It’s Not Always Sunny in San Salvador (Day 4)

Windy, gloomy, and rainy… words you wouldn’t normally associate with ‘The Bahamas’, but Wednesday brought about a storm none of us had anticipated. The downpour made it impossible to do any field work, especially since we travel solely through the open roof truck. Nonetheless, we had a super productive day indoors, as we all had plenty of data to analyse. We all worked diligently through the morning and afternoon, huddled away in the labs of the GRC. However, we were given good news at dinner, Friday is supposed to be a beautiful day! That mean we have one more day to do any last minute sampling and data collection before we leave on Saturday. At night, we made sure to unwind by playing Cranium in the games room, where everyone’s artistic, acting, and humming skills were put to the test. This was followed by an intense game of Mafia, which at this point is basically a nightly ritual. All in all, a super productive, yet chill day. 🙂



Sun, Sand… and Science! (Day 1)

Our Bahamas trip started off with an overnight stay in lovely Naussau, where we stayed in an amazing hotel and were treated to a delicious three course meal. Early next morning, we were off to San Salvador, beginning our exciting journey. We flew in to the smallest airport I have ever seen, and hopped on to an open roof truck with all our luggage and drove on over to the Gerace Research Center. Once we got settled in to the modest, yet cozy dorm rooms, the group met up to get ready to head out and explore beautiful San Sal. Equipped with brand new field notebooks, fish ID cards, and underwater slates, we took a quick trip to a nearby beach, where we snorkelled until the sun went down. We saw Bahamian coral for the first time; both live and dead, mostly dead… which is great for our hypothesis, however not so great for the poor fish! After our first field day, all three groups’ projects were already in full force since we started working right away, into the late hours of the night. Who knew us scholars students would be working so hard! (jk)



From Peers to Friends to Family

It’s later than I’m willing to admit in this blog and everyone is fast asleep here at the Gerace Research Center. For those who have come to know me, they will not be shocked that I’m still up. What is it that keeps me going on such little sleep? – The starry nights? The Bahamian breeze? – I’ve concluded that there must be something in that DRANK that keeps me going.

All jokes aside, our time in San Salvador is nearly coming to an end and I can’t help but reflect on our time here.

Dear Professor Laflamme,

If you see this, please note that your vision for a field course in the sciences has more than surpassed any of the expectations I had and I’m confident the rest of our utm290 class would agree. Your witty remarks, continual support and consistency has improved our ability as researchers in ways that we will only realize later in a careers in graduate school. Thank you for you commitment to excellence and your faith in second year undergraduate students. I hope we’ve made you proud.

Dear Professor Piunno,

If you see this, please note that although you can take the boy of out the lab you can never take the lab out of the boy! As a non-chemistry major, thank you for challenging our approach to field work and analysis. Your vision for an interdisciplinary research course has again come into fruition and I hope to see this course grow in the coming years just as airLAB continues to grow. Your sense of humour and guiding nature made our days in the field that much more enjoyable. And once more I’d like to thank you for your commitment to excellence and your faith in second years undergraduate students. I hope we’ve made you proud.

Dear Tanya,

Trip Mom? Marathoner? Athlete?  No one word can describe you completely; and I believe that is a testament to the many roles you’ve fulfilled on this trip. From our doctor to adviser, teammate to snorkel partner but most importantly from our supervisor to our friend it’s safe to say that this trip would have not been the same without you. Thank you for your continual support and guidance. You managed to find the right balance between being the trip mom and letting us explore and I truly appreciate that. Thank you for making our trip safer and of course for being such a pleasure to be around this past week. I’ll make sure to come by the library more often!

Dear Shaishav & Thomas (Team Natural Selection ft. Violins,

Buuuuuuudddies, where do I start guys? – It’s been a crazy week in all the best ways possible. We’ve laughed together, talked about our feelings together and drowned together all in the name of …. way for it …. FORAMS! Who would’ve thought that a single celled protist could bring us so close? It’s an honour to work alongside the both of you. Thank you continually challenging me to become a better researcher and for your significant contributions to the project. Moreover, thanks for your friendship. Beyond collecting a ton of sediment on this trip I think we gained something greater – a new bond. We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us once we get home, but I’m fully confident that we’l continue to spearhead all troubles that come our way. Go Forams!

Dear  Sarah, Hiba, Mishika, & Ayesha (Team Finding Nemo),

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriippppp. Sorry just had to get that one out of my system. Thanks for the influence Sarah. Joking aside, its been a pleasure to work alongside all of you talented people. Taking on such a unique project is fascinating.

Hiba- You’re a trooper, my friend. Overcoming your fears and swimming up to the coral; I’m so proud of you.

Sarah – You’re a rock, swimming countless hours in those choppy waters. I don’t know how you do it but I’m astounded by your  work ethic. I’m so proud of you.

Mishika – Although, you could hardly touch the ground at times, your contributions to the team were significant. It was so much fun swimming out to the reefs together. I’m so proud of you.

Ayesha – I had no idea that your were such a joker! Funny & smart aha. It was awesome going out to the quadrats together. I’m so proud of you.

Dear Agatha & Mercy (Team Water People|Team Shrek|Team Anchor Management?)

Your method of gathering your samples was so coordinated! It was fun to be apart of that … even if I nearly got stuck in the mud during the process. It’s been awesome to be able to work with you amazing people!

Agatha – I knew that behind your game face you were “lit” ! Aha. It’s been a pleasure working with you and the countless hours you put into the project shows. I’m so proud of you.

Mercy – Merce girl! (I’ll leave that to Sarah). Again, awesome project! I’m astounded by the amount of hours you can put into looking at sediment and maintain your chill sense of humour. I’m so proud of you.


All in all, there are too many memories to write about and no picture that could capture the many laughs, hugs and love within this bunch. This has hands down been the greatest experience of my undergraduate degree so far and I’m so thankful to have experienced with such amazing people.

I’m officially signing off, and I hope to see everyone at Karaoke!


With love,



San Salvador, A Day in the Life

Life at the Research Center is so different from Canada. I mean that in best way possible. Our days are long but the hours are short. Everything is so structured but I never feel rushed. Everywhere I go, I can except greetings from strangers which is something I’ve come to love. Not having internet,  TV, or  social media … has made me feel so much more appreciative of the little things. I’ve become more present. I’ve cleared my head of much of the “city” demands. Nothing can compare to floating weightlessly over a coral reef filled with a plethora of diverse fish. Nor can one replicate eating lunch straighter off the truck as whatever site we happen to be at that day. These are moments that I’ve now gotten used to … but I know they will be the first ones I long to relive again once I’m back in Canada.

Just to provide some context here’s what a typical day looks like at the Gerace Research Center:

6:30am – Wake up

  • (we may hit the snooze button one too many times)

7:30am – Breakfast

  • Breakfast never fails to hit the spot
  • Eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, SPAGHETTI … we’re living large over here.

8:30am – Head out for the day

  • Promptly by 8:30 we have our truck loaded with things from snorkels, food, water, quadrats, corers, to test tubes and O2 meters … we have it all.
  • We quickly circle the Gerace Compound; often greeted by our favourite furry friend – Rover (aka no name aka dempster aka fish) and we head off to our sampling spots.

9:00am – 11:30 am ( sample, sample, sample)

  • Once we get to our desired site (often 2 before lunch) we get right to work
    • For Team 1, this means drowning each other in the name of Foraminifera (Just kidding! … but no seriously) to extract a core.
    • For Team 2, this means kicking up stinky sediment and sampling water.
    • For Team 3, this means examining the coral reefs – sketching & recording.

12:00 – 1:00 pm (LUNCH)

  • Lunch is the EXACT same every day and I WOULD NOT have it any other way.
    • Mayo, mustard, bread, salami, ham, chicken, oranges, apples and of course PURPLE DRANK.

1:00 pm – 5:00pm (MORE SAMPLES)

  • Often, we’ll continue to another site after lunch (stopping at anything interesting along the way) for more samples

5:30 pm (Dinner)

  • After a quick shower, everyone makes their way over to the cafeteria for dinner.
    • Man oh man, I have been consistently impressed with the staff here. Home cooked meals filled with authentic Bahamian love.

6:30 pm (Scrum Time)

  • Prof. Laflamme & Prof. Piunno orchestrate stand up meetings in the Library promptly after dinner to discuss our progress during the day, challenges, and plans for tomorrow.
    • A quick 10 minute scrum can really go a long way!

7:00pm – 12:00 (Lab Work + Cards Against Humanity)

  • Once the sun sets you can find all the teams hard at work.
    • Team 1 – separating Forams ( mostly praising them)
    • Team 2 – going through sediment (primarily whining about the stench)
    • Team 3 – going through coral footage (often uploading selfies in the process)
  • We somehow always manage to find time to come together briefly during this time to unwind with cards or a board game.

After making our way back to the dorm, we find ourselves asleep, and ready to do it all over again the next day.


Reflecting on this schedule makes me think that its rather hectic. However, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it. Like I said, the days are long but the hours are short. And nothing makes time move more quickly than hard work, good times and amazing friends.




Johnathan Davidson

Come Rain Or Shine

Not many account for an experience in the Bahamas where it rained for an entire day but apparently that was a fate we foresaw for our fourth day on the island. The boys seemed to have been hit so hard with sleep that they missed breakfast this morning. The rest of the team struggled to stay awake at breakfast as the rain poured hard outside. After breakfast, Agatha, Sarah and I went to the computer lab and spent most of our time trying to stay awake as we updated our story wiki’s. Most of the day was spent finishing work until after supper when we finally made use of the games room and played Cranium and an intense game of Mafia, as if we didn’t learn our lesson the first time most of us ended up in bed by 3am. Hopefully tomorrow will be a day where we get to go out and spend some time at the beach, there is also word of a cookout party tomorrow so that should be a lot of fun.


Do you smell that?

If there is one thing that could put me off of eating eggs for a while, it was spending the beginning of our day after breakfast in fresh lake. Ironically enough, the name does not give away a realistic representation of how muddy and poignantly pungent the oddly named ‘Fresh Lake’ actually was. It became clear that our project would require participants with brave souls and a strong immunity to an egg-like sewage stench; Johnathan, Ayesha, Mishika and Hibah were our biggest troopers and bravely collected samples with us in the lakes. On a happier note, today was the first day that we got to ride the back of an open-back truck around the entire island of San Salvador. Today was a beautiful, sunny day and was spent by the beach; in other words, it was what id like to call a great way to make up for our not so fresh morning.  We visited French Bay today in order for the other groups to work on their projects for most of the day. The ‘Finding Nemo’ group had trouble setting up their quadrats in the water; the boys fearlessly performed their gutsy method that involved drowning one another in order to collect forams from the ocean floor.

P.S; plenty of sun lotion required as it seems as though our next few days in san sal will be sunnier than sunny.



So Long Farewell

Where do I even begin? The past week has been one of the best experiences in my entire life! Other than the 121 forams that we picked out and separated over the past day, playing volleyball with everyone (including Tanya, King Foram: Prof. Piunno, and the Rochester students) was one of the most exciting and fun parts of the trip! But its that time already… time to say goodbye to the spring mattress, dirty showers, cardboard bread, and mosquitoes. Okay… it wasn’t all that bad 🙂 I am going to miss the fun time with the UTM290 gang, the thrill of pulling out a core full of forams, and most importantly, the ocean and the starry nights. Why does it always come to an end? I guess the best things must come to an end otherwise we’ll never cherish them. Looking back, I never imagined that this is where I would be… doing research on Foraminifera in the Bahamas… wow. I know I have a ton of work waiting for me at home so I’m just going to use this night to take in as many feelings from all my senses so i can think back to this wonderful time.