“In the field of biology, chance favors the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur
We have been in Fiji for four days and are making admirable progress towards nailing down all those little tasks which invariably pop up when planning a two month expedition. Thankfully Suva, the capital of Fiji, is small enough that we can travel around to almost everywhere we need with relative ease.
That being said, I think we were all anxious to start collecting some data. Next week we are running a short course on marine conservation, and the week after that is the Society for Conservation Biology’s Oceania regional meeting. Both fun things, but it means we’re not getting into the water until mid-July. We are using this Suva time well though. Today one of the grad students, Molly McCargar decided we should practice taking pH’s from gut contents, which will be the main aspect of her field work this summer.
We started by going to the Suva fish market and purchased two surgeonfishes to practice on. The goal was to go through each step in the protocol, slowly and making sure we knew exactly what to do. We didn’t plan on getting any usable data from these fishes, so there was little pressure. Rather we just wanted to see the difference between what worked on a white board in NYC and what worked on our hotel’s back floor in Suva.
The answer was not a lot.
We found that our pH meter needed to be calibrated a lot more than we had hoped for, that the guts take a long time to unravel and that may slow us down in the field to the point that we will have to dedicate days solely to that project, and we found that getting the guts onto the probe of the pH meter was problematic.
Did that discourage us? Hell no!
Field work is all about coming up with creative solutions to these problems. To address the calibration issue we’re going to find a consistently made, commonly available substance *cough Diet Coke cough* and use that as a standard. To get the guts on the probe we are going to either use disposable pipettes, or if we can’t find them a baby aspirator. To deal with the time issue? Well we can’t speed it up, but I assured Molly that we came here for her to get data and we’ll do everything we can to make sure she leaves with as much as she can, and if that means we run two projects simultaneously then so be it.
Field work is an adventure, it requires careful planning and the ability to jettison those careful plans when the on the ground realities just show that things aren’t going to work, and it requires you to take the time to try things out, to prepare yourself ahead of time, so that when you get your opportunity in the field you can seize it and make the most of your time.