Roses are red, Saltires are blue…

As summer approaches and holiday plans to far-flung destinations populate the screens of starry-eyed students on every floor of the library, I have been reflecting on my last four years living in Edinburgh.

When I first came to visit the School of Geosciences, blue skies smiled down on the cobbled mish-mash rooftops of Auld Reekie and my heart was sold. Panoramic views from the top floor Meteorology lab of multiple volcanoes deep in the city centre only served to seal the deal. Head over heels, I knew Edinburgh was the place for me.

Four years later, I still enjoy the twisting closes and the way your eyes are drawn up, down and around as you wander through the Old Town, dodging chocolate stalls and fancy dumplings on a Saturday morning in Grassmarket.

There is much more to Scotland than the surface beauty of the capital, however. Throughout my time as a student, I have regularly managed to sneak off across the country to escape the hustle and bustle of university life.

And what awaits you when you do. To step into lands carved by glaciers during the last ice age, mountain belts formed from the collision between England and Scotland (we weren’t always a union!), otherworldly islands forged by volcanic eruptions and white sand beaches taken straight from a Caribbean postcard – it is a geoscience student’s dream!

Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour

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Throwback to Jamaica field trip – Paradise Lost?

Since spring has officially sprung, I’ve been casting my mind back to warmer tides, tropical sunsets and the itch to get back out in the field putting science into action.

Setting off

Last April, along with my fellow third year Environmental Geoscience students, I stuffed snorkels, pH probes, hiking boots and dive slates all into my backpack and flew across the Atlantic to Jamaica. Having looked forward to this moment for our entire degrees, we were pretty excited to say the least.

This was our opportunity to indulge in the balmy Caribbean sea surface temperatures and jerk cuisine, to meet turtles, corals, fish and rays up close and personal. This was our opportunity to put our oceanography knowledge to the test and learn real practical techniques that would be invaluable skills for years to come.

Where famous marine scientists such as Goreau and Hughes once stood, our fieldtrip soon followed in their physical, if not intellectual, footsteps, arriving in trepidation on the shores of Discovery Bay.

The land of (wood and) water

However, no sooner had we arrived at the marine laboratory situated on the northern coast of the island, we realised that there was indeed trouble in paradise.

Instead of the untouched pristine island of our dreams, we were met with sprawling tourist developments, extensive deforestation and a huge bauxite mine as our closest neighbour. Reality hit hard.

As we spent our first week heads down and snorkels up (with red necks to boot!) we conducted ecological surveys of the coastal ecosystem using quadrats and transects. Within minutes of our first glimpse below the surface, large swathes of green snotty algae stretching metres across the backreef confirmed that something was afoot. Our results showed that some areas had up to 50% macroalgae cover, thought to be smothering coral reef growth which would likely affect the reef health overall. Even large swarms of algae-munching urchins were no match for this algal tide. Our sprawling underwater metropolis lay quiet.


Continue reading “Throwback to Jamaica field trip – Paradise Lost?”

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