I arrived in Moorea on a Saturday morning and quickly settled into the lab and accommodations. On my first afternoon I went out collecting with Dr. Arthur Anker and Ms. Sarah McPherson (both of the Florida Museum of Natural History) to search for sea anemones at Papetoai. At low tide, we waded in water about 0.5 m deep on a sandy/muddy substrate, flipping over dead coral boulders and rocks looking for sea anemones hidden from plain view.
Specimen of sea anemone specimens Triactis producta attached to a dead coral boulder
Sure enough, hidden under boulders we found specimens of the sea anemone species Triactis producta. This is one of the species I am researching for my Ph.D. and I have already collected specimens from the Red Sea, Zanzibar, Maldives, and Australia! The photo below shows one of the specimens attached to a rock – if you look closely, you can see transparent tentacles at the top of the animal, and a skirt of dark brown tissue about mid-way down the column. This extra tissue of the anemone is full of zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae are intracellular symbionts (organisms in a symbiotic relationship) that photosynthesize and produce sugars the anemone can use. The specimen in the photo was about 7 mm tall, so you can imagine that it takes a well-trained eye to spot them in the field!
After I collected these specimens, I took them back to laboratory at the Gump Research Station to look at them under the microscope and make more detailed observations. Once I am finished photographing and observing them, some specimens are preserved in 95% ethanol and the rest in 10% formalin. The ethanol specimens will be used for molecular studies while the formalin specimens will be used to study the morphology of the anemones. I can’t wait to get back into the field to collect more sea anemones!
Andrea Crowther is a graduate student at KU and is interested in the taxonomy, biology, and evolutionary relationships of sea anemones. Andrea’s doctoral research focuses on shallow tropical sea anemones that possess branched outgrowths housing zooxanthellae and defensive spheres dense with stinging capsules. Andrea will spend two weeks (13 November - 2 December 2009) in Moorea, French Polynesia collecting sea anemones for her research and working with members of the Moorea Biocode Project (www.mooreabiocode.org). Blogs and photos from her fieldwork will be entered here at Field Notes.
After two weeks of diving and snorkeling the beautiful waters of Moorea to collect sea anemones, my time on the island was coming to a close. Which meant it was time to pack all my gear and specimens. My dive gear was dried by the tropical breeze while I packed up my laboratory equipment. The specimens I had collected had been stored in 10% formalin or 95% ethanol. For transportation, I removed the specimens from their jars filled with liquid preservative, wrapped them in damp gauze, and sealed them in plastic bags. I packed them all into a box and sent them back to the Biodiversity Institute in the US via FedEx. Finally, I re-packed my suitcase with everything else I had come with (plus a few souvenirs) and flew back to the US.
Once back in the US, I sent all the paperwork regarding my collecting work to the administration at the KUBI. They checked the documents to make sure that the specimens were collected and exported legally, and then allowed them to be accessioned in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology collections. I unpacked the specimens and put them in their final resting place – jars full of formalin in our museum! The photo shows some of the jars full of specimens I have collected in my time as a graduate student, including the new ones from Moorea.