In September 2004 the JBL research team travelled to the Amazon rainforest in French Guyana and then on to the Caribbean waters of the Lesser Antilles. The objective of the first part in the rainforest was to gather more information on the natural habitat of terrarium animals and freshwater fish. Anyone interested in taking part had had about one year to apply to JBL for a place. From the hundreds of applications, lots were drawn for the 12 places.
The first part in the rainforest was restricted to 8 people, as the boat taking us deep into the jungle on the Comté River could not hold more. A second group of 9 persons flew directly to the Lesser Antilles/Caribbean, where they met the first group after the rainforest trip and then carried out saltwater studies together for a week on a dive ship.
The part in the rainforest began with a canoe trip on Crique Gabrielle, where many familiar aquarium fish live. After several hours of physical exercise a section of river was reached with dense growths of aquatic plants. In the area of river crossed previously, with little plant growth, no significant groups of fish could be found. Water samples were analysed, with electronic measuring devices supplemented or double-checked by commercially available JBL Test Sets. pH measurements are particularly difficult in soft water. At a hardness of 2° GCH and TH levels of 0°, a pH of 5.5 to 6.3 at 1 p.m., high iron levels of 0.2 to 0.6 mg/l were regularly measured. In the upper reaches of the river, the water was relatively clear, even allowing snorkellers to make observations through goggles. The team members were amazed to see fully-grown striped cichlids (Heros severus) swimming around in groups of ten!
A JBL Click food doser was fetched quickly and we tried to feed the fish underwater. However, the over 100-strong shoals of tetra were faster than the cichlid. The demon eartheaters (Geophagus jurupari) and keyhole cichlid were also too slow and too shy.
The next day we continued by motorboat deep into the rainforest, where we stayed for two nights. Even for experienced outdoor experts, a night in the jungle is a real experience.
In the evening you share hammocks and mosquito nets with many-legged friends and at first light the noise sounds like the enitre Foreign Legion attacking. A horde of howling monkeys was close by causing havoc in the trees. The din of the monkeys was incredible.
However, the treasures of the rainforest are not easy to spot. Unlike in a zoo, you need keen eyes to discover the shy, hidden animals. Hummingbirds come to the same flowers at about the same time every morning, in the case of frogs you have to follow the croaking until it stops. Then you´re close by. Lizards always slide down the tree trunks on the side facing away from you. Many animals wait motionlessly when people approach, only visible to the trained eye.
The two days in the jungle passed very fast. Even though activities were sometimes limited by torrential rain, the time spent conducting water tests and catching fish flew by.
After returning to civilisation in Cayenne, we continued by plane over Guadaloupe to St. Kitts, an island in the Lesser Antilles, where the dive ship, Explorer II was waiting for the team. A second JBL research group of nine persons arrived in St. Kitts directly from Europe to join the jungle team. Next on the schedule was a one-week trip for all 17 participants together to the Caribbean reefs around St. Kitts, Statia and Saba.
The first day was spent off St. Kitts, where water samples were taken from different depths in the reef and then analysed on the ship.
On the second day we continued to Statia (St. Eustatius). However, after just one dive the situation became risky: a storm was approaching Statia from the south. The hurricane warning centre in Florida predicted that within the next few hours the storm would probably develop into a tropical storm and about 12 hours later into a hurricane.
The Explorer was therefore ordered to leave Statia immediately and set off on the four-hour crossing to the more sheltered bays of St. Marteen. Since a rope from the dinghy had accidentally become tangled in the ship´s propellor, the necessary departure was delayed by an hour. The seven-meter waves had reached the height of the ship. The crossing in the direction of St. Marteen was undertaken with JBL-green faces. After only one hour´s stormy sailing on the turbulent sea the message came from a freighter travelling in the opposite direction that sailing any further would be too dangerous for a ship the size of the Exploere II. The captain turned around and, after two more hours, brought his ship to the leeward of Saba. Everyone waited tensely to see how the tropical storm, which had meanwhile been christened Jeanne, would progress. The next map from the hurricane warning centre showed the predicted course, which crossed only 165 miles away from Saba in the direction of Puerto Rico and then on to Haiti. As the television reported later, Jeanne left over 1000 dead in the region.
The JBL team and Explorer II got off lightly: everyone green around the gills during the crossing, cloudy vision underwater and some rain were the only noticeable effects. Research continued the next day with lux measurements, underwater feeding trials and further observations.
Nevertheless all the participants were enthusiastic and are looking forward to hearing where the next JBL Expedition will travel to.
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