Location: Tropical Research Education Center, Ambergris Caye, Belize
First day or snorkeling: Pillar Coral and Tres Cocos
After a well deserved night of sleep, we awoke to a tropical rainstorm that dissipated by the end of breakfast. We enjoyed a hearty homemade 8AM meal prepared by Maggie, the kind woman who runs the kitchen, and her staff. We headed to the beach at 9AM, a pleasant 10 minute walk from TREC. At the beach, everyone participated in a cleanup project, a service component of our trip that, over the course of the week, should leave the area much nicer than we found it.
Everyone gamely posed for one of my group photos. This gives you a sense of our launching point each day. Not bad, eh?
By 9:15AM, we launched in the Goliath, a large catamaran that is our research vessel for the week.
Goliath is captained by Ken Mattes, Ph.D., Director of TREC, his wife Maureen, his son Zach, and Siete, a local guide. The four of them are all certified water guides. Thank you to our great crew!
Once aboard, we spent about 15 minutes slowly motoring to our first site, Pillar Coral. This site was chosen as our inaugural snorkel because of its calm waters and shallow depths. At every site we visit, Ken gives us an orientation talk so that we know the lay of the reef:
We entered the water in two groups, each led by a guide. We explored the reef, which was characterized by pillar coral, an fairly rare species that is found in only a few places in the Caribbean. We followed our guide, observing the coral and other wildlife, to two different sites. After about an hour of guided tour, we split into buddy groups for some free exploration.
Our guide holds a long-spined urchin
A yellow headed wrasse (left)
After about two hours, we enjoyed a light lunch on the boat (sandwiches, and chips and freshly made bean dip). We drove about 15 minutes to the next site, called Tres Cocos. This site has an abundance of a fairly rare species called elkhorn coral, which grows very broadly just under the surface of the water. This time we split into three groups (always in buddy pairs), toured for about an hour, and then had another free swim:
This photo gives a sense of how close to the surface the elkhorn coral grows
A student swimming over elkhorn coral
Looking up at a jellyfish (right in the center)
We returned to the island around 2:30PM, all a bit sunburned but quite excited from our day.
We returned to TREC to freshen up, and then held a lengthy lab meeting to discuss ideas for our week-long coral reef research project.
Of course it wasn't all work. We enjoyed some local delicacies (mixed seafood ceviche and deep fried conch fritters) and refreshments. It was relaxing and bonding.
Stimulated by a full day on the reef, the students were full of great ideas for variables (temperature, current, depth, heterogeneity of coral, etc.) and for methods (transects, areas). By late afternoon, the students had earned a 2 hour break. Some used the opportunity to shop or sightsee while others wrote in their journals (an important component of the course grade).
We had a nice spaghetti dinner at 6:30PM. We then adjourned in the classroom at 7:30 for a lengthy hour+ discussion to establish our research project and finalize our methodology. We think we came up with a really good experiment that involves comparing biodiversity (abundance, richness, diversity index) at highly homozygous and heterozygous sites via two different methods. More details on that as they develop! We'll start to collect our data tomorrow.
All is well here. There were some bumps along the way. One student was forced to stay behind due to a bad flu. One professor was delayed by a day due to weather. Two students had bags that didn't show up. One student left a laptop at an airport. One student misplaced a passport. But by dinnertime tonight, every one of those problems was solved, and now we're all good to go! Some sunburns, some coral scrapes, some swallowed seawater, but all is well and were are very much looking forward to snorkeling at two new sites tomorrow!
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Thanks for reading!