Tag Archives: lionfish

Day 14: Symbolic Sunsets

Things are winding down here in Belize. It’s our last full day here and I can’t comprehend how quickly the time has passed.

This morning, we started out by dissecting lionfish that Scott has been finding and spearing these past few days at the reef. Lionfish are invasive species, meaning that they were unnaturally reduced to the area around here. Because this ecosystem didn’t evolve with lionfish in it, these guys don’t have any natural predators here, and the native fish don’t recognize lionfish as a threat. This means that lionfish can gorge themselves on helpless native species without fear of predation.

Because of all this, killing and eating lionfish is actually encouraged here! Even all the vegetarians on this trip tried the lionfish – they are detrimental to the environment, after all! We first took measurements of each specimen to contribute to a database about lionfish. In the individual that Claire and I dissected, we found a mostly undigested fish still in its stomach!

Scott made us some delicious ceviche using the lionfish after we finished the dissections. Made for a nice (and eco-friendly) snack!

After lunch, a few of us headed out for one last snorkel on these incredible patch reefs. Today was a great day for lobster sighting, as I spotted 5 large Caribbean spiny lobster hiding in caves in the reef. We also got the chance to watch the colorful ecosystem of the reef one last time before we head out tomorrow. And we finally spotted a starfish, a type of Echinoderm, in the sea grass. I hadn’t seen one yet out in the field, so I was super excited when Jessica spotted it on the way back! It was a cushion star, quite plump and with spiny orange skin. Its tube feet suctioned to my skin.

This afternoon was purely an afternoon of fun and relaxation, which was a strange but welcome change of pace. Apparently it’s an old tradition of TFBs past to travel to a nearby island, Southwest Caye, to hang out at the bar and enjoy the island. We spent a happy afternoon sitting on the dock, dancing to Belizean music with one of our marine safety officers, Rose, and exploring the island.

I was pretty skeptical at the beginning of this course about becoming comfortable with my classmates on the trip. But by now we’ve been the grossest and smelliest of our lives together, experienced nature at its best with each other, and picked ticks off of each other’s backs like gorillas. And later tonight, after we returned to Middle Caye, we had a short group meditation session led by Scott.

I guess it’s impossible to experience these things together without becoming good friends.

Today has been a bittersweet day, for sure. I can’t believe we’re leaving this place.

Last sunset in Belize.

 

Why must good things come to an end? 

  • Why must good things come to an end? 

    Today was a day of many lasts: snorkeling at Glover’s Atoll, sitting at the pier with the squad, and interacting with the lion fish. The post-Belize depression will be real but I will be sure to return to this lovely, peaceful, and unbelizeable place (credit: Sami).

    First things first: food was amazing today. After dissecting the lion fish we have gotten from the surrounding reefs, Chef Scott turned the white meat fish into a delicious bowl of ceviche, lime-marinated fresh fish mixed with diced onion and tomato.

    10/10 would eat again!

    Even the vegetarians helped finish the fish, an environmental friendly act due to the lionfish’s devastating effect on native fish species. Nonnative to this region, the piescivorous lion fish feed on smaller fish that are native to the region, at a disproportionally high rate. This causes up to 70% decrease in 

    native fish populations.

    A similar trend can be said of brown algae, Sargassum seaweed in particular, which has crowded out large populations of coral because of its ability to grow from dissembles parts of itself and its tolerance to hot water.

    At the Southwest Caye of Glover’s Atoll, we hung out at the resort and savored the beverages that the Caribbean had to offer, including Belizean pineapple Fanta which instead of using corn syrup as sweetener uses cane sugar. We noted the amount of conch shells on the island and thought about the regulations in place at this region for conch fishing. We hope they weren’t collected from restricted fishing zones, weren’t undersized, or caught during the mating season. 

    As our pilot research project has shown, marine protected areas support more corals and number of species, which can be worthy contributions to the coral reef ecosystem. Illegal harvesting of conch would instead be a detraction.

    In the waters around Southwest Caye, we observed the abundant sargassum seaweed. They are especially obvious because of they float free on the surface of water. Under water around the patch reefs near Middle Caye, I saw a lot of lobophora and White scroll algae. Most of these algae communities are near or inside coral communities, and share their habitat with many species of fish, spiny brittle star, and anemones. If one made a conclusion about the role of algae in the coral reef ecosystem from these observation, it may be that algae seems to be living in good relationships with its neighboring corals. However, comparing the algae and coral compositions of today to that of the last couple decades, the correlation between algae growth and coral decline can be alarming. We wonder if our grandchildren will see the corals that we got to see today.

    For about a week now we have been coordinating  a group mediation.

    Alas, tonight we meditated together as a class and some of us mentally prepared ourselves for the end of what feels like an era.

Day 7: Introspection (05/22/2017)

Today began with at 4:45 with a sunrise – the first I’ve actively watched in years. I watched it alone, some much needed time to reflect. I felt sheer gratitude to witness such a glorious sight at such a special location.

Later in the morning, my class and I boated out to three different reefs. The boatrides were spectacular, displaying discrete shades of blue. There was a crisp turquoise above sand patches, a deep muted turquoise above patch reefs, a dark royal blue across the horizon, and an electric, almost synthetic looking cerulean a short distance from the boat.

Each reef we visited had it’s own character and noteworthy residents. The first (“The Channel”) had mounds of corals in deeper water. A notable sighting was a cluster of three large gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus) that moved in tandem.

The second reef (“The Aquarium”) consisted of shallow depths and very active fish. Two noteworthy sightings were a flounder under sand and a stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) that burped up algae.

Today’s final reef was the same patch reef we visited yesterday and on our fist day snorkeling. The reef appeared more visible and felt easier to navigate. The most unusual animal seen there was a pufferfish (Family Tetraodontidae).

I searched all three reefs for echinoderms. On the seafloor, I found a couple urchin skeletons, maxing at about two-inches in diameter, but nothing significant. Today’s lack of echinoderm encounters is likely because I did not overturn any rubble to look for them.

The afternoon was spent dissecting lionfish our instructors caught during earlier reef visits. It was interesting learning about how invasive species, like the lionfish, have had such harmful effects on ecosystems. It is truly astounding how many ecological and environmental issues humans have created.

Pterois spp. about to be dissected

The world is so big, and I am just one of seven billion humans, which belong to one of six million animal species. Gazing at the sun inch its way across the horizon compels me to think about my place in the world. What issues do I regularly encounter? Do I choose to intervene? How?

Only time will tell how I will respond to the world’s future issues, but until then, I can take time to think. Today, it took a sunrise to force my to take time to introspect. Ordinarily, I constantly look and listen and study, but it is rare that I pause and think critically about the world’s issues and my role in their causations and solutions.
That is something that I want to change.

Day 14: Revisiting back reef and lionfish

This morning we spent an hour on the back reef on the northeast side of Middle Caye. We had visited the area on May 28th, but this time we went to collect all of the biodiversity of the zone that we could. Most of what we were able to collect was algae because it is usually stationary and safe to touch. We also collected some mollusks and crustaceans. A lot of the hermit crabs that we found in the water were occupying old conch shells, which shows how large they were. It was interesting to compare how the live conchs and hermit crabs in conch shells looked when they were retracted. Our jellyfish expert, Sam, found dead box jellyfish floating near the shoreline and collected them even though their tentacles are very dangerous to touch.

We collected a lot of the species of algae that I had already seen last time we visited the back reef, but it was good to consolidate the data. Overall we collected samples of Halimeda incrassata, H. opuntia, Dictyosphaeria cavernosa, Penicillus capitatus, Rhipocephalus phoenix, Udotea conglutinata, U. flabellum, Caulerpa cuppressoides, C. racemosa, and possibly Chaetomorpha linum. It was difficult to tell the difference between the Penicillus species because some seemed to have a slightly flat top or a slightly bigger top than the descriptions of P. capitatus that I was able to find in the literature. I am not sure that the filamentous algae that we collected were C. linum. They seemed similar to the description, but I couldn’t completely rule out other species.

Halimeda spp.
Halimeda spp.
DSCN1429
Dictyosphaeria cavernosa
DSCN1431
First five: Penicillus spp.; last two: Rhipocephalus phoenix
DSCN1428
Caulerpa cuppressoides (top) and C. racemosa (bottom)

In the afternoon we dissected lionfish to record their dimensions and what they were eating. We had caught 4 lionfish, and the individual that my group dissected had puncture wounds in its face from the spear. The most difficult part of the dissection was attempting to sex the fish. Ultimately my group was not able to determine where the gonads were, so we couldn’t tell whether it was a female or a male. We opened up the lionfish’s stomach and found a much smaller fish that was barely digested. The lionfish was 19cm from mouth to the tip of the tail, and the ingested fish was 2cm long. Lionfish stomachs can expand to 30 times their empty size, which made the stomach of our individual comparatively empty.

Dissecting the lionfish
Adrienne cutting the poisonous fins off of a lionfish

By this time tomorrow we will all be back in the United States. Tomorrow promises to be a crazy day, and I’m looking forward to end the trip with the same spirit that we have had throughout our time here.

Wrapping up

Our last day at Glovers has been bittersweet. We wrapped things up by collecting specimens from the backreef and bringing them into the wet lab for sorting and identification. While I did see several split crown feather dusters they are not the kind of thing you can remove from the reef without killing the organism because of how they attach to the substrate. However, we collected several fish, blue crabs, tiny brown crabs, all kinds of green, brown, and red algae, mantis shrimp, jellies, clam shells, and a huge hermit crab.

Yesterday we collected data on specific coral colonies for a long term study. We measured live coral coverage, and today we looked at the data for the same corals taken last year to compare the results. We found that coverage seemed to have decreased at the sites, but it was hard to tell because of discrepancies in data collection. Lastly, we dissected lionfish that were caught throughout the week to look at size, sex and stomach contents to get an idea of what the population of this invasive species looks like in Glovers atoll.

I wish I had more time on the reef and in this course. Middle caye and the surrounding reefs are beautiful and I feel like I could stay here for a long time. I may be salty, all my laundry is filthy, and I definitely have a whole new threshold for dirty, but I’m still happy as a clam.

RSCN2864

RSCN2868

DSCN2793

Sophia Streeter

5/30

Lionfish, Day 14

So today we went to the back reef for a very brief period in order to essentially say goodbye. I felt very sad swimming through the shallow patchy reef, realizing I won’t be on a reef until next year. I said goodbye to the stony corals. But as a last gift, I got to see four amazingly large queen triggerfish, and then I was content.

We traipsed through the shallow flats for a spell to find some interesting critters and organisms from our taxon assignments. Some of my favorite critters were the large hermit crab, the mantis shrimp, blue crab, and sargassum algae.

Then came the lion fish dissection. We caught a total of four lionfish. We weighed the lionfish, measured total length and standard length, had the spines cut off by Adrienne, measured the gape width and height, and then dissected the fish. Specifically, we wanted to look at stomach contents, weigh the fatty parts of the fish, and then sex the fish. My group had trouble finding the gonads, so we couldn’t sex the fish.

After that, we went to Southwester Caye for a fun excursion and then packed up and headed to bed.

Lionfish
Lionfish, taken shortly before being speared

Sunrise + Lionfish + Tourist Tiki

Hi everyone! The sunrise was absolutely beautiful today. The 4:45 am wake-up was definitely worth seeing the sun peeking through the clouds on one side of the island and a perfect rainbow in the sky on the other. I’m going to try and watch it again tomorrow before we leave. 🙂

The rainbow  gently curving out of the clouds
The rainbow gently curving out of the clouds
A sensational sunrise
A sensational sunrise

This morning was spent in the back reef collecting as much biodiversity as we would find and analyzing the health of some corals that had been measured last year to see if the number of live colonies had increased. While we were at the back reef, some exciting things happened. I identified both some live red heart urchins (Meoma ventricosa) and their empty tests in the sand among the seagrass as well as a few more donkey dung sea cucumbers (Holothuria mexicana). I also saw a chocolate chip sea cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus); all of these sea cucumbers were also in patches of sand between coral colonies. The other news I have to share from the patch reef was my sting from an anemone, which burned like fire for a while but now has reduced to a dull throb (tip from the locals: soak stings in vinegar).

What once housed a red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa)
What once housed a red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa)

After lunch, we dissected some lionfish to examine their stomach contents and watched one of our marine safety officers, Herbie, make ceviche out of it. We then took a boat to a tourist island with an adorable tiki hut on the water. All in all, it was a really great day.

A lionfish, captured for dissection and ceviche
A lionfish, captured for dissection and ceviche
Beautiful view from the dock
Beautiful view from the dock just outside the tiki hut

So Long, Glover’s

DSCN4365
Doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus).

Our time in Belize has nearly run its course, and while I’m excited at the prospect of a hot shower, I can’t believe how quickly two weeks have passed. For our final day at Glover’s Reef,
we set out to find as much diversity as possible in the back reef close to the shore of Middle Caye. In my final snorkel here, I found a
huge number of herbivorous fish. Ocean surgeonfish (Acanthurus bahianus) and doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus) swam right past me in pairs and groups, and I found an abundance of cocoa damselfish (Stegastes variabilis) in between the corals. I also saw several French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru), a large black and yellow fish that feeds on algae, as well as some invertebrates.

DSCN4360
Cocoa damselfish (Stegastes variabilis).

We also collected a number of species from the shallow seagrass beds by the shoreline and sorted them by taxonomic group. Using just nets, we were able to catch two yellowtail damselfish (Chrysiptera parasema) and another fish that I believe was a species of goby. We ended the morning by presenting a colorful array of macroalgae, echinoderms, jellyfish, and mollusks.

 The afternoon’s activity was our long-awaited lionfish dissection. We were only able to capture four specimens of the invasive species, but each one was dismembered and analyzed by its stomach contents. Hopefully, the more we can learn about the lionfish, the better we can manage its invasion of the Caribbean.

For the perfect ending to our last day on the reef, we visited Southwest Caye, another island inside of the atoll. From the comfort of the dock, I watched the sun set on my Belizean adventure (at least for the time being).

Day 14 Already??

I can’t believe that today is our last full day in Belize. While I am excited to take a warm shower and have clean clothes, I am also incredibly sad that this amazing experience is coming to an end.

Today’s activities began with a snorkel in the sea grass beds and back reef on the left side of the island. Even before the swim started, I saw two species of piscivorous fish at the dock: a small nurse shark swimming about, and a school of needlefish. Once on the back reef, I also saw French grunt, bluestriped grunt, squirrelfish, and a very cool houndfish that was about two feet long.

A larger nurse shark seen earlier in the trip on the fore reef
A larger nurse shark seen earlier in the trip on the fore reef

During this morning snorkel, we also collected a bunch of samples of different organisms in order to be able to look at certain species more closely. The only piscivorous fish collected was a poor French grunt that had accidentally been speared during an attempt to catch an invasive lionfish.

After analyzing some coral monitoring data from yesterday, we got to dissect lionfish! My group’s lionfish was quite small, but still cool to look at. The fish are being made into ceviche as I write this!

We ended the day with a visit to another island of Glover’s atoll, Southwest Caye. It’s amazing how little of this amazing environment we’ve been able to see, even with a whole week of exploring. Guess we have to come back!

Day 12: Fore reef, back reef

DSCN1293
Fore reef diversity with Orbicella annularis

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.

The huge ray we saw
A huge ray swimming along the ocean floor (Photo creds: Anna)

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

DSCN1372
Caulerpa and Penicillus on back reef

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!