Tag Archives: Elena

Wrapping it up like a tortilla

Wow I can’t believe I’m writing the final blog post. Since I went straight into the work force after coming back from Belize, I feel like being in Belize was such a while ago- but before I start rambling, I will address the questions before I get off-topic:

Although the tropical rainforest and the coral reefs are vastly different at first glance, they share many similarities. For example, the coral reefs and the rainforest are habitats with immense biodiversity. Factually, we can see that coral reefs cover less than 1% of the benthos but is a home to 25% of marine species (as per my lecture) and the rainforest is a place with so much biodiversity that many types are species are even yet to be identified. It was very surprising to know that even Scott didn’t know about all the ant species that I asked him about because that’s how many species of ants there are! Anecdotally, we saw that in the coral reefs in areas such as the “aquarium” had many types of fish, sponges, algae, corals, and other species that thrived there. I don’t think there was even a day that we didn’t see sting rays or sharks, which I thought were going to be an incredibly rare find for my taxon. It was an important reality check that I learned because it made me realise that the ecosystems are very diverse if they are protected. Furthermore, the rainforest was also full of surprises because our “To Pee or Not to Pee” project had so many morphospecies (physically distinctive types) of insects that we had to use three different systems of combinations of the alphabet to label them.

Additionally, the tropical rainforest and the coral reefs are also similar because they are vulnerable ecosystems. In Belize, they are preyed upon by neighbouring countries. Politically speaking, this makes sense because many wars have been fought over resources and ideologies – Belize has an approach that proactively protects the ecosystems while Honduras and Guatemala do not. The coastal guards have captured Hondurans illegally fishing, and the rangers have apprehended Guatemalans for illegally clearing land and picking fishtail palms. Although unfortunate, it intuitive why neighbouring, developing countries will take advantage of the biodiversity and try to profit from it. Personally speaking, I’ve found the political aspect of conservation very interesting, and the observation of seeing the similarities between the two ecosystems has been important because it shows how important international relations is to ecosystems and also because it ties my majors together perfectly.

I never expected myself to enjoy this course as much as I did, and I didn’t think I’d get so comfortable with myself and other people as well. My least favourite thing about the course were the bug bites- I was destroyed by leeches, ticks, mosquitoes, sandflies, and other insects. However, that allowed me to experience my favourite part of the course, which was the bond I made with the other people. We all became good friends after comparing bug bites, complaining about them, checking each other for ticks, and putting benadryl on each other. I am quiet around people that I don’t know, but by the end of the trip I was definitely one of the most obnoxiously loud people, which was definitely a surprise for me because I didn’t expect to get so close with others. I learned a lot about myself and how I interact in group dynamics, so the happiness I felt during this experience is something that I will definitely treasure and remember in the future.

Thank you all for a wonderful trip:

Adios, Belize!

I woke up before 6 which I haven’t done since Las Cuevas to catch the early breakfast. I soaked up much of the island as I could before rushing to the boat. I unfortunately dropped my snorkeling fin right before getting on the boat, so I had to quickly change into my Lycra dive skin and quickly retrieve it. We then said our goodbyes to the Middle Caye and headed to the Smithsonean Research center. The island was so small that Scott said we could throw a hermit crab from one side of the island to the island. We got to listen to Nicole Fogarty from SouthEasten University talk about her research. She’s studying corals that are a hybrid between elk horn and stag horn corals. She said that they are relatively new in the evolutionary history, and that they are especially resilient, found in incredibly shallow waters that get up to 34 degrees. We got to see her experiment! She used small fish tanks, placing small baby hybrid corals in them and treating them to different temperatures. I’ve never seen any scientist’s experiment in progress, so I was captivated. We also talked about how excited Adrienne would be if she saw all of this (we miss you Adrienne!)

We then headed to the mangroves and swam in a single file along the tree roots. I was only able to see the outline of algae and sponges growing on the roots and the overall shape of some small nursery fish species.

After the ride back, we quickly hosed ourselves down once we got to the dock to have a restaurant meal. It was a weird feeling to sit down at an establishment without wearing my rainforest gear or bathing suit. After our meal we said our goodbyes to Rose and Javier.

We got to the airport and in unison we were surprised and shocked to feel the cold breeze of air conditioner. We hadn’t felt that in half a month and we were all so happy. Once we went through security we got our souvenirs and boarded the plane. Claire’s father was the pilot!!!! We were so happy for her and for us because we got another shoutout.

Last full day :(

Daily Blog 14

In the morning we worked on lion fish dissections. Unfortunately Sami and I were only able to dissect the smaller lion fish, so while dissecting the lion fish, we were unable to identify the sex of ability to spawn. The organs were too small to be identified. However, we were able to see that one of the lion fish we dissected had a small inside! The fish was only partially digested so we were able to identify some of the body parts. I learned in Jessica’s lecture on invasive species that the native fish do not recognize lion fish as predators, so it was sad to see the digested fish inside its stomach. I never actually got to see the lion fish while they were alive, so as I saw Scott use the tongs to carefully remove its venomous anal, pectoral, and dorsal spines, I was wondering how intimidating the lion fish would have looked with it’s spines. Although lion-fish in the Caribbean have caused awful effects as invasive species in removing native fish species, I think their warning coloration are visually captivating- the brown lines around their head and body are incredibly detailed, and their venomous spines are quite scary. One of my favourite parts of the dissecting has to be consuming the fish- Scott made a mean ceviche.

In the afternoon I went on an optional snorkel. A couple of us snorkeled to the nearby patch reef, moving from one place to another. I got to see a few squirrel fish exhibiting their usual behaviour- swimming away from me, hiding in rock crevices, and erecting their dorsal spines when I got too close. While swimming back, I got to see a sting ray! For some reason it was exhibiting really interesting behaviour- it was fluttering it’s body (non-propelling but undulating locomotion). It clearly wasn’t moving to swim, and it was just causing a disturbance in the sediments on the benthos. Perhaps it was hunting or practicing some other type of behaviour. The sediments the sting ray was raising from the benthos made it difficult to identify its shape and colour, so I can’t decide if it’s a southern stingray because I only got a glimpse of its yellow-beige coloured back.

To end the day perfectly, we got on a boat and headed to Marisol on Southwest Cage. We ordered our drinks and had them by the docks overlooking the shoreline of the island and I ate some conch ceviche. Conch ceviche with chips was probably my favourite thing I’ve eaten all trip. Later Rose taught us to dance in the Belizean way, and we had an amazing time trying and failing to imitate Rose. Once we got back on Middle Caye, we watched the beautiful sunset on the dock and lowered diving lights once it got completely dark.

our lionfish pre-dissection:

Mad Mangrove Mosquitos

Daily Blog 13

After waking up in the morning to thunder, rain and winds, we finished the lectures instead of going into the water. I was relieved to give the last lecture on mangroves, seagrass, and coral. Afterwards we went to the coral graveyard to pick up trash for our experiment, Talk Dirty To Me, where we wanted to figure out trash composition and amount on the windward and leeward side of Middle Caye. We also went to the mangroves where my face was butchered by mosquitos. I got a bite above my eyelid which later swelled up, so I had a little difficulty opening my right eye in the afternoon. I also got two bites on my forehead. Those mangrove mosquitos are absolutely awful.

We then finally went out to the reef at 2:05, only 5 minutes later than the time we were supposed to leave. Yay! I had an absolute blast swimming in the “aquarium”, the deeper reef off North-west Caye and a channel off Long Caye this afternoon. I was able to find so many different types of piscivorous fish, and I was so happy. I got to swim right next to a trumpet fish off Long Caye, along with a school of Yellow tail snappers. I also saw two sting rays, which was probably a yellow stingray and a southern stingray. I dived to look for lionfish in the crevices of the rocks and at the bottom of the corals, but I just ended up finding dozens of Squirrel fish. I think the squirrel fish I saw were Holocentrus. We also saw two nurse sharks. Unfortunately, one of the nurse sharks we saw had a fishing line and a plastic bottle around its fin, and we couldn’t remove it because we couldn’t risk being attacked.

When I got on the boat from the last snorkel, I heard Scott saying that he saw a black tipped reef shark and a spotted eagle ray. I WAS SO SAD AND MAD I DIDN’T GET TO SEE THEM. I love sharks, so I was really sad that I didn’t get to see the black tipped reef shark. The spotted eagle ray is also such an iconic fish, so I was also sad that I missed out. I hope I get to see it before I leave here!

It Was A Good Day

Daily Blog 12

For the first time we didn’t go out on the boat to snorkel because we worked on our poster this morning for our sea urchin and hard coral project. Since we all can’t work on the poster at once because space is limited, I fell asleep on the hammock. I took around 3 short naps, which was great. I worked on the title, writing “MP-Yay for Reefs” and later we presented the poster to Scott.

After lunch we completed some of our lecture topics, and we left to go to the shallow sea grass bed. It was really hot from the sun, so the mangrove soil was just mushy, warm and disgusting. However, after walking deeper into the seagrass bed and seeing all the conches, sea anemones, and sea snails, I got very excited. I finally swam past the sea grass where I saw a nurse shark! It was swimming away from me, but I still got to see it for a few seconds before it swam away.

I swam into the corals and I was so happy. The water had cooled down to a more comfortable temperature and I picked up a few crabs, a few brittle stars, and a sea urchin. I also got to swim with a school of fish, which reminded me of the opening scene of Lilo and Stich. I was lost track of time and where I was, and I felt so calm snorkeling among all the fish around me. I realized that I loved the ocean a lot, and I regretted not bringing my camera with me to document this moment. Even though I didn’t take any pictures, I still had a blast swimming through coral, admiring the biodiversity around me, and looking between corals for creatures- in fact, I saw a gigantic lobster. I only got to see its head, but it was about 60 cm long. While swimming back to Glover’s, we saw another nurse shark. It was way smaller at around 40 cm long and I only saw it swimming away from me. It swam underneath Veronica!

After dinner we were sitting by the docks looking at the sunset, and while walking to the end of the docks, Scott found a barracuda! It was around 70cm long, and it was slowly swimming under the docks and it didn’t seem like it was hunting. We also saw two southern sting rays swimming underneath us in the docks as well. I only got to see them when they were swimming away from us. Even though all the piscivorous fish I saw today were swimming away from me and only got to see them for a few seconds, I’m still glad I got to see them.

Rihanna is a winner

Daily Blog 11

We went out to the fore reef this morning. We got on the boat and went outside the reef crest, and the current was pretty strong. The waves were making it difficult to swim, but Scott and Javier said that the conditions were surprisingly tame. I now understand the importance of atolls and corals on wave movements. I was exhausted swimming and keeping up with everyone, but I got to see a yellow tail sting ray before it quickly swam away.

In the afternoon we went out to the reef to collect sea urchins! At first, I was scared of getting their spines in me because I’ve seen my friend get a spine stuck in his foot, and it looked painful. I found so many sea urchins but I only used the tongs to pick them up. I got to put them in my hand while counting the urchins and measuring their length. We then moved outside the Marine Protected Area (MPA) to collect urchins and I got more comfortable picking the urchins up, so I got a few with my hands. They were so cute and didn’t stab my hand except my thumb got scraped up. I used the tongs to catch the Diodema Antillarium, which was absolutely ginormous compared to the others. I had no idea that their spines are venomous so I’m glad I used the tongs. While swimming in the afternoon, I managed to get hurt by a fire coral though. While navigating my way through the coral, I made a sharp turn and the small patch of skin on my ankle that wasn’t covered by my water booties or lycra dive skin hit the fire coral. I was glad that it was only a small patch of skin and how much better my ankle felt after Javier, the water safety officer, poured vinegar over my ankle.

At night we finally got to do our dermit (hermit crab derby) race. I cheated and caught a Caribbean blue crab instead of a hermit crab. I named mine Rihanna. Rihanna was very feisty and had a hard time not attacking me and staying on the race course. She ended up trying to climb the wall of the dining area in the second heat and eventually escaping, ultimately disqualifying her. She’s still a winner in my heart though.

Unbe-reef-able

We woke up for a 7 o’clock breakfast, which is the latest breakfast we’ve had this week (bless this island). We then learned how to use the quadrat in the morning by measuring leaf matter. We finally moved into the seagrass bed and counted worm holes in the ocean. I saw a lot of conch shells, and I regret not picking them up because I thought they were poisonous or they’d sting.

In the afternoon we went to the coral graveyard. (Quick shout out to Adrienne – we miss you) I couldn’t believe how intact and well preserved the corals there were. I was also shocked by the sheer amount of coral as well- the entire area was covered by the fossilized coral. It was very helpful to have the Glover’s Reef guide to help identify the coral fossils.

We then finally got onto the boat and went to a shallow coral reef. Sami and I were fortunate enough to swim through the part of the reef with a lot of coral and fish. We were able to see around 8 sea urchin in one area, and we also got to see a lot of small herbivorous fish. I was able to see a fish that I think is a tiny tiger grouper. It had the characteristic shade of blood-orange with white patterning. It quickly swam underneath some rocks. When I was heading back to the boat, Sami managed to lose our quadrant, which is about a meter by a meter long. Don’t ask me how that happened.

After spending about an hour in the shallow coral reef, we went to a deeper area. This area wasn’t as dense with coral or fish, but I got to see a Spotted Moray Eel! Half of its body was concealed under rocks, which is their typical behavior. The other half was lying on the benthos motionless, but it may have just been swaying with the current.

Then we went back to the island where we had Matthew cut fresh coconuts for us. It was delicious and very refreshing after spending hours under the ocean.

Lesson Learned

Daily Blog Entry 9:

After going on a 3-hour boat ride from the mainland over clear waters and beautiful skies, we finally made it to Glovers!

The island is absolutely breath-takingly beautiful. I have no complaints. Maybe except for the sand flies because they’re surprisingly painful for their size. It was amazing to be able to have a delicious lunch while looking at the picturesque beach and bright blue sky.

When we went snorkeling today for the first time, I may have pulled my right calf because I am still in a lot of pain almost 8 hours later. But before I pulled my calf I learned an important lesson. Five minutes into snorkeling, I had to take my mask off because it was getting very foggy. I just stood on the sea grass bed and proceeded to take my mask off while joking around with Sami. Javier, our water safety officer, soon swam next to me and told me to watch where I stood because there was a yellow sting ray between Sami and I. We quickly learned our lesson. The Yellow stingray wasn’t moving and just kept blinking.

The next piscivorous fish we saw was a baby nurse shark! It was on the bottom of the sea grass bed. It was about 0.7 meters long, which is about a third of their mature length. It was just hanging out on the bottom of the sea grass bed not doing anything. They really do live up to what they are known for – calm and gentle.

I think I pulled my right calf muscle and it hurts to stretch my calf muscle, so until my calf heals I’ll be taking frequent breaks and taking it easy.

Indie, the cutest tapir

Daily Blog Entry 8:

We woke up for a 5 o’clock breakfast today to leave Las Cuevas. I was glad to leave the mites, chiggers, and the constant fear of insects falling on me. However, I was sad to leave the place where I got to become more comfortable with insects, my fellow TFBs, and lowering my standards of hygiene. I fell asleep until we stopped by a general store at Santa Elena before we headed to the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. We got there and left the vans at around 10 o’clock. We swam across a river, walked across another river, and had a 17-ish minute walk to finally reach the cave.

The inside of the cave was incredible. We saw multiple ceramic pieces partially swallowed by the ground, and I couldn’t believe that the artifacts were not harmed by looters or removed by archeologists. The most interesting find were the human sacrifice remains, including the near-intact skeleton at the very end of the cave. The other remain had a very neat skull where I could visibly see the slanted forehead and the remaining tooth.

After we got out of the cave and had lunch, I had a bit of a mishap, but it was all good once I got into the van. We were in the van for about an hour and a half, so I bolted out of the van as soon as we got to the Tropical Educaiton Center (TEC) to go pee. I ran around the TEC trying to figure out where the bathroom is when I saw two different agoutis. That was pretty interesting.

Once we finished eating dinner, we rode on the back of the pickup truck to go to the Belizean zoo. I got a boa constrictor on my neck, and her name is Queen Green. (I am scared of Queen Green) I think the most surprising things were how small Central American jaguars are, how funky the ocelots sound, how strange the gibnut looks, and HOW CUTE TAPIRS ARE. I was ecstatic that I got to pet Indie the Tapir. We could tell that he was very excited by the food we were giving him. I’m just happy that I got to pet them.

Ants. We’re not in Las Cuevas but we’re still not in Glovers, so here’s my taxon mojo:
At the end of the tour of the zoo, we saw a lot of small winged insects on the floor. Scott picked up one of the insects and it was a queen fire ant. The other insects were on their mating swarm as well.

I cANT Belize what we saw today

Daily Blog Entry 7:

Today was a wonderful day.

We woke up at around 4:40 to go on the Bird Tower hike, and at around 5:20 we started our hike. The hike was pretty steep, and the trail was slippery from all the leaf litter that was wet from the night rain. Many of us fell on our butts on the way up and our way down. The view from the bird tower was spectacular because we saw the mist covering the rainforest canopy while the sun was rising.

Later while we were walking to retrieve our camera traps, I got to focus on ants and got to see a lot of them, hence the pun in the title. We saw the leaf cutter ants, soldier ant swarm, and a different ant that I did not know much about. Scott squished the ants to figure out what type of ants they were. I always see Sam squishing the ants and smelling them, so I’m glad I got to smell them today. They smelled very herbal and mint-like.

In the afternoon we went to two different ant nests. In the first ant nest, we got to see the fungal chamber of a leaf cutter ants and got to touch it. It was moist and soft. We also got to touch the queen ant and it was about 4 cm big. I let it crawl on my hand and I couldn’t believe it. It was way bigger than I could have ever imagined, and I was very shocked.

Then we went to the second ant’s next where a couple of us started digging and we found the dump chamber. Scott said digging these chambers are not that common, so I was very excited. The consistency of the fungus was different- it was dryer and more brittle to the touch.

We finally got to see our camera trap photos and I cannot believe what we saw. We all lost our minds. WE SAW A PUMA AND A FEW JAGUARS!!!! I know my taxonomic group is ants but man… after seeing the jaguar, we all just screamed with excitement because we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We also saw a lot of collared peccaries, a rice rat (peck em’ owls), a coatimundi, an armadillo, a tapir, a few curassows, and a coral snake. Our photos were incredible, and it went beyond my wildest imaginations. We also saw a few photos of Adrienne being goofy, which made all of us miss her even more. We miss you Adrienne and we all hope you are feeling well!

Scott just caught a leaf cutter ant male, and it was so long. The ant was probably about 4 cm long, and its abdomen was incredibly thin and long. Since Scott was holding it by its wing, the ant kept curling its abdomen back and forth- it was pretty wild. Since it was out flying, it was on its mating flight, so it’ll probably die today. RIP unexpectedly large male leaf cutter ant.