Tag Archives: Smithsonian

Day 15: Culture Shock

This morning, we started the day by riding the boat out to the nearby Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is situated on a teensy neighboring island called Carrie Bow Island. We got a short tour by Clyde, one of the managers, and received a short talk from a professor working on coral research at the station.

She showed us her rows of tanks of baby corals that she’s been growing as part of an experiment. A hybrid between to species of coral has recently emerged and appears to have increased resistance to high water temperatures. She is studying this coral to elucidate the mechanisms behind this heat resistance. If she succeeds, it could mean worlds for the future of coral reefs.

It was incredibly inspiring to see how determined researchers head the fight for the survival of coral reefs.

Our last stop before returning the airport was the mangroves of Twin Caye. Snorkeling here was not at all like snorkeling at the reefs. Mangroves are a type of tree that can grow in salty or brackish water. They have characteristic prop roots that reach far down into the water so that the rest of the tree stands above the water.

The roots of these trees provide a vital habitat and nursery to many species of sponges, fish, algae, and some Echinoderms, as well as many others. Water here was murkier than at the coral reefs because the sea floor is covered in silt and decomposing mangrove leaves.

It seemed that every inch of available space on the roots was colonized by something or the other. Bright orange fire sponges encrusted much of the tree roots, and all forms of algae grew everywhere. Schools of baby fish undulated as if they were a single entity, flowing between vegetation.

We didn’t get to see any urchins here, but we did find two large unidentified sea stars on the sea floor. They were heavier, had more slender arms and spinier skin than the cushion stars I’d seen before. They were bright, fiery orange, and a lot larger than I expected starfish to be – easily twice the size of my hand! After examining them closely and snapping some pictures, I let them drift back down to the silt bottom where we’d found them.

Here’s on of the starfish we found!

We weren’t given a chance to shower before we re-entered human civilization (thanks a lot, Scott and Adrienne! I’ll bet the people sitting next to me on the plane really appreciated that LOL). After eating at a restaurant on the dock of Belize City, we headed to the airport to go home.

You guys!! There was AIR CONDITIONING at the airport!! WOW!! And there were OTHER HUMANS who were not TFBs or encrusted with a solid layer of Eau de Wilderness™! IncREdiBLE!! When the surprisingly short flight to Houston landed at Hobby Airport, I experienced the oddest sensation of emerging from a separate world back into the familiar concrete jungle of bustling human traffic.

And really, my time in Belize has been an absolute dream. Now that I’m sitting in a cushy bed in an air-conditioned building and without moisture clinging to my every pore, I feel like I’ve been living a different life for the past two weeks. The culture shock is so real.

I don’t think it’s hit me yet that it’s over. I half believe that tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up and head out on a boat again to sea. Some time in the next few days, I’ll be posting a reflection about this trip. Honestly, right now, I don’t know where to begin – all I’m feeling is that I wish I were still in Belize – but stay tuned while I gather my brains for one last word dump!

You’ve been good to us, Belize!

Last of the Belizean days-

Today’s theme is goodbye. This morning we said goodbyes to our beloved research station, our marine safety officers, our boat captains. This afternoon we said goodbyes to Belize and tonight we said goodbyes to EBIO 319. Surely. This won’t be the last of it.

A Smithsonian tropical field biologist we visited today has been conducting research on her island, Carrie Bow Caye, for 13 years, and will plans on returning year after year. This station has been doing some very cool research on the effects of increasing temperatures on corals. Specifically, researchers there have been testing the heat tolerance of a type of hybrid between two species of coral: the staghorn and the elkhorn corals. When hybridized, the coral are able to withstand high temperatures without bleaching. The scientists there perform tolerance tests in tanks of sea water heated up to different temperatures using different replicated hybrids and nonhybrids.

This is crucial today

, in a time when the global temperatures have been rising and upsetting the intricate, interconnected ecosystem of coral reefs. Without an intact ecosystem, food production, air quality, tourism, and economies will all suffer. A resilient coral may pave the way for future developments in resilient coral reefs.

Although coral reefs have been a widely known ecosystem fundamental to many aspects of our life, mangrove forests are a lesser known, but arguable equally important ecosystem. Mangrove forests are composed of communities of mangrove trees, trees that are able to extend their roots deep into the sea water and sprout leaves above water. While exploring one of these mangroves this morning, we saw first hand the types of life that is supported by these forests: upside-down jellyfish, crustose coralline algae, y-branch algae, blistered saucer-leaf algae, schools of fish, and starfish. A unique feature of the mangrove forest is that it filters marine waters so that surrounding organisms live in more-purified water. Combined with extra

shade provided by mangrove leaves and nutrients that come from decomposing leaves, this forest gives many organisms a habitat, some for a period of their life time, and others for their whole life time.


At the airport, we all looked for souvenirs to signify our time in Belize, but truly we knew that the type of life we lived in Belize cannot be fully captured by  items. The closest thing that may come to represent our Belizean day are these blog entries. Everyday has been new, and each encounter has been different. Belize, you have been great to us, truly. Now. Until next time!