One of the most striking similarities in between the Rainforest and the Coral reef, is the sheer number of microclimates that each organism has specialized into. Both the rainforest and the coral reef have such wide levels of biodiversity because each organism has adopted a tiny niche. Both environments also exist in a nutrient deficient state. The rainforest has low nutrient enrichment in its soils. The coral reef also exists in a low nutrient environment. Both exist in states of nutrient deficiency due to a high turnover rate and the sheer number of organisms that need those nutrients.
The rainforest and the coral reef seem to have very similar structures. I have observed that the canopy of the rainforest is similar to the hard coral structure of the reef. Both the canopy and the hard corals support large amounts of life. However, there is even more life teeming underneath in the crevices of the coral and in the understory of the rainforest. By setting pitfall traps and shifting the dead coral pieces while looking for urchins, I got to see a whole new side of both environments. I learned that there is a huge diversity of invertebrates on the forest floor and that for every organism I see on the surface of the coral reef there are ten more underneath.
One of the major differences that I have noticed in the rainforest and on the coral reef, is that the rainforest appears to be more stratified. The organisms in the rainforest that exist in the canopy are rarely found on the forest floor. On the other hand, the fish that are swimming above the coral reef at one moment can be found in a crevice the next. I believe that the water filled environment of the reef allows for greater movement of organisms between the different sections of the coral reef.
I expected that I would really enjoy EBIO 319, but would prefer the marine part of the course! However, I ended up loving the rainforest section equally as well as the marine. Furthermore, I didn’t really expect our class to click as well as it did. I think that by the end of the trip, we all had become good friends. On a side note, I expected that I would leave the rainforest as one giant mosquito bite. However, I didn’t get a single mosquito bite while in the Chiquibul. Similarly, I didn’t expect the rainforest to be so cold. I had to put on a sweatshirt most mornings in the rainforest.
My favorite part of the course was the ATM cave. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done! I also loved designing our own experiments and applying them in the field. I loved that we were given the freedom to see what worked and didn’t work in each study. My least favorite part of this course was of course leaving. I wish that I could stay in Belize forever. I also didn’t love the Christmas tree worm study, but that was primarily due to the very low density of worms!
While I know that I won’t remember won’t remember the details from the presentations or taxon briefings five years from now, I will remember some of the most important guidelines to being a TFB. Rule number one: When you are in the field, things will inevitably go wrong. You must always be prepared for a change in plans and to think of a way to fix a problem like using a vine to tie a camera trap to a tree. Rule Number 2: Always carry a headlamp, a snack, and water! You never know when you will be making it back to base camp and should always be prepared to spend the night in the woods. Rule number 3: always bring plastic bags! There were countless times on the trip that I found my self wishing for a plastic bag to hold wet clothes or to organize equipment. The most important thing I learned is that I love doing field work and want to pursue become a tropical field biologist in the future!
This morning Jordan, Isaac, Damien, and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:45am to watch the sunrise. Although waking up was a little difficult, the sunrise was worth it. The sun was very large and red as it crested over the horizon.
Today, we left Glover’s reef and that was very sad. But I am excited for our week in the rainforest. As we were boating back to Belize, we stopped at Carrie Bow Cay, the Smithsonian research station just inside the Great barrier reef. Clyde the station manager gave us a quick tour.
Then, we were off to swim in the mangroves. WE SAW A MANATEE ON OUR WAY INTO THE GROVE!!!!! Then, we got out and walked around the mangrove and got sufficiently covered in peat. We then snorkeled up the mangroves. I saw a baby Banded Butterfly fish and a few bright orange starfish. At the end of the mangroves, we found a bright yellow seahorse! It was a great way to end the marine portion of our trip. We then continued our trek back to Belize city and ate at a restaurant called Calypso. There lime juice was amazing!
We then got back in the bus and drove to TEC! After checking in, we went for a short hike around the station. I did not see any amphibians on the hike but we saw a ridiculous number of epiphytes!
After dinner, we went to the Belize Zoo for a night tour. While waiting for all the groups to arrive, but it hopped away before I got a closer look! Inside the zoo, I got to feed a Tapir! It was really cool. We also got to see four out of the five large cats of Belize. My favorites were the Ocelot and the Jaguar. The Ocelot, Rayburn, was really cool because when the zoo keeper gave him a piece of chicken he made an adorable NOM NOM NOM sound! The Jaguar, Junior, was raised by hand from a cub. When we arrived at the cage, he did multiple somersaults for treats! It was really cool to see all the animals at night in a semi natural environment! After we got back from the zoo, Scott brought me a large cane toad!
Today was an incredible day! We spent the morning snorkeling and doing reef zonation. We started the day in the Channel. Immediately, I almost ran head into a nurse shark. I was diving down to look at some cool coral and a nurse shark came around the corner about a foot away from me. A little later, we saw a sun spotted eel hiding in the coral.
Then, we went to the aquarium. It was super shallow compared to the channel, but was still really fun. We saw a blue irradescent flounder and a few more nurse sharks free swimming around the reef. Then, we went to a patch reef off Middle Caye. I saw lots of puffer fish and a huge brain coral.
I saw lots of herbivorous fish today! I saw a new parrot fish munching on the coral. I think it was a Red banded parrot fish. Today, was the first day that I could hear the parrot fish’s teeth scraping the algae off the coral. I also saw a huge school of Acanthurus coeruleus (Blue tang surgeonfish).
After lunch, we dissected the lion fish that Scott and Javi caught throughout the week! It was really cool. Mine and Tian Tian’s fish was a large male! After collecting physical measurements of the fish, we made ceviche. It was the best ceviche I have ever had! We took ceviche to one of the other islands and watched the sun set.
Today was one of the best snorkeling days. We started the day snorkeling on the back reef. We were doing a diversity study and were trying to collect as many species as possible. There were so many different organisms. Immediately, we stumbled across a baby nurse shark hiding in the seagrass. A few minutes later, a spotted eagle ray appeared and swam by us. I have decided that my favorite fish are a porcupine fish and a trunkfish. They both look like they shouldn’t exist and are defying nature. While searching for the different species on the reef, I saw some very large lobsters.
On the back reef, I also finally saw all of the herbivorous fish on my taxon sheet. I finally saw the juvenile Pomacanthus paru French Angelfish and a Juvenile Pomacanthus arcuatus (Grey angelfish). The final fish I saw was a Acanthurus chirurgus (Doctorfish).
At around 10:40, we got back with all of our organisms. While sorting through the all the material, I discovered a baby octopus sliding toward the drain. I quickly scooped him out and placed him in a bucket. When he entered the bucket, I saw him ink a cute little splotch of black ink. We also found some fire worms, brittle stars, and lots of crabs.
For most of the afternoon, we did data analysis and presentations. But after we finished everything, we went for a quick snorkel before dinner. The water was really rough but it was really fun! We saw a really huge nurse shark! Today, was really fun!
After breakfast today, the water was very choppy so we could not go out on the reef. Instead, we did our presentations in the morning and learned about Mollusks, Annelids, and crustaceans. Next we went through the mangroves of death which were very un-deathy to get to a patch of back reef. There were a few mosquitos, but they were not huge swarms of biting insects. While on this reef, we were looking for Christmas tree worms and were trying to measure host preference. Unfortunately, there were very few Christmas tree worms on this reef. The current and waves were also very strong. While on the reef, I saw a Caribbean squid and lots of fire coral.
While on the reef, I continued to see lots herbivorous fish. The parrot fish on this reef were also bigger then on the little patch reef off the dock. I saw for the first time the intermediate stage of the Blue tang.
I continued to see Sparisoma Viridi (the stop light parrot fish), Chaetodon Striatus (Banded butterfly fish), Chrysiptera parasema (the yellow tail damsel fish), Stegastes paritus, the Bi-color damsel fish, and Scarus Croicensi (the striped parrot fish, initial and terminal phases). I see the parrot fish species and the Chaetodon capistratus (the four eye butterfly fish) the most. While this is very antidotal, I preserve these species to be more abundant.
After lunch, we did data analysis and of the Christmas tree worms. Although our data sample was small, we saw a slight preference for Christmas tree worms on brain corals. Next, we designed an experiment to analyze what types of marine debris are the most prevalent. We picked up trash from the beaches and mangrove areas. There were a surprising number of shoes and toothbrushes washed up on the beach. We found a little hermit crab within the trash that was using a bottle cap as a shell. It was very sad. Once we counted and weighed all the different types of trash, we had free time for the rest of the night.
Tonight, we say on the dock and put dive lights under the water. We saw a crocodile, a possible shark, and a few stingrays. It was really nice just to relax for the night and watch the stars.
We began the day by continuing our comparison of reef health in the marine protected zone and the non-protected zone by measuring the urchins we had collected the day before. As a group, we collected 144 in the protected area. After, we performed another graudrat and transect experiment on a reef outside of the protected zone. There was definitely more sea grass and macro algae present in this region then in the protected area. The benthos was covered in red coralline algae and there were lots of Ctenophores (cone jellies) floating around. One jelly road around on my mask for a while. When we collected urchins from this reef, we were only able to find and extract 60 urchins. While snorkeling around the reef, I saw my first nurse shark of the vacation hidden under the coral. I also saw lots of worms and brittle stars while searching for the urchins.
While on the reef, I saw a large number of herbivorous fish. For the first time on this vacation, I saw the terminal phase of the Sparisoma Viridi (the stoplight parrot fish) and Chaetodon Striatus (Banded butterfly fish). I continued to see all the other herbivorous fish mentioned in previous blog posts. In the Non-MPA reef, the fish tended to be bigger especially the parrot fish and the blue tangs. I believe that this is primarily due to the fact that this reef was deeper than the MPA reef. This was also the first time, I saw a school of Blue tangs and surgeon fish swimming around the reef picking macro algae.
After our experiment, we ate lunch and began our poster write up for the experiment. It turned into a 4-hour long catastrophe. Our final project turned out pretty good, but the road to getting there had many ups and downs involving many calculation errors. Let’s just say that basic arithmetic does not mix well with the heat and high levels of exhaustion. I have never laughed more about math in my life.
After, dinner we listened to presentations on green, red, and brown algae. One of our marine safety officers gave a talk on Belizean culture that was very interesting. Finally, I gave my presentation on the factors affecting coral reefs today and in the future.
After breakfast this morning, we went crap hunting. We began to learn how to use a quadrant and transect tape on land. Quickly after completing our intro experiment, we leveled up and performed a similar experiment on the patch reef. During this experiment, I saw my first upside down jellyfish. There were hundreds of them in a sandy region near the grass bed. Occasionally, the jellyfish would float up like little aliens blooping around until they drifted back down to the bottom.
After lunch, we got to go on a boat ride to visit a patch reef near the back reef. Woo! We performed a very similar transect experiment over the patch reef. Then, we went urchin hunting! This was my favorite part of the trip so far. I felt like I was on a treasure hunt peering into the coral crevices. I also spotted a few light grey and blue brittle stars in my hunt for urchins.
Today, was another good day for herbivorous fish! For the first time, I spotted Pomacanthus arcuatus (the grey angle fish) in the deeper reef. I also identified Chrysiptera parasema (the yellow tail damsel fish) and Stegastes paritus, the Bi-color damsel fish. I continued to see Stegastes variables (the Cocoa damsel fish in the adult and juvenile phases), Chaetodon capistratus (the four eye butterfly fish), Scarus Croicensi (the striped parrot fish, initial and terminal phases), and finally Sparisoma Viridi (the stoplight parrot fish, juvenile and initial phase). I saw all of these fish swimming around clumps of coral. Each species was usually swimming in pairs except for Stegastes paritus and Chrysiptera parasema which were typically alone. For the majority of the time, the fish were picking bits of algae off the coral or out of the sand.
Mosquito bite count: 85! (this means I am winning right )
Today was a busy day! We woke up at 5 am to get on the bus to go to Glovers Atoll. After a short drive, we arrived at the dock and met our marine safety officers, Javier and Adalfo. We then took a three-hour boat ride to Glovers. The boat ride was a lot of fun! Once we got outside the Great Barrier Reef of Belize, there were huge swells on the boat. A very large sea (approximately 6 feet wide) turtle popped up near the boat to see us. We also spotted lots of brown algae, a few pelicans, and possibly a flying fish.
We arrived at paradise, aka Middle Cay island at approximately 10:40am. We toured the field station and ate lunch. After lunch, we got ready for our first snorkel adventure. We snorkeled directly off the pier of middle cay on a patch reef. There were so many different organisms. I saw one of the largest lobsters I have ever seen peeking out of a hole in the coral. I also saw a yellow stingray swimming above the reef.
On the reef, I saw so many herbivorous fish!!! The first fish I saw was, Acanthurus bahianus, commonly known as the ocean surgeon fish. I also saw the adult form of Acanthurus Coeruleus, the Blue tang surgeon fish with the characteristic yellow caudal spine. The next herbivorous fish I spotted was Chaetodon Capistratus, the four eye butterfly fish swimming above the reef. I also saw Stegastes variables, the cocoa damsel fish, which is primarily yellow with a blue dorsal region. I identified Scarus croicensis, the striped parrot fish, in the initial and terminal phases. The last herbivorous fish I saw was, Sparisoma Viride, the stoplight parrot fish, in the Initial and Juvenile phases. I feel like I notice so many more herbivorous fish now!
After our snorkel trip. We hiked to the coral graveyard and learned how to identify different coral species from their calcium carbonate exoskeletons. I now see coral in a whole new light. I can’t wait to try to identify some of the corals tomorrow.To end the day, we ate dinner and listened to two presentations on Echinoderms and Hard Corals. We also learned how to make a quadrant!
I am very excited for this trip to Belize. I think that it will be an amazing experience through which I can learn a lot about the coral reef and tropical rainforest environments. I haven’t had any experience with tropical rainforests, so it will be fascinating to see this environment up close. I expect that this course will be a very fun and enriching experience even though it involves a lot of hard work and early mornings.
I hope that I will be able to find and identify the amphibians and herbivorous fish that I learned about for my taxonomic briefings. For my topic lecture, I learned about the multitude of different factors affecting coral reefs today and the techniques that are being used to study them. I hope that I will be able to apply this knowledge during our time at Glovers.
The only thing that I am slightly nervous about are the mosquitos. Although we are traveling in the dry season and mosquito populations should be small, they always seem to find me. I hope that I will not come back from this trip as one giant mosquito bite.
I hope to learn more about the realities of doing field research in the tropics. I am still trying to decide what I want to do in the future. I believe that through this trip, I can get a better understanding of how to perform tropical research and hopefully decide if I want to become a marine biologist or go into medicine in the future. I believe that this trip will show me both the positive and negative qualities of becoming a tropical field researcher. I am the most excited to learn how to apply field research techniques on the coral reef and in the rainforest.
Fortunately, I have visited the tropics and Belize before. All of my immediate family members are avid scuba divers and we have taken family diving trips in Cancun, Florida, and Bonaire. It will be very interesting to learn more about the coral reef which previously I have only admired for its aesthetic beauty. A few years ago, my family took a trip to Belize, but we primarily stayed on the resort. I am excited to stray away from the more touristy parts of the country. Overall, I can’t wait to experience everything Belize has to offer.
Our final day in Belize dawned bright and early, as always. With sandwiches and snorkels in hand, we said our final goodbyes to the palm trees and composting toilets of Glover’s Reef and made our way out of the atoll. Our first stop before Belize City was Carrie Bow Caye, a Smithsonian research facility housed on a speck of an island in the Caribbean. We were able to meet a crab researcher that’s been studying the incredible diversity of Belizean reefs for over 30 years at Carrie Bow.
We then stopped at Twin Caye, an aptly named mangrove island that’s split in two by a channel. We first walked and then snorkeled through the muggy mangroves, carefully picking our way through their stilted roots. Mangroves may just look like odd trees from above the surface, but underwater they’re an important habitat for sponges and act as fish nurseries. I wasn’t able to identify any herbivorous fish species, but the mangrove roots were swarming with tiny juvenile fish for this reason. I even saw an adorable baby barracuda! (I think this trip has given me a new definition for cute).
And with that, we were off to the marina in Belize City. After an incredibly long lunch at the infamous Calypso restaurant, we made our way to the airport. Before I knew it, we were waving goodbye to this beautiful country, several bottles of hot sauce heavier than when we arrived.