Silver Linings

It always pays to look for the positives. Over the past few days I’ve been working on a different project to my usual job, and it reinforced one of my favourite life lessons. What lesson, you ask? Read on!

The study is looking at the decomposition of organic (living) material on beaches. If you’ve ever gone down to the beach after a storm, no doubt you’ve seen algae, jellyfish, fish and other miscellanous stuff washed up. We wanted to know whether the nutrients locked away in the organic material ended up getting eaten and incorporated into the food chain at the beach, or whether it just melts into the sand and is washed away.

The final resting place of Jelly #16.

To this end, we (well, I was only in an advisor/helper role) collected 60 large jellyfish and labelled them with a nitrogen tracer. We then set up a plot with one jellyfish buried under a shallow layer of sand, every two metres. The plan was to sample 5 of the jellies and 5 control sites at various times over the next 4 days to monitor their decomposition and see if any of the little beach-dwelling critters would eat them. The first day – a solid 8 hours under the hot Queensland sun – went off very smoothly.

Halfway along the plot; 60 little jelly tombs.

Today, however, we arrived to see a council representative with an apologetic look on his face. He explained to us that they were about to dredge the section of beach we were working on, in order to maintain access to an adjacent boat ramp. That meant they’d be tearing up the sand at one end of our sample site and spewing it out at the other. Project over! We hastily took the Day 2 samples and repeated the mantra of the important life lesson I mentioned earlier: Shit happens (deal with it).

The beginning of the end for our project...

It was very frustrating – a lot of hours went into planning the study, collecting the jellyfish, labelling the tubes, setting it up in the field etc., only for it to be cut off so abruptly – but it was an unlucky coincidence. Research can be like that; just when everything seems to be going well, something totally out of the blue knocks you right back. We may still be able to get some interesting data from the first 24 hours – the jellies were disappearing remarkably quickly so we’ll be able to measure where their body nutrients were going in the sand.

So, what did I do when we got back to the lab and packed up? I had lunch, joked around with the ol’ lab mates for a while, then canned work for the year and went to the beach. Two hours of bodysurfing in thick little peaks was just the ticket after a stressful month! Next up is watching a batting exhibition at the WACA for the next couple of days (come on Aussies, a century can’t be THAT hard!), getting stuck back in to the Wheel of Time world, learning how to play Smooth and go-karting on Saturday. Bring it on!

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Categories: Science, Thoughts | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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