Tag Archives: Kelsey 2019

5/29/19 TLDR: Feelings


Prepare yourself for a super long blog that I have been procrastinating posting because I’ve been thinking long and hard about this trip. I’ve written and re-written this so many times; the words just aren’t coming out right. There are things that I have to say, things that I want to say, and things that I can’t properly articulate for my life (don’t worry though, I’ll try). All that to say, good luck reading.

To start, I just spent two weeks in two of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and that was pretty damn awesome. Foremost, it was hard not to notice just how much life was everywhere, and how the strategies competing organisms used were similar in the reef and rainforest. There’s definitely not enough space and not enough resources, and in both ecosystems competitors grow up and over each other to get a leg (or leaf, if you will) up. In the rainforest this meant super tall trees with lots of open underbrush, but in the reef this meant structures piling on top of one another in super dense growths that all blended into one another. Definitely the way things were growing had to do with how biodiverse the ecosystems were and how the individuals had to fend for themselves in a nutrient-poor environment. Also, the shapes of animals and plants stood out to me. There was a precarious balance of broad palms/algae/sea fans to try and maximize surface area for photosynthesis, narrow vines and branching corals to shoot between gaps and crevices to the top for light, intricate structures to try and prevent self-shading, and animals with long/narrow bodies for navigating the brush or the coral.

My favorite part has to be exploring the ATM cave (I did title that day the “BEST DAY EVER” after all). Mostly because after the cave I felt like myself for the first time on the trip. I was sore and tired and hungry but didn’t feel any of those things because I was so overwhelmed with joy. Ask anyone, I was literally bouncing up and down. I don’t think it was the things we saw (although the bats, pottery, and skeletons were cool) but more of the rush of climbing around, the comforting sense of trust and communication amongst my team, and the feeling of being in the river.

Weirdly enough my worst day was also in water, this time saltwater. The worst day was the first day at Middle Caye. We’d done a lot of travelling in the morning and I was nauseous, then we ran through the Mangroves of Death (and you know how I feel about bugs), and then we tried to wade around a patch reef, which to be honest was absolutely miserable. I was trying to stand still and take pictures of the corals but also look for specific things but also kept getting pushed around by currents…and dropped basically everything I was clunkily holding, then had to find it in the churned up sediments while it was getting pulled by currents and I was getting pulled by currents…I was frustrated and I felt awful and I may have cursed loudly and explicitly at the ocean. It wasn’t necessarily what we did, it was just feeling so physically and mentally incompetent (luckily things got way better and my faith in the pursuit of marine science was restored).

I’ve been telling people that this course differed from what I was expecting in ways that I didn’t expect…so what exactly does that mean? Hint: I myself am not quite sure, but I’ll try my best to explain. You might remember that my pre-departure post back in Houston two weeks ago didn’t seem too thrilled about going. I had just finished probably my most exhausting semester ever, but really it wasn’t finished because I was still doing assignments for this class and picking up shifts at work and not sleeping…and I expected to be an anxious, exhausted grump on this trip (with maybe also the optimistic expectation that my expectations would turn out to be wrong). I was exhausted and nervous, but the things that stood out to me were the little things that I didn’t have opinions about while I was doing them. Wearing the same pair of pants for six days in a row, not waking up to immediately check my email, and not having electricity or hot water all seemed normal. Maybe I expected to either have strong negative or strong positive feelings about everything, not to just be…content.

I miss Belize. I miss everything that I got used to. I miss waking up at 5am and feeling like I was doing something meaningful. I miss the schedule (I know it sounds weird, but I accidentally stayed up ‘til 1am last night because we have electricity and it just never got dark…and I wasn’t doing anything really). I miss the noise. I miss the birds in the morning, the howler monkeys, the frogs and bugs at night, the rain, the wind, and the waves. I miss sharing every waking moment with twelve other people who brought so much joy and excitement into my life.

As I sit here, drinking my morning (not instant) coffee with (not powdered) milk, I can’t help but think about how truly awful it is to try and capture something like this in words. The most meaningful things that I learned aren’t in words, but in feelings.

I learned that doing things because I’ll never have the chance to again stopped being the reason after the first time I said it. I got up for birding every day, climbed the bird tower, and hiked and snorkeled at night not because I’d kick myself if I didn’t, but because I wanted to. I learned that I may be a nervous wreck but not-so deep inside I do have a craving for adventure.

I also learned that I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. I had a panic attack in the middle of a hike and kept going, willingly threw my body to the bugs for science, climbed up slippery cave rock-walls, and headed straight into adventure when I couldn’t see what was in front of me. Maybe I could be a field biologist one day, because the things I thought were going to stop me are challenges that I now know I’m ready to face.

Lastly, I learned what I’m excited about. I’m excited about reptiles. Frankly, I want to hold every single snake (they’re big, friendly noodles I swear). I’m excited about boats. Yeah, I get motion sick and being nauseous for the first day or so sucks, but I love the rush of the wind and the ocean spray and being the first person to jump in the water. I’m excited about biodiversity, about finding things and counting things and discovering the mystery that’s out there. I’m excited about making graphs and figures and being able to tell the world what I’ve found. I’m excited about the little things being important. I’m excited…for a future that looks a lot like this.

So, in summation, every day I was sunburnt, exhausted, bug-bitten, nauseous, dirty, sore, anxious, and everything else I was worried about before leaving…but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat because this trip was the affirming, exciting, more-than-I-could-have-imagined, once in a lifetime experience that I hoped it would be when I applied. There aren’t words to express the genuine gratitude and appreciation I have for Dr. Solomon and Dr. Shore, all of the wonderful people who welcomed us to Belize, and all of my classmates for making this trip something I will never forget.

I love all of these wonderful people


5/28/19 Take Me Home, Belizean Roads


If there exists a vehicle, we travelled on it today. We left Middle Caye around 5:30am for a 3 hour boat ride, then took a van to the airport, then took a plane back to Houston, then took a bus back to Rice, then cars back to our various homes (okay so we didn’t ride a train or a bike or moped or whatever other vehicle you might be thinking of right now…I was exaggerating for effect).

I don’t even really know what to say about today. The airport was really small and we got to walk out onto the tarmac to board our flight. On the plane I sat next to Kaela and Brendan. We watched Aquaman. For most of the movie I was looking at all the fantastical creatures and thinking how they almost look like real sea creatures but wrong, then trying to sort them into taxa based on morphological features. Also, the flight attendants came on the PA at basically every critical moment and paused the movie (luckily I found this to be hysterical).

Brendan, Kaela, and I in a “chaotic” row…the last picture I took in Belize

The first thing I did when I got home was shower, then did laundry. I didn’t eat dinner, just went to bed after a long day. Still trying to decide how I feel about being home, and about this whole trip in general, but I’m just a little too tired at the moment.


5/27/19 We Set Sail on a FriendShip


Today I was a human sacrifice. Remember the Mangroves of Death? We ran through them on our first day on the island. Well, today I voluntarily returned to them in the name of science. Today’s project was examining the way marine debris accumulates on the island, asking what washes up and where, so we wanted to have four sample sites on the island…unfortunately the mangroves had to be one of those sites (or else our data would be skewed and insufficient and that’s just not allowed). Kaela, Amy, and I bravely suited up and filled three garbage bags with flip flops, plastic bottles, toothbrushes, ropes, and everything else in thirty minutes (and also had some pieces of a boat that we had to carry separately). In total our class collected almost 4000 individual pieces of trash (and found that it collects mostly on the windward side of the island because currents).

All suited up. Note that my pants are tucked into my socks and I’m wearing a rain jacket to cover as much as my body as possible to prepare for the mosquito’s wrath

In the afternoon was dissected some Lionfish that Dr. Solomon and one of our guides had speared themselves while we were doing various other snorkeling throughout the week. My buddies let me use the scissors so I got to cut up the little dude very gently so we could examine his insides (a great improvement from when I dissected a Perch in middle school, accidentally severed the ovaries, and got eggs everywhere). Afterword our guides made some Lionfish ceviche for us, which was apparently very good but I didn’t have any (fish are friends not food, duh).

Today was the last full day on the island. No molluscs today. Everything was done. After dinner we gathered on the dock and had a little party under the stars. We joked about a contested class loudness scale and watched shrimps swarm the dock. We even saw some rays swim by and a giant Nurse Shark. Somehow it was both the perfect ending yet anticlimactic. It was weird to not be working on a project or hiking or snorkeling or filling every last second with “adventure”. But to end as just friends hanging out on a dock underscored the most valuable aspect of this trip: we’ve all been through so much together, and along the way became, well, friends.


5/26/19 Ask and You Shall Re-sea-ve


Today was very long, but good long.

In the morning we collected sea urchin for a project examining reef health. We used urchins as a proxy for herbivory, which we could then use as a proxy for reef health because increased herbivory means decreased turf/macroalgal cover (and algae competes with coral). Pretty much it was an Easter Egg hunt but for sea urchins, and it was exactly the right mix of goal-oriented and challenging for me. Finding urchins wasn’t the hard part, getting them out of their crevices was. I’m still a little surprised how willing I was to stick my entire arm in a crevice and poke around for a spiny thing I couldn’t see, or to grab an urchin perched next to some fire coral and get my whole hand stung (we got the urchin though, so worth it). We spent the afternoon analyzing our data on numbers, sizes, and species of urchins we collected.

Honestly I was completely enthralled by the urchin hunt and wasn’t even looking for molluscs, but we did run into two. Dr. Solomon showed me an Amber Penshell (Pinna carnea), which was awesome because a living bivalve was the last little guy I needed to complete my set (I’ve given up on finding a polyplacophoran). It was actually kind of funny; this morning I was talking to Dr. Solomon and Dr. Shore and we were making our daily “requests” for the wildlife we’d see (I said I wanted a living bivalve).Then on our way back to the boat I saw a weirdly shaped fish…upon investigating it was in fact a squid, a Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea).

Amber Penshell (Pinna carnea)…not nearly as “amber” as I was expecting
My friend, the Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea)

We finished our day with a night snorkel, which unfortunately wasn’t my favorite. It was cool to be in the water under all the stars, but I really couldn’t see anything underwater. My mask was super foggy and we all clustered together so I kept getting kicked in the face (to be fair, everyone kept getting kicked). Also, I lost my dive buddy early on and trying to find him in the dark was impossible. I spent most of the snorkel looking for my buddy instead of looking at the cool night creatures (found him by the end though, with help).

Our super cool instructors, Dr. Amanda Shore and Dr. Scott Solomon, after our night snorkel

Today was our last day in the water, and tomorrow’s really our last day in Belize. Hopefully we get one last full day of exciting activities and not one full of bug bites.


5/25/19 I Squid You Not


Today we dove in both the morning and afternoon, which made for a very tiring, very seasick day for most of our class. The morning was to sample a second set of MPA/Not-MPA patch reefs for our project, and the afternoon was to explore the forereef while we had calm weather (the forereef is where there’s the most wave action so we could only go in calm conditions)

Many thanks to Brendan for capturing actual evidence of me also snorkeling

Sampling these reefs was a little more difficult because they were deeper than yesterdays. I felt kind of like a shark because I had to swim down and count a bit, then I’d float up, circle, and come back down and count some more (and I must have circled ten times per quadrat…we did ten per site). Luckily our communication was better today, because the water was deep enough that it would’ve been really hard to try and tread water and communicate at the surface. I didn’t see any new molluscs while out sampling these sites, but I did see a Spiny Lobster that I thought was cool.

Team Epiphytes in action, sampling the Not-MPA

The forereef in the afternoon was super cool and an epic battle between breathing and buoyancy (hold my breath so I can dive down for longer or exhale as a I go down so I can go deeper). The forereef is the edge of the reef before the drop-off into deeper waters, and it’s before the reef crest so it gets all the wave energy (which it channels into spur and groove formations). The groove channels were pretty deep (for me at least), but I was able to swim through some schools of small fishes congregating on top of the spur formations. They were beautiful up close. And! Just before we were leaving I spotted two Caribbean Reef Squids! They were in the sand outside the spur and grooves, so I couldn’t get down deep enough to really get close, but Dr. Shore swam down and got a video of them. She got so close that she spooked one, and in her video you can see it change colors then dart away.

Me: *squeals*, shouts “I’m going to go make some friends”, *dives down to get pictures of squids*

I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, but for everyone’s sake I hope the weather stays nice and calm.


5/24/19 So Much to Sea


Today was a pretty awesome, mollusc-filled day. In the morning we used quadrats to measure live coral cover on a reef patch within the MPA (Marine Protected Area) and then on a reef patch outside of the MPA. Then in the afternoon we collecting specimens for our own touch tank!

Brendan and I on the boat between patch reefs

I didn’t see any molluscs within the MPA but I did see a Brain Coral with Black Band Disease. Black Band is caused by a bacterial pathogen; it’s progressive and incredibly distinctive because there’s the live tissue, then a dark band of bacterial mat, then a white band of newly dead tissue, then old dead coral that’s been colonized by algae. I’m a little sad that I saw it, especially in the protected zone, but also excited that I was able to spot it in the wild after learning about it in classes. It was also cool to be able to visualize microbes in action. My topic lecture was Microbes, and one thing that I personally find a little frustrating is that microbes are so small you can’t always see the impact they have so clearly.

Not going to lie, when I took this picture it was because I didn’t think I could be looking at BBD and I wanted Dr. Shore to see it and tell me what it actually was…she was also shocked to see BBD

Outside the MPA we saw a whole bunch of Flamingo Tongue Snails (Cyphoma gibbosum) and I learned that if you scream underwater because you’re excited people will think you’re in trouble. The Flamingo Tongues are super brightly colored and generally easy to find because they’re usually on Gorgonians, so I was turning over sea fans left and right looking for them. Also, not a mollusc, but I learned what Fire Coral is at this patch reef…that was…fun…they don’t like to be touched.

LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL SNAIL! Its bright colors are to show that its tissues are toxic; it sequesters toxins from the Gorgonians it eats. Also, the shell isn’t that bright, its actually white, but the Flamingo Tongue stretches its colorful tissue out over its shell and can retract it when threatened

In the afternoon we got a ton of molluscs for our touch tank! We got four Queen Conchs (Stombus gigas), two of which were very friendly and came out of their shells to slime around in my hand. We also got three Milk Conchs (Strombus costatus), which had broader flatter shells with shorter spires, had a bright red interior, and were not nearly as friendly. We had two more critters in the Gastropod department, but I’m not sure what they were yet. One had a shell that looks like it could be some kind of Murex snail, and the other had a rounded spiral shell with no spire and a circular operculum. Lastly, and most exciting, Kaela caught an octopus and used the guides to identify it as an Atlantic Pygmy Octopus (Octopus joubini). It was very small, had large eyes, and could change colors, but the identifying feature was how long and thin the arms were.

This beautiful bean jumped right out of his shell to be my friend…I will consider no other explanations for this behavior
No seriously. LOOK. AT. HIM.

In only a few days we’ve found so many molluscs, but the search isn’t over. We still have to find a sea slug (I keep picking up algae thinking it’s a Lettuce Slug and being disappointed), a living bivalve (I keep finding sad empty shells), and a Caribbean Reef Squid (we already have a Cephalopod, I just want to see this one).


5/23/19 Caught in the Crosshairs


Today was better. Communicating with my buddies is still hard, my mask keeps fogging, and some water inevitably always getting caught in my snorkel, but maneuvering is a little easier in the deeper water. Yesterday I was getting really frustrated trying to stand in one place with my feet anchored to the ground, but today I just had to kick a little and float in the same place (the same place being sort of relative).

Also, remember how before I left Houston I said I wanted to learn how to use a quadrat effectively? We’re definitely working on that here at Glover’s. We spent the morning using line transects and quadrats to measure coral skeletons from rocks/other things at a coral graveyard on the other side of the island (yay stability on land). Then in the afternoon we took our transect tape and quadrats out to a seagrass bed and measured seagrass vs algae vs other things in the ocean. We counted all the things under the crosshairs of the quadrat (the places where the strings intersect). I thought writing on the clipboard or staying still enough to count would be the hardest part, but actually the hardest part was getting our transect tape to stay in place in the sand.

Team Epiphytes in action! This is Pierce using the quadrat to count seagrass and algae cover, then giving hand signals to Michael who is writing down the data on waterproof paper. I’m taking the picture

After measuring the seagrass beds we got to swim out to a patch reef for a little bit (keep in mind it took us nearly 2 hours to do the measuring, now we’re voluntarily in the water longer to see these reefs). At the patch reef I saw my mollusc of the day: a Queen Conch (Stombus gigas). At least I think it was a Queen Conch based on shell size/shape. Usually you would also use shell color pattern to help identify the mollusc, but this guy’s shell was completely colonized by algae so I couldn’t see if it was the characteristic orange/pink.

One of may future “tag yourself” memes Brendan captured

Tomorrow we’re taking our quadrats to the next level: measuring a patch reef!


5/22/19 Ocean Blues


Unfortunately, today was not my favorite day…which was probably definitely not that bad, but disappointing because I was so excited for the reef. We spent pretty much all morning on a small boat getting here, which I got a little nauseous and a little sunburned on. Then in the afternoon we tried to snorkel, but we had a whole bunch of problems. My mask kept fogging up (probably because I’m still not very good at not breathing through my nose), I kept losing my buddies, and writing notes/taking pictures/general functioning were near-impossible tasks in the current. Also, we got ravaged by mosquitos while crossing the Mangroves of Death. I am sore and sad, but still optimistic about the next few days we have here on Glover’s Reef. A good night’s sleep and some nice weather tomorrow will hopefully make things better. Making quadrats after lectures tonight was fun, and I’m excited to use them on the reefs.

Also, we saw some molluscs! There were a whole bunch of little snails on sea fan. Based on their shell shape/pattern I think they might be a type of Cerith snail, but they were really small and my picture isn’t great. I’ll see if I can consult some field guides in the coming days to get a better ID.

Unidentified snails on a dead sea fan in the seagrass bed

I miss my reptiles, but luckily they’re not totally in the past. There’s a ton of Spiny-Tailed Iguanas, Common House Geckos, and Anoles roaming around Middle Caye.




Today was AMAZING. It was basically a reptile-a-palooza, we explored the ATM cave system, and we got to tour the Belize Zoo at night!!!!!

One the road while leaving Las Cuevas we saw a fer-de-lance!!!!! What’s a fer-de-lance? You may know him by one of his many other names: lancehead, terciopelo, X-snake, yellowbeard, tommygoff, or Bothrops asper. He’s known for being large, aggressive, and venomous. Then, on the hike to the cave entrance we saw so many reptiles, like almost as many as we saw this whole past week in the rainforest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures because we weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the cave. We saw three small anoles, a Teiid lizard, a helmeted basilisk, and a striped basilisk. Then after exploring the cave we saw two iguanas while we were eating lunch.

Apparently I’m one of those people who is super carsick but then gets excited about seeing an enormous venomous snake and feels better

The ATM Cave (name is in Maya, but it roughly translates to Cave of the Stone Sepulcher) is known as one of the most amazing caves in the world, for good reason. We got into the cave by swimming in the water that was flowing out of it, and we swam in that river for almost the entire time navigating the cave. It was nice and cool and dark. There were lots of rocks to climb over, narrow crevices to pass through, and a few tiny waterfalls we had to slide down (note: some people were more graceful than others at doing these things…and I was not among those some people). I was having an amazing time just being in the river, but we were also right in the middle of a Maya ritual site full of broken pottery and actual human sacrifices. We saw a nearly complete human skeleton (and also some bats).

I was already having an awesome day from the cave, but then we went to the Belize Zoo at night and everything got better. I GOT TO HOLD A BOA CONSTRICTOR. Remember like a week ago back in Houston when I said I wanted Dr. Solomon to let me hold a snake??? Okay it was in a zoo but still. AND I GOT TO PET A TAPIR WHILE FEEDING HIM A BANANA. The best way I could possibly convey how epic this zoo tour was is by saying that we got to see a jaguar that was trained to do somersaults, and yet I decided other aspects of the tour were more exciting and deserved to be written in all caps.

This is Balboa the Boa Constrictor and he is absolutely precious

Honestly, BEST. DAY. EVER.


5/20/19 fANTastic


Today was the longest and most tiring day yet…as evidenced by the fact that we all took a nap at 11am. We spent the morning collecting our camera traps from our first day in the rainforest, and it was exhausting. Dr. Solomon told us that it would be easier the second time…but that was false. We did get all the traps though! And we saw Spider Monkeys! And on the way we saw some reptiles! We saw 2 skinks: neither of which I got a particularly good look at. I didn’t see the first one at all but Cassia said it had a blue tail and yellow lateral stripes, so I’m near certain it was a Sumichrast’s Skink (Plestiodon sumichrasti). The second one I did get to see, but as it was running through the grass. Based on its general color I have some ideas, but I’ll have to break out a guide book and take a closer look at the picture Kaela took get a better idea.

No good reptile sightings for me today, but this Spider Monkey was pretty cool

In the afternoon we finished processing the data from the Azteca Ants/Cecropia field project, which was pretty much inconclusive. After that we learned about Leaf-Cutter Ants by excavating their nests. Unfortunately we had to disrupt the nest, destroying their hard-worked architecture and invoking the wrath of enormous soldier ants trying to protect their colony. It was cool to the see the fungus that the ants cultivate inside their nests though.

Today was our last day in the rainforest (yay we survived). I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, and I’m excited to go to the reef. Tomorrow though we’ll be seeing the ATM cave and seeing the Belize Zoo, so not time for the reef quite yet. I’ll certainly miss my reptiles though.