Tag Archives: reflection

Post-Trip: Reflection

One day in Belize, my class and I noticed a distinct commonality between the two most biodiverse ecosystems – coral reefs and tropical rainforests. Both function in nutrient poor conditions. The two differ greatly in the causations of their low-nutrient conditions. Coral reefs demand low nutrients to hinder algae growth and allow high water clarity, a condition demanded for photosynthetic coral synergists. The trees of the tropical rainforest, however, quickly deplete the soil of nutrients as they grow. While both systems exist in low-nutrient environments, low nutrient levels can lead to coral reef formation while the high nutrient demands of tropical rainforest tree leads to poor soil nutrients.

Regardless, the two ecosystems are able to support such biodiverse systems through their creation of physical spaces. Reefs for nooks and crannies for marine organisms to reside, as well has having great surface areas to accommodate sessile organisms like anemones and sponges. Tropical trees have many layering branches and alcoves within trunks and limbs. Similarly, these create spaces to accommodate more living things. Epiphytes, commensalist plants that grow on taller trees, demand the sunlit canopy trees provide. Structurally, the two have many parallels, which likely explains their comparable biodiversity.

Rainforests and coral reefs both accommodate animals smaller than their open ocean or open grassland counterparts. Not only are these ecosystem’s spaces unable to accommodate larger animals, but also larger animals have the potential to wreak havoc on these systems by overgrazing on or causing mechanical damage to coral or trees.

Glover’s Reef

With their elaborate physical structures and densely-packed biodiverse inhabitants, the coral reef and tropical rainforest I visited in Belize filled me with similar senses of awe. There was activity or an interesting organic structure just about everywhere I would look. While I knew in advance that these ecosystems have great biodiversity, there is something about being physically present that makes these facts feel real.

I had very nebulous expectations for this trip. I wanted to learn and to have fun, but other than that, I put very little thought into identifying what I wanted to take away from this trip. This mindset turned out to be a blessing, as I could absorb my surroundings without constantly questioning whether or not my expectations are met. It was freeing to allow myself to be immersed in these beautiful locales and view them for what they are.

My memory of the trip is rich with precious moments – watching a squid jet across a reef, listening to the boisterous conversations of scarlet macaws, seeing the glistening hide of a manatee as it dive back into shallow mangrove waters, feeling the chilliness of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, spectating the sunrise over the ocean, viewing the uninhibited star-filled sky, laying on a hammock at the end of a long day. This aggregation of serenity and excitement is what I value most about the trip. While at times I felt stressed about the grade I would make, I strove to keep an empowering mindset that allowed me to fully cherish my surroundings.

The trip left me with a wide range of new knowledge. Ethnographically, Belize has an extremely diverse human population, serving as the home of Mestizos, Creoles, Garifunas, and Mayans to name the most populous. I learned about interesting physical properties of many living, including that mantis shrimp have a grasp so strong they can hurt people, Christmas tree worms always have pairs of polychaetes, conchs’ have two projecting eyes that look like cartoon eyes, and strangling figs can overtake massive canopy-forming trees to form large and extensive woody structures. I also learned about the harmful effect human negligence can have on ecosystems, like lionfish (a nonnative species released from aquariums) overpredate juvenile reef-dwelling fish and the prevalence of Africanized bees in the New World were caused by the escape of seven queens. I’ve learned countless new things that form a mosaic as vibrant and diverse as the colors of Belize itself.

I leave Belize with new memories and knowledge. I will always remember the electric blue of the Caribbean, the stunning vibrancy of scarlet macaw plumage, and the translucence of the Caribbean reef squid. After all, all I have are these memories of Belize until I go back.

Still Can’t Believe It’s Over… (Wrap Up Blog)

Although our EBIO 319 class was clearly dividing into teams Surf and Turf, based on whether we had signed up predominately to go to the reef or to the rainforest, everyone was able to thoroughly enjoy themselves in both environments because there are quite a few similarities between them. The most obvious similarity is that both are hotspots for biodiversity. Both coral reefs and rainforests are (predominately) restricted to the Tropics, and both are highly dependent on water.

Additionally, nutrient input and cycling is critical to the stability and growth of both environments. Corals thrive in oligotrophic environments, and so they are dependent on nutrient-cycling symbionts. Tropical rainforests exist in nutrient-poor soils, and so the plant species are  dependent on nutrient cycling.

Another similarity that I noticed is that it is quite difficult to traverse through either of these environments. When snorkeling on the reef, there would sometimes be spots with very little accommodation space and it was difficult to pass through without bumping into the corals. In the rainforest, when we left the trail the vegetation was often very dense. There would be lots of vines hanging down between the trees, and a lot of holes in the ground.

Additionally, you had to be careful moving through both of these environments because there were so many things that could hurt you. On the coral reef, this included anemones, fire coral, some hard corals, sharp shells, and jellies. In the rain forest, this included venomous snakes, acacia thorns, fire ants, and ticks.

I had a really good time during this course. The amount of work that it involved was much more than I expected, but during the course I didn’t worry about it too much. Going into the course, I didn’t really know what to expect about my classmates, but everybody was really cool and we got along really well. The rainforest’s appearance was not really what I expected but I think the reef did look like what I was expecting, probably just because I was more familiar with reefs going in. I was expecting Glover’s Atoll to be paradise, and it truly was.

My favorite part of the course was being able to see cool species up close. There were so many, but highlights included the green turtle, the seahorse, the Queen Angelfish,  the tapir, and the scarlet macaws. Another one of my favorite things that we did was going into the caves. These sightings and experiences are things that I will never forget.

I think my least favorite part of the course was the fact that it was so windy during our time at Glover’s because as a result we never did get to go diving on the forereef or at night. My other least favorite part was probably the lionfish dissection because I just don’t like dissecting things in general.

One of the most important things I learned on this trip was that I definitely still want to try and go into marine biology and do real field work. Another thing I learned was that friendships form really quickly when a group of people are all working together on something they’re passionate about. Lastly, I learned that conservation work is really really complicated after hearing presentations from  Alex  of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Boris of Friends of Conservation. This stuck with me because I’m doing a policy internship this summer at a marine sanctuary, and as a result I’ve gotten a small glimpse of all that conservation actually involves in this particular environment.