This past week (Week 3 in Belize!) was our designated research week with the professors. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were our scuba diving and snorkeling days with David and Denise and Al. On Tuesday and Thursday, we kayaked in the mangroves for Denise’s research. Emily, René, Jasmine, and I scuba dived with David. Before we left Amigos del Mar, the dive shop, we discussed exactly what we would be doing with the corals (the practice dive last week helped a lot!) and divided into two groups. One person took pictures of the coral mounds that fit within the square frame of a PVC pipe (quadrat) and then close-ups of soft corals for identification. Back at Smith, these images will determine the average amount of dead and live corals on each mound. Each day we did two mounds and took about 16-20 quadrat images. Yeiny and Glenda snorkeled with Denise and filmed all around the coral mounds to get a complete image of the sampled mounds.
While it seems simple when written out, these tasks were quite difficult as the current and waves moved us around a lot. Because of that, we had to be overweighted (essentially, we had more weight on our scuba weight belts) so that we really stayed on the seafloor. And, we had divemasters that would help us get images in case we couldn’t. For example, Jasmine and I teamed together and we had to take images in a small space in which we were surrounded by coral mounds.
It was very hard for both of us to be in that space so I got in and held the quadrat while JC (our divemaster) floated about me and took the images. Also, communication is limited so we bring a clipboard with waterproof paper. We also have some hand signals, such as the “OK” hand signal for “I am OK” and a thumbs up for “I need to go up,” so we can quickly communicate. However, by the end of research week, these tasks came easily to us and we will miss being able to dive and snorkel.
On our last diving day, our diving masters took us to a cave that was 25 ft underwater. We had used the air tanks for research so we could only free dive down if we wanted to see it. Emily and I tried and we got down there! It was so cool and saw so many fish (including a lionfish!). Next to it, there was also a coral nursery.
On Tuesday and Thursday, we headed north to take pictures and
collect data in the mangroves. The pictures were of mangrove propagules (young mangrove trees) above water and their roots underwater. Then, we mapped where they were located so we can find them next year. We also made note of different living organisms, such as snails, barnacles, algae, to see if they affected the growth of mangrove propagules. To collect these data, we kayaked out into the mangroves with a GoPro, iPad, and Bad Elf GPS device.
To end our successful research week, we had Lobsterfest on Saturday. This festival celebrates the start of lobster season and a variety of restaurants have tents to give passersby a taste of their delicious lobster dishes. We also had a table of our own to advertise our summer camp. We had coloring and face painting, and pin the tail on the lobster and a fishing game. All of the kids had a lot of fun and so did we!
This coming week, we will be busy with our REEF camp for students aged 12 and older. Stay tuned to hear all about the fun activities we will do with the kids!
– Giovanna Sabini-Leite & Team STARRS