Today, we cleaned up marine debris on the island. Part of the experiment was looking at the amount and composition of trash in different areas of the island, so three brave souls (Kaela, Amy, and Kelsey) volunteered to cover the Mangroves of Death.
After going through the collected marine debris, Scott brought out some coconuts, and we got to try fresh coconut water and coconut meat.
In the afternoon, we dissected the lionfish that Scott and Herbie speared a couple days ago. This involved estimating sex and reproductive maturity of the fish and then identifying its different organs. When Liz and I opened the stomach of our lionfish, we found a whole undigested fish in it! We identified it as a juvenile slippery dick.
Today we started and completed a whole new experiment. To look at sea urchin community structure (and the indications it may have for herbivory and reef health), we went out and collected sea urchins in a bucket and recorded the species and diameter of each urchin.
During the search, I noticed several new hydroids! I saw what I believe to be a lot of Box Fire Coral (Millipore squarrosa), which is the third and last species of fire coral that I found to be common in the Caribbean.
I also spotted some Kirchenpaueria halecioides, a small hydroid that gets up to about one inch tall (see photo below) in addition to a possible Feather Bush Hydroid (Dentitheca dendritica).
Much later in the day, we got back in the water for a night snorkel. It was fun, but my dive light went out, and we were all way too close to each other – I think we were all paranoid about losing the group. When I got back, I found a tiny little fish inside my swimsuit. It must have somehow made its way into my skintight dive skin and swimsuit, but nothing can surprise me at this point.
Today, we spent the morning collecting data in two coral reef locations. Liz and I used a similar underwater language today to communicate. We were recording points with live coral or sediment, so cupping our hand into a “c” meant live coral and crossing our index and middle fingers meant sediment.
Exploring the reef after our data collection was incredible. I spotted many fire coral, mostly branching fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) but also some blade fire coral (Millipore complanate).
Later, we returned to the sea to scour an area of seagrass for critters that we could bring in to examine more closely – no hydrozoans or jellyfish were found, but we did gather some other amazing finds, including an octopus, two fire worms, a West Indian sea egg urchin, a sun anemone, and many more. My favorite are the conchs because they’re shells are beautiful, and they have strange little eyes on long eyestalks.
I am currently writing this blog with a small but distinct yellow dot in my vision. This is because I’ve been staring at the light in our cabin for a while, out of necessity of course.
About thirty minutes ago, Kelsey pointed at our light and asked what all the little bugs around it were (there were a lot). We suspected they were sandflies, so Anna, the bravest of us, stepped on a table and used Kaela’s notebook to swat as many as she could. It was confirmed that they were sandflies when Kaela’s notebook revealed about a hundred small smears of blood. I followed Anna’s swatting with lots of clapping around the light to attempt to get the sandflies that weren’t collected on the ceiling. What a day.
Earlier today, we did an experiment involving seagrass and algae competition. It soon became clear that any reef experiment requires strong communication between researchers, so Liz (my buddy) and I developed an underwater language in which the letter “a” in sign language meant algae and using both hands to form the written letter “s” meant seagrass.
No hydrozoa, schyphozoa, cubozoa, or ctenophores spotted today because much of our time in the water was spent collecting data in the seagrass. Hopefully, I’ll spot some tomorrow.
Today we completed our MPA vs. General Use Zone comparison by doing quadrat coral cover assessments and urchin collecting on a patch reef in the General Use Zone. It was a lot easier today because conditions were calmer. During the urchin collection, I finally saw Sailor’s Eye Algae! I couldn’t find it again when I went to take a picture, but they look like big shiny bubbles. I also was able to find good examples of calcium carbonate Halimeda chips within the sand.
Today we also listened to a presentation by Javier, our marine safety officer, about the history and culture of Belize. He told us that the four main ethic groups of Belize, the Mestizos, Creoles, Garifunas, and Mayans, were all represented within the staff on Middle Caye, which is only comprised of six people!
The first lowlight of today was that I realized that I am trash at arithmetic when synthesizing our data. The second lowlight was that I realized there had been a frog in my Cheerios box after a frog jumped out of my Cheerios box. Truthfully I hadn’t been getting hungry enough in between meals to be eating them much and they were kind of a jank flavor, but it grossed me out nonetheless.
Weather permitting, tomorrow we are going to go snorkel on the reef crest and maybe also do a night dive. I am really excited to see different reef scenery now, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.