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Monday, January 12, 2015

Day #5: January 12th, 2015
Location: Tropical Research Education Center, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Shipwreck, Caye Caulker, and Research

Greetings to all our friends around the world reading this blog. Thank you for tuning in for another report!

Today was actually the most mellow day we had in terms of activities. But it was heavy on the brainwork. Read on to see what I mean.

Our first stop of the day was to snorkel around a shipwreck. About 15 years ago, a barge sank off the island and settled near a reef. Like many artificial structures, it quickly began to be colonized by coral, forming a new reef. The boat is only about 7 feet beneath the surface, making it a rare shipwreck that is ideal for snorkeling. The students were able to explore the surface and look inside in a few spots.

We have begun a research project at this site. We hope to document the succession of coral growth on this new reef, determining growth rates and patterns and to establish patterns of competition. The five students who are participating in our Tropical Reef Ecology Senior Science Seminar course spent over an hour carefully measuring the shipwreck and gathering data.

Five students and I will be returning in March through NEC's Study Away program to continue this research. We hope to make this a multi-year ongoing project that spans many student participants. Everyone did an amazing job putting in a really great effort on the reef.

From the shipwreck, we motored for about an hour. As usual, this gave plenty of opportunities for some relaxation. Even the professor enjoyed the spray of the ocean from the bow of the ship! But others were more responsible, using the time to write in journals and study our research projects.

We spent the afternoon on a small island called Caye Caulker. This is one of the mellowest places I've ever been! It's basically a long spit of sand, about 3 streets wide, with lots of small local hotels, restaurants, and craft stores. We ate lunch and then took some time to stroll up and down "main street" to see conch grilled on the beach, everyone in bare feet and dreadlocks, and to shop for local crafts. It was a very mellow time and many students expressed a wide to return!

After our mellow visit to Caye Caulker, we returned to TREC around 5PM. The students spent the rest of the day and evening and night gathering, discussing, and analyzing the data from the week. Each student is working on their own hypothesis regarding the species richness and diversity of different sites that we visited. Students worked in the classroom to combine data and calculate values, and then spent the night writing their lab reports. The science major students gamely helped the non-science-major students. Everyone worked hard (even with the math - eek!) and without complaint. We are urging everyone to complete their lab reports before we leave the island in two days. Great job students!

Some of the senior thesis students spent the evening learning how to dissect lionfish. After measuring and weighing each specimen (which we had speared in the mangrove the day before), we carefully removed the poisonous spines using shears and Kevlar gloves. We then dissected out the stomach and removed the stomach contents

We will be bringing samples of the stomach contents back to NEC for DNA extraction and analysis. We hope to infer the feeding behavior of the lion fish around Belize by performing genomic analyses on the stomach contents. We are still working out the methods, but I am really proud of how hard the students have been working! Great job to all of them!

It is very hot and humid in the classroom tonight. Most of the students are still here at 10PM working on their reports. Everyone is looking forward to our last day on the island tomorrow, which should feature the best snorkeling of the trip.

Everyone is well and happy, with the standard exceptions for sunburns, coral scrapes, bug bites, etc. Everyone is well fed and hydrated.

Thank you for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for making the families feel like we are there with our kids. The pictures you post make it look like everyone is having a great time. The information you have shared lets us know that school is still in session. Enjoy your last days in the warm weather!