After a day’s rest from snorkeling the reefs, we boarded the Goliath for a long day on the seas. Destinations for the day: the manatee channel, Caye Caulker, Coral Gardens (a garden of coral). We raced boats of other inquisitive swimmers to the sea cow resting grounds and arrived earliest. Once in the water, we crept up towards the resting animals. As a crowd gathered, the manatees began to take notice and fled to more open waters. It’s mating season here off the Belizean coast; <3 was in the waters today.
Affording the manatees their private space, we swam to a sunken barge arrived at theoceans floor after a tropical storm. The wreck, resplendent fire corals and gorgonia (soft corals) was home toschools of grunt, butterfly fish and the residence of a 8 foot long nurse shark that wallowed in its rusting bowels.
Lunch for the day brought us to the nearby island of Caye Caulker. The sun beat down upon the still waters obscuring the horizon in all directions aside from our destination. The railings were crowded as we peered through the crystalline waters to the sandy bottom littered with sea stars, the occasional turtle, and skipping needlefish. We dined on chicken sandwiches at the Happy Lobster and lazily walked along the rustic shops and road-by stands back to the dock. This small island community, with the motto “Go slow”, provided rest to more foreigners than inhabitants.
Our brief stay ended with the class comparing trinkets back on the boat as we readied for research preparations at coral gardens. We spent the boat ride to the dive site discussing potential research methods with Dr. Greer and soon-to-be Dr. Doss. The afternoon sun began to fade, but we were nevertheless eager to cool off in the waters of Coral Gardens. With our dive slates fitted with waterproof paper, we submerged with the purpose of evaluating percent coral cover. A keystone of Rapid Reef Assessments, this protocol served as a practice assignment within our research groups. Scrambling back on board just as the sun began set, the Goliath cranked its motors back to port.
The day concludes with fresh coconut opened by yours truly and we prepare for the day ahead.
After a sweltering night between the sheets–or rather above–we awoke to hot coffee and daybreak. A breakfast of approximately 45 slices of french toast, a loaf of banana bread made from the bananas hanging out back, and 3.7 pineapples later, the troop left to learn about the local flora.
Craned necks scrutinized poisonwood leaflets and almond tree nuts, while curious fingers picked sea grapes and nino fruits. To the unaccustomed traveling eye there appeared to be a trash problem on this fair island of Ambergris Caye, however one man’s trash is another man’s foundation. One citizen decided that a constantly inundated lawn was best avoided through the stockpiling of a thick layer of cardboard and turtle grass neatly covered with a liberal application of sand. Strolling past this newfangled attempt at recycling, the group happened upon a gumbo limbo tree, which, interestingly enough, is the antidote to the pustule inducing poisonwood. The tiny stingless honey bees that provide the island with sweetener buzzed around our inquiring faces. We picked amongst the mounds of turtle grass blown up on the shore by the unrelenting wind, waves, and tides before heading back to TREC to ready ourselves for our first day on the water.
Goliath, our vessel for our ten day sojourn in Belize, laid in wait on the dock’s edge and we hopped abroad. After a fifteen minute sunbath on deck, we donned wetsuits, flips, and snorkels and finally dove beneath the aquamarine Belizean waters. Without much an agenda, we were relatively free to explore Tres Cocos, our chosen dive spot for the afternoon. Accountibilibuddies in tow, brain corals, trumpet fish, and the odd barracuda flashed in front of our goggles. An enormous hermit crab that had found refuge in a horse conch tried to snatch our flailing fingers as we posed for pictures.
Egg salad sandwiches and a glorious bean dip (not pictured because of the alacrity with which it was consumed) revitalized us after fighting unseasonably strong currents all afternoon. A move to the southern end of the reef yielded more fascinating corals and critters: starfish, stingray, damselfish, parrot fish abound. Pruned fingers grasped for Goliath’s steps and we pulled our sleek neoprene selves from the balmy waters. Tanned and exhausted we turned towards TREC, calling it a afternoon well spent at the office.