Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Belize - Invertebrate Biology
 

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Fun in the Sun

Nick Rockefeller ’10 - Our first snorkeling trip of the day took us to the mangrove area West of South Water Caye.  We arrived with a light drizzle of rain sprinkling upon us, leaving us slightly chilled in our sunburned state.  We pulled into a boat channel on the interior of the island and jumped in to snorkel.  The water was not deep (3-8 ft.), yet we could barely see the bottom without diving down to observe closely.  The copious amount of sediment that had settled on the bottom was also floating somewhat in the still waters.  We hundreds upon hundreds of upside down jellyfish on the bottom of the channel, and among the mangrove braches, we saw several types of worms and even what our local boatman called a “batfish.”  The batfish to this point eludes our scientific classification and cannot seem to be found in any of our taxonomic books. 

 

On our way back, we stopped at a spot to snorkel directly over a sinkhole in the sea bed.  The turtle grass habitat dropped from approximately ten feet in depth in a sheer cliff face to about thirty feet.  On the floor of the sinkhole were cushion stars, sea biscuits, and several types of sponges.

 

In the afternoon, we went to the north side of the island to walk in the rocky intertidal zone, just inland of the barrier reef crest.  This provided us with the opportunity to observe a large variety of invertebrate species.  We saw many types of urchins, anemones, snails, and worms, as well as one Caribbean spiny lobster.  One of the more numerous types of worms was the spaghetti worm, which sends out tentacles from its main body in order to capture small pieces of organic matter for food.  The food particles are brought back to the tube in which the body rests.  The tube is made of uniform size pieces of shell debris that the soft worm uses the shield its body from the environment.  

 

After our intertidal stroll, we played a few games of beach volleyball in front of our bungalow.  It was nice to be out of the sun, as we came back from the intertidal zone after peak sun hours and near the time of sunset.  Next we gear up for our night snorkel in the patch reef!

 

In photo, view from porch surrounding living area.

 

Andrew Hasty – ’09 Yesterday (Tuesday) morning we ventured through a patch reef south of the island near Southwater Cut (“Cut” being a break in the barrier reef).  Today we journeyed once again out to the same patch reef…wait, perhaps “tonight” would have been a better time indicator judging how we snorkeled under the light of a full moon.  Before partaking in the night snorkel two immediate thoughts came to my mind: one, we would have to forgo dinner another hour and a half which was hard to swallow (pun intended), and secondly, I was underwater flashlight-less.  Like a painter without a brush I was lacking a very essential tool for success, as in seeing the interesting biology and not ending up on a chunk of fire coral or worse.  The problem was solved as I stuck to Austin Kline’s side like a remora to a shark as his flashlight, no that’s not enough justice, his spotlight lit up the ocean floor.  After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, we suddenly found ourselves in a stampede of hundreds of fish.  The school moved in unison in each direction and eventually encircled us…we were right in the middle.  It reminded me of the scene from Gladiator when Maximus and the others are being circled by the chariots in the Coliseum, minus the arrows and spears of course.  The cover of night brought out some interesting inverts including a Spanish lobster, a Caribbean reef squid, and an octopus which didn’t like being pestered judging by the fact it tried stealing one student’s flashlight (which would’ve been nice then I wouldn’t have been the only one) and topped it off with a nice spray of ink.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the night snorkel was when everyone with a flashlight turned them off and we were accompanied by darkness, the moon, and what appeared to be tiny fireflies.  The fireflies were actually bio-luminescent crustaceans known as ostracods, which lit up once agitated. The night snorkel was truly a worthwhile experience that I will remember for years and if I ever get the opportunity to do it again, I’ll be sure to have a late afternoon snack and bring a flashlight!

 

In photo, senior Andrew Hasty holds a vibrant sea star.