Tag Archives: lionfish

Trash…a lot of it

May 27th, 2019

 

Today started off with probably the most crushing activity that we had done thus far, marine debris (trash) collection at different sites on the island. I chose to be in what we call the Coral Graveyard, a site that is on the windward side of the island near the open ocean. I expected to find a lot of trash, but what I saw just dumbfounded me. Even on an island 28 miles offshore, there’s still so much plastic, Styrofoam, and other things that accumulate on the shoreline. At the end of our collection time (which was only 30 minutes) we had filled a large trash bag to the brim and still saw so much trash that we didn’t pick up. I even found a hermit crab stuck in a bottle, completely out of its shell. It seemed like it was roasting alive in the bottle. Another group found a hermit crab using a plastic bit as its shell.

To lift spirits, we performed a lionfish (which is an invasive species) dissection after. The dissection was fun and very interesting. My group was able to sex our lionfish (which was an immature male), and cut open its stomach to examine the contents. Fortunately, our lionfish hadn’t had a meal recently. Lionfish are piscivorous and tend to eat small fish, which many herbivorous fish are. Since the lionfish has no predators in these reefs, they can reproduce quickly and thus eat more fish. If the herbivorous fish populations decrease too much, then macroalgae could overtake coral populations and outcompete them. This is why, as a little PSA, it’s important to not release your aquarium fish or other pets into the wild as they can become invasive species and can severely damage an ecosystem.

Some caught lionfish

Day 14: You must be lion.. something smells fishy

Today’s general agenda: Project Marine Debris —> Coconuts! —> lion fish dissection 

Our final project involves a little giving back to Glover’s Reef Research Station. We were looking at marine debris around the research station. Essentially, we turned beach clean-up into a research project! We wanted to examine which area of the island would have the most trash and what material makes up for all the trash we collect.

Dr. Shore, Bella, and I picked up a total of 700+ pieces of trash. We found everything from plastic bottles, toothbrushes, Crocs, etc.. We found mostly plastic and styrofoam debris. our group even found part of a metal fan. Knowing we were at such remote location, I was terribly shocked by how much trash that accumulated on the island. Trash can travel so far that even places that are seemingly untouched can be affected by it. 

My biggest takeaway is that the effects of trash on our environment can often feel very distant and removed. I certainly feel that way sometimes.  A plastic bottle goes into the recycling bin..then that gets taken somewhere…and then somewhere.. and the poof! no longer on your mind. I encourage you all to try cleaning up the beach at least one time to better understand how trash can impact our environment, and, hopefully, we can work towards more sustainable practices. A shameless plug: bring your own drinkware to Rice Coffeehouse! 

Picking up Marine Debris

In just six short days on Glover’s Reef, I was able to get more than 60 bug bites from mosquitoes and sandflies. On the flip side, we also got to eat some invasive lionfish and drink some coconuts. At the dinner table, we talked about what would be the first thing we were going to do once we got home. Some people said they would pet their cats, dogs, or possums, and I know I will be taking a *hot* shower for sure. 

Lionfish cevice! This invasive species is delicious

Brendan Wong

Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, Belize

5/27/2019

Lionfish Guts

May 27, 2019

Today, we cleaned up marine debris on the island. Part of the experiment was looking at the amount and composition of trash in different areas of the island, so three brave souls (Kaela, Amy, and Kelsey) volunteered to cover the Mangroves of Death.

After going through the collected marine debris, Scott brought out some coconuts, and we got to try fresh coconut water and coconut meat.

In the afternoon, we dissected the lionfish that Scott and Herbie speared a couple days ago. This involved estimating sex and reproductive maturity of the fish and then identifying its different organs. When Liz and I opened the stomach of our lionfish, we found a whole undigested fish in it! We identified it as a juvenile slippery dick.

Stuck on Comb Jellies

May 25, 2019

Today was a big day for Scyphozoa and Ctenophores, otherwise known as true jellyfish and comb jellies respectively. When we unloaded at one of our experiment locations, we had to quickly get back into the boat when we realized Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) were everywhere (they can deliver a painful sting), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take a picture first.

There were also a lot of comb jellies (unknown species). These jellies look similar to jellyfish but are actually from a completely different phylum and use sticky cells called colloblasts to catch prey rather than stinging cells like jellyfish. This is why Amanda was able to safely hold one in her hand.

Eventually, our marine safety officer Herbie found a reef that wasn’t infested with jellyfish. While he was checking the area, he said he saw lots of squid and lionfish. I didn’t end up finding any squid myself, but I did get to watch Herbie spear one of the lionfish – they’re invasive to the Caribbean and eat a lot of important herbivorous fish populations.

Later, we went to the forereef, which was much deeper than the patch reefs inside the atoll. I got to see some living elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), a nurse shark, several southern sting rays, and a very linear group of small squid.

27/05/19 I’m not lion…I had fun.

Today is our last full day of class since tomorrow is just traveling! We began the morning with a fun activity—cleaning up the island! We took trash bags out, geared up with long pants tucked in socks, shirts tucked in pants, jackets tucked in rubber gloves, and picked up garbage at four different sites around Middle Caye—the mangroves of death, the coral graveyard,  the Glover’s Reef dock, and the touch tank. I, along with Pierce and Keegan, picked up trash at the coral graveyard for 30 minutes. My hands pruned up with sweat, but the coverage was worth the mosquito protection.

 

Some interesting garbage found:

-lots of plastic bottles, lots of plastic bottle caps

-plastic utensils

-many sole-mate less sandals (ha!)

-Crocs

-baby doll leg

-stuffed animal

-LEGO

-toothbrushes

-rope

-2 hyperdermic needles

-a crab using a round bottle as a shell! Trash Crab!

Then, we had some coconut water, coconut meat, and lionfish ceviche—just doing our part to remove invasive species. The lionfish that I dissected was a 79.1g virgin male, and we found a whole, un-digested juvenile slippery dick wrasse in his stomach! The wrasse itself was at least 3 centimeters, maybe even 4. What a cool find!

Lionfish of genus Pterois beside the slippery dick wrasse (Halichoeres bivittatus) found in its stomach

We had our last lectures for the course on annelids and the history and culture of Belize given by our wonderful guides Herby and Javier—they were excellent and they will be missed so much!

Thank you Glover’s Reef Research Station for a fantastic week! Now, I’m prepared to head on home.

25/05/19 The Chummiest of Friends

This morning we completed (you guessed it) more transects! Again, we went out to two patch reefs, one in an MPA, one not. The first patch reef (within an MPA, nicknamed ‘the Aquarium’) contained lots of fire coral hidden in the coral we were attempting to survey. Weaving the transect tape and manipulating the quadrad was especially hard with the stinging fire coral around, especially since the water was so shallow—there was a limited amount of space above the reef through which we could float. At one point, I was floating directly on top of fire coral—a precarious situation. At (what was intended to be) the second site, there were moon jellies floating around, so we decided not to complete our transects there and opted to move to a different non-MPA site for our final transects. The final area that we decided on to be our non-MPA site was full of lionfish (yum! that’s my taxon!) and squid! After completing my transects, I watched Herby spear a lionfish that was hiding deep within the coral. I am excited to eat these lionfish at a later time.

In the afternoon, the class took the boat out to the fore reef, where we saw the reef drop off, sponges, and bigger animals in general, however, many of us (myself included) fell ill and could not properly appreciate the majesty of the reef in our conditions.

Seasickness

We ended the night with lectures on Anthozoa (non-reef building zoanthids, corallimorphs, and anemones), marine mollusks, and threats to coral reefs (of which there are a lot).

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.