Tag Archives: stony coral

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 Transects, Day 11

Today we woke bright and early and headed out to a patch reef in the lagoon on a boat. We laid out transects with partners and used quadrats to gather data on the live stony coral cover on a reef located in Glover’s Marine Protected Area. We also did another experiment and gathered as many sea urchins as we could in 25 minutes. We repeated all of our experiments on other patch reef that was outside of the MPA.

So today I did see some new corals. I saw an Acropora cervicornis!!! It was very beautiful and I was thrilled when I saw it. I also noticed that some of this coral was infected with white band disease. There was a patch of recently dead white skeleton on a branch and also old dead skeleton that had been overgrown with turf algae. I also saw a Montastraea cavernosa today, which does in fact look like a mat of zoanthids but I could tell the difference between the two.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow we are learning about reef zonation and heading to the reef crest. Hopefully I will not get seasick.

Acropora cervicornis
Acropora cervicornis. Notice the larger, white apical polyp on the ends of the branches.

First Full Day at Glover’s, Day 10

Today we had a scavenger hunt on the reef. So I saw all of the corals I saw yesterday but today had some new surprises. I saw a few parrotfish. I only recognized the initial stage of the spotlight parrotfish and then I saw a parrotfish in the terminal phase but I was so excited I forget to actually look at its distinctive markings.

Quick side note. At lunch today we had a vanilla cake for desert and I kid you not that it was the fluffiest, softest, most wonderful cake I have ever eaten. Okay, moving on. We designed a study and went out to the seagrass beds. We quickly realized how difficult it was to lay down a transect and quadrats in six feet of water and count halimeda and penicillus green algae. This required multiple dives down the bottom, which was difficult not because I ran out of breath, but because I kept floating back up.

After that we went to a coral skeleton graveyard. I finally learned how to distinguish the skeletons of Pseudiploria strigosa, P. clivosa, and P. labrynthiformis apart. We also saw huge Acropora palmata branch shards, which made me a little sad. Back in the heyday of the Caribbean, before the Acropora genus was largely wiped out by disease in the 1980s, these corals formed forest-like structures throughout the reef. I cant help but think how amazing that must have been. We also saw a piece of Pillar Coral, a coral I didn’t think we would see because my sources said it was rare to occasional with few concentrated areas. But apparently it is here!

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EBIO 319 crew at the graveyard.
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Dendrogyra cylindrus!

Marine debris cleanup, Day 13

For the first half of the day, we cleaned up the marine debris on the windward side of Middle Caye and then analyzed the composition of the trash. It turns out that 50% of the trash we collected was plastic by mass, 21% was styrofoam, 14% was rope, and 15% was other. However, we collected nearly the same volume of styrofoam as plastic, which was something I did not predict. We found many plastic bottles and bottle caps, as well as personal toiletries and medicine containers. The amount of Styrofoam was insane. A large majority of humans and our societies are built around consumption and waste, so much so that it doesn’t faze us anymore to throw something away. Ella brought up a good point today that though there are grassroots movements away from waste and towards reusable bags and recycling, people still don’t see the conflict in bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store and filling it up with water bottles and packaged foods.

After that project, we listened to lectures and then went to another backreef to measure a coral colony in three dimensions. I didn’t find it particularly fun, because the water was warm, the sky was cloudy, and there were a lot of sediments in the water. After dinner we went night snorkeling, which was again very cool. However, my mask kept fogging up and I felt claustrophobic in the water surrounded by people. We saw a slipper lobster, and two spiny lobsters, as well as several fish. The stony coral polyps were also extended on the Orbicella annularis and O. faveolata, species in which the polyps are usually retracted during the day.

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The area near our dorms. We didn’t clean up this side of the island, but you can see the amount of stuff that just washes up onshore.
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More marine debris, located near the coral graveyard.

Outer reef and back reef adventures, Day 12

This morning we loaded up the boat really early and travelled a short distance to the reef crest and fore reef near Middle Caye. I took Dramamine an hour before we left and I will spare you the wait and just tell you that I in fact felt queasy out on the ocean. Once we got to the first site, we all got off and it was quite deep, around 50 feet. I was able to dive all the way down and stay long enough to get some really cool photos. After that we moved to the reef crest, where we saw a few stingrays and an eagle ray (which was humongous!) I saw a new coral, Agaricia tenufolia and also spotted quite a bit of the Orbicella faveolata and O. annularis, as well as Montastrea cavernosa.

I tried to be the last person on the boat, but even then I still felt crappy due to the swells. We headed to the second site and jumped in. All of a sudden I hear people exclaiming that there was an Acropora palmata! This coral has been nearly wiped out in the Caribbean due to White Band disease and so I had really wanted to see one. I think I saw about six different colonies during this snorkeling adventure. I can only imagine how magnificent the reefs must have looked over one hundred years ago when A. palmata was a dominant reef builder that loomed over the reef like trees in a rainforest.

I was happy to get back to shore and immediately collapsed into my bed with peanut M&M’s, plantain chips, and oreos all by my side. That afternoon we went over our results from the reef health assessment experiment (coral cover and urchin data). Then we explored the backreef and that was really awesome. I saw so many interesting things, such as a coral with a tumor, a recently dead skeleton of a Siderastrea siderea that was of mysterious origin, and another giant lobster. Scott and our water safety officers were also simultaneously catching lionfish. We caught four and at the end of the week we are going to measure them and then prepare and eat them.

I feel very tired at the moment, most likely from all the swimming from today. Au revoir.

Acropora palmata
Acropora palmata Location: Forereef
Forereef coral
Eusmilia fastigiata
Agaricia tenufolia
Agaricia tenufolia
Colpophyllia natans
Colpophyllia natans