6 Things I Learned While Setting Up a Summer Field Experiment

Cement blocks weigh 28 lbs each. I specify each because if you are trying to transport 40 in your car, you’ll need to take this into consideration… can you fit 40? can your car carry 1120 lbs of cargo? My Pruis cannot, this took two loads and even then she was riding very low.

To get a good workout, carry cement blocks around as much as possible. If you work on a small island and a boat is required to ferry you across – think about which muscle groups you want to target as you get them to the end of the dock, on and off a small boat, and stacked up outside your lab. For a bonus workout, carry them one at a time 50 yards to the workshop and then back so that you can use a drill press to put a few holes in each block.  To help with your levels of inner peace, when you are almost done, realize there is a cart with wheels you could have used instead of hand-carrying them.

Nothing like carrying 40 cement blocks to shift your perspective on that beautiful boat ride to the office...
Somehow transporting 40 cement blocks can shift your perspective on that beautiful boat ride to the office…

Corals are quite heavy… this makes transporting them a great opportunity to work on your lift bag skills! To really master this, be sure to go out on a day with a minimum of 3-5 foot swell, and try to conduct a proper 3 minute safety stop with your lift bag and crates of goodies. If you successfully complete this, try again later that same day, and the next day, and…

Lift bag basics: slow and steady, keep an eye on your dive computer, don't loose your goodies!
Lift bag basics: slow and steady, keep an eye on your dive computer, don’t lose your goodies!

Be prepared for everything to go perfectly and for everything to go wrong. Think

Zip ties... always have lots of zip ties.
Zip ties… always have lots of zip ties.

about this as you find and put together your equipment (it is totally possible that half the tools you brought are not going to work the way you hoped – bring at least 2 other options and lots of zip ties). If things are moving along better than imagined – make sure you have extra gear as needed to keep going! Don’t get too excited as you prep for everything to go smoothly though, it is also important to be prepared to go back to the drawing board in case nothing is working.

The stress never ends. At first figuring out how to get my coral colonies moved around and set up was quite stressful. As it was happening prepping the gear for each boat trip was stressful and watching each coral get epoxied down was stressful. Then we finally had all 40 coral colonies set up!!! After a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep, I woke up completely stressed about what would happen to my corals – would they live through the move? would someone knock them over? So far the corals have been looking healthy, so that stress has been somewhat forgotten, but quickly replaced with figuring out how to get my community manipulations set up…

Always have great field buddies. Whether everything is going perfectly or nothing is working, every field project is much better with cheerful, creative, fun people around who are willing to try new things and go with the ever-changing flow. My amazing, practically full-time-volunteer, Debra, has made even the hardest days of this project enjoyable and productive. I also highly recommend finding an advisor who not only will have impromptu hour-plus long meetings with you to discuss logistics, but also will come out on the boat despite being queasy in the rough conditions. Additionally great friends and lab mates who are ready to head out in the field with you, talk to you about new techniques, and perhaps most importantly calm you down when you are freaking out a bit… well they make the adventure worth taking.

"I get by with a little help from my friends" - John Lennon.
“I get by with a little help from my friends” – John Lennon.