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Night Dives Highlight for Waller ’14

Cameron Waller ’14 – On day five of our trip to South Water Caye, Belize we started the day off by touring the Smithsonian Research Institute.  While the tour may have been a little long winded, I learned a lot about the facility and the work that goes on there.

After departing from the Smithsonian, we traveled to Whale Schol, a patch reef, to snorkel and observe the environment and the animals in it.  This was one of the best patch reefs we visited during our trip.  The corals, sponges, and other invertebrates were extremely plentiful.  At one point, I was able to swim into the reef where the water was only three feet deep, and I was completely surrounded by corals and sponges of all colors.  While under the water here, I had a school of at least thirty angel fish swim in front of me like I wasn’t even there.  This was amazing.  The blue color of the angel fish was so bright, and the yellow accent made it even more majestic.

We had the afternoon off to catch up on our journals, do some research, relax, and play sand volleyball.  The competition of the volleyball games became fairly competitive.

That night, we snorkeled out to the patch reef just off the south shore of the island.  This was our second trip night snorkeling.  This time around, the group handled it much better.  Not as many of the guys were screaming like girls as we entered the pitch black water.  While out in the patch reef, we saw a Caribbean Reef Octopus, two Caribbean Reef squids, a manta ray, lion fish, and other organisms.  Once we all gathered, we turned off all our flashlights and witnessed bio luminescence in the ocean.  The fish and other organisms in the water contained proteins within their bodies that fluoresced when no light was present.  The ocean glowed a gorgeous baby blue color.  This would have been the best part of the night snorkel if it were not for the two foot wide sting ray that swam 18 inches underneath me on the way in to the shore.  This sting ray was a cliche silver color and was so incredibly close to me that I could see every detail.  Night snorkeling was a once in a lifetime experience, and it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Traveling Adventures and Arrival in Belize

Michael Del Busto ’15 - My Sunday started with two of my classmates pounding on my front door to wake me up. I had slept through my two alarms, but luckily my classmates made sure I didn’t miss the van to the airport. After quickly throwing clothes on and running out of the door to catch the bus (reminded me of my high school days), I got settled, and we were on our way. The van ride to the airport seemed to take forever because I was so excited to travel. But eventually we got to the airport, and we checked in. We were on our way!

After three flights, a second bus ride, and a boat ride, we arrived at International Zoological Expedition, IZE, in South Water Caye in Belize.  Belize was full of life and lush, verdant hills and planes. Immediately upon arrival, we went and snorkeled on the southside of the island. We saw and identified many invertebrate life forms we had studied in class: donkey dung sea cucumber, various corals, and sea stars. It was awesome to be able to apply what we had learned in the classroom to the real world. It gave me great perspective on the interactions between different invertebrates. After our adventure, we washed up and ate a delicious dinner of fried shrimp and rice.

The sun was setting so we headed down to the dock with flashlights to look at more invertebrates. In the shadowy waters, we saw more invertebrates such as sea urchins, octopus, and sea hares. After a full day of travel, we were quite tired and went to the bar on the island where we tried a great local beer, Belikin. We talked with the bartender, Mike, and discussed much about the culture of Belize including sports, food, and politics. It was interesting to hear other people’s opinions on these topics and then compare them to my own beliefs. It definitely created some critical thinking.

The first day of the trip was exhausting, but also exhilarating. Belize should definitely be on everyone’s list of places to visit. You’d better Belize it!

Wren ’14 Realizes Impact of Immersion

Luke Wren ’14 -  What a day! Today was the last full day here on South Water Caye. I think everyone is pretty sad we have to leave tomorrow morning. This morning started out with a boat ride to Man-o-War Caye, which was a very small island whose only inhabitants were a large population of frigate birds. It is the tail end of their mating season so many males had their bright red pouches inflated, trying to attract females.

After a quick visit here, we stopped and snorkeled over a sinkhole. The hole wasn’t extremely deep, but my ears were thankful I didn’t go to the bottom. We did see some rather large starfish, and a couple of large stingray resting at the bottom. One of our guides, named Ishmael, would swim to the bottom and pick up conch shells. This was a rather impressive feat. After this, we snorkeled the west side of the barrier reef near Tobacco Caye, a near by island. The weather was perfect for a relaxing and fun snorkel.

The water was calm, the tide was weak, and the sun was bright. This allowed for clear water and the reef to be illuminated, showing off the bright colors of the underwater world we surveyed. After this snorkel our pre lunch day was over, and we went back to the island we called home to eat and finish our research projects. Lunch was of course terrific, and started like every meal with a cook coming out and with her high-pitched Belizean accented voice would say, “Excuse me, lunch is ready”. This was the gunshot that started the race to the food. I am proud to say there were no injuries in the dining area, and no quarrels broke out amongst the Wabash Men. I do believe I saw a sigh of relief of the cooks face when she realized this was our third to last meal on the island. I think they were happy to see us go, since we probably tested their culinary skills, by inhaling delicious item after item.

After lunch we had free time to finish up and organize our research information, which were the presented before and after dinner. These presentations turned out very well, and there was a wide variety of invertebrate biology covered. We learned everything from geographical and speciation data of snails, and sea urchins to how to discover fuzzy chitons in relative depths of seawater. After the presentations most people packed for tomorrows journey, and then headed down to the dock and bar to spend one last night with the workers. Everyone on the island was friendly and had a great sense of humor. That is one thing they cannot teach in the classroom, the cultural knowledge and anecdotes provided by the locals. I learned as much from them as I learned about biology, and coral reef habitats. I will remember many things from this trip, including what not to touch on a coral reef snorkel, but I think that with every immersion trip comes a different type of knowledge. I can sit and read about Belize or coral reefs in a book, but I cannot experience these things without seeing them first hand and interacting with the people who live there.

This was a fantastic trip and I, for one, don’t quite want to travel back to fine city of Crawfordsville just yet. Maybe God is looking down on us and will send a (small) storm, which will “force” us to stay in paradise just a little longer.

Kitley ’13 Writes on Snorkeling View

Weston Kitley ’13 – The country of Belize, which is a true tropical paradise, also is a place for immense educational opportunities. This trip has offered an extreme opportunity for the group to learn about a coral reef, its preservation and the life that depends on the reef. In this blog I will give a primary account of our daily activities, as well as interesting organisms that we were graced to see. We started by traveling to Carrie Bow Caye, which is where the Smithsonian field station exists. A wonderful woman gave our group a thorough history and tour of the island and the field station.

She explained how researchers had little time to conduct their research, how hard of a daily grind it was to live on a tropical island, and how their facility functioned. Shortly after the tour the group traced to Whale Shoal, which is a patch reef. The reef seemed very healthy and thriving. The group saw a tremendous amount of life here, like on all reefs. We saw many species of coral, and many other invertebrates. There were also some neat vertebrates, such as a shark, a manta ray and the invasive lionfish.

In the afternoon, the group was given the opportunity to conduct its own individual research. Some went to a patch reef off the south of South Water Caye, and others went to the intertidal zones off the north end. I originally went to the north end, completely my research and then traveled to the south to snorkel with the others. In this instance, the group saw a plethora of vertebrates and invertebrates. I was able to see Caribbean reef squid and octopus, beautiful Queen Conch, and some crabs. Speaking of vertebrates, a sea turtle and spotted eagle ray decided to bless us with their presence.

In the evening we traveled to the same patch reef for a night snorkel. As always the night snorkel proved to be highly rewarding! Many squid and octopus emerged, as well as eels, crabs and many other types of organisms. The high light of this swim was easily the bioluminescence. At night some small copepods in the water emit light when agitated. The group circled up, turned off their lights and treaded water. Soon we all could see little lights in the water below.

The reef shows you how many other organisms live on the planet, and how diverse they truly can be! Traveling to such a place gives students a great chance to absorb a magnificent amount of knowledge and experience on such a vital part of the planet! Thank you to all who helped give us this opportunity to travel to a place with so much to offer.

Zimmerman ’14 on a Deep Dive Off Coast

Wes Zimmerman ‘14 – Today marked the second full day that we Wabash men spent on the beautiful island of South Water Caye, Belize. Our day began pretty similarly to that of yesterday – with a morning snorkel. However, this time was a much different excursion than yesterday’s. Previously, we only snorkeled off the shore of our island in a lagoon area, a turtle grass area, and a small patch reef no more than 200 meters off the beach.

Today we adventured a couple of miles off shore to a different patch reef via boat and our guide Ishmael. It was quite intimidating jumping into the water that far off shore; none of us knew whether to expect great ocean depths or something less drastic. It turned out that the area remained a pretty consistent 10-12 feet in depth and was not much different than the previous patch reef we explored. The view within the crystal clear waters of Belize was spectacular. The patch reef was teeming with life and beautifully colored scenery. The coral reef in the area was brilliantly colored as shades of orange, yellow, purple, brown, red and many others were frequently displayed in the area. Beyond the scenery, we were able to witness many of the same organisms we had spent the last six weeks discussing in class. We were able to identify various types of sea anemone, feather duster worms, lobsters, flamingo tongue (snails), and many other organisms.

Following lunch, our group ventured off to the north side of the island to an intertidal zone. This was a rocky area that experienced severe climate change throughout the day due to changing tides. We arrived in the area during a high tide and were able to witness many different organisms that can handle such a harsh environment. The organisms included many types of snail, sea urchin, sea hare, spaghetti worms, hydroids, and even a few crabs. Following our brief introduction to the area (we will be returning here tomorrow during low tide) we helped clean up the island a bit by picking up garbage that littered the coastline.

Finally, at night we embarked on a night snorkeling adventure. This began as a truly eerie experience that developed into the highlight of the trip to this point. Using our standard snorkeling gear (flippers, snorkels, and goggles) along with a simple flashlight we took off to snorkel the lagoon off the south side of the island. It was a breathtaking experience to say the least. We witnessed several different types of organisms at night like a box jellyfish and a moray eel. The moray eel was a beautiful bright green and was a truly astonishing organism to see in person.

So far the trip has been an experience of a lifetime and I am truly thankful to be a part of it. I would like to thank both Wabash College and Dr. Eric Wetzel for the opportunity to experience such an amazing trip and to develop new friendships and lifelong memories.

Habitat Exploration Highlight for Hauser ’15

Wes Hauser ’15 -  Looking back on nearly half a week spent in tropical paradise, I have to say that my expectations have been met and exceeded. Going into the trip, I saw this congruent to that of a Pokémon adventure (for those of you geeky and/or old enough to get the reference). Basically, our days have consisted of snorkeling through the islands’ various habitats with the goal of finding and capturing (on film) as many “Pokémon” as possible.

Today we visited the intertidal zone in the morning and the mangrove habitat in the afternoon. While I had seen intertidal zones during some time spent in California, mangrove islands were totally new to me. For those of you who don’t know, mangroves are large trees and shrubs that are highly resistant to sea water and its high salinity. And naturally, as a budding botanist, visiting this habitat was one of the highlights of my snorkeling adventures. I saw several upside down jellies and sea stars on the sandy floor of the area. In between the mangrove roots, I spotted beautiful feather duster worms, hermit crabs, young schools of fish, and a host of what are called “flat tree oysters.” These guys spend their time attached to mangrove roots, filter feeding the sediment that passes through the sea. For a small research project, I determined the distribution of flat tree oysters and found that roughly one in five mangrove roots had these little guys plastered along their sides. Their widespread distribution is amazing!

So, all in all, this trip has been super busy exploring a wide range of habitats and seeing a variety of different organisms, but we’ve also had ample opportunity to enjoy ourselves along the way. My only regret will be returning to snow-covered Crawfordsville at the end of this week!

Song ’15 Absorbs Belize Warm Climate

Jingwei Song ’15 – It’s our first day on South Water Caye. The morning sun shines through the window and wind from the sea blows across the room: waking up on an island was just wonderful. Our dorm, the classroom and the dining hall are all connected. You would too feel reluctant to wear shoes.

After breakfast, Dr. Wetzel gave us a quick lecture over Turtle grass and coral reef ecosystem. It helped us to have a search image of the organisms where we were snorkeling. In the morning, we snorkeled at the south end of the island. The water was about 6ft deep and you could see the bottom quite easily just floating on the surface. The most exciting animal I saw was a stingy ray, well camouflaged in the turtle grass. Unfortunately when I called out to the other guys to see it, we lost it.

In the afternoon we took a boat ride out to a fore reef. Water was about 15ft deep and the currents were much stronger. Underwater was a completely different ecosystem. We saw staghorn corals as large as adult humans. Huge sea fans, brain corals and so on. We wouldn’t have appreciated the size of these Cnidarians until we have seen them.

Happy birthday to Weston. Our hospitable cook prepared candles and cakes and we all sang a birthday song to him at supper.