Stories from the Field
Shark Research with MarAlliance
July 16, 2016
Today headed out on a boat with MarAlliance, helping collect data through transects and footage from Baited Remote Underwater Videocameras (BRUV’s for short). MarAlliance is a nonprofit organization working in Belize that focuses on working with government institutions to provide accurate data about threatened marine wildlife. health and abundance of local species. MarAlliance’s work informs the government of the health and abundance of local species, fosters a connection between law enforcement and conservation scientists, and helps evaluate and encourage Marine Protected Areas within Belize.
After boarding our double-decker boat, we were each assigned a job to help Cecilia, the MarAlliance representative, set up the BRUV equipment and prepare for the transects. We mounted a GoPro on the BRUV device, equipped it with fish bait, and deployed it into the water to collect 65 minutes of underwater footage.
Then, the transects began! Filipe, Rachel, Maddie, and Lydia went first. During our transects, we estimated the size and distance of turtles, sharks, and rays while continuing to swim equidistant from one another. Being great sports while swimming 500 meters in a straight line without spotting any fish, our first transect group finished successfully — recording a data point of zero observations is still data!
Two additional transect groups set out and finally spotted some marine species! The second transect group spotted a ray, and the third group recorded two nurse sharks. After breaking for lunch and our favorite peanut butter snacks, we ended the boat day with a snorkel in Shark Ray Alley.
After a few hours of free time to explore the unique streets of Caye Caulker, we watched footage collected on the GoPro devices with Cecilia and saw a shark, a turtle, and a ray approach the bait underwater. Overall, a busy day! But very interesting to learn about MarAlliance’s work in conservation and experience first-hand how difficult (and fun!) performing underwater transects can be.
Hanging with Dolphins
July 3, 2016
Today’s highlight was definitely hanging out with dolphin and manatee expert, Eric Angel-Ramos. Eric has been studying the bottlenose dolphins that are here in the Atoll. He mainly uses a drone, or unmanned aerial system, to view the dolphins. The bird’s-eye-view gives him a perfect image of what is going on below him, and he has been able to observe and identify new behaviors in the dolphins. Eric also takes pictures of each dolphin’s dorsal fin in order to figure out who they are. He showed us several videos of the interactions and photographs of dolphins, some of whom have been documented nearby for over twenty years. Once the presentation concluded, Eric and the group all went out on the boat. Students took watch overlooking the surrounding waters, and searching for dorsal fins that would indicate a dolphin’s presence.
From hanging out with a pod of dolphins up close all morning, to lounging on the boat eating a pineapple and getting to know each other better, to our late afternoon dip to cool off in the water, today was a blast! Throughout the day we all snapped pictures of the scenery, wildlife, and each other.
In the morning, we found a pod of around 10 bottlenose dolphins, which we observed and got up close and personal with for a few hours. We all were mesmerized as we watched them jump, forage, play, rest, and speed alongside the boat. “Aha!” we all exclaimed in unison each time we saw their beautiful displays. They were such a gift to see and photograph. “A masterpiece of nature” is how Pearce described the experience.
At the end of the day, everyone laughed and enjoyed their cool off as we jumped off the boat into the ocean for a final dip in crystal clear water. “Wicked refreshing,” said Ayden, and “A great way to end our time,” reflected Hannah. In conclusion, we all had an amazing time out on the water, and can’t wait for our exciting adventures to come.
Red, White, and BLUE HOLE!
July 4, 2016
Wow, what an amazing Fourth of July we had in Belize! After breakfast we patiently waited for our guides to arrive from Belize City, and after packing up our boat we headed out to the blue hole.
It was a very bumpy ride, and we have video to prove it, but we can happily say that no one got seriously seasick! Thank goodness! Some highlights from the blue hole: a nurse shark, lobster, sea cucumber, and many beautiful fish. Then we headed to Half Moon Caye where we ate a delicious lunch and went on a walk to see Red-Footed Boobies, and along the way we picked up a lot of coconuts for the “Fourth of July Surprise” that Carolyn and Brian would not reveal until later.
Then we went for another snorkel where we saw an eel, a shark, a lionfish, and a parrotfish among other things.
On our way back to the field station we made a snorkeling stop at a 124-meter drop-off called the Aquarium. It was super cool because on one side there was coral and fish and then right next to it there was just blue, clear blue and it was truly beautiful.
When we got back we continued to watch the documentary Sharkwater before dinner. Our “4th of July Surprise” was finally revealed at dinner. The surprise was having a huge bonfire, drinking out of the coconuts, and singing campfire songs. Today has been another absolutely fantastic day!
Caroline’s College Essay, Belize
May 18, 2016
If I were given $10,000 to invest in a project…
If I were given $10,000 to invest in a project that I am passionate about it would be a mission based on ocean conservation. I will admit, going through daily life, it is hard to avoid all kinds of plastic since plastic is so convenient. From my daily cup of coffee, to takeout, to makeup, and school supplies, plastics are everywhere. Before this past summer, when I went on a National Geographic Student Expedition to Belize and learned of plastics’ damaging affects on marine life, I frequently used plastic bags, water bottles, and straws. Since returning home, I have become extremely aware of the amount of plastic present in my environment and I try to find other resources. Now, I bring reusable water bottles to school and even use a metal straw, given to me in Belize, for my daily smoothies. Instead of using plastic grocery bags, my mom and I now use the reusable grocery bags, and when I can, I hold my recently purchased items in my hands rather than using a plastic bag. If I walk out of a store without a bag, people usually give me weird stares and wonder why I do not just put my items in a bag. These odd looks make me think of my time spent in Belize and ways I can work towards reducing the amount of plastics that end up in the ocean by raising public awareness.
Island Life on Blackbird Caye
August 13, 2014
The last three days here on Blackbird Caye have been a blast. On Thursday, we spent half the day snorkeling on a beautiful reef, and the other on a boat where we conducted dolphin research. While working with the dolphin researchers, we observed a group of juvenile dolphins mating (which we found out is an exciting observation, in the dolphin world!).