Click here to view a web album with 24 photos from today.
Wow! I write this blog post at the end of a very long and very exciting day. To sum up: Best snorkeling YET! It was a day that none of us will forget. Very fitting for our last day on the island.
We followed our usual routine in the morning, heading out on Goliath at 9AM. We headed to the Hol Chan Marine Preserve, a protected reef park many square miles in size. We were met by a park ranger and paid a fee before entering. Our first stop was Turtle Rock Island. This site is famous because the last remaining conch fisherman allowed to ply the waters within Hol Chan stops at this site to clean his catch. This attracts a wide variety of creatures. The students were able to interact, up close and in person, with a variety of megafauna. The most impressive animals included turtles (of two species: green sea turtle and loggerhead turtle) and stingrays (of two species: horseshoe and southern). The students were really excited to swim alongside these magnificent creatures:
After about an hour there, we ate lunch on the boat, and then motored to the main part of Hol Chan. This is a deep-water channel that runs through the coral reef, providing habitat for a huge abundance and variety of wildlife. Nearly every creature that we've seen in Belize so far was seen in Hol Chan, often in bigger forms and greater numbers than before. The area is sufficiently regulated that we had to be led by a licensed guide (our ship's mate Jeff and TREC director Ken led the two groups). One highlight here was an underwater arch that students could swim down, through, and up. We saw many interesting animals here, including moray eels, large groupers, and tarpon:
From there, we headed to Shark Ray Alley. Is there any place on Earth with a greater, more exciting name than that? Sure enough, the area was thick with nurse sharks and rays (horseshoe and southern) providing students the opportunity to view them and interact with them. The current was up and the wind was strong, but the area was well protected so the snorkeling wasn't too bad.
Our snorkeling for this trip done, we all relaxed on the deck of Goliath, enjoying the Belizean sea breeze one last time. Upon our return, we saw that the sky itself was bidding us farewell:
After we returned to land, the students had one hour to prepare for their final exam. That consisted of 50 species identifications, all organisms that we saw on this trip (using photos/videos taken on this trip). I am very happy to report that the class average was 95. The students really nailed it! Three students had scores of 100. They battled it out with extra credit questions (involving organisms we had seen here but not discussed before arrival), and the top two students were treated to a lobster dinner at one of San Pedro's finest restaurants. A well-deserved treat!
During the evening, the students worked on their journals and lab reports and packed for our early departure tomorrow (up at 6AM for an 8AM flight). Tomorrow is the first of two full days on the mainland. I am not sure what the Internet situation is where we are going, so I don't know if/when I'll be able to next update the blog. Until then, thanks for reading, and peace from Belize!