Day #4: Monday January 17th, 2011
Mangrove swamp and Tuffy reef, Belize
Click here to jump to a web album contain many photos from today
Greetings from sunny Belize! Today was the hottest day yet with very intense sun. Everyone applied sunscreen multiple times (often SPF 70) to keep from burning. It was also our first day of lab research and our most interesting day of snorkeling!
Our routine is now pretty well set: Up at 7:30AM, breakfast at 8, leave at 8:30, clean up the beach, on the boat at 9, head to Tuffy reef. Today was our first day actually collecting data for our research lab. Students divided into teams, with 2 teams in the shallow water (defined as 4-6' deep) and 2 teams in the deep water (12' deep). Each team marked off a research area (of 144 square meters and 80 square meters, respectively), and then calculated the number and total surface area of all the purple sea fan coral and brain coral in their area. I'm sure you are all just dying to hear the results, but alas, they are quite preliminary. I'll give you a tease: Team Slippery Dick found 400 square centimeters of brain coral per square meter of reef floor. Got that? There will be a quiz later...
After our lab time, we motored for about an hour to a mangrove area. These unique ecosystems consist of islands of dense tree growth with roots extending into the sea:
We snorkeled through and around the roots and branches in shallow water. The abundance and variety of marine life was almost overwhelming. Pictures below are (in order) an overall view, tunicates, a bat fish (is that not one of the weirdest looking fish you've ever seen?!?), cassiopea jellyfish, barracuda:
I really enjoyed the mangrove. Some of the students really took to it and didn't want to leave, while others were a bit creeped out by it. The hour long ride back to our home base provided further opportunity for reflection and relaxation:
Mangrove species list: cassiopea jelly, barracuda, batfish, lionfish, gray angelfish, isopods, sergeant major, southern sting ray, sand dollar, silver sides, tunicates, blue-striped grunts, gray snapper, bally ho, trumpetfish, grouper.
As usual, we had a few hours off in the afternoon. Several of us went to Rico's, a nearby resort, to enjoy some time on their deck with a lovely view of the Caribbean:
After our relaxation time, we gathered at the dock at 5:30 and headed out to Tuffy reef for our one and only night snorkel. Ken briefed us on how to use the equipment and all the special organisms we would see:
We then dove into the water, each of us equipped with a night light. The night dive was scary and fun and exhilarating. The reef at night is alive with many creatures that you don't see during the day. Among the creatures we saw include the lobster, moray eel, and octopous shown below:
Even though several people expressed apprehension (ranging from mild to severe) about diving at night, everyone went in, and everyone saw something interesting and worthwhile. I was proud that every single person was willing to give it a try! Great job all around.
Night dive species list: octopus, squid, green moray eel, spiny lobster, hog fish, spotted trunkfish, hermit crab, squirrel fish, parrot fish, brittle star, shrimp, basket starfish, whelk, sea cucumber, blue-striped grunt, bioluminescent dinoflagellates.
After our night dive, we gathered back at TREC for a late dinner and then our nightly classroom meeting. We viewed photos and videos from the day, compiled our species lists, discussed plans for tomorrow, and then started working with our data from the field work. This was a bit of a shock to some students as it involved some - gasp! - math, but I think we'll muddle through!
This was a very interesting but long day. Thank you for all your comments and encouragement/support of our trip. Every student is working hard, taking it seriously, and - I can say with full confidence - taking full advantage of the opportunity offered to them. I'm proud of all our students!
I hope to upload some video tonight to YouTube to share with you all tomorrow. Stay tuned with that. In the mean time, notice that there is a link at the top of every daily summary to a web album with many more photos. Look for your loved ones there!
Eric J. Simon