Hello, Mariana Islands!
May 26, 2018
After a total flying time of about 14 hours, and having stayed awake for over 24 hours due to the 17-hour time zone difference, I finally made it to the Mariana Islands. I was extremely exhausted, but excitement took over when Guam made itself visible from the airplane window. This was the start of my three-month experience working in an ecosystem I was unfamiliar with, and with animals I would have never guessed I was going to be working with – Mariana fruit bats. I was excited to gain a better understanding of the project that I was going to be a part of, which was GPS collaring, gut retention time, and my own project, fruit nutritional analysis. For some context, Mariana fruit bats are one of the animals that help the forest around here grow, alongside the birds on the islands. Both of these populations have been drastically decreasing over the years due to a few things, one of them being the introduction of the brown tree snake, which has been known to eat the birds and bat nannies, particularly on Guam. The scientists on the project have been working to gain a better understanding of how the islands that have not been affected by the snake works in order to find a solution to raise the populations of the species and aid in the regrowth of the forest. I am working as an intern on this project to gain a better understanding of the role the bats play in this project.
Figure 1. Mariana Fruit Bats in captivity.
I spent my first full day and a half in Guam learning about the different subsections of the project, more specifically about the plant project, the person who hosted me for the first two nights was part of. Though the real work began when I flew into Rota, the island I currently call home. I was met by my site advisor, Ryszard Oleksy and we left for the house that we are living in for the duration of our time here. Ryszard had already been here for two weeks, though it is also his first time here, so despite having more experience in just about everything, including time here, bat research, post-doc studies, conducting research, and in life, we are both on this island experiencing something new, which is comforting to know that it is a learning experience for the both of us. I learned a lot about Ryszard in this first week – in fact, we share a lot in common! For the purposes of this blog, I will only expand upon one thing: we both have had interest in veterinary medicine for a career. He told me about his journey until this point of conservation biology, and I felt like I have learned a lot from that conversation. I grew up wanting to work on something like this project, and dedicating my life to this field, though I had a change in heart through high school when I discovered the veterinary career. I am excited to see what these three months spark in my post-grad study interests.
Figure 2. Ryszard and I at the Bird Sanctuary collecting fruits.
On another note, I got to experience the beauty of this island right away, through both some site seeing and data collection! Over the rest of the week, starting shortly after my arrival, we drove around the island, searching for new places to explore, met some local people who gave us some insight to their knowledge of the bats and the island as a whole, visited the captive bats that will eventually be studying during my time here, and started to collect the fruit that will be used for my nutritional analysis. Working with the fruit has been the labor filled part of my week thus far. We have collected over 30 samples from different species and I spent a couple days identifying the plant from which it came from by using some guidebooks provided to me and the vast knowledge of Ryszard, prepping both dry and frozen samples of the fruits, and collecting data on a spreadsheet. I noticed that I found this process familiar, despite me working with fruit for the first time in my life, and it was due to my time at Cornell College. Having taken a few classes where data collection was a key portion of lab, and having spent classes and a summer with a Cornell Summer Research Institute project where fieldwork was prominent, I had gained the skill set necessary to perform this part of the project effectively.
Figure 3. Here I am collecting the fruit that I later identified, dried, and froze.
Over all, I am very excited to be out here, to be working with the people involved in these projects, and to get to study topics so beautiful in such a beautiful place. I am looking forward to living on the least inhabited island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and to learn as much as I possibly can while I am here.
Belou is a biochemistry and molecular biology major from San José del Cabo, Mexico.