All posts by cim2

Belize has my heart

The tropical rainforest and the coral reef are two of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. What similarities exist between these two ecosystems, and how might these similarities relate to high levels of biological diversity? What personal observations have you made about the similarities and differences between these two ecosystems? How did the course compare with your expectations? What were your favorite—and least favorite—parts of the course? Describe three things that you learned in the course that you consider to be the most important or surprising (i.e., what did you

It seems so weird that just a couple of days ago we were in Belize and now I’m back home in my bed writing this reflection (with air conditioning).

The tropical rainforest and coral reefs have so much biodiversity, and there is still so much we have to learn and discover about these ecosystems. I knew before that there were large numbers of species that hadn’t been identified yet in the rainforest as well as coral reefs, but nothing compared to seeing this for myself. The amount of flora and fauna in the rainforest is crazy, and there were definitely things that we saw such as beetles and even ants that Scott or our guidebooks couldn’t identify. In our hurricane gap project as well as our To Pee or Not to Pee project, we separated our findings into morphospecies and the number of species we had for both projects was extremely large (so large it took us 5 hours to separate the morphospecies from the pee traps). Both ecosystems also are nutrient poor, but they overcome this by finding nutrients in their own inhabitants. Nutrient cycling takes place by decomposers or in coral reefs, by corals and sponges. Another similarity is how both ecosystems are not only threatened by natural dangers such as the changing environment but also direct human threats such as poaching and use/harvesting of land and resources by other countries like Guatemala and Honduras.

I went into this class not really knowing what to expect, as many of the other now TFBs will say as well. I was definitely nervous the day we left Rice to fly to Belize. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the class, or I would discover I wasn’t cut out for the TFB lifestyle. However, I discovered that the TFB lifestyle is amazing and I am more than capable of completing long hikes and swims in tropical environments. I can even hold snakes and swim after sharks because I’m not afraid of them anymore. Seeing these creatures in the wild is way different than seeing a picture online, and you can truly appreciate how amazing they actually are.

One of the last days in Belize, Scott asked some of us what our favorite moment of the trip was, but having to choose one is just too hard. One of my favorites from Las Cuevas had to be the last night there where we all gathered around a laptop to look at the camera trap pictures, and we first saw a tapir picture and the second the picture changed there was a gorgeous shot of a jaguar and we all flipped out and were screaming. At Glover’s I really loved the sea urchin day, because I got to hold a ton of adorable sea urchin, including my favorite thing ever, a sea egg (yes sea urchin can be adorable).

It’s hard to say something out of this trip wasn’t great, but I guess my least favorite moment was having to endure getting a ton of mosquito bites at Glover’s. However, I was having so much fun that I wasn’t about to let bug bites get in my way.

Before this trip, I was still on the edge about what my major would be and what I wanted to do with my life, and it might sound cheesy but this class solidified that my passion is biology and I want to work on helping and studying the environment. I also met some wonderful people on this trip, and I wasn’t expecting to come back with so many people I can call close friends. We all seemed so different but were connected by our love for the environment and desire to make a difference through studying it. I feel really lucky to have met everyone and shared this experience. Finally, I realized how much I want to do to make a difference in the environment even just at home. I would always tell myself I would try and cut down on my waste, but I never stuck with it. After seeing marine debris attached to a nurse shark, and having to pick up trash off a remote island that I could never imagine having debris, I feel like not only cutting back on my waste but also educating others about the effects and of marine debris and how we can help cut back.

This trip to Belize has literally been one of the most important experiences in my life so far, and I know I will always look back and remember the things I learned and experiences I had. 

I don’t want to leave Belize

Today I woke up early to finish some last minute packing and get ready to leave Glover’s. We said bye to the staff and the cooks even gave us some cinnamon bread for later. Then we headed out on the boat to visit the Smithsonian research center and mangroves.

At the Smithsonian, we met Clyde, the station manager, and one of the researchers staying at the station as well. She was studying hybrid elkhorn and staghorn corals and how they can withstand high temperatures. Then, Clyde gave us a tour of the station and showed us some the things the experiments the researchers had set up.

Then, we went to the Mangroves and got to snorkel around the roots of the trees and see all the algae and sponges that were growing in that environment. We didn’t see any seahorses or manatees but it was still a fun last snorkel.

We boarded the boat and finally got back the Belize city, where we had a fun last lunch at Calypso restaurant. Then we had to say goodbye to Rose and Jahvier, and head to the airport. Leaving Belize was so hard, and saying goodbye to everyone at the airport was even harder, but I’m so glad that so many people will be in Houston over the summer.

Lionfish Don’t Count as Meat

Today I woke up later but had amazing french in the morning which was great. Then we had time to pack and clean and get ready for lionfish dissections. Me and Kristen got the second biggest fish and were able to look inside at its stomach contents, but we weren’t able to identify anything specific.

Afterward, I finally got a hammock and was able to get caught up on my journal, then Scott came down with lionfish ceviche that he made, and all the vegetarians tried it including me because lionfish are an invasive species and shouldn’t count.

Around 2:00 Elena, Jessica, Veronica and Same went out to snorkel one last time just for fun. It had been so hot so getting in the cool water was really nice, and we got to explore some patch reefs near the island. I once again saw a lot of corky sea fingers and sea fans, as well as some swollen-knob candelabrum, that I had to swim pretty close to identify.  We also saw some huge lobsters as well.

I quickly rinsed off once we got back to the island, and then we left for the Southwest Caye for a fun, secret TFB tradition. We took cute pictures, Rose taught us some dance moves, and we all signed a Rice shirt to hang up in the bar.

Underwater Aquarium

Today I woke up to the sound of a rainstorm. We had breakfast and then gathered in the classroom to do our last lectures and wait for the rain to die down. After lectures, the rain had let up enough so we could work on our marine debris project.


We went to the coral graveyard on the windward side for 15 minutes and all picked up and identified trash, and then did the same thing in the mangrove forest on the leeward side. It was upsetting to see how little of a dent we made and how the trash will just continue to accumulate. I definitely want to start to live with less waste back home.

A 2:00 we went out on the boat for our last snorkel in the atoll. We first went to a site called the Aquarium, and it really did look like we were snorkeling in an aquarium tank. There was so many beautiful fish and I was able to get some really good pictures since it was easy to dive down. I also saw a Southern Sting Ray swimming over the reef, which was really cool and it looked really pretty.

The second patch reef we went to was deeper, and it was really fun to dive down and swim close to the ocean floor. We also saw a large nurse shark on the sea floor, but there was a string with a can on it attached to the shark, and there was nothing we could do to take it off. Then, we went to a different reef and I saw a black tipped reef shark, which was also really amazing.


Today there was a lot of sea fans that were packed very close to each other, and some of them were bright purple while some had a very dull grey color with just a purple tint. Most of them were on the top of the rocks, but some small ones were on the seafloor. I also saw some really pretty sea plumes, whose colonies were large and had long branchlets.


PSA: The water burns

Today we woke up to banana and pineapple pancakes, which were so good! Then we spent the next couple hours working on our poster, MP-Yay for Coral Reefs, where we analyzed our data from the hard coral coverage experiment and the sea urchin coverage experiment to see how the MPA affects marine health.


We presented our poster to Scott around 11:00 and then did one of the taxon lectured before lunch. After lunch, we did the last 2 lectures of the day, which was nice because we were all less tired and didn’t have to worry about them at night. Then we got ready to wade into the back reef, behind the island.


The second we started to wade through the marshy beginning, closest to the island, there was a resounding groan. The water was extremely hot and was burning everyone’s cuts and scrapes, as well as pretty gross to walk through. Once we got to the seagrass, it was a bit cooler and I saw a bunch of conch shells and some anemones. We swam further to the actual reef part and the amount of fish, anemones, and coral we saw made it totally worth it. There was an opening through the coral where there were schools of 30-40 fish eating the algae off coral.

We put a bunch of our finds into a bucket, and once back on shore the people who had taxons that we could collect separated them out. We even found things we weren’t expecting to, including a tiny octopus named Herman. It was so cute and kept changing colors when disturbed, so it finally made himself very compact and tucked all his tentacles under his body. After the mini taxon presentations, we released everything back into the ocean, including Herman and some Donkey Sea Dung cucumbers that I got to throw back to the sea.

In the back reef, I once again saw a large number of sea fans, but most of them weren’t as big as yesterday, as well as corky sea fingers, which were usually clustered together in a colony of 3 or 4. I also saw some black sea rods and porous sea rods that varied in color from greyish to purple tinted. Some of the porous sea rods I saw could have been slit pore, but I was having trouble distinguishing some of them.

Crab Derby/Dermit Crab Races

After breakfast today, we left on the boat to explore the floor reefs past the island. The first site we stopped at was beautiful and there were so many large corals, however I started to get sea sick and by the time we got to the second site I felt like I was going to throw-up in my snorkel mask. I still got out to swim around and the reef was really pretty, I just felt like I couldn’t be completely present since I wasn’t feeling great. It was still cool that Scott was able to spear a lionfish and we might get to dissect and eat them later.


We came back to the island because people were feeling sick and had time to rest before lunch. After lunch, Scott gave us more time so everyone took a nap and when I woke up I didn’t feel sick anymore. We went back out on the boat to collect sea urchins to compare the percentage of sea urchins in the MPA and out of the MPA. We stayed in the atoll so the ride was a lot smoother and the 2 patch reefs we saw were a lot shallower. We got a ton of sea urchin and I got to hold some in my hand and see them move, also Claire found a sea egg which was one of the cutest marine organisms ever.

While in the reef I saw a bunch of the common sea fans that were mostly purple, and one was a really intense purple and huge. I saw less Corky Sea fingers today in the reefs today, there might have been some in the floor reefs, but since it was so deep and I wasn’t feeling well I could dive down. I also saw some pretty large sea plumes that were also a light purplish color.


After dinner and lecture, we finished our day with a crab race. We all picked our crabs, which were supposed to be hermit crabs, but Elena and Sam somehow got large blue crabs, but they didn’t win anyway. My crab ended up not moving and then turned and went the opposite direction if the finish line:(

Will Rice Will Lose Things

Today I got to sleep in because breakfast didn’t start till 7! After breakfast, Scott had us practice using our research equipment on land before we got in the water. We looked at the proportion of dead leaves on the main trail of the island. Once we were confident with using the transect tape and quadrats, we got ready for using it in the reef.

Putting on the dive suit over an already sweating body was a struggle, but once I had all my gear on I headed to the dock. Once in the water, we used the same technique with the quadrats and transect tape in the sea grass to find what percentage of the benthos contained worm mounds. On the way out of the water, I realized I lost my clipboard and had everyone looking for it, but Elena ended up finding it right in front of the ladder in the sand (sorry everyone:/).

After a delicious lunch, we headed to what Scott told us was Adrienne’s favorite spot, the Coral Graveyard. It was really interesting to be able to identify the different hard corals and also me and Jessica found beautiful pink conch shells and pretended we were in Moana.

Then we headed back into the water, to repeat the same experiment but with measuring the proportion of hard corals. We went to one patch reef in the Marine Protective Area which was pretty hard to maneuver in since it was really close to the surface. The second reef we visited was outside the MPA and was a lot deeper than the first so it was easier to swim and use the equipment. I really felt like a real marine TFB being able to use the quadrat and tape, and swim so close to the coral.

While at the different patch reefs I saw a bunch of the corky sea fingers and purple sea fans. I also got to see some bipinnate sea plumes as well as some sea rods, however it was hard to tell which type of sea rods they were, but I definitely spotted black sea rod.

At Glover’s Reef (I)land

Today, I woke up and packed up my things in preparation for going to Glover’s. We left the Tropical Research Center and began the drive to the marina. The drive was only an hour to Belize City and once we got there we pulled up to a casino, that had the marina and dock behind it. We all boarded the boat and had a three-hour boat ride to the research station.

On the boat ride, we met Javier and Rose, who are going to be our marine safety officers. I also was able to see the beautiful ocean water changing colors as we got further from the mainland and closer to the island.

We finally arrived at Glover’s and got settled and a toured the island. Then got ready for our first time snorkeling in the water. We swam over the sea grass near the dock and saw a yellow-spotted stingray and upside-down jellyfish. After practicing we headed back to the dock on saw a really tiny baby nurse shark, which was adorable.

On the reef patch, I saw a bunch of corky sea fingers on the edge of the patch, as well as common sea fans, which all varied in sizes and shades of purple throughout the patch. I’m so excited to spend the next week here!

The Day I Discover I Actually Love…

Today we left Las Cuevas, and it was pretty hard to say goodbye to the Chiquibul forest. Then we started driving to the ATM caves. The road was very bumpy and winding, so about halfway there I got pretty carsick and had to move to the passenger seat. We stopped at a convenience store, and I was able to get a new towel with the Belize flag on it (getting excited to be constantly in my bathing suit).


Once we got to the ATM caves we had to walk to the front of the cave, which also involved swimming across a river a couple times. Then we got to the entrance of the cave and waded into the freezing cold water. Once in the cave and we couldn’t see the daylight anymore it started to get colder but I was mostly distracted by the gorgeous stalactite structures. Inside the cave, after getting out of the water, our guide lead us to where the Mayan artifacts were. There was a bunch of pots, but the most anticipated things were the human remains. There were multiple skulls and even an entire skeleton that was still intact, and it was so amazing the actually be able to see these 1,000-year-old sacrificial remains. Also, on the way back, I was able to see a Basilisk on the side of the trail in the bushes and it looked exactly like the one on my Id card, which was pretty cool.

After the cave, we continued our drive to the Tropical Education Center and I mostly napped and listened to music. I also finally got service on my phone and was able to text my mom, which was nice. After dinner, we headed to a night tour at the Belize Zoo. Me and Andressa got there early and both got to hold a Boa Constrictor, which felt like such an accomplishment for me. I didn’t feel scared at all, it was actually very calming, and after doing all this research on reptiles and specifically snakes I discovered that snakes are actually really beautiful and I might even love them (pet snake in the future??). While on the tour I got to feed a tapir, which is absolutely the cutest animal ever, and I also loved seeing the cats, including the ocelot and jaguar. It’s such a different experience than American zoos because we were able to pet some of the animals and get pretty close to the enclosures as well.

The Best Day Ever

Today was actually one of the most exciting days at Las Cuevas. It started out by us waking up early and leaving around 5:30 to hike the Bird Tower Trail. The trail was very steep and the leaf litter was slippery, which made for an interesting hike with me falling off balance every couple steps and some people actually falling and sliding down. Once we got the bird tower 6 of us climbed up at a time, and while it was a bit scary climbing up the rickety ladder, the views from the top were indescribable. The sun was still rising, and I could see over all the trees of the canopy and the mist covering the tops. We definitely worked up an appetite after the hike though.

After breakfast, we went out to collect all the camera traps that we had set out the first day, but Scott told us we had to wait to check them until the sunset. While on the hike, we found a really cool beetle called the golden tortoise beetle, and another brown anole which Veronica picked off the trunk of a tree that was covered in lichen. I tried to hold it, but it bit her hand and jumped away back towards the tree.

Later, we left with Scott and the other group of students from Mississippi to do leafcutter ant nest excavations. We started with a one-year-old nest and found the queen, which was way bigger than I imagined it to be and I got to hold it in my hand. Once we moved to the monster ant nest we had trouble finding the fungus chamber, but we did find the dump chamber where the ants put their waste.


Finally, after dinner, we all gathered around Scott’s computer to look at the long-awaited camera trap photos. In the very first camera trap photo, we saw a tapir and its butt, then the very next picture was a jaguar!! We ended up having two amazing pictures of jaguars, and it literally made my day and I will probably be thinking about it for months. Also, the pictures of Adrienne were pretty great too.