New Geocache at South Water Caye

Location of South Water Caye Geocache (it's under the left corner of the porch in this picture)

Location of South Water Caye Geocache (it’s under the left corner of the porch in this picture)

Next time any of you happen to be on South Water Caye, you can find the geocache that we left there in 2012.

Here is the information on the cache, that was just published today!

http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC4YD0P_ize-south-water-caye

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Day 20: All Good Things Must Come to an End

After an early morning of packing and a quick photo op, we had to say goodbye to the warm sunshine, sandy beaches, and beautiful marine life surrounding South Water Caye. We took one last boat ride back to the mainland and headed towards our last stopover site in Belize, the Tropical Education Center.

Throughout this whole trip, Marie Sharp’s hot sauce and jams have been provided at every meal. During our last day, we had the opportunity to tour the factory of this famous Belizean product. The market manager and Marie Sharp herself showed us the process required to make their delicious hot sauces and jams, and after our tour, we were allowed to try all the flavors. Only the bravest tried the Beware, the hottest sauce with a label that reads “keep away from children.” Several purchases will be traveling back to the states with us, and we cannot wait for Marie Sharp’s to start selling their products in Maine.

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Not long after leaving the factory, liquid and steam started spurting out of the bus’s hood. By this point, it was almost expected that we would not have a bus that worked properly. After the problem was handled, Peter educated us as we drove through the capital of Belize, Belmopan. Belmopan became the capital in 1970 after a hurricane devastated Belize City, the former capital. Belmopan is relatively small, and the governmental agencies make up much of the city.

After a second lunch at Cheers, we arrived at Tropical Education Center. We unpacked and got situated, and were soon back at birding. We took a walk through a pine savanna where we saw blue grey gnatcatchers, warblers, and acorn woodpeckers. Also spotted on this walk was a green vine snake about four and a half feet long! If we had missed the bugs at South Water Caye, we were certainly getting our fair share here.

After a great dinner, which provided some much needed calories, we grabbed our flashlights and loaded the bus to go to the zoo for a “nocturnal walk.” We got to hold boa constrictors and see many of the animals that had evaded us in the rainforest. These included jaguars, tapirs, pumas, and many more magnificent creatures, each with there own story of how they got there. Animals that lived in the zoo were incapable of living in the wild, but some were only there temporarily and would ideally be released after recuperation.

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Upon arrival back to the Tropical Education Center, we all gathered at the dining hall to listen to Peter play the guitar and sing (a hidden talent)! As we listened, we couldn’t help but think of the looming goodbye that would come tomorrow. Peter will be missed by all of us, but we will try to stay in touch. He’s anxious to hear about the Colby Bird Nerds!

Our time here has been absolutely unbelieze-able! We’ve seen so many cool things and done so much together. It will be hard to go, but we’re all looking forward to seeing family and friends back home. And of course being able to do laundry. Thanks for everything Belize!

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Day 19: The sun sets on our stay at South Water Caye

Today was a bittersweet end to our stay at South Water Caye. We had an incredible day and we are all sad to leave this paradise. This morning about half of the group got up early to watch the sunrise from Bruce’s cottage porch. The sunrise was beautiful and peaceful, it was slightly obscured but the clouds and sun created a beautiful panorama of light and shadow on the horizon. The serenity of the sunrise didn’t carry over to breakfast where, as usual, we queued up to attack all of the food available. After breakfast we met to talk about our morning snorkel as well as the projects we are working on while snorkeling. We have been doing a coral watch project as well as a Damselfish behavioral study.

The sun rises behind clouds on our last day at South Water Caye.

The sun rises behind clouds on our last day at South Water Caye.

 

The morning snorkel was a great one to end on. We wend to Coral Gardens Reef. The corals there were more brightly colored than many we have seen so far. The reef stood out in enhanced detail. The water was shallower than some places and the sun was shining so light penetrated all the way to the bottom. We got to see some interactions that we hadn’t yet. For example some people got to see a trigger fish predating on a smaller damsel fish, another group saw a Queen Conch eating another snail, I was excited to see an anemone eat an small fish! The big excitement of the snorkel was the sighting of Green Sea Turtle. The turtle posed for us for a while then disappeared into the reef with surprising swiftness and agility. Eventually we returned to the boat, exhausted but invigorated but yet another incredible experience.

A green sea turtle poses before darting away from our group.

A green sea turtle poses before darting away from our group.

We also continued our “Coral Watch” and damselfish surveys from yesterday during our snorkel this morning.  The coral in this reef seemed vibrant and healthy for the most part, although there seemed to be less healthy branching coral than in previous years.  We evaluated the health of each surveyed coral based on its color, with paler colors showing unhealthier coral and bolder colors showing healthier coral.  Groups not conducting Coral Watch surveyed seven damselfish species (dusky, threespot, yellowtail, longfin, cocoa, beaugregory, and bicolor) and the morphology of the coral territories they defended (branching, plate, smooth boulder, and fissured boulder).  In this survey, we determined that the dusky damselfish was the most abundant and that none of the species within the surveyed area were habitat specialists; all coral morphologies were potential territories for any of the seven damselfish species we surveyed to defend.

In the afternoon, our desks were clear and we enjoyed our last full day at South Water Caye by kayaking, basking in the sun, playing volleyball, swimming, and playing pool at the bar.  Happy and exhausted, we all congregated at the dock to watch the brilliant yellow-orange sun plunge behind the clouds over the horizon right before dinner.

Group Photo with Russ, Bruce and Peter and off the beach at South Water Caye.

Group Photo with Russ, Bruce and Peter and off the beach at South Water Caye.

This evening we took some time to reflect and thank our incredible guide, Peter. After dinner we surprised Peter with a thank you cake and some words of thanks for everything that he has done for us. Peter has done an incredible job of making sure everyone was safe and satisfied while also showing us so many of the incredible things in this country. His knowledge of the ecology and history of Belize is incredible; it would have been a much less enhanced experience without him. At our after dinner meeting everyone in the group shared their favorite experience from the island part of our trip. This was a good chance for us to reflect on the amazing week we had and all of the new experiences. Some people mentioned the details they saw in the reef while others were excited about all of the flagship species we got to see. In spite of some challenges such as illness and interesting weather this was one of the best weeks of my life, and a week that we will all remember as a highlight of our college experience.

 

 

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Day 18: Catch of the Day

As soon as the clock struck midnight, today became one of the most eventful days of the trip. The girls’ dormitory was awoken by the discovery of “maggots” in one of the beds. Dozens of small, white worms crawled under one of the girls’ sleeping bag and pillow, and the fear of more kept us all tossing and turning throughout the night.

Despite the bug scare cutting into our sleep (workers came in early in the morning and confirmed that the bugs were actually termites), the sun came out in the morning and energized us for a full day of snorkeling, fishing, and learning. It was definitely the hottest day to date; by 9am, we were all lounging on the beach and sweating buckets.DSCN0499

For our first snorkel of the day, we went back to the fore reef. The sun was out and the water was relatively still, making it easy to see everything that was underwater. We saw a nurse shark sleeping under coral, lion fish hiding in crevices, three schools of squid, and some rather large porcupine fish.

After lunch, we hopped on the boats once again, this time headed to a patch reef known as “the aquarium” due to its abundance of fish.  This time, we were doing two different things. Half of our group continued the coral watch survey that we started yesterday, while the other half started an experiment on Damselfish species. We are observing the behavior of different species of Damselfish within the reefs to determine whether they are generalists, and inhabit different coral types, or specialists, and inhabit specific coral types.  Both of these studies will be continued tomorrow at our last snorkeling site.

An optional fishing expedition was a whopping success in the late afternoon. We reeled in DSCN0577numerous grunts and snappers, while watching the sunset over the mountains on the mainland. A highlight of the trip was when Sophie, after an hour of catching nothing, caught a southern sting ray. Frigatebirds hovered over our boat the whole time, getting closer and closer in hopes of catching a fish getting tossed out of the boat.  We made it back in time for dinner, sharing stories of our fishing trip with those that stayed behind to relax and enjoy the island.

After dinner we sat around the fire listening to Richard, the island’s IZE manager, share stories of growing up in Belize and witnessing changes in policy and environmental protection on the islands. He explained his job and the challenges he faces to run a sustainable operation on such a remote island, including salt corrosion, septic tank limitations, and transportation of supplies on and off the island. Despite these challenges, Richard has also had successes. The island is currently run on 90% solar power, and he has plans to extend it to 100% renewable energy with the addition of a wind turbine in the near future.

Before going to bed, many of us took advantage of the clear skies to go stargazing on the dock. We could see Orion’s belt, Taurus, and Cassiopeia in the distance, as well as Jupiter and lots of shooting stars. We also spotted an eagle ray and a few seahorses in the water below us.

One more day at South Water Caye, and two more days in Belize! Can’t wait to be home, but sad to leave the warm weather and this tropical paradise!

Janice and Sophie

 

 

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Day 17: Dives on Dives on Dives

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Yellow Ray

We staggered sleepily out of our cabins as the sun rose, showing promise for a bright day ahead, full of snorkeling and fun in the sun. We had a typical morning of breakfast and pooling all of our fish data, and then we set off in the boats for our deepest snorkel yet, ranging from 20-40 feet. Here the reef came alive with large schools of fish, moray eels and an ominous fire coral. A few of us were lucky enough to encounter a group of 10-20 squid idling in the water, changing colors and showing no fear as we floated above and periodically dove down to get a closer look.  Continue reading

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Day 16: Moray Eels and Sunburn Peels

This morning we woke up ready for another day in tropical paradise. Due to heavy winds, we decided to postpone our snorkel and instead donned gloves and gathered trash from the mangroves. We also spent some time exploring the tide pools around the dock, and now have a tank filled with sea critters and fish in the wet laboratory. Continue reading

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Day 15: Let the rain fall down.

Walking off the boat to the Smithsonian station. Photo by Savannah Judge.

Walking off the boat to the Smithsonian station. Photo by Savannah Judge.

The morning started with a snorkel. After being teased yesterday by very strong sunshine, we did some laundry (finally) in the morning rain shower and then were finally able to take a boat out to another small island in the area called Carrie Bow Cay.

 

Continue reading

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Day 14: Tropical Paradise

A yellow crowned night heron, one of the few birds that frequents the Caye, fishes in the shallows near the mangroves.

A great blue heron, one of the few birds that frequents the Caye, fishes in the shallows near the mangroves. Photo by Sarabeth George.

After one short ocean swim yesterday afternoon, we were all eager for our first day on the island and our first snorkeling adventures.  Birding on South Water Caye is limited, so our wake up time was, for the first time in two weeks, pushed back until 7:30 for breakfast.  This was great in theory, but few were able to sleep late after so many consecutive 5:45 mornings.  The girls’ room was stirring by 6, many of us anxious to experience our first full day of island life. Continue reading

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Bruce hunts for the Summer Tanager bird while at the Lubaantun ruins.

After waking up and having a hurried breakfast, we said goodbye to Blue Creek and started the trek to South Water Caye.  To break up the bus ride, we had a stop for a brief geology lecture, courtesy of Bruce.  We hunted through the debris on the side of the road, and managed to find fossils of shells and coral, adding excitement to the bus ride.  Continue reading

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Day 12: Sweet Freedom and Long Awaited Ecstasy

Today we all woke up in our hammocks with our respective host families, to some very audible rooster calls and dog fights. Walking back along the path to Blue Creek through the heavy morning fog, we feverishly discussed the previous nights storytelling with our Mopan Mayan friends. After breakfast, we set out on our morning bird watching expedition, which we elongated with a futile attempt to find the elusive roaring howler monkeys. Our sadness due to lack of monkeys was alleviated by the rays of sun, that hadn’t graced our supple young faces in ages. Continue reading

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