Stories from the Field
July 24, 2017
We have had an exciting two days on Caye Caulker. We had the amazing experience of learning reef monitoring techniques from the experts at MarAlliance. We learned about swimming transects along the reef to count predator fish and assess their populations. We also had the chance to drop BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Videos) which are a way to see exactly what is coming to eat bait along the reef, a great way to assess biodiversity. The experts at MarAlliance then surprised everyone with a stop at the local Caye Caulker Shark Ray Alley where everyone got the rare opportunity to swim with southern stingrays and nurse sharks. Most of the students were in agreement that this was the highlight of the trip to this point.
Today we took a full day snorkel trip with French Angel to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the oldest marine protected area in the Caribbean. We saw a rather healthy reef and large fish populations before heading to the Shark Ray Alley of Hol Chan. It was exciting to see so many sharks and rays! The highlight of the day was certainly finding two manatees right next to the reef. For many of us this was the first time we have seen this species and a moment not to be forgotten.
We have one more day here on Caye Caulker and are excited to explore more of the island before our planned sunset sail. What a trip it has been!
The Journey Continues
July 20, 2017
Today we said goodbye to our lovely slice of paradise, Calabash Caye—or as we’ve come to know it, “the ‘Bash.” In our time there, many of us experienced for the first time what it was like to live on a secluded island with only 20 other people. The staff at the ‘Bash were incredibly friendly and hospitable and never failed to meet and surpass our expectations. Leaving Calabash brought up a mixture of emotions for many: sad to be leaving behind Dina and Georgia, our cooks, and Cherrington, our fearless captain, but also excited for the new experiences we knew we would find in Caye Caulker.
For our journey to Caye Caulker, we first took a boat ride with some of our staff from the ‘Bash back to the port of Belize City, where we met a water taxi to take us the rest of the way. After getting off the taxi, we collected our luggage and were met with our first obstacle: rolling bags vs. sand roads, a struggle for many which resulted in the hiring of a golf cart taxi (very exciting). We arrived at the hotel and all of us could not stop smiling about the fact that our rooms had air conditioning! The afternoon was spent settling in and walking through many of the small shops and booths along the shoreline of Caye Caulker. We met up again with our big group for dinner at Roy’s, a Caribbean restaurant near our hotel (the island is not that big, so everything is close). We were greeted shortly after by a power outage, which turned into a fun candlelit dinner with great music and even better company.
Great Blue Hole
July 15, 2017
We made the hour-long trip to the GREAT BLUE HOLE! We started on the outer edge of the wall and looked down into the vastness of the deep hole. One of the highlights was getting to see our first sea turtle—a hawksbill missing one of its hind flippers. We made our best attempt at an epic flag shot and (almost) succeeded.
We made our way to Half Moon Caye (a nearby island reserve) to learn about the wildlife protected by the Belize Audobon Society. Some highlights were the hermit crabs, iguanas, house geckos and red-footed boobies! Lunch was really good! They had banana bread, rice, and pork. Afterwards we got to relax in the water and sing songs.
In the afternoon, we went snorkeling at the “Aquarium” and saw many interesting creatures, including an eagle ray, three nurse sharks, and a green moray eel. We rounded the day off with some On Assignment team work, another incredible dinner, and movie night!
The Blue Hole in Belize
July 10, 2017
We awoke this morning around 6:30 a.m., finished up breakfast and last-minute packing, and drove out to the Belize City port, where we then spent the next hour and a half on a powerboat, which delivered us to Calabash Caye. This journey took us through large fields of mangroves and other sea-bound vegetation, as the captain of our boat maneuvered through the close-cut gaps between these plains. Once we landed on the caye, one of the island’s supervisors, Nicole, showed us our living quarters and facilities before we were supplied with an incredible lunch courtesy of the resident cooking staff. After lunch, our group hopped back on the boat for a short ride to our first dive destination of the trip: a shallow field of seagrass full of small fish and sea stars. A few members of the group were even able to photograph a passing ray and a barracuda. Overall, our first snorkel excursion was a definite success!
Once our dive had come to an end, we headed back to Calabash Caye to begin work on our on-Assignment projects. The two groups, photography and marine conservation, split off for group brainstorms to make sure each member had a good idea of what exactly they should be doing, and individual students then began to work on their projects. We ended the day with another amazing meal cooked by the on-island staff, as well as a celebration of one of our group members’ birthday. Overall, it was an incredible first day on Calabash Caye!
The next day we started off with a boat ride out to the Lighthouse Atoll, but with the help of our awesome boat captain, we made it to our snorkeling spot at the Blue Hole in good time. Our guides, Victoria and Monique, led us around the edge of the Blue Hole and answered lots of questions we had about our On Assignment projects. We got to see many species of fish like Blue Chromis, Parrotfish, Bermuda Chubs, a Grouper, and an Angel fish. Some of us also saw a Nurse Shark in the distance!
After our successful snorkel at the Blue Hole we took a short boat ride to Half Moon Caye for a delicious lunch packed up for us by the kitchen staff at CCFS. Then we took a walk to see the Red Footed Boobies that nest on the island. Photography students got lots of great photos of the birds and land hermit crabs while on our walk too.
Victoria and Monique took us to a snorkel spot called “The Aquarium” after lunch. Between the scenic boat ride, snorkeling at the Blue Hole (which was a once in a life time opportunity), and seeing the Red Footed Boobies on Half Moon Caye, we all had a day to remember!
Cave Tubing in Belize
July 5, 2017
Our cave tubing experience was quite fascinating and interesting. Edwin and Jeremy, the guides, guided our group on the amazing Belizean rainforest trail, while crossing remarkably beautiful caves, and learning about local fruits, nuts, and trees that inhabited that specific rainforest until we reached our take off point. The take off point was a large cave, which led to the inside of a small hill. Inside the cave, although it was dark, Edwin used his flashlight to show the group different rock structures that mimicked animals, including a jellyfish, gorilla, and a manatee! This was an adventurous experience for everyone in the group.
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.
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.
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.
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!).