Tag Archives: echinoderm

Day 3: Transformation (05/18/2017)

“Preservation of wildlife populations depends on changing human behavior.” Alex Tewfik, an expert benthic biologist, had this quote on one of his final slides during a presentation he gave our class.

A change in human behavior can mean many different things. I made an active choice to disrupt my busy summer work routine to engage in an explorative field biology trip, something that strongly deviates from my status quo.

This change has been engrossing. Through today’s endeavors – exploring a nearby seagrass bed and a patch reef accessible by boat – I immersed myself in the rich aquatic diversity only tropical marine ecosystems can offer.

I encountered a variety of species, including a beaded sea cucumber (Euapta lappa), about six inches in length, concealed by seagrass and a large West Indian sea egg (Tripneustes ventricosus) resting on a seagrass bed. Neither were in motion nor interacting with other animals. At the further patch reef, I came across a small chocolate brittle star (Ophioderma cinereum), a large-polyp coral (Eugmilia fastigata), and a donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria Mexicana), just under a foot long. The brittle star was found under rubble, and the donkey dung was found in deeper water on the seafloor. Today’s most noteworthy site was a school of surgeonfish (Genus Acanthus) swimming in a school of about one hundred fish.

My class also collected urchins from the reef. Urchins often hide under ridges or rocky overhangs, making them difficult to spot. After scouring for an urchin, I noticed an odd juxtaposition of hues – tiny white rings encircling fiery orange spines projecting from a dark fleshy body. This was the first of three (Echinometra viridis) I collected from the reef. Tomorrow, my class will be recording each urchin’s dimensions and returning them to the sea.

Echinometra viridis

I realize my participation on this trip will not accelerate the “preservation of wildlife populations.” However, for my own personal commitment to preservation causes and my proactivity to advocate for them, this trip has been transformative.

Day 2: First Time Snorkeler (05/17/2017)

I’m up at 5:00 am. My bags are packed. I eat a PB&J, and we are on the road. The drive from the Tropical Education Center to the pier in Belize City isn’t too long – around 45 minutes. Our team transitions to the boat, and we are off on the two-and-a-half hour boat ride to Glover’s Atoll, our home for the next seven days.

Glover’s Island

Soon after our arrival to Glover’s, we went snorkeling – my first time ever. The colors of the reef seemed like they were from a centuries-old oil painting. I was anticipating a full color pallet of hues, but the corals’ tones were warm-colored and muted.

Snorkeling in the water seemed out of body – like I was an avatar in a video game. Still not fully used to the controls of this unfamiliar type of movement, I felt awkward in the water, despite swimming competitively in high school. Every movement was calculated, taking into full consideration each dimension of my unfamiliar setting – Who is behind me? Will I bump into any coral nearby? Is my snorkel still vertical?

The reef was teeming with busy creatures. During my brief hour-long escapade, I encountered many types of fish, including baby barracuda (Genus Sphyraena), a baby nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), and a large southern stingray (Dasyatis americana). The only echinoderm I found was the bleached skeleton of a large red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa) on the seafloor. The skeleton was about 6 inches in diameter and partially covered in algae. I also held a conch shell with a fleshy body inside. His eyes stuck out of his head like the eyes of Mr. Krabs from Spongebob Squarepants. My superstar sighting was a porcupinefish (Family Diodontidae) hiding under a rocky ridge. The fish was difficult to photograph, but with its massive size and bright colors, it was easy to remember.

After the swim, we explored a coral graveyard, studying the skeletons of centuries-old corals. It was interesting to witness how corals vary in formational shape, as well as polyp size and arrangement pattern. After dinner, we closed the day with two taxon briefings (including my own on echinoderms).

My first time in the water was surreal. I am eager for the next wave of adventures tomorrow will bring.