8/12. About every five years, sections of the Rio Grande River are GPS habitat mapped and a color coded map is compiled showing the overall health. This includes point source pollution, farm land close to the river banks, slash and burn, water quality, and tons more. We took off early in the morning and began our journey down the river in kayaks in the middle of a huge storm. I was worried my kayak was going to fill with water and sink because it was raining so hard! Kayaking down a river sounds relaxing, does it not? Not in a rainforest. It was a constant battle of crashing through vines, navigating around and under fallen trees, complete with spiders and lots of different kinds of bugs continually falling on me. And it was fun! Minus the giant spiders. It’s a really cool feeling to actually be out in the field knowing it is not just a classroom experiment and that the data you are collecting is actually being used.
8/13. Day two of river bank monitoring. My arms are so sore from yesterday that it was a struggle at the end of today. Got lots of scrapes and bruises trying to navigate the river. Later in the day we packed up and headed to the private lands for reforestation and ecosystem rehabilitation work.
8/14. After two days of kayaking, I turned out pretty useless with a shovel today. The boys worked long and hard shoveling and scooping mud, the women used the day for some shut eye and painting some educational signs.
8/15. Woke up early this morning and headed up the river for reforestation work. For years farmers were using land close to the river banks and this caused lots of erosion, habitat loss, and biodiversity loss. TIDE takes this land and plants native species of trees and fruit trees along the banks to recreate a stable environment. As we went up the river the rangers pointed out what trees were planted x years ago, y years ago, z years ago. It was incredible to see the difference and the impact that has already been made. Hiking, digging holes, and planting trees is no easy task when its boiling hot out with no wind and you cannot jump in the river because there are crocodiles. A little upset I have not gotten to see a crocodile yet. After that work we packed up and headed back to BF.
8/16. Today was a bit of a free day so a group of us caught the bus into PG, hung out in town (aka wifi), and did errands. Turns out the bus time we were planning on taking home doesn’t run on Saturdays, but luckily our awesome friend Bevington took care of us and got us headed in the right direction. We then all decided to go out for a fun night. At our first bar I was walking down a staircase that had water on the stairs (sober), slipped and fell the entire way down the staircase. I have a bruise the size of a soccer ball. It was so embarrassing as everyone in the room paused and looked over at me. My cohort could not stop laughing.
8/18. Because turtle high season is almost over, today we headed out to Moho Caye to spend a WHOLE week camping on the island in cabanas. This decision was made because the cayes we monitor for turtles are closer to Moho and we will be spending all night into the mornings patrolling. The cabanas are incredible! It’s almost like Bora Bora, the cabanas are over the water with incredible sunrise and sunset views. No electricity. Dropped our belongings off early in the morning and headed out to Abalone to get the dive gear. We did two conch monitoring dives then headed back to Moho for dinner. After dinner we went out and did night beach patrols for turtles. The stars were incredible tonight!
|Our cabana on the island|
8/19. Did not do any dives today, but we did go out for some incredible snorkeling and hung out on the island.
8/20. While we waited for the boat to pick us up from the island we went kayaking and snorkeled from some of the closer islands. Today we finished the last two conch monitoring dives.
8/21. Our last Thursday in Belize. Incredibly sad. Today we started sea cucumber monitoring dives. No one in Belize eats sea cucumbers, but recently it has become popular to harvest as this is an Asian delicacy. They have an ongoing research project to monitor the impact of sea cucumber harvesting. This involves two teams, one on each side of the anchored boat dropping a cement block with a buoy attached to it. A tape is then attached to the buoy and about every four meters until we hit 11.28 meters, we travel in a circular pattern looking for sea cucumbers. If one is found, its length and width is measured, then taken up to the boat to measure its weight. Much easier than the conch monitoring dives. Out of the 19 research dives, whatever we do not get to the research team will finish for us. Tonight we started all night beach patrols. Our group was split into two and we spent all night until 5:00am patrolling two different Cayes. This was not all fun and play. The wind made it very cold, and the sand flies are treacherous little creatures. Oh and the occasional rain. The reason for these patrols is a group called EcoMar provided TIDE with a turtle tracking tag (not cheap by the way). This group is interested in the Hawksbill turtle, so not only did we have to watch for a turtle to come up to the beach and lay its eggs, but we were looking for a particular species as well. Did not see any turtles tonight, but we did get to see the sunrise from Moho Caye!
8/22. Woke up in the afternoon, and went on a fun dive. This dive was a max depth of 60 feet and the corals/fish we saw were gorgeous! The biggest fire corals I have yet to see here. Tonight we did an all-nighter beach patrol again. I was just about asleep on the beach when at 12:30am Javier went to water the plants and came running back saying “I think we missed a turtle”! We went to investigate and there were turtle tracks, the turtle was just digging its hole to lays her eggs! Waited half an hour to confirm it was a Hawksbill turtle, then the boat went to pick up the second team on another Caye who had the tag gear. Ever tagged a turtle? Sounds a lot easier than it is. The men had a hard time getting the turtle, then once it was stabilized on the cooler they had to physically hold it in place as the turtle was trying to use its powerful limbs to escape. The whole process took about three hours as we had to clean the shell, apply the glue, wait for it to dry, put another layer on, wait for it to dry, and release the turtle back into the water. Started at 2:00am and finished at 5:30am. We were some tired little campers once we reached our cabanas.
|4am waiting for the glue to dry|
8/23. Woke up in the afternoon and went for two fun dives. The first dive was a deeper dive at about 60 feet, and the second dive was a shallower dive. I was finally able to take my iPhone on a dive! It’s been hard because we have either been doing research dives or the dives have been too deep for the phone to go. Surfacing was very bitter-sweet as it was officially our last dive before we return to our respective homes. Once I was back on the boat, I realized I will leave something forever in Belize. On my very LAST dive, one of my diamond earrings managed to fall out. I consider it a gift to the reefs. To celebrate our last night on the island we had some fun and relaxed the whole night.
|Iphone photos underwater :)|
8/25. Spent the day in town last minute shopping and enjoying the day. Tonight we are going out for a big dinner, relaxing tomorrow, then Wednesday we depart Belize. It’s been fun, it’s been real, and I am very sad to leave. Gained some awesome friends, had wonderful experiences, and now as this chapter closes, the next chapter of my last year of grad school begins. If I have my way, after graduation I will be back in Belize for six months.
|Sunrise on the island|