Tag Archives: #WhatHappensinMiddleCayeStaysinMiddleCaye

Day 4: rustic math

I seriously can’t believe how much we get done in 1 day by getting up 3 hours early! We went to a non-MPA patch reef today to do transects the same way we did yesterday. Snorkeling has gotten much easier; I feel like I can kind of navigate gracefully and not flail around kicking things. I saw tons more algae in the non-MPA reef, mostly crunchy red coralline algae with short knobby branches covering the ground (not sure of species). We decided that might be because of increased human activity putting excess nutrients into the reef, or overfishing.

Branching coralline red algae.
A clump of Jania capillaceae.

We then swam to a more reefy area to collect non-MPA urchins, which were much harder to find than yesterday’s. I may have seen the red algae Pterocladiella capillacea here (?):

Please enjoy some Finding Nemo-esque shots of the reef!

On the boat back to Glover’s we played with several stragglers in our urchin bucket, including this brittle star.

After lunch we quickly whipped up a poster using our amazing rustic math skills, complete with slides…

Then we had lectures including a talk on Belizean culture and history by Javi—this was really interesting, it makes me wish we had more time to explore the cities and ancient ruins in Belize. He explained why there are so many Chinese people here—they were brought as servants in the 1830’s and also immigrated in the 1980’s, but didn’t really integrate into creole Belizean culture. But now the younger generation of Chinese are starting to mix with other ethnic groups by going to school with them, eg having creole boyfriends. That was crazy to me, imagining growing up in a Chinese community within Belize and integrating into the surrounding culture. Hopefully I can find a Chinese person and ask them before we leave.

Fan Coral Fanatic


Today was another day of assessing reef health and collecting urchins, but this time in a non-protected area of reef.

Sarah T. holding our quadrat over a sea fan (G. ventalina)

The first thing that struck me about the reef was the abundance of sea grass, specifically turtle grass (T. testudinum), as well as algae. However, there were still many beautiful sections of reef that were packed with soft corals!

Non-protected reef in Glover’s Atol
Sea plume (P. elisabethae)
Swollen-knob candelabra (E. mammosa)

The predominant soft coral I saw while snorkeling through the reef was the common sea fan (G. ventalia). I noted a few interesting observations regarding these sea fans. I saw that a good number of them had white spots indicating that part of the coral had died, as well as some whose holdfasts had become unattached from the reef framework, causing them to fall down. I also saw a couple of animals feeding on the sea fans, including a flamingo tongue snail and (surprisingly to me) a surgeonfish of some sort.

Sea fan with dead areas and unattached holdfast
Flamingo tongue snail on a sea fan

Finding sea urchins to collect was significantly harder on this patch of reef, but I felt as though there were more large fish like angelfish, tang, and snapper swimming through. I also saw a huge porcupine fish and a nurse shark in some crevices of the reef.

Me holding a long-spined sea urchin

After returning to Glover’s, the afternoon was quite relaxing. As a class, we analyzed the data we collected in the past two days then made a poster presentation of our results and findings. I played a game of soccer (my team won!) before dinner, and had lecture for a couple hours. I even had time after class to swing on the hammocks and talk to Dale and John, two researchers here at Glover’s. All in all, today has been a nice, relaxing change of pace. So much so that I think I’ll have enough energy to wake up early and see the sunrise from the observation deck tomorrow.

Non-MPA Experiments and a lot of data

DAY 4 — We started another busy day with some urchin measurement and identification. The urchins collected yesterday at the MPA area were happily bubbling in the bucket overnight. We identified at least one urchin from all four expected species: Echinometra lucunther, Echinometra virdis, Eucidaris tribuloides, and Diadema anitullarum. Sarah, Tian-Tian, and I measured the tests (circular body parts) with calipers. Urchins are pretty cool. 

After the urchin extravaganza, we quickly shifted gears and headed out on the boat. We returned the urchins to the MPA and motored over to an area of patch reef outside of the protected area. 

We all plopped off the edge of the boat and repeated the transect experiment from yesterday. We quantified benthos cover into the following categories: live stony coral, recently dead coral, bushy macroalgae, sand, soft coral, sponges, and other (which became a mostly sea grass category). Alessi and I were extra efficient and got plenty of time to snorkel around and explore the new areas of reef.

Today was a good sponge day. I saw more Chicken Liver Sponge (Chondrilla caribensis), Branching Vase Sponge (Callyspongia vaginalis) and Scattered Pore Rope Sponge (Aplysina fulva). Some new discoveries today were the Lavender Rope Sponge (Niphates erecta), the Orange Icing Sponge (Mycale laevis), and the Green Finger Sponge (Iotrochota, birotulata). 


We also saw a Gray Angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus) which was So Big and a nurse shark, but he or she was hiding under reef framework. 

We executed another 25 minute timed urchin collection at the non-MPA site. I couldn’t find a single urchin 🙁 We measured the urchins that were successfully collected on the boat and identified them before tossing them back into the ocean to continue their lives. 


The afternoon was filled with data analysis. As a group, we totaled group data for the MPA and non-MPA reef health assessment experiment,, including the quadratic data and urchin data. Our efforts culminated in a poster, tracing the experiment from question and hypothesis to results and discussion. 

My favorite part of today might have been the early morning urchin measurements. After I got used to the feeling of little spines wiggling around in my palms, I really liked looking closely at the Aristotle’s lantern. I also enjoyed the delicious pineapple cake at dinner. Happy Birthday, Jordan! 

Before dinner, we had some ever-coveted free time. Some soccer was played, some showers were enjoyed. Our plans for a night snorkel were thwarted by weather conditions, but hopefully we can make it work another night! I imagine the reef at night is a whole different experience.


This was the face I made when I saw the shark. I was so excited that I smiled so hard and let water into my mouth. Also this face is disgusting but shows my joy

I SAW A SHARK. I SAW A SHARK. I SAW A SHARK. I SAW A SHARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So yeah, that happened today, highlight of my life.

AREN’T I PHOTOGENIC?? My reaction to holding the sharpest of the urchins, the Diadema antillarum

Today we compared the data we have been collected between the marine protected area (MPA) and non-protected area patch reefs. Using various methods and just observations it became clear that the MPS was healthier in regards to urchin abundance, less algae, and from out observations it looked healthier with more abundant corals.

Caribbean spiny lobster found at non-MPA site under coral cover

While doing these investigations today, I saw a Caribbean Spiny Lobster hiding under a coral reef around 11 AM probably because they are nocturnal. It was easily found because of its large antennas sticking out of the crevice that alerted me to it.

I am pretty sick of of land hermit crabs and blue land crabs by now. They are everywhere. I am started to map out their general locations because I have realized that they tend to stay in patches. So far, I have noticed that the blue hermit crabs like to be in grassier areas especially behind the showers while the land hermit crabs dominate a certain trail that heads off of the main path.

I am tired, I am itchy, but I am happy because this has been such a unique experience so far.

Best Birthday Ever!

What a fabulous way to turn 19! We took an early morning dive on an unprotected patch reef and collected the same type of data as yesterday. Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for… *insert drumroll* … We found that the urchins are significantly bigger and more numerous in the protected reef area!

Me + the Diadema that stung me

I hope everyone appreciated that information because we spent about 3 hours trying to crunch those numbers. I think we’re all a little sleepy and dehydrated! Eventually we put a nice poster together to show all of our data to Scott and Adrienne, and we presented it to them on the dock.

The coral on the patch reef was incredibly beautiful today! I didn’t identify any new species, but I did see a fire coral that had grown over a sea fan. It was so elegant, so check out the picture below. There were also comb jellies floating around the reef. They don’t sting, but they startled me a few times when I swam into them!

Fire Coral growing around a sea fan

The best part of the day was definitely dinner. We were sitting around the table, discussing which character from Finding Nemo best represents Therese, when Scott and Adrienne brought a cake with candles to the table and sang happy birthday. They made a pineapple cake just for me! It was a very delicious and un-Belize-ably sweet surprise.


Hi friends,

Today was similar to the previous day in terms of the diving activities, as we redid the patch reef data collection and sea urchin collection on an area outside of the marine protection zone. We then compared the two data sets, analyzed them based on our project hypothesis and came up with a final poster to showcase our results.

My first takeaway of the day was how adorable sea urchins are. After seeing how they move about using their spines, my perception of them changed completely. And having to handle and measure them also made me like them so much more. Just see the picture below to see how close we’ve gotten.

Black sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) on my back!

It was also fun surveying another patch reef area, and after the experience from the previous day, I was much more confident with collecting data and also identifying organisms in general. Below are some of the creatures I managed to capture (with my camera)!

It’s a Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)!

There were Christmas tree worms everywhere!!! And I saw a new mollusk species which I have never seen personally, the Cyphoma gibbosum (flamingo tongue shell):

Flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) right in the middle

Exciting times. I’m looking forward to the next few days because we will get to check out other reef types such as the backreefs and forereefs, and I’m eager to see how different they will be from path reefs.

After snorkeling, we spent the afternoon analyzing our data and creating our poster to present to Adrienne and Scott. And then right before dinner we had a friendly pickup game with some of the island staff. Got to sweat it all out! I have to say, Alessi is pretty tenacious when it comes to fighting for the ball, and Therese and Isaac are great technical players. Meanwhile, Deepu is definitely the star striker like Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring 2 of the goals for us. This is my brief analysis of EBIO 319’s soccer team.

All in all, today went by really quickly and I thoroughly enjoyed both the snorkeling experience and the free time to mingle with the other people in Middle Caye. Looking forward to more tomorrow!

Till then,


Urchins are Prickly and Math is Hard (Day 4)

Today we completed our MPA vs. General Use Zone comparison by doing quadrat coral cover assessments and urchin collecting on a patch reef in the General Use Zone. It was a lot easier today because conditions were calmer. During the urchin collection, I finally saw Sailor’s Eye Algae! I couldn’t find it again when I went to take a picture, but they look like big shiny bubbles. I also was able to find good examples of calcium carbonate Halimeda chips within the sand.


Some sand grains of algal origin produced by this Halimeda algae.

Today we also listened to a presentation by Javier, our marine safety officer, about the history and culture of Belize. He told us that the four main ethic groups of Belize, the Mestizos, Creoles, Garifunas, and Mayans, were all represented within the staff on Middle Caye, which is only comprised of six people!

The first lowlight of today was that I realized that I am trash at arithmetic when synthesizing our data. The second lowlight was that I realized there had been a frog in my Cheerios box after a frog jumped out of my Cheerios box. Truthfully I hadn’t been getting hungry enough in between meals to be eating them much and they were kind of a jank flavor, but it grossed me out nonetheless.

Some of the urchin size data we were trying to make sense of. Math is hard.

Weather permitting, tomorrow we are going to go snorkel on the reef crest and maybe also do a night dive. I am really excited to see different reef scenery now, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.