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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Day #2: January 5th, 2017
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Greetings from beautiful Belize! A few housekeeping notes: you can click on any of the photos shown below to see a bigger version of it. And you can get messages to your loved ones by commenting on the post; I will pass along anything you say. And you can sign up for email notifications of new blog posts (at most one email per day) using the dialog box in the supper left. I do hope to publish a new blog post every night, but sometimes the Internet is not cooperative. Please never take "no news" as "bad news" - it just means that the Internet isn't good that night!

Today was the first real day of our trip and our course. We will soon fall into a daily return of breakfast at 8:00AM and then leaving TREC (Tropical Marine Education Center - our home for the week) for the five minute walk to the beach: 

We all agreed that this is an excellent way to start any day - visiting a picturesque white sand beach lined with palm trees and bordered by turquoise water:

In previous years, we worked every morning to clean the beach. But a major hurricane swept across the island in July 2016, and it greatly altered the ecosystem. The beaches in this area are undergoing construction (building sea walls, trucking in sand, installing breakwaters, etc.) so it really doesn't make sense to clean the beach this year.

Just after 9AM, we walk up the TREC dock and board the Goliath, the research vessel for our trip. The Goliath is a large and comfortable boat, with plenty of space for our entire group of 18, an indoor cabin, drinking water, dive platform, etc.

After about 30 minutes of gentle chugging, we arrived at our first dive site: Pillar Coral. At each site, Dr. Ken Mattes (Director of TREC) gives us a lecture about what we are going to see, the rules for the day, etc.

And then it was time to get in the water for our first snorkel trip!

A typical snorkel trip involves splitting into two groups. Everyone snorkels with a buddy, and each group has a certified guide leading the way. The guide brings us along the reef, pointing out unique features. After 30-45 minutes or so, we are then free to snorkel on our own (with a buddy) for another hour or so.

Thanks to our hard work during the semester (during which time the students had to memorize 70 species by sight) everyone was able to accurately describe what they saw. On this first day alone, we saw many varieties of coral, fish, anemones, lobster, rays, turtles, and even a shark:

Different sites that we visit have different rules of conduct. The sites that we are visiting at first are open in terms of being able to touch what we see. I think it is particular memorable when students are able to touch the organisms of the reef, so I encourage them to do so when we can:

We ate lunch on the boat (as well as Ken's special warm bean dip with chips) and headed back to land around 3PM. Even though we all took great care to avoid sunburns, just about all of us missed a spot or two!

After freshening up at TREC, we visited a local cantina for a lab meeting. The students discussed what they saw today and used that as the basis to design an original research project to be conducted on the reef. The students formulated a plan to compare the diversity of coral at different sites and see if protection status affects the species richness. Tomorrow we will start to work on this project and determine a method. During our meeting, students sample local fare including ceviche and conch. Yum!

After a 6:30PM dinner, the students set to work on their journals and lab reports. As of this moment (after 9PM) every single student is still hard at work writing the introduction section of their report. Good students! I'm proud of you!

All in all it was a great first day. Every student did very well, tried hard, and was enthusiastic about what they saw. The chatter about the experience during dinner was wonderful to hear - so much enthusiasm and so much biology!

Tomorrow we visit two new reefs and formulate our specific research plan. Expect another update tomorrow night.

Good night from Belize, and thanks for reading.


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