The update from Marine Station Stareso in Calvi, Corsica:
We left Vienna on the 18th of June, driving first through the vineyards south of Vienna, then winding through the Alps into Italy, straight across the breadth of Italy through fields of sunflowers and pinon trees, and to the coast. About nine hours after starting out, that delicious salty sea breeze hit us. We took an overnight ferry from Savona, Italy to Bastia, Corsica. We drove across the rough terrain of Corsica to Calvi, a terracotta-roofed town, and then off down a dirt road poking out onto a penninsula. The road got worse and worse, but now and again we would see blue spots painted on the rocks, which we followed, and after a fifteen or twenty minute drive we found Stareso.
The station is nestled into the natural rock formations of the peninsula, and is built around the water. There is dive gear, two small lab spaces (wet and dry), accomodations, and a kitchen with an amazing cook named Momo. It was such a treat to have delicious and fresh meals every day; and mealtime was a very communal French affair, with everyone sitting down together and waiting for
where i worked
i had to go snorkeling here every day. sometimes twice. jeeze.
each course until everyone else was finished.
It was so much fun staying at the station - I wish I could speak even just a little bit of French! The man in charge of the dive gear refuses to speak anything but French. "We have for 12 years been trying to get Silva to speak even two words of English," Pierre, one of the directors, explained to us, "because we know that he understands it. But now after 12 years, I just do not think it will happen." For me, there was a really comical element, i.e. French men diving and drinking wine and diving. (okay, to be accurate they weren't French but Swiss, from the french-speaking part. And they weren't marine biologists, they were the scuba-diving division of Swiss firefighters. But still, added to James Bond-esque location of the station, it was pretty great).
After the firefighters left, a new group came, the artist Philippe Ramette and his crew, including the underwater cameraman from the movie "March of the Penguins." (Which is an awesome movie, if you haven't seen it.) He told me all about living in Antarctica and the development of the film, how the diving
the Hippolyte trembles with fear when it sees me and my sampling net
shoots worked, etc, totally fascinating. Anyway, this artist (Ramette) dresses in a suit and then creates these surreal photographs featuring himself without any sort of digital alterations. (check out the website here
to see some of his artwork, particularly "hommage a la mafia" shot underwater in Egypt. They were at Stareso shooting a series of photos, four underwater and one with Philippe walking on water. To do this they created this underwater scaffolding, and he had special shoes that screwed into the ladder. It was pretty awesome to see the end result, and I can't wait to see the pictures (one of which features my professor and advisor as models!)
Some science nitty-gritty (which perhaps should have come first?): We've spent the last two weeks carrying out a project designed over the course of a semester in Vienna. Without going into too much detail, I'll just say that our group's project was a field survey and habitat choice experiment (using aquaria) of a marine isopod that is very well studied in the Baltic Sea but relatively unstudied in the Mediterranean. After three careful months of planning and trying to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong with the project,
we started our work in Calvi according to the plan. The only problem was that within the first two days we realized our subject, this isopod around which everything has revolved for the past three months, wasn't there! (I had a good laugh about this. "Doing Science," gotta love it.) We only found a handful of isopods over the whole two weeks - haha, maybe that's why there is no literature on the Mediterannean Idotea species?! So, to salvage our project, we changed our experiments to look at habitat choice of an organism we could find, a small crustacean species called Hippolyte
found in the seagrass beds and macroalgae. To collect our samples, we took sampling nets, dove down and swam through the seagrass beds, and then picked out the tiny shrimp. This method was exhausting (when snorkeling, that means free diving three or four meters and then sprinting through the seagrass with an open net) but awesome. Swimming out to the beds you might be engulfed in schools of small fish, or if you are lucky see an octopus. Going through the beds you rustle up beautiful fish feeding there. And going through what we caught in the nets
we would sometimes find seastars, crabs, beautiful polycheate worms in shocking colors or with a bizarre crown of tentacles, and juvenile fishes. In the evenings we would give presentations to the group summarizing preliminary results gained over the course of the day. It was terrific training in multitasking.
And one more comment on the water -- one night I went snorkeling. It was so creepy. The schools of fish normally darting around were frozen in the water column and didn't respond to the light of my torch. I could float right up and until I disturbed the water, they wouldn't move. The greatest thing though was turning the light off and dragging my fins through the water - the bioluminescing plankton would light up with every kick. Nothing makes you feel small like a black sky full of stars, both above and below you. Awesome
So, all in all, it's been a terrific experience. I really appreciate the introduction to the Mediterranean that the UniWien has given me, and Corsica is definately somewhere I would like to explore some more.
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