San Pedro, Ambergis Caye, Belize
Day #4: Mexico Rocks
Greetings from Belize! Today was a day focused on snorkeling and performing research in Mexico Rocks, an officially designated Marine Protected Area near the northern tip of the island (about 15 miles south of the Mexican border).
Our day began with the usual hearty Belizean breakfast of carbs and fruit:
We boarded our research vessel Goliath as usual at 9:15AM:
Goliath is always manned by a crew of 3 or 4. Here you can see Ken Mattes, Ph.D. boat captain and Director of TREC. On the left is Nair (a/k/a Siete), who is an officially licensed marine tour guide. Also pictured are two interns that Ken is hosting for the season:
We gently motored south for about 1:15, which gives us plenty of opportunity to discuss our research plans for the day, and to relax and enjoy the tropical sun:
Upon reaching Mexico Rocks reef, we divided into two research groups and conducted our research. The project was specifically designed to touching anything, since that is prohibited within the protected areas. Students measured coral stands from the surface, and then cataloged and photographed all of the species of coral present.
After that, we all enjoyed guided tours of the reef (you are not allowed to snorkel without being led by an official guide when in the protected areas). Students saw moral eel, nurse sharks, green sea turtles, sponges, and a wide variety of fish:
After snorkeling the main part of the reef, we moved to an outer area which is famous for having a large underwater cave. The students took advantage of the deep water by entering from the front of the boat (instead of slipping in off the dive platform at the back of the boat, as we usually do):
Once above the cave, the students practiced free diving, popping their ears as they swim downward toward the entrance of the cave. This skill will come in handy later in the trip when students will have an opportunity to swim down and through a large underwater arch:
From there, we visited a third spot for the day, a reef called Playa Blanca. Despite a strong current, students enjoyed the shallow reef, and were delighted by a very large spotted eagle ray that circled around us. This area is outside the protected zone, giving students an opportunity to touch some of the creatures:
After about 7 hours on the water, we returned to TREC. All of us were a bit windblown and a bit sunburned:
but class medic Meg reports no injuries among the class so far.
Once back at TREC, the students set to work on our lab projects. The students began to report and share their data. All students worked hard in the classroom until dinner:
After dinner, we all walked into town with the goal of stimulating the local economy. The weather changed to breezy and we were caught in a sudden tropical downpour. That passed, and we all enjoyed some frozen custard and shopping at the local artisans' market. We split up at that point and each enjoyed the Saturday night in Belize.
Everyone is happy and healthy and enjoying the beauty of Belize. Tomorrow will bring some unique snorkeling adventures, so stay tuned!
Eric J. Simon