Tag Archives: night snorkel

Urchin Huntin

May 26, 2019

Possible urchin hiding spot?

Another good weather day, and another project to be done. Today we examined the difference in sea urchin community structure in and out of the marine protected zone. We decided to log the species, number of each species, and the size of individual urchins (via diameter of their round bodies called a test) at patch reefs in and outside the MPA. Our first stop was actually the MPA reef we went to on the first day. Each group was given a pair of tongs and picked a different direction to start in. We had 30 minutes to catch as many sea urchins, and as soon as Professor Solomon yelled “GO!” it was a mad dash to the coral. Scanning every nook and cranny took some time, but the urchin spines would eventually come into focus and you would have to squeeze your hand or tongs in the crevice to grab them. I grabbed several small Reef Urchins and a West Indian Sea Egg (an urchin with a large center and short white spines).


After logging the data, we released the urchins and it was onto the next site. The next site was out of the MPA, and had more Long Spined Urchins (have long black or white striped spines and are a little venomous). I also noticed a Bicolor Damselfish protecting its territory from me as I tried to un-lodge an urchin from the coral. It was quite colorful, with a yellow and black front half which fades to a white back half. This small fish, which can at max grow to a measly four inches in length, was trying to charge at me and chase me away from its patch of coral. It did not take too kindly to me trying to take a sea urchin from its home and kept flitting about, trying to get me to leave.


The day ended with a short night snorkel after dinner. Surprisingly, I felt no anxiety or trepidation when jumping into the dark water. The highlight of the night was a Spotted Eagle Ray gliding into view from the darkness. It was an eerie and ominous sight, as it seemed to just appear out of the dark. After swimming for a good while, we reached the patch reef and immediately saw multiple Spiny Lobsters out and about. There was a large trunkfish meandering across the sand, and what looked to be a Red Hare (snapper) sitting on the bottom.



Passenger Fish

May 26, 2019

Today we started and completed a whole new experiment. To look at sea urchin community structure (and the indications it may have for herbivory and reef health), we went out and collected sea urchins in a bucket and recorded the species and diameter of each urchin.

During the search, I noticed several new hydroids! I saw what I believe to be a lot of Box Fire Coral (Millipore squarrosa), which is the third and last species of fire coral that I found to be common in the Caribbean.

I also spotted some Kirchenpaueria halecioides, a small hydroid that gets up to about one inch tall (see photo below) in addition to a possible Feather Bush Hydroid (Dentitheca dendritica).

Much later in the day, we got back in the water for a night snorkel. It was fun, but my dive light went out, and we were all way too close to each other – I think we were all paranoid about losing the group. When I got back, I found a tiny little fish inside my swimsuit. It must have somehow made its way into my skintight dive skin and swimsuit, but nothing can surprise me at this point.

26/05/19 Urchin Searchin’

We began the morning with a survey of sea urchins in patch reefs (in and out of marine-protected areas). We collected urchins in a bucket, then identified them by species and determined the diameters of their tests (in centimeters). We found long-spined urchins (Diadema antillarum) (don’t touch!), slate-pencil urchins (Eucidaris tribuloides), reef urchins (Echinometra viridis), and a few West Indian sea eggs (Tripneustes ventricosus). Although I was hesitant to jam my hand into small crevices in the coral to retrieve these spiny creatures, I had fun catching the urchins while simultaneously discovering how stubborn they can be. Some of those sea urchins were really wedged into their crevices and would not budge.

Bucket o’ urchins!

We collated our data into a poster, then transitioned into lectures on  crustaceans, hydrozoa, cubozoa, scyphozoa, ctenophores, and climate change and its effect on coral reefs.

We ended the night with a night snorkeling session from the dock to a patch reef nearby (which we got lost on the way to). It was a surreal experience. In the brief time that we were out in the water, I did not get to see much, but the creatures that I saw —including some tasty-looking lobsters—were vastly different from the ones that I normally see during the day. Our limited field of vision under water made for an invigorating experience, like when sting rays appeared and disappeared from darkness.

Talking Trash

Today was really cool because we brought a clear conservation viewpoint into our projects. In the morning, we created a project about marine debris. We had a dual purpose in this: beach clean-up and exploring the composition of marine debris on the windward side of the island.

In total, we picked up 41.22 kg of debris in an hour, and we barely scratched the surface of the trash that was washed up on the shore. By mass, almost 50% of the trash was plastics, but styrofoam also made up a large proportion of the debris picked up. Overall, the sheer amount marine debris found is quite disturbing, especially knowing that much of it could come from landfills.

After lunch, we braved the mosquito mangroves to explore another part of the back reef. Here, each group of two used quadrats to measure a single coral colony that had also been measured the year before. Hopefully we will be able to use these measurements to determine whether or not the colonies have been growing over the past year.

Middle Caye
Middle Caye

In terms of piscivorous fish, I saw a few identifiable species today. Most of these were seen during our night snorkel, which was super fun! Some species included squirrelfish, a tarpon, a porgy, and an invasive lionfish (whose venomous spines I almost swam right into). Overall, the night swim was probably my favorite snorkeling activity so far!

The Professor Who Cried Mosquito

Ocean view of “mangroves of death.”

It sure is one thing to learn about conservation, but seeing it in action is a whole other story. And this morning’s experiment was really all about doing conservation. After learning about marine debris, we spent the morning on a task that was part data collection and part beach cleanup. In just an hour, we picked up an incredible 90 pounds of trash. But the real kicker is that the same beach is cleaned every week, so everything we collected today had accumulated in just one week. Talk about mass consumerism.


In the afternoon, we tackled the much-awaited “mangroves of death.” Prepared by horror stories of mosquito clouds in years past, we were ready to sprint through the mangroves, snorkel and all. But our mangrove run turned into a leisurely stroll, as we encountered a total of zero bugs. A classic case of the professor that cried mosquito. 


After our safe passage, we said a tearful goodbye to our quadrats with one last coral experiment. We conducted our study on the back reef just beyond the island’s shoreline, where I saw much fewer herbivorous fish than on the patch reefs inside the atoll. The corals in this area seemed much more spread out and covered less area, which might explain the smaller number of fish.


To wrap up, we did our first night snorkel today. The reef is a whole other world at night; instead of seeing brightly colored parrotfish and small damselfish darting among the corals, I found a whole slew of other creatures. Some notable sightings included several huge spiny lobsters, a Nassau grouper, a yellow stingray, and several Caribbean reef squid. However, I did also find what looked like a blue tang surgeonfish (Acanthurus coeruleus); it had the characteristic spine on its caudal fin, but also had thick, vertical white stripes over its blue coloring.


To summarize, this is what I learned today: the ocean is filled with our trash; don’t use Styrofoam; and the reef is pretty damn cool in the dark.

Marine Debris Cleanup + Night Snorkel

Happy Sunday everyone! We just got back from an exciting night snorkel out on the patch reef. It was exhilarating to see how different the patch reef looked at night compared to how it looked when we had gone out during the day. While we were there tonight, I identified a tiger tail sea cucumber (Holothuria thomasi) hidden under some large mound corals. Though only about a foot and a half of it was visible, I could tell there was more of its body going under the corals. I also identified a couple donkey dung sea cucumbers (Holothuria mexicana) by the sandy areas near the bases of some large coral colonies and a red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa) buried among the sand.

A red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa) buried among the sand
A red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa) buried among the sand

Going back to the beginning of our day, we spent the morning cleaning up marine debris along the windward side of Middle Caye and analyzing the types of debris that we found. Interestingly enough, we found very few plastic bags, lots of children’s toys, and equal trash bags full of Styrofoam and plastic (although plastic made up 50% of our collected debris by weight). Among the fourteen of us, we collected about 91 pounds of debris in an hour. That sounds like a lot, but there was still so much out there that we weren’t able to pick up.

Marine debris
Marine debris collected from the windward side of Middle Caye

It astounds me that the amount of debris that we collected had accumulated in a week (the people here at Glover’s do weekly clean-ups) and that so much of it travels here due to the Gulf of Honduras circulation patterns. With that said, I think we all came away from the experience with higher expectations for ourselves to try to do our part in terms of recycling and using more sustainable products. It was definitely an eye-opening experience and was especially interesting for me since I had just given my lecture on marine debris the night before. Anyway, that’s all for now everyone! I’m going to try to catch the sunrise tomorrow. 🙂