Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Working girls

CARMABI is the Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity Institute which was established in Curacao in 1955. The not-for-profit organization operates on four pillars: scientific research on marine and terrestrial ecological subjects; nature management of marine and terrestrial parks; environmental education; and consultancy to third parties. The facilities include offices and labs located at Piscaderabaai; these may be the worse for wear, and no doubt could use some additional funding. But the Institute is a vibrant centre for research and a training ground for young scientists gathering information from the sea; about 70 scientists come here every year.

The reefs around Curacao are among the loveliest in the Caribbean, surviving even the hundred year old refinery processing oil from Venezuela, and the busy port traffic. What better place to study the living reef, to try to understand the diversity and complexity of inter-dependence in a healthy marine ecosystem.

Students from Netherlands universities arrive annually for their internships, collecting data and adding to the fund of knowledge that advances an appreciation for ocean life. Here are a couple of these students collecting samples from a reef just off Piscadera bay. Like almost every other bay on Curacao, there's a commercial business that manages the visitor facility - providing beach chairs, rest rooms and restaurants - a tourism model that works well in the Dutch Antilles.

The girls are working on a project that requires them to collect water samples from different parts of the reef. The micro-organisms are filtered in the lab and their rate of nitrogen fixation - conversion of nitrogen gas to ammonia (much like the bacteria living in the roots do for the plants so they can have their source of nitrogen for proteins) - is measured at regular intervals. Continuous testing over 48 hours takes patience, steadiness and good humour. It's also better with a science buddy.
Loading up the boat for a dive to collect samples

Wetsuits and tanks for the dive

Bringing back in sample tubes filled with sea water!

Diving, and offloading, requires two persons

All that effort for a few microscopic organisms?

A scientist needs perseverance among other qualities...

...and should enjoy repetitive hard work!

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