Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Characters

I am way behind on posts. Sorry about that. Above are some of the characters that I met this week (the dorsal fins on the left are actually dolphins -- I'll try to post some more on them soon). We picked up a real-life crocodile guy, Thomas Rainwater, on Wednesday. He's from the south and mosquitoes don't seem to bother him (even when completely coated from head to toe). Thomas is here to survey the saltwater crocodiles that are on Turneffe Atoll.
The atoll is not a protected area and there are a number of plans to build condos (for hundreds of people!), resorts and even a golf course on the Atoll. There are a a lot of issues with doing that. For one, there is almost NO fresh water on this Atoll (only rainwater in the dry season). From what I remember, condos and golf courses use a lot of water. Besides the water issue, many mangroves would have to be cleared and many beaches would be taken over which would destroy habitat for the crocs (and other animals) and disrupt crocodile and turtle nesting sites. Mario Mota, the turtle guy that I'm working with, Leslee Parr,Thomas, and the PSU group that was here before are all working on issues associated with the potential development of this area. One goal is to document the important sites for turtle and croc nesting, so that those areas may be protected.
A bit of crocodile background
Many crocodile species around the globe are are endangered due to years of hunting and considerable clearing of their nesting sites and foraging habitat. There are four crocodile species in the western hemisphere and two species in Belize, American saltwater crocodiles and Morelet's crocodiles. You may think that crocodiles are mostly found in swampy areas, but these two species can be encountered in places that you wouldn't necessarily expect. The Morelet's are freshwater crocs. In Belize, they live in the streams and lakes on the mainland. They can often be found in clear, raging, mountain streams. Then there are the salties (they're around here). They live in the mangroves, but will come out and forage on the reefs. So you could see a crocodile while out snorkeling or SCUBA diving in the tropics, although probably only at night, or hiking along a mountain stream. The crocs in Belize dig nest cavities in the ground or build mound nests and the sex of their young is determined by the temperature at which the eggs incubate. One of Thomas' areas of research is environmental toxicology. Chemicals in the environment, such as DDT, can alter the sex-determination of the young by disrupting hormone actions. Many countries in the world use pesticides that we no longer use in the US because of their health or environmental effects. Because these chemicals are often very effective and less expensive than many of those used in the US developing countries continue to rely on them.

Shortly after Thomas arrived, he went out behind our place to look for our crocs. We have an 8-10 footer back there. He managed to grab a smaller one and then he handed it off to me (below).

It's a beautiful animal. We took a few measurements (here's Thomas with his calipers), marked it and let her go.
While Thomas is here, we'll be looking for croc nests and surveying around the island for more crocodiles that we can grab and measure. We took the boat out last night to look for crocs along the edge of Blackbird Caye (that's where I live -- by the way, it's mentioned in Pirates of the Caribbean), but we didn't find any. We're going out again this evening to look for crocs further North. We should have more luck finding them tonight. If we find one, then we'll (i.e., Thomas) lasso it, it will start spinning until it's tired, then we'll pull it into the boat to make some measurements and mark it. Most of the folks have left the island for the night, so it will just be Thomas, our boat driver, Alton, Leslee Parr and myself. I'm pretty excited about handling a big croc. If all goes well, I'll post again soon. And if I'm lucky, I'll have some pics.

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