Tag Archives: Red Algae

Pre-Departure: Belize here I come!

This morning I got the notification that our flight to Belize is less than 5 days away. I have never been to Belize, and in fact, I have never really been out of the country on a trip like this before,  so I am definitely excited. Ah! My first trip to the tropics!

Sitting on my couch watching Blue Planet episodes of the tropics in HD has given me some pretty high standards for the beauty of these places, so I have high hopes for what I might encounter. Also, I totally plan to channel my inner David Attenborough for this trip. However, I am still a little nervous about how it’s going to go.

I am the taxon expert for arachnids and green/red algae. My family thought it would be funny to make me watch the 1990 movie Arachnophobia in preparation for my trip. Let’s just say that I found it…. a little… less funny. I have never really been scared of spiders before, but last night, I had a dream I was attacked by a giant spider,  so it is safe to say I am a bit wary.

I have done my best these past few months to ensure that I am prepared for this trip. Aside from the packing and organizing of all the snorkel/rainforest gear, I prepared myself through the taxonomic research, the readings, and the creation of the presentations. I am hoping that I can identify both arachnids and algae in the field.  My biggest worry for the trip is that either Dr. Solomon or Dr. Shore is going to ask me about a certain organism and I am going to stare blankly back at them like a deer in headlights. I have my fingers crossed that this won’t be the case! Not to mention, I have had to mentally prepare myself for the humidity we are going to endure. For this trip, I am most excited about experiencing fieldwork for the first time. I have always been limited in learning about the natural world from books, videos, or short field trips, so 14 days in the tropics is something I am looking forward to. It feels like it has been centuries since I first started dreaming about doing fieldwork. Overall, I hope this trip will give me some insight into what a career involving fieldwork might be like, and if this could be a career path for me. I think it will be, but you never know until you try it.

On a final note, I grew up on the Texas coast my whole life which makes me accustomed to one thing: murky ocean water (Thank you Mississippi river sediment!) So,  I cannot wait to put my feet into the ocean and be able to see my toes clearly!

 

Wish me luck!

-Bella

Brown Algae, Red Algae

Day 4 of Beach Days

Today occured in sort of a reverse order: we processed sea urchin and coral data from yesterday, presented our finding, taught ourselves about tropical biology taxonomic groups and went to the ocean.

One of the interesting interactions in marine life is one between the chub crab and brown algae. Chub crabs depend on epiphytes (organisms growing on alga) for their diet and the algae benefit from having epiphytes growing on its thallus (the entire body of an algae). While in the ocean, near a reef crest on our island, I was surprised to see this interaction in play. While looking for crustose coralline algae (a red encrusting algae that grows on corral rubble), I turned over rubbles and saw this interaction before my eyes: a tiny 2 cm blue-greenish crab picking off green dots of epiphytes living on top of red algae the size of my palm. Another aspect of crustose coralline algae is that it supports a number of animals that utilizes algae as habitat. Within mounds of these algae are 2 E. Leu sea urchins and 1 brittlestar that hid within pyramids of algae.

Back at the wet lab of our research station, I presented to the

Live Sargassum fluitans floating above sea grass

class 12+ species of red and brown algae, many of which I did not expect to see here, and many of which I realized were different species only after I had collected and viewed the specimens with greater detail and attention at the lab. After an incredible dinner of shrimp and rice, we heard our wonderful marine safety officer talk about Belizean culture. Despite its current political situation with Guatemala, Belize has been one of the most peaceful countries in the region and has been a destination for many victims of civil wars in the surrounding area. By the end of the class, we learned a couple phrases in the common unofficial language of Belize: creole. To say “what are you doing?” you would say “wat yu d do?”.

Instead of “yes” you would say “yeh mann”.

Day 15: Farewell, Belize

This morning we bid farewell to Glover’s reef. We then took the boat to Carrie Bow, a nearby Smithsonian research station. There was a couple living at the station for the month as managers, and apparently it’s relatively easy to land a volunteer station manager position at the station. That sounds like an awesome way to spend a month.

Next, we went to an island completely covered in mangroves. We walked a little ways through the island and saw lots of young fish using the mangrove roots for protection. We then snorkeled around the island. The water was pretty murky, but I did find some sort of branching, calciferous red algae covered in sediment. I didn’t want to dive down to look at it because the seafloor was also covered in upside-down jellyfishes that flip over and bob around when you kick too close to them.

I am on the plane, flying back to Houston. It’s hard to believe that in just a few hours I will be in an air-conditioned home, take my first warm shower in 2 weeks, and change into clothes that were washed in a machine instead of a sink. This will definitely be nice, but I can’t say I’m super excited to return to the city. Belize is such an amazing country and I can’t wait to return some day.

IMG_3910

Day 14?!

I can’t believe that this trip is already coming to an end. It seems like just yesterday we were 16 people crammed into a 14 passenger van, filled with excitement and ready to begin our adventure.

We spent today wrapping up a variety of projects from the week. In the morning, we went out onto the fore reef to collect samples to take back to the wet lab. We found many types of algae, crustaceans, mollusks, and other species. As far as red algae, I saw tubular thicket algae, Galaxura rugosa, and Amphiroa fragilissima. I also found crustose coralline algae growing on the back of a hermit crab. It looks like I’m not going to find a tunicate on this trip.

DSCN1500

In the afternoon we dissected the lionfish we caught earlier in the week. Ours was a male with a surprisingly large fish in its stomach. After the dissection, we made lionfish ceviche.

This evening we visited a resort on a nearby island. It was really interesting to hear the stories of other visitors on the island, and we got to watch a spectacular sunset from the dock.

DSCN1537

Day 13: Beach Cleaning and Night Diving

 

Today we did a joint beach cleanup-marine debris study. We collected over 90 pounds of garbage in an hour, and only touched a tiny section of the island. The amount of garbage that covered the beaches was truly horrifying. The beach is made up of coral skeletons, and from afar it was looked relatively pristine. However, weathered Styrofoam looks surprisingly similar to coral, and in some spots the beach was nearly half Styrofoam. Plastic bags are generally the target of anti-pollution campaigns, so I was very surprised that we found very few. Instead, we found large amounts of Styrofoam, countless bottle caps, shoes, toothbrushes, and even a few syringes and injection vials. When we returned, we learned that they do a beach cleanup every week, so everything we had collected had washed up less than a week ago. If hundreds of pounds of garbage are washing up on this tiny, uninhabited island weekly I can only imagine how much worse the situation is in other areas. IMG_3898

We couldn’t possibly go 2 days without our quadrats, so we took them out to the back reef to take 3-dimensional data on stony coral coverage. The class last year took the same measurements on the same colonies, so it will interesting to see how the colonies have changed in the past year. While on the back reef, I saw several species of red algae, including Tubular thicket algae and Amphiroa fragilissima. I also found something that looked like red algae, but it was yellow with pinkish tips. I still haven’t seen a tunicate.

DSCN1503After dinner, we had a very interesting presentation by the Belize Fisheries Department. Then, we went on a night dive. I was so surprised how different it felt to snorkel without in the dark. The entire reef felt more calm, and we saw lots of species that we never see during the day. Tomorrow we are doing “aquatic jazz.” Can’t wait to see what’s in store for us 🙂

Day 12: Open Ocean Adventures

I might finally appreciate the vastness of the ocean. This may sound obvious, and I’ve always known that the ocean was huge, but I don’t think I ever really understood what that meant. This morning we went to the fore reef, which was far deeper than anywhere I’ve swam before. Although the water was crystal clear, I couldn’t see the bottom in many places, and in most directions there was nothing but blue for as far as I could see. It hit me that although I was awestruck by the apparent limitlessness of this ocean, I could only see a tiny speck of the ocean on a globe. I know I’ll never fully understand how large the ocean is, but at least now I have some perspective on its immensity.

Eagle ray

We saw many incredible species today. On the fore reef, we saw many large rays, including a spotted eagle ray that was easily longer than I was. We also saw some large, highly endangered elk horn coral. After lunch we snorkeled out to the back reef and saw a large barracuda and caught several invasive lionfish. I didn’t see any tunicates, but I did find nearly all the calciferous red algae species I had researched. Tubular thicket algae and Amphiroa fragilissima were quite common on the sea floor, as they were in the unprotected patch reef yesterdat. I also found crustose coralline algae covering some patches on the reef framework, and a few Galaxura Rugosa plants as well.

Day 11: Sea Urchins and Shooting Stars

Today we took a boat out to snorkel a little farther from the station. We visited two patch reefs, one in the Marine Protected Area and one outside of it. At each reef, we measured stony coral and macroalgae cover to learn about the reef’s health.   In addition, we collected sea urchins at each site, to learn about their relative size and abundance. Urchins are important for reefs because they feed on macroalgae, but they also bore into stony corals. If they become too abundant they can do more harm than good and fragment the reef framework.

We haven’t finished our data analysis yet, but some differences were immediately apparent. The stony corals in the marine protected area were much larger and denser, and the sandy patches between corals were often bare. In the unprotected area, large stony corals more spread out and the reef was dominated by soft corals. Most of the area we surveyed was sand rather than reef. These areas were full of sea grass and red algae, contrasting sharply with the open areas of the protected reef. I still haven’t seen a tunicate, but I saw several species of red algae. The most common, tubular thicket algae and Amphiroa fragilissima, covered the sea floor in the unprotected area.

DSCN1479

This evening we put a light out under the dock, hoping to attract some interesting species. We only attracted minnows and shrimp, so eventually we turned off the light and looked at the stars instead. Lying on our backs, watching shooting stars, was easily my favorite part of today. We usually keep pretty busy, and it was so nice to have the chance to step back and fully appreciate this beautiful place in which we live.

Day 10: The reef adventures begin!

DSCN1469 (1)

Today was our first full day on the reef! This morning, we swam to a nearby patch reef to see what we could find. The reef is home to such a wide variety of species, from large flounder nearly invisible against the sand to tiny, brightly colored damselfish aggressively defending their algae gardens. It’s a little tricky to distinguish red and brown algae, but I identified Spyridia filamentosa, Laurencia papillosa, and Galaxura rugosa.

In the afternoon, we worked in the sea grass beds to practice using transects and quadrats underwater. We set up a 100-foot transect in the sea grass, and then counted the number of green algae plants that we found in our quadrat every 20 feet. We didn’t find any green macro algae on our transect, but it was still good practice for a more complicated project tomorrow.

Before dinner, we hiked a little ways to a different beach that was covered in well-preserved stony coral skeletons. We used these structures to practice identifying the stony corals we’ll see on the reef. As we were walking back in the sunset, it really struck me how incredible this place is, and how lucky we are to be allowed to use it. Aside from a small team of staff, we are the only people on the entire island. Glover’s may not have AC or a fancy swimming pool, but it’s far more beautiful than any resort I’ve ever seen.

Day 9: Turf to Surf!

This morning, we went to the Belize Zoo to see everything in the daylight. In addition to the animals we saw last night, we also saw a jaguarundi and a harpy eagle. Fun fact: harpy eagles look exactly like hippogriffs from Harry Potter! We then drove to Belize City to catch a boat to Glover’s Reef.

The boat ride to Glover’s was incredible. As we sped across the ocean, the water flashed vivid colors of blue, teal, and green. At one point, the boat stopped and we couldn’t see land in any direction. The Glover’s research station is beautiful. We are living in cabins on stilts overlooking the ocean. It’s also interesting to look at the differences in resources between Las Cuevas and Glover’s. Las Cuevas had limited generator power, but plenty of water pumped from a nearby cave. Glover’s has 24-hour electricity, but rainwater is the only water source on the island for drinking and bathing.

DSCN1450

We went for a quick swim before dinner to test out our snorkel gear. I saw several species of red algae, but was only able to identify Laurencia papillosa without my id guide. We also saw a ray and lots of colorful fish. After dinner, we built our quadrats that we will use to do reef research tomorrow.