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Monday, January 12, 2015

Day #4: January 11th, 2015
Location: Tropical Research Education Center, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Mangrove, Coral Gardens, and Night Dive

Greetings to all our friends, relatives, and blog readers! I am actually writing this on Monday morning rather than Sunday night. By the end of the blog, you'll know why! Yesterday was our longest day, with about 13 hours of activities.

We started our usual way: breakfast, walk to beach, clean up, on to the boat.

When then motored for about an hour, which is always a good opportunity to relax and enjoy being in the sun.

Our first destination: a mangrove swamp. The mangrove swamp is a fairly rare biodiversity hotspot consisting of trees that grow in tight clusters on the water.

The roots form a dense network similar to a coral reef. It acts as a fish nursery for huge numbers of juvenile species. The mangrove teems with life, countless numbers of fish darting in every direction. It is fairly silty, so it's a bit hard to get a sense of it from photographs. There are also many interesting and colorful invertebrates such as sponges and tunicates:

We also saw some large fish, including a particularly huge barracuda (as well as at least a dozen juvenilles), schools of needlefish, and some lionfish--a kill-on-sight species in Belize (because they are invasive and very damaging to fish populations) which I was able to kill with a spear gun.

We are going to use the lionfish as part of an ongiong study. Tonight, we'll be dissecting it, measuring it, recording lots of data, removing its stomach contents, and subjecting them to DNA analysis back at NEC to determine what the lionfish is eating on the reef.

One nice tradition aboard the Goliath is that after every snorkel there is a pot of hot bean dip. We eat it with chips, and it is always heavily anticipated:

After the mangrove, we enjoyed our daily lunch on the boat. We always bring a cooler of sandwiches, and there is always peanut butter and jelly and bread available.

Our next stop was Coral Gardens, a magnificent large reef with lots of large coral formations and an abundance of fish and other marine life. We spent over an hour touring this area with a guide. Highlights including seeing a nurse shark, four species of angelfish, and huge stands of staghorn coral:

A stand of mixed coral, with venomous fire coral on top

A trumpetfish

A student holds a West Indian Sea Egg

A small nurse shark

We also spent about 45 minutes gathering data for our reef biodiversity study. After Coral Gardens, we motored back to the dock, returning just after 4PM. Students had one hour to dry off, recharge, write in their journals, and head back down to the beach for sunset:

We boarded Goliath for a much-anticipated and somewhat-feared highlight of the trip: the night dive. We started with a shipboard pizza dinner. Pizza on a boat in Belize at sunset -- a nice way to be!

We motored ten minutes to a nearby reef ad received a lengthy introduction to reef night life. Many species look and act differently at night, plus there are some species that come out much more often at night. We split into three groups and took tours of the reef using dive lights. We saw barracuda, a green sea turtle, many lobsters and crabs and shrimp, as well as sleeping fish. We also observed three different types of bioluminescence; at one point we stirred up dinoflagellates in the sea grass which flashed and popped all around us, like thousands of tiny fireflies clinging to our arms and legs. It was pretty spectacular! Several people were very worried and stressed about the night dive, but every single one of us made it into the water and completed a tour. The "short tour" group (the one with people who were most worried) were rewarded by being the only group to encounter an octopus! They brought it back to the boat for the rest of us to jealously observe. Unfortunately, I have no photos of the night dive, but I will upload video at some point.

We returned to TREC around 9PM, dried off, and regrouped for a walk into town. We visited a favorite frozen custard store and enjoyed a nice dessert:

We split into groups to walk back on the beach:

We returned to TREC for the final time about 13.5 hours after we first left. So please excuse me for not updating the blog (which takes several hours) last night!

Every one is happy and relatively healthy. Pretty much all of us have sunburns and coral scrapes somewhere. But nothing serious. Everyone is enjoying the time on the reef and on the island. Work is proceeding well. Tonight will be our final research meeting to accumulate and go over data, and then the students can work to complete their lab reports.

Thanks for the comments - every one is read to the appropriate student (sometimes to some razzing!).

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Real men spear lionfish with nurse sharks around.