Day 12: You guys made me ink

Today rather than going on a boat out to a further part of the reef, we went snorkeling right off the shore off the island. The water was very shallow, waist deep at most. At first, it was mostly a “lawn” of sea grass, and we found many conch shells (some with live conch inside!) with anemones growing on top of them. We also found a large sea cucumber that is called the donkey dung cucumber. It is appropriately named. Elena found me an urchin, since I missed our urchin collecting expedition yesterday because I wasn’t feeling well. It was a very interesting experience to have something that looks sessile moving across the palm of your hand.

I found an aggregation (aka school) of four eyed butterflyfish, which were a little smaller than the palm of my hand. They have an eye-looking spot on their tail fin called a ocellated spot. I think that these fish have this feature in order to distract potential predators from attacking the fishes’ actual face, or might think it’s a larger, scarier fish. I was told later by Claire that this tactic actually worked because she actually fell for it. I don’t know if she was actually trying to attack it, but that’s besides the point. Nature is amazing.

A four-eyed butterfly fish

We then collected many creatures and organisms and took them back to the wet lab at the research station, which is basically a long sink with taps full of sea water, so it could keep the organisms alive while we studied them. We accidentally collected a cocoa damselfish that was living inside one of the sea anemone-covered conch shells, as well a tiny octopus, who inked after we poked it too much. After identifying all our respective taxa, we released them back into the water.

Damselfish stowaway

After dinner, our marine safety officer Xavier gave us a presentation on the History and Culture of Belize. We learned a lot about all the different types of people who have lived here, including Mennonites and the Amish. We also learned that the common thread that keeps people of all the different backgrounds and cultures together is the language Creole, which everyone speaks. Also, I found it amazing that Belize never fought in a war, and didn’t need to fight for their independence. Not only is this country’s landscape beautiful, but the ideals of peace and unity in diversity make this country so much more.

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