Exploring Blue with Adrian Zuniga
29 Nov 2016

Exploring Blue with Adrian Zuniga

Eckerd College, Marine Science & Biomorphic Ceramics Concentration

29 Nov 2016

Eckerd College, Marine Science & Biomorphic Ceramics Concentration Major

SUSiE Fellow: 2016 and Daybrook Foundation Scholar

SUSiE Expedition: EXU2016 – Exuma, Bahamas

Coordinates: 24°10.200’ N, 076°27.200’ W

Location: Big Majors, Staniel Cay

Mission Objective: Maintaining arrays, collecting core samples & biometric data collection


I applied to a SUSIE Expedition in order to attain more field experience while expanding my knowledge of current coral physiology and reef ecology.


The day started as any other, early and beautiful. Each morning is unique in the Bahamas, especially with a delicious cup of coffee in hand. After our morning prep which involved breakfast and a briefing of the day’s events, Dr. Smith had sent us on our way to fulfill our mission.


We took our dinghy out to the site near the beautiful Exuma Land and Sea Park. I had always believed the colors of these waters were only the stuff of movies; hues of blue I never believe existed in the world. But I was very wrong and this beauty is forever engraved in my heart.


We set up our gear on the little beach near our site and went right to work. Our mission was to clean coral arrays covered in algae and other plant matter prior to our mission.


One of these arrays were being used to grow coral frags, it were these frags which would be studied in later experiments. One surprise was witnessing two frags grown enough that they fused together.


Cleaning live corals is a delicate process. With wire brushes in hand to remove algae, we can not damage the coral.


Thumbs up from a job well done!



After the arrays were cleaned we made our way back to the little beach where Dr. Smith was awaiting to give us our next mission: collecting coral cores. We took a drill and prospected for appropriate corals to sample; it was difficult to extract the cores as the wave action didn’t permit us to remain very stationary but we got the job done!




After all this fun in the blue we made our way to do lab work surrounded by blue. Now I have seen some pretty cool labs, but this one takes the cake. Luckily we had a lot of work to do so this was one filled day of working with a beautiful scenery.


From making coral mounts, preserving DNA, and analyzing protein… to late night shenanigans and peoples characters coming to the surface. I really enjoyed seeing peoples’ spirit come to life while doing science. We were a quirky bunch and the long lab hours made these labees tired but this only accentuated their character. It was great to see these people become more comfortable with each other become a solid team.


Some lab work had to be postponed till the morning so we could refresh our minds with a peaceful slumber. But all in a day’s work and the day was full.


I’ve realized there’s a particular group of people that exist in this world whom are drawn to the big blue. Although I was born and raised in the desert of New Mexico, my heart always sought out the ocean. Perhaps it was the mystery of the sea that captured my attention or my curiosity to understand the world around me, maybe both. In this regard I chose to focus my studies in the natural sciences and art putting my attention to the marine realm. I find a tremendous amount of complexity amongst this world that can seem simple at a glance and is overlooked by many. I have always been captivated by all the beauty that surrounds me, and never have I been moved in a stronger manner than during my exploration with SUSIE.


This expedition tested me physically and mentally, which resulted in my thoughts and creativity to expand in a manner I never thought possible. I guess that’s what happens when you live a dream of a lifetime even if it was for a short while. I never imagined this would be an experience in my life, so now I look forward with no expectations of living without being in the moment. During this expedition I got a taste of what field work is like; oddly I felt as though a mirror was put up to an artistic process.


These passions of mine have never felt more concrete and synonymous. Prior to this expedition I was unsure of where to take my life. After this experience I have a lifelong goal to understand the physiology of corals and how it affects their relationship with symbiotic dinoflagellate in addition to informing the world of art with what I learn in an effort to inform the public.


I have much to learn and unknown obstacles to overcome, but with all of the support I have received throughout my life any challenge that crosses my path can be conquered.


Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have had this amazing experience, and I owe it to my family, supporters and SUSIE who believed in me. Those of you who helped me achieve my dream helped me perceive a world that I never thought existed, and now I am driven to keep such a beautiful place and those like it around for many generations to appreciate as I do.


To my team, it was an honor to work with you all. A group of people unique in your own way, and I only hope for the best in all of your endeavors. You all have made a special place in my heart and made this expedition an even greater experience. I have found that doing anything can be great but sharing it with people such as yourselves makes it unforgettable beyond belief. Thank you all for that.


I would like to give a special thanks and appreciation to the Daybrook Foundation for helping me complete my fundraising and allowing me achieve this dream of mine. A further appreciation and gratitude to all my family, friends and others who supported me assisting me to get on this expedition. I would also like to thank my parents for without all your love and support I would not be where I am today. Thank you for believing in me and guiding me in the right direction.

Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Smith, Jerah Coviello, and Connor Zink. You three are a fantastic staff, amazing people, and made my experience truly astounding; I am honored to have been chosen for this amazing and wonderful experience. It is one I will never forget and drives me to move forward and understand these organism even further. I hope SUSIE continues to grow and progress I don’t know of a more deserving group of people than you all than to have this amazing program develop further through your vision. I look forward to see what work you will complete in the future. Words can’t describe how appreciative I am of all who were involved in this entire process, truly an honor.


Adrian Zuniga

Marine Scientist/Biomorphic Ceramist

follow his art on @azeramics on Instagram


Welcome to “Exploring Blue,” an ongoing blog series by SUSiE Expeditions. Climb aboard the rigors, challenges, and transformations experienced by our Fellows (alumni) at sea. We bring you the backstory of their journeys that reveal a desire to go further. All the action happens on our blog, if you want to follow this series sign up here.

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