The weather was sunny with barely any wind, and after breakfast we hopped onto the boat to survey a protected site called the Aquarium. Upon arriving and getting into the water, I was struck by just the sheer amount of coral around me and all the fish that were swimming about. Our transect went smoothly and my group had time to explore. Almost immediately, I noticed all of herbivorous fish that were swimming about. I saw a school of blue tangs, a few stoplight parrotfish, and a new species that I haven’t mentioned in this blog…a Doctorfish! Doctorfish are a species of surgeonfish, so they have the caudal peduncle spine, and are usually grey with dark vertical stripes on its side. Doctorfish can also grow up to a foot in length. I also saw a few damselfish species, two of which were the Three Spot Damselfish and the Dusky Damselfish. Both, and all damselfish, are highly territorial and both of the individuals I saw of these species were actually chasing away blue tangs from their patch of reef. After exploring for a bit more, seeing a Yellow Stingray and a scorpionfish, we headed back to the boat to go and survey a site out of the protected area.
We actually had to vacate the first unprotected site we went to, due to the presence of a multitude of Moon Jellyfish, which can sting. Our 2nd site was a bit farther away and our survey went quite quickly as well. Although it was deeper at this site, it was a lot easier to work in due to having more separation from the coral. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to swim around the site due to an incoming storm that we were trying to avoid.
After lunch, we traveled beyond the reef crest (out of the atoll) and dove the fore reef (where the drop off is). The drop off is itself is surreal, a coral wall that drops off into just pure navy blue. It was just absolutely awe-inspiring. After having my breath taken away by the drop off, we swam to a nearby reef and observed some of the differences between this deeper water reef and the shallow water ones we had surveyed earlier. I saw bigger parrotfish and taller corals. There also seemed to be more variety of organisms, ranging from eels to a nurse shark.
Today’s general agenda: MPA and non-MPA reef transect —> fore reef —> presentations
I woke up to yet another beautiful sunrise, and I can’t help but wonder whether I am on Glover’s Reef Research Station or Glover’s Reef Resort…then the mosquito and sandflies bites kick in. The waves were quite calm this morning, so we got suited up and immediately hit the water. We continued our research project by exploring another patch reef within the Marine Protected Area and one outside of the area.
Anna and I once again rolled out our transect tape and starting taking data points using our quadrats. When we were collecting data for our second reef, our transect tape happened to go beyond the edge of the patch reef. We ended up having to dive deep into the ocean a few times to collect data. As we dove further down, I felt the thermocline and how cold the water became.
Because weather can be so unpredictable, in the afternoon, we quickly headed to the fore reef, which is the area right outside of the reef crest, to observe the drop-off. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the drop-off because I was literally staring deep into the abyss. We saw a ray swim across the ocean floor and a nurse shark on the sea floor as well.
In the sponge department, we got to see some incredible sponges! Javier pointed out the yellow tube sponges and Amanda pointed out the barrel sponges. These sponges were hard to spot at first, but, once I saw them, I could not take my eyes off them. They look just like the pictures when I searched them up, but they look more beautiful in person.
To start off this morning we ventured outside of the atoll’s lagoon to the fore reef. The fore reef is the outer edge of the reef and has the highest diversity of any reef zone. However, the fore reef also has the highest wave energy and is much deeper than the lagoon or back reef. The boat ride to the drop zones was pretty choppy, which was a bit of a challenge for some people, but most people were able to enjoy the reef once they got off the boat, and we didn’t have any vomiting.
I found it harder to see details on the fore reef because it was deeper and I couldn’t dive far enough down, but I was still able to see interesting aspects of the fore reef. There were bigger fish than in the lagoon, and I believe that the diversity of fish species may have been greater as well. The coral on the fore reef was also amazing because it had more space to grow, so the colonies were much larger. We even saw some Acropora palmata colonies, which is a species of coral that used to be a dominant reef builder but recently saw enough colony death to make it endangered. I also enjoyed seeing Acropora cervicornis because it has distinct white tips with an apical polyp that is much larger than the rest of the coral’s polyps. I learned about A. cervicornis in a class that I took last semester, so it was cool to be able to see it in person.
While we were on the fore reef we also saw a huge ray swimming across a sandy area and a nurse shark that followed our group for a while as we snorkeled alongside the reef crest.
In the afternoon we were able to go out on the back reef by Middle Caye. The water was around three feet deep, making it difficult to navigate, but we were able to get closer to the sea floor than we had been able to before. This was especially beneficial for viewing green algae, as they flourish in areas with high sun and sand. I saw a number of species of Udotea, Caulerpa, and Penicillus all in close proximity. These three species were all found on the sea floor in sandy areas or on dead corals that had accumulated a large amount of sediments. Some species of Halimeda were also found in sandy areas on the sea floor, but some were growing in crevices found on corals. The Halimeda on the floor were taller and had smaller segments, whereas the species on corals were more clumped and had larger segments
The back reef had the first lionfish that we were able to spear. While on Middle Caye, we aren’t permitted to eat any fish that we catch other than lionfish, because they are invasive. Tomorrow we will be taking measurements of the four lionfish that we caught and then we’ve been promised lionfish ceviche, which sounds delicious!