By Antrelle D. Clark
As my time in Israel slowly comes to an end over the next two weeks, I would just like to say…it has been quite a time, from adapting to the unfamiliarities here, to trying to steer around the roadblocks I didn't expect in my research.
As a temporary resident of Israel, I started becoming familiar with the unfamiliar day by day. This includes understanding how the bus system works and which buses to take, where to shop for groceries, where to workout, adapting to the work week (Sunday-Thursday), etc. I have even found comfort foods and my favorite movie theater in Israel. I have also met some really sweet people and have gotten to know them well; friends have invited me over for dinner and a movie, and we even camped at the beach! Even though I had developed these routines quickly, it took me the entire first month to adjust to the time difference here…but I’ve finally done it! Overall, leaving Israel soon is bittersweet because while I do miss my “normal”, I have developed and settled into a “normal” here.
On the side of research, I ended up running into a highly unexpected roadblock. For background, back at my home institution (Auburn University), I am studying the symbiotic relationship between the Mnemiopsis leidyi ctenophore and their ectosymbiotic amoebae using conditions associated with climate change. To gather insight into how climate change is impacting their association in today’s time, my research here in the Mediterranean is mirroring my research from the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of my international research exchange is to determine whether the amoebae Mnemiopsis carry changes depending on where they are found. This research project is feasible as previous studies using bioindicator markers have proven that the Mnemiopsis found in the Mediterranean (invasive) originate from the Gulf (of Mexico) (native). It is also feasible because jellyfish and ctenophores bloom in massive numbers during the hotter months of the year.
…Or so we thought!
The year 2023 in the Mediterranean decided to be the outlier. Over half of my time spent here in Israel, there had been no reports of seeing jellyfish or ctenophores in the water. The first time we went out to sample, we surprisingly saw 9 jellyfish and captured them; however, we only came across two ctenophores. A lot of conversation about why gelatinous plankton aren’t blooming like normal has taken place, and the answer is: the sea is a lot colder than it usually is during the summer. This was a major roadblock in my research because the lack of ctenophores meant my research was at a halt.
However, there is a happy ending to this!
As I write this blog entering week 7 of my 8-week stay in Israel, I can say that we have seen some improvement in the Mediterranean’s conditions over the past week and a half. There has even been reports of jellies in the water, and we have wasted no time getting to the sea to collect them. During our most recent dive, we were able to find and collect a total of 9 ctenophores!!! My research is moving forward and I am hoping to see some amoebae in my cultures soon as I wrap up my time here in Israel over the next two weeks!