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.
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.
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. 🙂
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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
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!
Seeing a giant animal passing by fills a heart with amazement and respect to the sublimity of the nature. Today we entered the deeper sea outside of the reef where the high waves hit. The deep blue, depth, the high wave made sharp contrast with the shallow emerald water we have been diving into. Gazing down to the massive reef structures far down, I was filled with both fear and respect. Then there appeared an eagle ray. Its length must be as long as myself and it gracefully flapped its wings above the floor.
The strong waves outside the reef were enough to exhaust those inside and make those on the boat suffer seasickness. The sun shot down on our exposed skin. Overall the diving in the deep sea we experienced the strength of the nature.
Later in the afternoon, we went out to the shallow waters. I always overlooked the uniform seagrass floor of the shallow water but soon great biodiversity carpeted under the water that only came up to my waist. Vicious looking barracuda with size of my arm lurched silently, similar sized lobsters peeped their long antennae under the reef, and great diversity of fish swam around well structured reef. Of course brown algae was everywhere. Among the prairie of seagrass patches of forkweed and scroll algae. There were Turbinaria too, mostly growing on reef structure, as expected.
Among the reef were lionfish. They are vicious invasive predators that will devastate the native ecosystem. We were out there to catch them and contribute to the ecosystem by making them into lionfish ceviche. Their stripe pattern wwas pretty I must say, but the venomous spikes were intimidating. We caught four of them and hopefully will become a great ceviche for tomorrow.