Tag Archives: Clare

I’m out like sauerkraut

It would be impossible to write down even a percentage of the things I learned on this trip, but I will attempt to do it justice in the small amount of space I have here.

The most important thing I learned was how to stay positive and roll with the punches even when nothing is going according to plan. I also learned the importance of keeping your relationships strong with those in the field. There were so many times when we relied very heavily on people that Adrienne and Scott had worked with many many years in a row, and they were the people who helped us out the most when things went wrong. I also learned how integral it is for everyone to be involved in conservation, not just those that spend their lives on it. No one organization can do everything, and often conservation is the most powerful when whole countries or groups of people get invested.

I also learned tons of skills like how to string a quadrat, how to snorkel while not kicking the corals around you, how to create pitfall traps etc., but I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of all that.

I think most importantly, I learned about how similar the coral reefs and rainforests really are. Not only are coral reefs and rainforests facing similar threats in the forms of human development and changing global temperatures, but also they are both highly diverse ecosystems that support some incredible life that is important for people all over the world. The rainforests and coral reefs are very nutrient poor environments, and the organisms that break down dead, dying, or lysed material have to be efficient in order to the other organisms to be able to use those recycled nutrients. This cycling is how both environments maintain such high diversity in such nutrient poor environments.

Furthermore, both environments deal with medium levels of disturbance regularly in the form of large storms, other natural disasters, and human activity. This disturbance ensures that no one species is able to dominate the ecosystem, which helps maintain the high levels of diversity we see in both the rainforest and the coral reef.

Some of the physical similarities I was able to see was the presence of dominant large species that help build homes for smaller species. In the rainforest there are dominant tree species and then smaller trees or vines that take advantage of those species. On the reef the dominant reef builders are in the form of stony corals which provide homes for fish, worms, endolithic borers. They also end up being the framework for a lot of other corals or once they die they are colonized by macro algae, fungus and/or other corals.

This course surpassed my expectations in a lot of ways. I was expecting to learn some field techniques, have some fun along the way, and get a little dirty. In all aspects I was surprised. I not only learned field techniques, but also how to deal with what to do when things go wrong in the field. I had more fun in this class than I have had in any class ever, and the people I got to meet along the way made it that much better. Also, I definitely got dirty.

If you forced me to pick a favorite part of the trip, it would be the day we went out into the ocean to the fore reef and got to see the wave action, all the different species of coral, and the large fish and rays out there. I think as far as least favorites go I wish I had brought more cortizone cream and new how to deal with rashes better, although the blisters were also pretty bad.

Now that I’m done with this class, I’m going to need to find something to fill my days. So if anyone is looking for 13 mile hikes in Houston, hmu.

Clare Bold-choice Randolph out.

Shenanigans on Airplanes

Sadly, today was our last day. We set out from Middle Caye at 7am and stopped at two other Cayes on our way back to Belize City.

The first Caye we stopped at was Carrie Bow, which is a Smithsonian Institute research site. It’s a super small island near South Water Caye, and it’s beautiful. They gave us a tour and we got to talk to a crab researcher who has been working there almost since they opened in 1972.

The second Caye we stopped at was Twin Caye, which is a mangrove island split down the middle by a channel. We walked in the mangroves and I got to see the pores that the red mangroves use for getting oxygen. We also got to see the yellow leaves that the mangrove diverts salt to in order to save the rest of its leaves.

After walking in the mangroves we snorkeled through the channel. I sadly did not see any sea hares, but I did see some clams on the mangrove roots. I also saw the sponges that mangrove roots have a symbiosis with, a whole ton of baby fish (mangroves are fish nurseries), some magnificent feather duster worms, and a huge barracuda. The barracuda was hiding in the roots of a mangrove and I almost didn’t see it until I was basically right in its face. It flashed its teeth at me as I backed up.

After the Cayes we had our last meal in Belize at Calypso. They took a predictably long time, but it was still very tasty having fresh fish while looking out at the ocean it came from. Our plane ride was short and bittersweet, and although we had to sit on the tarmac for awhile, it seems like our curse of terrible transportation has been defeated.

I’m sad to be going, but I’m sure I’ll be back.

Tough Love

Our last day here on the reef has been a little sad for me. I will absolutely be coming back here at some point in my life, but leaving tomorrow is gonna be difficult for me.

We started the day by wandering around in the back reef and collecting biodiversity in a bucket so we could identify it. I identified a species of chiton (the fuzzy chiton) and some genus of snails (cerithium and trochus snails). We also found a donkey dung sea cucumber, some box jellies, some huge hermit crabs that were using queen conch shells, and a few mantis shrimp.

As we were collecting stuff I got stung by something on my elbow and it was hurting for the next couple hours. Eventually it calmed down, but I’m still not sure what stung me. Possibly some kind of jelly.

In the afternoon we dissected lion fish to look at their size and the contents of their stomachs. Then we made lion fish ceviche which we will be eating any minute now.

After the lion fish dissection, we boated over to south-west caye and had a few drinks and watched the sun set. This place is so beautiful that it’s impossible to describe in pictures or words. I sat and watched the stars for awhile on the dock and thought about how amazing it would be to see this many stars every night. I’m gonna miss this when I got back to Houston. Despite the stings, bug bites, rashes, and layers of dirt and salt, I would love to spend huge quantities of my life here.

Calm waters

We did a large variety of things today, although none of them was as physically draining as our boat day or really any of our snorkeling days.

In the morning we did a beach cleanup on the windward side of the island and assessed what kind of trash is most likely to make it onto the beach. Things I learned: Styrofoam is the worst, don’t give children toys, and the ocean is full of trash even in pristine environments like this one.

In the afternoon we went to the back reef that is through the mangroves of death on the other side of the island. The mangroves weren’t as buggy as they usually are so we got lucky. We measured live coral coverage of one coral colony on the back reef and then swum around and looked at things.

Adrienne showed us black band disease and some baby Acropora cervicornis. I also saw a few flamingo tongues and I picked one up and saw its mantle retract to reveal the white shell underneath.

At night we did a night snorkel. I sadly missed seeing the Caribbean reef squid, but I did get to see a bunch of very odd fish. Mostly it was just difficult to stay out of everyone’s way with all the flippers and wave energy.

Rock the Boat

My stomach is strong, as are my legs, and I am now very confident in my ability to weather choppy waters on a small boat.

We explored the different areas of the reef today starting at the fore reef and the reef crest and ending the day at the back reef. The fore reef and the reef crest were so choppy. Part of the reason that the rest of the atoll isn’t as choppy is because the fore reef bares the brunt of the wave action coming from the ocean. Everything was moving back and forth constantly and it was really hard to even stay in one place while floating above the reef.

The fore reef was amazing, and we got the chance to see many rays, a nurse shark, and amazingly we saw both species of acropora (cervicornis and palmata) in the wild! Acropora were mostly wiped out in the Caribbean due to white band disease, so it was a unique experience being able to see them. We also got to see an eagle ray swim by underneath us, which made me super happy. They’re HUGE!

Eagle ray
Eagle ray
Acropora palmata
Acropora palmata

My camera died before we got to be on the back reef at the end of the day. They definitely aren’t as waterproof as they say they are. I opened it up and there was water in the battery!

At the back reef I saw so many queen conch (probably hundreds). I also got to see a milk conch, which is the only other conch I’ve gotten to see on this trip. While digging through the rubble on the back reef I saw a few species of cone snail living in some unoccupied shells of former molluscs.

In Which Things Go As Planned

  Our first boat day was today! We measured live coral cover compared to macro algae and recently dead coral. We also collected sea urchins for 25 minutes and then measured them.

We actually did two boat trips today. One was to the south of the island in the marine protected area and the other was slightly further away in the same direction outside of the protected zone. We collected the same data at each site and we will compare it later when we analyze.

Pencil Urchin
Pencil Urchin

I saw a huge wall of queen conch at our second site, but all of them were dead. Apparently the huge eagle rays eat them. I also saw flamingo tongues on gorgonians. It’s satisfying when things behave like they’re supposed to.

After we got back from the boat trip I became the first 319 student to actually take a kayak out. I went down into the mangroves and explored a little with Ella and Stephanie. We saw the skeleton of a pelican hanging in a tree, an osprey, some crabs on logs, and a beautiful sunset.

Pelican skeleton
Pelican skeleton


After dinner we had free time, and we hung a light off the dock to see if we could attract anything to it. Mostly we got a bunch of tiny fish and some crustaceans (maybe shrimp?). People switched from looking at the light underwater to looking at the stars and some point. They were beautiful.

In Which My Brain Remembers

Today we started the day off with a morning swim/scavenger hunt where we took pictures of processes and organisms we could recognize on the reef. I was surprised by how much I remembered from Adrienne’s coral reef biology class.

During this swim I saw a flamingo tongue mollusc, a few queen conch, and one clam shell.

Later in the afternoon we learned how to use quadrats and transects together and surveyed green algae in the sea grass bed using these tools. It turns out free diving is very difficult while holding a clipboard and trying to find specific species in super thick seagrass cover. Who knew?

My favorite part of the day by far was he coral graveyard. This island is incredible in that it has thousands of dead coral skeletons lying all over the beaches and interior that are really well preserved. You can still see the coralytes in all of them and even the honey-comb building pattern of some.

Coral graveyard
Coral graveyard

Adrienne went absolutely insane with happiness while we were identifying corals on the beach. I was amazed at how much I remembered and could still identify which made me excited too. We got to see acropora palmata skeletons and I even identified an acropora hybrid species (acropora prolifera).

Adrienne's favorite place on earth
Adrienne’s favorite place on earth

It was amazing getting to see that much diversity in one place.

Sea-rious Business

On the boat
On the boat

Today we traveled to the reef, which was very exciting for me. It has been a long time since I went to an ocean, and it was so nice to remember how much they make me happy. I feel so calm tonight looking out at the moon rising above the waves through the palms.

We also got a chance to do a short hour of snorkeling before dinner tonight. I saw a few Queen Conch, but other than that not too many molluscs. I was spending too much time trying to figure out my snorkel to spend a lot of time looking for them, so tomorrow hopefully I will find more.

Queen conch in the sand
Queen conch in the sand

On the island where we’re staying (Middle Caye) we have seen about a hundred hermit crabs and a whole bunch of larger crabs as well. While we were snorkeling we also found a blue tang surgeon fish and some barracudas.

I was able to identify some of the stony corals still even though coral reef biology was a couple years ago by now. I definitely saw some Porites Astriodes and Sudodiploria Strigosa.

It’s going to be an incredible week here at Glovers. I’m very excited.

Change of Plans

Today was another travel day, and yet again we had mishaps with vans. Our driver and van company were not properly communicated with and were 5 hours late to pick us up from Las Cuevas. Therefore, we did not get to go to the ATM Caves.

The van ride was long and hot, and the fact that we didn’t get to go to the caves made it very hard to be patient. However, we stopped for lunch at the Orange Gallery and got to cool down, eat some lunch, get some refreshing drinks, and buy some souvenirs.

View at the Orange Gallery
View at the Orange Gallery

Tonight we are staying at the Belize Zoo Lodge, and we got a fabulous tour of the zoo after dinner. Scott was very proud of us for being more scared of the leaf cutter ants than the jaguar. We got to touch a black jaguar’s paws. His name is Lucky Boy, and he was rescued from a resort.

We also played with the other jaguar (Junior) and he ran up and down the cage after us. We fed a Tapir, saw a huge American alligator, and heard an ocelot make some weird noises while jumping for treats. The ocelot was making some weird noises that sounded like it saying “nam nam nam”.

Oh, also this morning I saw 4 or 5 golden orb weavers. One of them was huge it was almost two inches in body length!

I’m very excited for our boat trip to the reef tomorrow and getting to see some amazing things there.

In Which We Go Back in Time

Today we collected our camera traps, which gave us a chance to do the hike from the first day all over again. 13 miles is still a long way to hike in rainboots, long pants, and long sleeve shirts while the sun is hot and the air is muggy as heck. It was definitely easier than the first day though.

On the hike I learned some important things, like the power of duct tape and the necessity of tiny electrolyte packets you can put in your water. My feet are definitely hot and swollen today, but my blisters are not nearly as bad thanks to duct tape.

I saw one cool spider on the hike as well as a bunch of others scurrying underfoot. The cool spider I saw was sitting with its two back legs splayed and its front legs held together so they looked like one. It was sitting on the underside of a leaf with its red body and black and white legs standing out against the green background.

We analyzed the camera traps at night and saw a tapir in a mud wallow, a great currasow on a road, and an ocelot and an agouti in a leaf cutter ant nest clearing off the trail. Younger Clare would have flipped at seeing a camera trap she helped set up capture an ocelot. Honestly though, present-day Clare probably flipped more. I jumped up and down and squeaked for the tapir and the ocelot.