I’m gonna die without a Ph.D!!!

The terrified orator who inspired today's title, in a more gleeful mood upon dry land.
The terrified orator who inspired today’s title, in a more gleeful mood upon dry land.

TREC is bursting with activity these days with the addition of a horde of Transylvanians. We shared a spaghetti and meatball feast last night in preparation for today’s adventure to Rocky Point.

This morning we waved goodbye to our beloved Goliath and headed to the dock next door in front of Xanadu Resort, where we were picked up in a speedboat. We were escorted by Gavino and his five million horsepower to the north end of the island. As the reef arched back towards the coastline, we escaped the deadly shallows through a treacherous channel. The rest of the trip was like being on a motorized surfboard (fun for some, less so for others). Within sight of Mexico we turned back into the coastal lagoons of Belize and waded ashore.

Leaving our snorkels on the boat, we hiked along the Pleistocene coastline to examine the plethora of fossilized corals. Most of the rocky coast is actually composed of corals, now over 125,000 years old. Most of the species we found are still present on the reefs today. Grayson and Jack tag teamed a coconut from its tree, and Forrest and Will embraced their inner Neanderthals as they smashed it on the corals. Others resisted the urge to undo millions of years of evolution, going in search of pristine coral samples among their Pleistocene ancestors.

Sequoya with Acropora cervicornis at Rocky Point.
Sequoya with Acropora cervicornis at Rocky Point.

The coastline along rocky point was also home to countless snails, a few crabs, and pools of baby Sergeant Majors (a common striped reef fish). Several members of the team collected samples of fossilized corals, sand and shells before wading back out to the boat. Veins bulged on Forrest’s rippling lats as he hauled the anchor aboard, hand over hand.

The Strapping Lad

Enjoying bagged H20 with our chicken sandwiches (courtesy of Maggie back at TREC) we floated down the lagoon in lazy preparation for a midday snorkel. Meanwhile, Gavino went spearfishing and bagged a pair of red snapper.

The snorkeling conditions were excellent. Crystal clear, shallow Caribbean waters allowed us incredible views of everything from Acropora to Angelfish. We explored for a short while, savoring our last recreational snorkel before tomorrow’s field exam. Lisa found a special Diadema sample which she shared enthusiastically with Gavino’s hand. That Diadema will live with him forever, a momento of the goofy American crew and their professor.  With heavy hearts, we turned the prow back towards the crashing surf.

GAVINO’S REVENGE

An ominous drizzle foretold the precipitous ride to come. The waves began to build and our faces turned upwards to their rising white crests. Gavinio’s wry grin proved a stark contrast to our exclamations of fear. POUND! went the boat into the first drop, waves hammering against the fiberglass hull. Each successive wave reached ever higher, the boat relentlessly climbing towards the sky and careening down the wave’s back. Butts flew from seats and smiles began to wane as we flirted with a capsize. Our fingernails dug into the gunwale and seats as we futilely attempted to anchor ourselves to the rollicking boat. This was met with middling success. One Katy Bonaro crashed to the floor and scrambled back to her seat unharmed, while Forrest Behne was jettisoned from his purchase, skipping across the floor, a smile plastered across his face. Soaked and salted like the fearsome sailors of the Cornelia Marie, we emerged from amongst the Bering-like swells, some emotionally shaken, but hearts still afloat.

We welcomed the turquoise waters of the peaceful lagoon and headed back to basecamp where we currently await a riveting discussion and a dinner reservation at Dr. Greer’s favorite restaurant in San Pedro.

Fossilized fun at our Fingertips! (yeah, I alliterate a lot.)
Fossilized fun at our Fingertips! (yeah, I alliterate a lot.)

Ciao for now,

Chloe, Will and Jack

 

Sunburnt Swimmers Spearfishing

Yupp, that’s alliteration. Today’s adventures began with several students jumping in the pool (due to a lack of water pressure at TREC), and breakfast at 8; biscuits, papaya, and scrambled eggs accompanied the usual pile of watermelon on the buffet.

After breakfast and a quick briefing of today’s schedule, our entourage filed down to the dock, under a cloudy sky for today’s dive.  Thankfully, the sea was significantly calmer compared to yesterday.  Our first stop was  an hour boat ride north along the island: The Mexican Rocks (the Mexican border is approximately 15 miles further north, so we didn’t need our passports).  After applying sunscreen, spitting in our masks, and last-minute hydration, we split into two groups to explore the reef.  Mexican Rock, unlike yesterday’s sites, was a lot deeper in water.  It could just be me, but it seems as if this patch reef system held far more diverse and abundant fish activity.  For the first time we saw moray eels and squids.  We even saw about three sting rays and two nurse sharks.  No students were harmed in this exploration of Mexican Rock. However, several of us had a Sea Egg gleefully attach itself to our hands.

Isn't it cute?!
Isn’t it cute?!

After a tour of the reef requiring lots of swimming around, the groups split up into pairs and began looking for things on the scavenger list.  All the time put into reef identification the week prior back in Lexington payed off bountifully.  We were all very thankful for putting in many hours before learning the different types of reefs.  Back on the boat, a lunch of bean dip, tuna sandwiches, and PB and J’s took place on the way to our next stop, Mexican Cave.

Mexican cave, is just that, a cave; just south of our first snorkel spot and ~10 meters below the ocean’s surface, this was a great excuse for us to practice our free diving skills (or lack there of). We were sufficiently impressed with Siete and Abner’s skills and Professor Greer’s underwater headstand. This was not the end of today’s excitement, since we still had one more stop, Catalan.

Catalan was a small patch reef ecosystem where Grayson had the pleasure of slaughtering a lionfish. We discussed the lionfish epidemic last night in TREC’s hammock garden. They are an invasive species which eat like gluttons, and they are not picky eaters either. Many small fish on the reef are potential meals for these voracious predators. So, in an environment where collecting or hunting live species of anything is usually prohibited, it’s open season on lionfish. One small problem is that the lionfish has venemous spikes protruding from its striped torso. Our guides Ken and Siete can attest to the painfulness of being pricked by the lion. After a long effort to chase the lionfish out of its reclusive home underneath a coral, our gladiator-in-residence Grayson swiftly speared it through the scalp.

Lionfish on spear

Lionfish overhead