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Day 582: Southwater Caye, Belize

July 26, 2016

Today we learned that eels get very upset when you wake them up at 10:00 pm. Actually, we learned a lot of things. The day, once again, was full of new adventures and unexpected activities: an island walk about, a visit with the researchers at the Carrie Bow Smithsonian Research Lab, snorkeling around a patch coral reef, a whopping 3 hours of free time, snorkeling again off our island home in the late afternoon and then again after dark! Whoa! How do you fit that in to 16 hours? Very carefully, friends.

Even though we are on a little piece of paradise, we are not on vacation. Well. That’s a half truth. Waking up for a 6:00 morning walk kicked off our first full day on the tropical island.   Everyone was surprised to learn that our local Belizean friend, Ryan, could crack coconuts on a coconut post. Trust us, it’s harder than it looks. Of the 300 coconuts that a tree produces each year, Ryan effortlessly cracked one for us. It is kind of unsettling to see signs that warn us to “watch for falling coconuts.” We also learned that the pumice under our feet is in fact from a volcano in Guatemala. All of this before 8:00 a.m.

Our first boat ride landed us on Carrie Bow, the home of the Smithsonian Research Institute here in South Caye. Zach, the site manager, met us and introduced us to the latest research going on, focusing on the CO2 impacts on salinity and urchin menu preferences. Who knew sea urchins were picky eaters?! We were expecting extensive research tools when we found the research was being done with a plastic slotted spoon and a spatula. It just goes to show that scientists don’t need fancy items to conduct research. In fact, the research tools at the Smithsonian lab could actually be found in many regular 5th grade classrooms! What an epiphany! Also, did you know that the color on the coral is called photosynthetic zooxanthellae? Put that in your spell checker! Many of us were shocked to learn the brilliant coloration found on the coral is actually an algae that forms on the coral and creates a symbiotic relationship. If the algae dies, the coral becomes bleached (white), and thus loses its ability to thrive. It all made sense when we realized why the research on CO2 levels was so important: it directly impacts the life of the coral. Crazy, right? High fives to all of those using alternative energy: you’re helping the oceans maintain life! Also, thanks to our friends at Carrie Bow — keep up the great work.

Shortly after our Smithsonian research center tour, we hopped back on our boat (a 25-foot fiberglass v-hull with twin 200 hp engines) to scoot over to a patch reef. Belize it or not, we really are getting the hang of snorkeling! Those of us who never snorkeled before were diving down to get a closer look at the brain coral. Amy was stoked to see the stoplight parrotfish (which she insisted was a spotlight parrot fish). She was also excited to see the yellowtail damselfish. We put our waterproof field guides to use when we explored these unknown reefs, all before lunch.

Everyone can likely agree that the most unexpected aspect of our day was when Liz revealed that we would have 3 hours of discretionary time to explore the island as we pleased. Lauren said, “WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!” as she realized she would have time to paddle board, kayak, lie out in hammocks (reflecting on our research, of course), journal, and try some yoga. Freddy got an up-close and personal look at a piece of conch in his foot — what a trooper. In fact, we notice a theme with this trip: stretching ourselves while traveling helps us experience new things. During reflection, Sheret made a great point: if we never do things outside our comfort zone, we’ll never have new experiences. Try things that scare you, be vulnerable, snorkel after dark, find that moray eel — and follow him to see where he swims! (Yes, this actually happened).

We are officially in the final lap of our trip, and it continues to be filled with unexpected surprises and experiences. Every minute of this adventure is intentionally planned by our wonderful leaders. They have made us feel so safe and comfortable that we are all quite confident to try at least one new thing each day.

Once we get home we will flip through our journals and there will be no way to capture the excitement, laughter, and pure joy that has prevailed throughout our journey. The inside jokes (fart fart, kill the baby!), the developed trust, and the act of falling in love with the surrounding ecology has been the product of our daily adventures.

We are thoroughly enjoying your comments, questions, and jokes, so please continue to send us more for us to answer as we wrap up our adventure. Mom: the water temperature is perfect (88 degrees) and I can’t wait to show it to you. Although we are really excited to come home, leaving this tropical paradise is going to be a bigger challenge than dodging scorpions in the Cockscomb Basin.   However the friendships we have made will be with us forever, and the experiences we have shared will strengthen our relationships with ourselves, our family, and our students.

(photos coming soon)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Annabelle permalink
    July 26, 2016 1:54 pm

    Amazing adventures!! The reefs are so full of life and color! I just arrived at the sea today (south of Dangriga) and I had forgotten how beautiful it is – enjoy every minute. I hope you all have a blast with the musicians!

    Kim – when we’re all back, you, Lindsey and I are going to have rum punch and Belize reminiscening night . . .

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