Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Belize - Invertebrate Biology

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Rays, Barracuda and Fire Coral...Oh My!

Shane Harmon '10-Thursday, Day 5 at South Water Caye, Belize.  After lunch we headed out to the south side of the island to an area of patch reef that we could easily reach by swimming.  We already visited this area the first day, so I was excited to see if I could identify anything new now that my snorkeling skills have improved.  Almost immediately we saw two large barracudas 3-4 feet long.  They weren’t as big as the 4-4.5 foot one I saw yesterday, but these two swam slow enough that I was able to swim along for a while and watch how they moved.  If you aren’t sure what it is or are not expecting to see a barracuda it can be startling because of their size and the fact that they like to gape their mouths open showing a full set of sharp teeth.  Without knowing any better it may seem like they will attack at any moment. A little later I heard someone yell out they had spotted something and I was close so I quickly swam over.  It was a massive ray beyond the edge of the patch reef in deeper water.  It must have been 4 foot wide and 8 foot long with the pointed tail trailing behind.  I was able to follow it for 3-4 minutes at a fast swim as it circled out beyond the reef and then made a pass right back through the middle before escaping into the open water.  The ease with which it swam was amazing.  It seemed to simply float through the water with no effort at all while I did everything I could to keep it in sight.

After the snorkel, four of us swam over to the nearest island, Carrie Bow Caye.  We had finally gotten a hesitant go ahead by Dr. Wetzel after he slept on the idea and spoke with the IZE staff.  The distance was about a half mile but we weren’t sure how strong the currents would be in the middle of the channel so a few guys kayaked just in case anyone got in trouble.  The swim out wasn’t too bad except for the point when I suddenly reached a wall of coral.  I was just cruising along and when I looked up I saw the tops of coral all around exposed by the waves.  We hadn’t realized that the barrier reef extended so far in and by taking the shortest line to Carrie Bow Caye we ran right into it.  There was no way through so we had to swim around it.  Coming back was much more of a challenge as we had to fight the current and waves the whole way.  The swells kept flooding my snorkel and the current forced regular adjustments to our line.  We all got swept a little far out by the current forcing a tough swim straight into it, but we made it back unassisted to celebrate out success.  I’m looking forward to our snorkel at the fore-reef and project presentations tomorrow to put a great end to our stay on the island.

In photo, beach area on South Water Caye; the island on which we stayed