Saturday, July 21, 2007

Halophiles & Salt Flats

The conference put on this salt-flat/bio-bay tour for the day after the conference. We drove 4 hours to the south west side of the island where there's some microbio people studying salt-loving organisms in the lagoons and salt-manufacturing ponds. There's some unique niches there. The really salty water is turned pink by the halophiles in it (archea & rodopsin?). You'd think the salt would kill off a lot of things, but the community is really diverse. Lots of different genetic material there, aparently comperable to normal lagoons. There's also microbial mats in some of the puddles and streams. There's layered communities of goop (bacteria?) that work together to live in the bottom of the pond. The top layer likes light and can deal with oxygen. Underneath, there's anaerobic (non-oxygen) species that smell like sulfur. I think the bubbles contain the oxygen produced during photosynthesis. Interesting to think that all the oxygen in our atmosphere came from the breathings of bacteria like these a few billion years ago. Really neat stuff. There's also salt-sweating mango trees that live in the sand near the lagoon. Most of the puddles in the road had salt crystals growing on them or in them. The family that uses the lagoons to produce salt piles up the crystals out in the open. It was really neat to see a giant pile of salt.

The lagoons with the salt pile (white)
Bacterial mats in the "stream"

How we got oxygen
salt crystals
bigger salt crystals

After the halophiles, we went to a nearby lighthouse and beach to kill a few hours. The water was pretty salty and I actually floated, feet and all. Jana took some funny pictures of Karen and I that I hope to get soon.... After this, we went to dinner and then to a bioluminescent bay. We took a boat out to a lagoon where there's a concentration of dynoflagelites. You can move your hand through the water and watch these things glow green around your hand. It looks somewhat like you're glowing. Or maybe that jeebus is near. The bus ride back was interesting - I was half-asleep but talking the whole time. I'm amazed I wasn't more incoherent. It felt like I almost fell asleep mid sentence a few times.

Why faculty bring along graduate students.....


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