Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Belize - Invertebrate Biology

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Biology the Way It Should Be Taught

Dan Eddelman ’10 - Today started off with breakfast at 7:30am.  That sounds kind of early by standards back home, but the sun goes down at night here around 6:30, and comes up around 5:30 or so.  After breakfast we took a little time to get changed, and then had a short lecture about coral reefs to prepare us for the day’s snorkels.  If you can even call it lecture; taking notes in nothing but swim trunks from the professor lecturing barefoot in a small classroom overlooking the ocean is hardly a lecture in the way I’m used to it.  Anyway, turns out the barrier reef here is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia – so I guess this is just the Good Barrier Reef (please excuse my terrible sense of humor).  After the lecture we swam off the point on the South end of the island, over the turtle grass from yesterday, out to a section of patch reef.  In the afternoon we took a boat – the “Jushi” – out to a different section of patch reef past Carrie Bow Caye.  Both environments were very similar, and were a haven for a wide range of species.  Patch reef is essentially large hunks of reef scattered about on the ocean floor at a depth of about 5-15 feet.  The increased depth allowed for a lot more maneuverability and diving capabilities than the turtle grass, and there were a great deal more organisms, including a number of different fish, corals, sponges, annelids, echinoderms, and crustaceans, and more.  Probably the most memorable finds of the day were a Caribbean Spiny Lobster, and a number of Donkey Dung Sea Cucumbers, which, as the name implies, look essentially like big donkey turds.  The two snorkel trips were split by lunch and some serious beach volleyball under the scorching tropical sun.  Despite all the invertebrate biology I learned, I also learned that Dr. Wetzel plays beach volleyball for keeps; he blocked a feeble attempt at a spike right back in my face with no remorse.  After our afternoon snorkel we watched Hasty play around with a Sea Hare for awhile, getting his hand thoroughly covered in deep purple ink.  With the sunset came the consistently delicious dinner, as well as the arrival of some students from a high school academy in or around Boston.  We spent the rest of the evening playing Euchre and sipping on Belikin, “the beer of Belize.”  Overall, a very good day.


In photo, a spotted sea hare found near the dock.


Keegan Gelvoria – ’10. Today, on another day at the office, we swam to a patch reef on the southern side of the island. We walked off the beach and swam through patches of turtle grass, glazing over the habitat we already observed yesterday. When we arrived to the patch reef, we were able to see a larger diversity of corals than the other patches of reef. Amongst all the coral, there was a variety of marine organisms. Since the waves that were cresting from the reef were so close, it was able to move us off our course quite easily. So, we swam around the western end of the island to an area of turtle grass to see another type of habitat. At this part, we saw upside-down jellyfish, animals which are exactly as their name describes. We also saw quite a bit of donkey dung sea cucumbers, which are not the prettiest animals of the sea. After another delicious meal at the research center, we took a boat out past the Smithsonian research island, Carrie Bow Caye. We reached our destination, which was another patch reef. This patch reef was a bit different than the patch reef from the morning because it was more pelagic. Organisms in this area were a bit larger. I accidentally brushed up on some fire coral that still seemed to penetrate through my rash guard; there was a sharp stinging sensation on the area for a while. We saw so many different types of invertebrates during these two snorkeling sessions; sun anemones, cushion sea star, brain corals, and branching vase sponge are just a small percentage of what we saw. This center is a great place because there are currently three different academic programs visiting: Wabash College, University of Connecticut, and a high school from Boston. All of these programs are studying and focusing on different areas of the reef, but we all benefit from this research center and the marine protected habitat. Watching the area surrounding all of us in this sun-kissed island takes some time to really appreciate the fact that we are here for biology. This is the way biology should be taught where we are able to observe the animals we are studying alive and in their natural habitats.


In photo, reef habitat with much coral diversity.