Tag Archives: Glover’s

Reflection

Final Blog Post

Reflection

Written at 5:32 pm on May 31st

 

We’ve been home a little over a day now, but my brain is still reeling from this incredible experience. We may have been bitten by bugs or burned by the sun, but this trip is one I’ll always remember. I relished the opportunity to learn about field work and to do science experiments in new environments with people who are just as passionate as I am (if not even more!).

 

I had never really visited a rainforest in its pristine quality such as the Chiquibul area around Las Cuevas. There were just so many hymenopterans, insects, and plant diversity. My expectations were high due to the Planet Earth’s wonderful episodes, but wow, I was still floored.

 

Similarities wise, when comparing the rainforest to a reef, there is an equal amount of diversity—there are plants and coral that are common or rare (for their respective ecosystems), and the same seems to apply to animals/fish in both places! It’s just wild to me how such brilliant ecosystems can support as much life as they do. I was also shocked at just how much rain affected the rainforest. The first heavy rain ignited the nuptial flight for some termite and ant species! I know that rain affecting the rainforest seems obvious, but this nuptial flight and predictability of some fauna presence made the whole phenomenon magical.

 

Despite the obvious difference of salt water vs. freshwater and marine vs. terrestrial, I felt that there wasn’t much that differed. Of course, the biological diversity and make-up of the ecosystems are totally different. But if one were to equate a tree to a coral, and a reptile to a fish, one might find similar compositions and proportions of those species. However, now that I think about it a little more, there are SO MANY undiscovered arthropods in the rainforest, and probably just as many microscopic organisms in the coral reef. If I had to guess which ecosystem has greater biological richness, my money would be on the rainforest.

 

This course was everything I hoped it would be and more. I surely expected more mosquitos in the rainforest and less on the island, but the opposite was true. On a more serious note, I am really pleased with how our group got along, how we approached each poster/project, and just hung out in the downtime. Academics wise, I really felt like I learned a lot about ecology, which as a BioSciences major, I don’t have to study in total depth. If I had to pick three things that will stick with me forever… humm

  • Scarlet macaws are endangered due to poachers who steal their babies to sell as pets. This was surprising to me because finding their nests must be pretty hard already!
  • Frogs are really hard to find in the rainforest, especially during the dry season. Also, their sounds can deceive the human ear, and it sounds like they go in all different directions. I was actually shocked by the chorus of the rainforest at night, and I couldn’t really distinguish which animals were making what sounds.
  • Corals can form viable hybrids that could help increase genetic diversity and resilience of global warming effects in the ocean. This is just incredibly crucial to the future of coral reefs.

 

If I really had to pick a favorite part, I would say that snorkeling in the forereef and in the backreef, with such still water, was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There was just such a range of fish—in age, size, color, and species. And the coral/sponges were also spectacular. And the water was so blue. And the list could go on.

 

My “technically” least favorite part was the humidity in the rainforest. So dense and thick, I almost found it harder to breathe. Now, this also could have to do with my being out of shape from the semester, but either way I was surprised.

 

And truly, if that is the worst thing I can say about this trip, then amen—this was truly an incredible trip. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go to Belize.

Day 14: There’s So Much to Do (Make Way!)   

Blog Post #14

Day 14: There’s So Much to Do (Make Way!)

Written at 5:37 am on May 29th

 

Yesterday (May 28th) was our last full day in Belize, so we had to celebrate and soak it all in.

We started by dissecting then eating the lionfish we’d caught over the course of the week. The monstrous lionfish ended up being over 0.5 kg!! He (determined by looking at the gonads) had a swim bladder that took up most of the body cavity. I was particularly fascinated with the gill structure as well as the mouth parts used to capture prey.

Class with the giant lion fish

Scott then made his famous lionfish ceviche which I had never tried before. (Both the lionfish and a ceviche.) It tasted very fishy and chewy—not my favorite, but not bad either.

In the afternoon, we had some free time, so of course, I went snorkeling. Veronica, Sam, Chloe, and Elena came as well. I saw lots of sponges, particularly the tube and rope sponges. I also saw my first Touch-me-not sponge, a stinging, painful one when rubbed the wrong way. We also saw a brain coral that was three times my arm span in diameter, which is so impressive and wonderful. There were lots of lobster out of all shapes and sizes too.

Me with the massive brain coral

When we returned, we did our special TFB tradition. There will be future TFBs reading this blog, so I won’t say it here because I don’t want to spoil it for them! If you’re curious though, ask me—it’s pretty fun.  🙂

In the evening, we did group meditation on the dock, looked for tarpon in the water, and just enjoyed our last night in Belize.

I now sit here watching the sunrise over the horizon, the last one we’ll see here. I am so grateful for this planet, this trip, and everything in between. There is still so much to do and see, I’m not ready to leave yet!!

Day 11: Ooo the Drop-off…

Blog Post #11
Day 11: Ooo the Drop-off…

Written at 6:25 am on May 26th

 

We did a lot of exploring and learning, and even some of the drop-off (figured I throw in some Finding Nemo reference even though it’s the wrong area of the globe). We started the morning of May 25thwith a presentation from the Belize Fisheries and Coast Guard divisions and how they enforce their laws. It was awesome to get some context on just how important of an area Glover’s Reef is.

 

Then we hopped on the boat for a morning of exploring the forereef—we stopped at two different places: an area behind Southwest Cay and an area behind our island that is the drop off. These snorkels were really gorgeous; the diversity of coral, fish, and other wildlife such as rays, sponges, and soft corals. There seemed to be a lot of Ctenophores, which are commonly known as comb jellies even though they aren’t jellyfish. I had hoped to see a sea turtle since they love snacking on those, but alas, none were found.

 

The sponges in the spurs and grooves leaving to the drop-off weren’t very diverse in species but had incredible ranges of color. The branching tube sponges were gray to green to blue, and the rope sponges varied from brown to red to tan. There were a few vase sponges that had hints of pink and light blue and green in the same one!

 

Vase sponge with baby fish (hard to see)
branching tube sponge

In the afternoon, we collected sea urchins to measure their size and species richness to test the health of the reef at one reef patch inside the MPA and the other outside of it. I did manage to nab a black sea urchin with some tongs, after many tries. We haven’t yet analyzed our data, so stay tuned!

 

My lip is sunburned, but my soul is happy. I love being out on the water and exploring, and even better to be doing science at the same time!

Day 10: A True Texan Rodeo Where We Coral Up Some Data

I woke up at around 6 to finish up blogs before eating breakfast with the rest of the gang at 7, where we had the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever had. We got a chance to use our quadrat for the first time by doing a little mock experiment by counting the leaf litter on the Beck Interpretive Trail. We changed and jumped in the water to try the same methodology using worm mounds in the sea grass bed, where I may or may not have lost my clipboard which Elena promptly found.

We had a little break after this so we headed to the observation tower to see the island and walked around the trails before a delicious lunch. We took a stop to the dead coral graveyard and got to see some great examples of the corals we would be seeing in real life just a little later. We changed back into our gear before heading our on the boat for out first dive outside Middle Caye.

We sailed about 15 minutes into the MPA (marine protected area) zone where we decided to use our quadrats to measure the percentage of the benthos in MPA vs non-MPA areas that were covered in live coral. We used the transect and quadrat to measure our small plots of reef over 100ft. We finished pretty fast so we got to explore the reef and look at sea urchins that scattered the rocks everywhere. I might have then lost our quadrat but Sam and Rose found it so our team slogan of Will Rice Will Lose Stuff seems apt.

We went a little farther out into the non-MPA zone to repeat the procedure. This area was a little deeper so we had to dive to retrieve our equipment. Elena and I finished pretty quickly again so we spent some time looking around, where we got to see a spotted moray eel.

We headed back to the main island where I quickly took a shower before dinner. We got to drink from some fresh coconuts here, which came at the exact right time. We had dinner and had some down time where we worked on our notebooks and blogs and enjoyed the wind and lightning from the coming storm. We headed inside for lectures from Chloe (soft coral), Andressa (green algae) and Ceyda( the future of coral reefs). Everyone was falling asleep hard during this so we all stood up a little and Elena, uninvited, slapped me with a Clif Bar. After lectures ended, we stayed in the classroom and finished up our blogs and notebooks for the day.

CZA found: giant Caribbean anemone in the MPA zone in a very shallow region (about 2 ft), surrounded by soft coral and growing on rock.

Sun anemone in non MPA zone- it was a little hard to be sure that I saw this one because it was far away but it was in a rock cropping surrounded by hard coral in a shady edge of a reef.

Both of these were expected, though I did expect to see more of both types in the reefs

Day 9: Glover’s? I Barely Know Her!!

We all work up around 5:40ish before packing up our things to say bye to land for a while. We ate breakfast in the dining room of the TEC and loaded up our things into the van where Eduardo helped up. We drove into Belize City, which looked completely different from the first time we’d seen it. We passed through the neighborhoods and shopping centers of the city before arriving at the marina where we met our captain and water safety officers, Javier and Rose. We loaded up the boat and started the sail to Glover’s.

One of the coolest part of this sail was watching the water change into every shade of blue as we went farther away from the mainland. We sailed for about 3 hours through the water and enjoyed watching the islands and mangroves pass by. The view was tranquil and a huge change from our previous views in the rainforest. We got the chance to talk to Rose, which was really cool because she has one of the coolest jobs.

Goodbye civilization!
The Patch Coral right off the dock

The water turned a beautiful vibrant turquoise as we entered the lagoon. We drove slowly over the water and could see the sand at the bottom clearly. We docked on the island and unloaded our stuff before getting to see the island. We had a great lunch and got to see our rooms before snorkeling out for the first time. We put on all our dive gear and paired up for our dive teams (I somehow got stuck with Elena I’m about to die in the ocean). We immediately almost stepped on a stingray, so we did great. We went out around the sea grass and a shallow reef to try on our gear, which was a lot of fun.

We got out of the water, showered, and ate a really great dinner with upside down pineapple cake. We went for our first rounds of lectures here with Veronica doing echinoderms and the microbial processes of coral reefs and Kristen doing hard corals. Afterwards, we made our quadrant Bichael using the pvc pipes and string so that we could use it for data collection tomorrow. Afterwards, we all spent time working on our notebooks before turning in.

Corallimorphs, Zoanthids, and Anemones seen today:

It was hard to tell them apart in the reef but I definitely saw a giant Caribbean Corallimorph about 200 ft from the dock in the reefs around the island, surrounded by hard coral. This was pretty expected as this depth is in its range.

Day 9: snorkelers of the caribbean

Today was the official changeover from Turf to Surf. At a relatively late awakening of 6:45, we piled into the van with all of our things and drove for two hours or so to the pier. Immediately, we felt the change of scenery. Tall trees and yellow grasslands eroded into salt and sand, and I stepped off the van with a completely altered mindset. The sight of the boats, the swell of the sea, and the smell of foam hit me like an old memory, and I remembered my truest and most long-standing call-to-arms: piracy.

Me spending two hours staring at the sea. PC: Jessica

Yes, the boat trip reminded me of pirates, and I ended up with a decent amount of sunburn from spending the two-hour ride perched up on the side watching the waves crash against the side of the boat. I had a good period of self-reflection, and decided again to learn how to sail, something I keep meaning to do. But the view was spectacular, the clouds unreal, and the changing shades from the sea and the sky like nothing I’d seen anywhere else.

The view of the sunset from the pier.

Pulling up to Glover’s and to our little remote island, I genuinely felt like I was in a movie. This place may actually be paradise. The buildings form a self-sustaining picturesque neighborhood, the ground occupied by charming iguanas and hermit crabs, and the seas crystal clear. We practiced snorkeling in the water close to the pier, and I saw an Utodea green algae. I almost immediately recognized the distinctive fan-like texture of the thallus, and dove down to get a better look. It’s surprisingly difficult for me to distinguish green algae from other things, as I barely know what corals look like at this point. Hopefully tomorrow, and with more practice, I’ll be able to pinpoint my taxon better.

I must note this place is nothing like the rainforest. It almost feels like a completely different class. I must also admit that I am a little nervous about snorkeling and that the reefs slightly freak me out. I am much more terrestrial-y inclined, but I also very much want to learn to enjoy the ocean’s inside. Effectively, my current love of the ocean is superficial, based on outward appearance, and I’d like to get deeper in the relationship—more committed. I’m going to try and really get to know the ocean.

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.

Day 14

The day is done. I think that the entire group is in disbelief. It’s hard to imagine not living 24/7 with these thirteen people always around. I, really all of us, have become accustomed to our daily routine of rising early and exploring the different natural features of Belize. If it were up to me, we would explore the other major ecosystems of this country (the Maya Mountains and the savannah). I would also be interested to see how Belize City differs from Houston, Philadelphia, or other international cities.
Anyway, today was mostly spent quantifying biodiversity on the back reef near to the research station. This means that we spent the morning wading around the shallow area searching for any organism we could find. I was particularly proud of myself for finding a cute, small snail that crawled all of the way up my dive skin. I was less excited about the dead fish that Randy stuffed in my dive skin. We found a least five different types of green algae, a sea cucumber, a sponge, lots of brown algae, red algae, a French grunt, a yellowtail damselfish, a goby, a couple molluscs, and a couple of jellies.
On another note, I did not see that many examples of my taxonomic group. On the brief times that the water was deep enough for us to snorkel, I saw (shocker) a lot of sea fans (Gorgonia ventalina). In the end, I think that I have seen all of the soft coral on the Glover’s field guide. I wonder what the relatively high abundance of soft corals means for the hard corals, in terms of reef accretion. Anyway, this trip has opened up numerous future research topics. I hope to learn more about them in the upcoming semester at Rice.

Patch reef

This morning we all improved our skills clearing our mask and snorkel without surfacing while on a reef scavenger hunt. There were many annelids around but you have to be looking for them because of their small size, and sometimes they were under corals or in crevices. I saw the same star horseshoe worms, but also a light orange-ish christmas tree worm and a brown and white social feather duster. They are beautiful little creatures. I also spotted some fire coral around the patch reef. Aside from the annelids and hydrozoans I saw corals, sponges, sea fans, fish, urchins, barracuda, and a nurse shark today.

This afternoon we practiced using a transect and quadrants to survey things on the reef or ocean floor. It’s tricky but I’m getting the hang of it. We also got the chance to walk to a part of the island covered with thousands of fragments of old, fossilized corals. This was really helpful in practicing identifying them based on their corallites and overall shape. I am ready for what tomorrow has to bring!

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Sophia Streeter

5/26

Day 9

While some may not enjoy days in which we spend most the time in various forms of transportation, especially because they always seem to fail us, I find it to be very calming. After leaving The Education Center Lodge a bit late (classic), we drove across the country yet again to Belize City. I was very surprised as to how small it was, especially seeing as the two cities I live in are Houston and Philadelphia.
Anyway, the next challenge that we had to overcome was the boat ride to the actual marine sanctuary. I was a bit worried about the seasickness. I have previously experienced this on a ferry. In the end, it was not a big deal, a pleasant experience. I am now looking forward to being on the boat as we go on to explore the rest of the patch reefs.
The rest of the day was spent getting acquainted with the research station and the nearby sea grass beds. I immediately saw my taxonomic group (soft corals). My initial impression was that Gorgonia ventalina is extremely common the patch reefs. I also saw many other soft corals, including Briareum asbestinum and several species of sea rod.