Tag Archives: Quadrats

Day 10: Turns out, not all sponges live in a pineapple

today’s general agenda: morning land skeleton activity —> seagrass & patch reef exploration —> presentations! 

A way that biologists use to quantify and address questions about corals reefs is through using transects and quadrats. Basically, it is a measuring tape and a square! The idea is that you can lay down quadrats over a certain distance and make general observation about the reef. To practice these methods we were brought to a graveyard… a coral skeleton graveyard! Spoopy! 

We put on our imaginary goggle, pretended all the coral skeletons are live corals, and proceeded to counting them. We practiced using the transects and quadrats, and, while we were getting used to the techniques, I was actually fascinated by just how much coral skeletons there were. A lot of these coral skeletons may have eroded over time, but they generally still retained a defined shape. 

Anna and I counting corals PC: Dr. Solomon

In the afternoon, we once again headed out to the open water. This time, we are using the quadrats and transects to describe areas containing seagrass and algae. As a beginner in snorkeling, I tried my best trying to stay afloat, but I somehow keep getting water into my goggles. At one point, my goggles were entirely filled with water. Salty eyes! After being in the water for two hours and the last group to finish, Anna and I were completely exhausted. We, however, decided to celebrate by swimming to a nearby patch reef and observing coral reefs. Being able to see corals and an entire patch reef invigorated me, and I am more determined than ever to get better at snorkeling. 

Finally, the sponge-department, I present to branching vase sponges (Callyspongia vaginalis)! If you look closely, you will notice the ridges along the sponge. Sponges help filter water and recycle nutrients in the ocean, and they certainly do not live in a pineapple under the sea. 

branching vase sponges!

Brendan Wong

Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, Belize


Day 9: AhhHhHhHhh!!

today’s general agenda: travel to Glover’s Reef —> Test snorkeling —> scavenger hunt —> presentations! 

On a scale from 1-10 with 10 being “I’M fREaKinG oUT aHHHH,” I think today was definitely an 8. 

After three long hours on the boat, we arrived at Glover’s Reef Research Station either a shade tanner or burnt. We got to meet Kenneth, the station manager, Annett and Jamel, our cooks, and Herbert and Javier, our guides. We also had the greatest pleasure of meeting CLIVUS, the water-less, composting toilet. Because the station is predominantly powered by wind and solar power, we had to be extra mindful of energy we consume.

Dr. Solomon and Dr. Shore on the boat ride to Glover’s Reef

Now that we’re at Glover’s, I have shifted gears and am now the “sponge” expert. Without much delay, we got suited up in our snorkel gear to test our gear and explore a nearby patch reef. Everything seemed fine until my gear started to malfunction. My snorkel tube would randomly close, preventing me from breathing smoothly. I was surprised how easy things can spiral downwards. I accidentally drank saltwater and I could feel myself get progressively more dehydrated. Luckily, we got back to shore and fixed my gear. In situations like these, I realized just how important it is is to remain calm.

Later today, we got to explore some coral colonies in shallow water. Sadly, I did not see any sponges today, but it was definitely exciting seeing corals for the first time. Moving forward, I am hopeful that my snorkeling experience will improve and there will be more sponges!

I counted 22 Anna’s. Introducing buddy pair Anna and Brendan. PC: Dr. Solomon

Brendan Wong

Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, Belize


First Day at my Atoll (Day 2)

As neat as the Belize City Airport and the Tropical Education Center were, today is when the real fun stuff started. We woke up at the crack of dawn to meet our boat in Belize City and were on our way by 8. The boat trip was idyllic because the skies were completely clear and the ride was very smooth. The water was a mosaic of different shades of blue, and we could see Mayan Mountains on the horizon. In terms of wildlife, we first saw flying fish and a green turtle. The green turtle sighting was especially special, and he was huge!

The scenery of the boat ride out to Glover’s.

Actually being at Glover’s Reef is pretty wild because I’ve been wanting to come here for so long. Actually diving here is equally wild because it’s the first time I’ve been on a reef with any grain of legitimate knowledge whatsoever with regards to reef life.

After touring the island, eating, and getting settled in the cabins, we did a little “scavenger hunt” on a patch reef to make sure everyone was comfortable in the water. That was quite refreshing after 22 hours of feeling sticky. I saw a lot of stony corals, gorgonians, vase sponges, seagrass, and herbivorous fish all over the patch. Some of the highlights of things that I saw were an Angelfish, a Barracuda, a Manta Ray, and a Feather Duster Polychaete.

A massive coral, with a feather duster worm on it’s surface.

While all these things were quite neat, they could not compare with the Green Algae that I saw!! (I am obligated to be excited about green algae for the duration of this trip but they actually are kind of exciting). Since they were in the sand, rather than on the reef itself, I could get really close to the algae to examine them without worrying about kicking and harming any organisms.

I saw a few species that I know were types of Penicillus. I immediately recognized some Rhipocephalus phoenix when I swam up to it because it really did look like a pinecone! I think I also saw some Penicillus pyriformis. Then I saw an Udotea algae that I think was Udotea flabellum, but it didn’t quite match what I was expecting for either of the Udotea species I had on my card.

Udotea flabellum in the foreground, and Penicullus pyriformis in the background.

Later on, I saw some Halimeda that I guessed may have been Halimeda discoidea. I know for sure that it was Halimeda because I found calcium carbonate Halimeda chips around it.

Halimeda algae. If you look closely in the sand, you can see some Halimeda chips as well.

After the snorkeling, Adrienne took us back to a big heap of coral skeletons on the other side of the island. Apparently it’s super rare for there to be so many skeletons so well preserved and so easily accessible, so that was neat. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as excited in a graveyard before as Adrienne was.  It was a good way to practice identifying stony corals and to clarify the differences between species with similar morphologies by comparing them side by side.

Two of the coral skeletons we saw in the skeleton pile. I think the right one is Pseudodiploria labarinthaformis.

In the evening, Jordan lectured us on the Stony Coral taxon group which bettered our familiarity a bit more. Mikey lectured on Echinoderms which was a lot of new information. I didn’t see any Echinoderms today, but now that I know what to look for I think I’ll be able to spot some tomorrow.

The last thing we did for tonight was make the quadrats we are going to use tomorrow. That was not particularly noteworthy except for the fact that I got my very first wound of the class by stabbing my thumb with a pair of scissors. The trauma was minimal and I’m expecting to survive but I’m sporting a nice little Bandaid for now.

Quadrats and the Coral Graveyard

Our first day out on the reef started with a scavenger hunt. We search for all sorts of reef creatures and their various interactions on the patch reef just beyond the island. Many species of herbivorous fish feed on algae here; I was able to spot another blue tang surgeonfish and several species of damselfish. Damselfish can be seen patrolling their gardens, which are small patches of algae that they feed on. I found cocoa damselfish (Stegastes variabilis), dusky damselfish (Stegastes fuscus), and threespot damselfish (Stegastes planifrons). The patch reef also contained a number of initial phase striped parrotfish (Scarus croicensis) and even a brightly colored stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride).

Mandy inspecting a carefully placed quadrat.

The real science started when we learned the art of using transects and quadrats to collect quantitative data on the reef. We began on land and then transitioned to an exploratory study of green algae (spoiler alert: we didn’t find any).

We finished the day with a visit to what can only be described as a coral graveyard. Coral skeletons litter the shore of Middle Caye, their polyps perfectly preserved due to mineralization. We studied the common reef species, using the dead corals to learn their morphologies and create a search image for the reef. Though I’ve visited reefs before, I’ve never been able to do much more than say that corals are colorful. Thanks to our grave digging adventure, I’m now able to appreciate the diversity of corals and might even be able to name some of them.

Sunset from Middle Caye.

And then, with a beautiful sunset in the background, our first day at the reef was done.