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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day #3: January 10th, 2015
Location: Tropical Research Education Center, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Editorial note: I had a catastrophic hardware failure today (when I dropped the hard drive containing all my photo data) which may affect my ability to upload photos. Ugh!

Snorkeling in Mexico Rocks and Playa Blanca

Greetings from Belize! I am writing this email from the dining/living area of TREC on this hot humid night. The strong tropical breeze blowing itself is hardly moving the air in this room, so perhaps I should move to be next to the pool.

Ah, that's much better! Today was a fun and productive stay almost entirely on and in the water.

We began as usual with an 8AM breakfast (usually hearty such as French toast and egg, always with fresh fruit and coffee), We then met in the classroom for 15 minutes or so to go over our research methods for the day. 9AM walk to the beach, and the usual beach cleanup. We noticed the strong breeze and choppy water as we boarded our research vessel Goliath. The weather portended a tough day of snorkeling ahead.

And tough it was, although everyone proceeded enthusiastically and without complaint. We began by motoring about 1.5 hours northward to within 15 miles of the Mexican border. This is the northernmost part of our journey.

We anchored at a spot called Mexico rocks.

After a briefing by Ken, we proceeded into the reef in guided groups, and then in independent buddy teams. This reef teemed with interesting life, including squid, nurse sharks, 4 species of sting rays, sponges, anemones, and countless variety of fish. The current was strong, which made the snorkeling challenging, but everyone returned invigorated by the experience.

Two species of branching vase sponge

Spotfin butterflyfish

Pin cushion sea star

Donkey dung sea cucumber

Giant Caribbean reef anemone

Flamingo tongue

A typical shot of the reef

We began our research at this site. The students designed a study comparing species richness and diversity in homogeneous areas (such as turtle grass beds) versus heterogeneous areas (such as reefs). The students devised two methods to compare these values, one based on a 2m X 2m plot, and the other based on a 10m transect. Different groups of students collected data at Mexico Rocks and our next site.

For many of the students, particularly the non-science majors, this was their first experience conducting scientific field research. Everyone did really well, especially considering the rough conditions. We are proud of all our NEC students!

We motored for about 20 minutes to our next site, Playa Blance. One of the nice things about our days is that we always have relaxing time on the boat as we slowly chug from one site to the another. Students never fail to use this opportunity to relax and sun themselves!

At Playa Blance, students once again took the opportunity to explore the reef and interact with the wildlife (in a purely nonharmful fashion, of course!).

We also collected a second set of data about the biodiversity of the reef.

We returned home around 5PM, giving the students a bit of time to work on their journals before dinner. Everyone seemed to particularly enjoy the dinner tonight: chicken soft tacos presented in the local style, with plenty of Marie Sharp's hot sauce. I noticed longer lines for seconds than I had ever seen before!

After dinner, we held a research meeting to discuss the results from the day and to students continue to write their lab reports.

It was a great day on the reef and I am really proud of how well everyone performed without complaint despite the tough conditions. It is also exciting to see our research project coming together!

All is well. No problems save for a few scrapes, sunburns, and bites. Everyone is happy and healthy. Students really enjoy reading comments, so please feel free to include them below!

Thanks for reading. Another update should come tomorrow night.


  1. That flamingo tongue is amazing. What kind of creature is that?

  2. Thanks for all the pictures and the commentary of what the group is doing. I almost feel like I'm there and can feel the warm sun! Hope the seas calm down so everyone enjoys the rest of the trip.

  3. Freddie-Jo: Flamingo tongue is a type of gastropod. Think of a snail outside it's shell. They are very pretty! They eat coral and are most often seen on purple sea fan coral.

  4. Bridget, we were in Belize a while back, (yes Bridge, a cruise without you), tried snorkeling as an excursion and there were people getting sick from the water movement. we joked it was chumming to bring more fish around. what is the water temperature?

  5. The photos are all stunning, thank you for taking the time to share them along the way!
    Matt: what are you holding under the water?

  6. Hope you're having fun! Party it up Daddy Rock Style. Hello Dale :) ~Morganne Price