few weeks, I have been volunteering with Matt Souza at UVI. He is a graduate student under the mentorship of Dr. Edwin Cruz-Rivera studying the impacts of invasive seagrass (Halophila stipulaceaon) on invertebrate populations and community structure. The work has been incredibly interesting; it has allowed me to learn a lot about local invertebrates and how they interact with seagrass beds. Yesterday, Matt and I went to a survey site off the coast of Water Island with two research divers to do a couple of studies. The divers did line transect surveys and invertebrate collection using a vacuum-suction system with a steel air tank. Once the samples were collected, we returned back to UVI to identify the invertebrates collected with the vacuum-suction and preserve them. Overall, it was a tiring but very exciting day where I learned a lot about boating, surveying seagrass, and identifying species that look similar but are classified differently.

The research diving class I am in through the university will finish my training as an AAUS Diver in Training. Until the class is completed, I am technically not a AAUS Scientific Diver and cannot participate in research dives with the university (including the seagrass surveys). I am still able to assist the divers by snorkeling and freediving, which is just as exciting since I can see the invertebrates being collected and watch the procedures. I hope that by the end of the semester I will be able to dive with at least one of the surveys, but it all depends on Covid restrictions and how far along the class gets.

Although my schedule has been filling up with classes and volunteering, I am still going on fun excursions every week or so. Tomorrow I will be heading to St. John for hiking and shopping, which I am very excited for. The hiking at St. John has been gorgeous, so I can’t wait to see more parts of the island. This Saturday, I am going on a mini kayak eco-tour with the university to go through mangroves and see more of the natural parts of the St. Thomas. I have wanted to do an eco-tour since arriving, so I have been looking forward to this trip for a bit. I would love to see whales while here, but it is such a chance event based on luck that I am not counting on it anytime soon. There have been a few sightings of humpback whales on the North side of the island, so I may make a couple trips to beaches over there for the next couple of weeks to try to see them from afar. Even if I miss seeing whales while here, the islands and the life on them are so beautiful I will be happy no matter what.

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