Thursday, July 31, 2008

Under the Dock Part 2: Anthony the Anemone

Yeah. I know. This naming of random animals is getting ridiculous (it is Anthony, however, due to Anemones belonging to the Class Anthozoa--right, biology students?). Since local fish celebrities, Barry and Bob, have names, why not give one to our local anemone? I'd hate to have vertebrate bias. It makes sense that on a site called the "Cnido-site Discharge" that I include some Cnidarians that have Cnidocytes. If your brain and the internet browser work correctly, this moving image of Anthony should create a feel of 3-Dimensions (see "Sun and Stars"). Once again your brain is very cool. We generally assume that we need two eyes to see in stereo (see depth--i.e., in 3D), but movement gives your brain information about depth that it can integrate into a 3D image.

In case the moving version is making you ill. I'm a bit woozy from it myself. Here's a color anaglyph which allows you to see the arms coming at you without all the bloody moving around. You'll have to find your 3D glasses for this one. I sent out about 70 pairs of them this past Christmas, so hopefully some of you can find a pair. Do you remember how this type of 3D tricks your brain?

Anthony the Anemone

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Under the Dock Part 1: Bob the Batfish

You may know that I love fish that others find "ugly." Perhaps you received a Christmas card with such a fish on it? Shortly after arriving at Yakima Valley Community College, I gave a talk about my volunteer work in Roatan, Honduras. I started the talk with the images that as a child made me want to be a marine biologist. Those images were of batfish, frogfish, toadfish, viperfish and scorpionfish among others. I love the "ugly" in the sea. The strange. The different. The alien. I had the pleasure of spending a little one-on-one time with Bob, the batfish(pictured above), near our dock a short time ago. He's a pretty low-key fish. I haven't seen him lately and I kind of miss him. Here's some video to give you a different view of Bob. I love how all of my videos look like they were shot in the 50's on 8mm.

We just finished up my first "family week" here at the Oceanic Society Field Station. It was great fun. We had 4 family groups (many school teachers in those families -- teachers seem to do cool stuff by the way -- I swear that everybody that I did yoga with was a schoolteacher). There were two young boys, Nate and Desmond, that soaked up fish identification at an incredible rate. Nate would be at my heals during our snorkels. I couldn't lose him. I look behind me and he'd be right there, sometimes giving me a thumbs up when he saw something cool like a barracuda. They leave tomorrow and I'm going to do a few days of diving and relaxing before we start a week of coral reef monitoring.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What washes ashore Part 3: Seabeans

This is my botany post.
There are really neat things that wash ashore too. Have you heard of a seabean? I hadn't until I arrived here. They're cool
though. Numerous plants produce seeds that float down rivers, or fall into, the ocean and float around until they wash up on shore. (Note: some "seabeans" are actually not seeds. Some are bark, toys, or thorns. Yet, they show up on shores all over.) Let's start with one that you know, the coconut. It's a really big seabean. Here's a sprouting coconut (I may show you in another post how the water in the coconut at this stage is a lot like styrofoam, but sweeter). One of my favorite seabeans, is called the Hamburger. Look at them! Aren't they cool! So tempting. These "beans" float long distances before they finally wash up on the beaches.

Of course other things wash up with the seabeans. Here are two common, man-made seabeans.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Palming your Brain

I'm going to play with your brain a bit. First, I have a stereo photo for you to look at which can trick your brain into seeing in 3D, then I have a couple of links to really cool videos that show how easy it can be to trick us into seeing things. Try them out. I think that you'll find them interesting!
After playing with some pics from Half Moon Caye, I came up with this (the first one that I tried) stereo image for 3D buffs out there. I don't like what the animated GIF (see previous 3D image posting -- sun and star) or the anaglyph (blue and red glasses) did to the photo so I'm leaving it set up for mirror viewing, which is my favorite method. Many of you know how to do this already, so get to it. Granted this isn't a wild image or terribly superb stereo (now you really want to look at it don't you?), but it does have a reasonable 3D effect. If you have a mirror, then follow the instructions outlined in this picture that I found on the web to view this image (Yeah, that's how lazy I am going to be --as lazy as a 3-toed sloth in an EZ chair -- that simile is for the folks that understand why I'm trying to use simile.) Come on. Do you really have anything better to do? Learning this technique will be one more skill to add to your resume. Note for those who care: I actually took this image without any beam-splitting devices. This is pure, free-form, hand-held, stereo sweetness that's as easy as pie to do with any camera.

Good, Grasshopper. Now watch this video and then watch it again. Maybe you got it the first time, but I was totally fooled until I watched the second time. Next, watch a few of these short (seconds long) videos. Play the video and let it loop. The two images are different from one another. Can you find the differences? THEN, toggle between the two images slowly. NOW do you see the differences? Is your brain as dumb as mine? Click here to read a little article about this stuff. I love how our brain can be tricked.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Just a quick note. You don't have to register to comment anymore. I didn't realize that I had it set up that way. I don't know if anybody wanted to, but that makes it easier!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Being Schooled

I returned to the Blue Hole yesterday with 12 high school students that we are hosting at the field station. The students are here for a week to help out with dolphin research. Bringing them to the field station helps support the dolphin research that Kathryn Patterson is doing. During their stay, we take them out on dolphin surveys and they help collect data, but we also take them on a trip to Lighthouse Reef Atoll, where we make stops at the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye. We snorkel the edge of the Blue Hole (that's where this squid was hanging out) and then go to Half Moon Caye for another snorkel and a service project.
The caye is covered with coconut palms that give it a standard, tropical island look, but coconut palms are not native to the area. The coconut was brought to this area as a crop and it can overtake the native forests. The littoral forests that covered the island are endangered by these coconut palms. If the littoral forest is replaced by coconut palms, then the Red-footed Boobies (that's a bird) that nest in the native trees will also be displaced. To help control the coconut palm growth, the students walk through the forest and pick up sprouting coconuts and drag them to a big coconut pile. This group pulled out more than 300 coconuts and three weeks ago another group of academic trek students did the same. There is an attempt on the island to leave the coconut palms in place on one side of the island but prevent them from taking over the littoral forest on the other side.

After pulling out coconuts, some of us cooled off with a short snorkel at Half Moon Caye. Since this is a protected area, it is a great place to see really big fish. As soon as I put my face in the water, I scared a nurse shark ahead of me. I saw two more on my snorkel, including this one that was resting between a couple of coral heads. A few of the snorkelers saw a group of about 5 nurse sharks sitting in the sand.
I tried to get some 3D photos, but I haven't processed them yet, so I'll post a few when I get them done. The coolest thing that we saw on our snorkel was a HUGE school of fish (they just kept coming and coming and coming) that were surrounded on all sides by barracuda. The barracuda seemed to be herding the school around. It was spectacular. Eventually, I managed to get my 3D system out of the way (somewhat) so that I could shoot video of the last few moments of the school. (I've been working hard to get this video to work properly. Send me an email if you can't get it to work).

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Washes Ashore Part 2: What the Beaches Get

OK. I stole the idea for the title from a t-shirt that I saw on Half Moon Caye, "I've got what the beaches want." I thought it was very funny.
What the beaches get in many cases is trash--lots and lots of trash. Here's a nice sample that got tossed. This doesn't look like a healthy urine sample. The specific gravity is through the roof. Blackwater fever, perhaps? (Look it up.....I'll wait). Urine cups, syringes and such are certainly disgusting, but the amount of plastic on the beach was absurd. Here's a video showing a few FEET of beach. Note that this was not an anomalous portion of beach. Much of the beach was loaded with litter at these levels.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What Washes Ashore Part 1: The Shoe Store

This post is the first installment in a series that I've been wanting to do on the various things that wash ashore on the Cayes.
A couple of weeks ago a group of us (Nicole Hyslop, Mario Mota, Kathryn Patterson, Leslee Parr, Thomas Rainwater, and Andre Lopez, a Belize forestry official) went to a small island in northern Turneffe Atoll to look for crocodile and turtle nests. We did find crocodile nests but no turtle nests. While on this trip, we also visited nearby Turneffe Flats Resort, which caters to sportfishing enthusiasts, on the northern portion of Blackbird Caye. The contrast between the resorts beach and the neihboring beach that we saw that day was stunning. The sand at Turneffe Flats was immaculate while the quantity and diversity litter on the nesting beach was overwhelming. As I mentioned before, the litter that is on the beaches does not come from dumping on the island itself, but from the incomprehensible amount of trash that is dumped in the ocean. We were all stunned by how many shoes washed up on shore too. That was unexpected. In a matter of minutes, Nicole was able to create the following shoe-store display. Most styles were represented. Flip-flops made up a significant portion. Most of the shoes were women's, but there were no matching pairs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

John, Molly and the Blue Hole (again)

I don't have much time for posting at the moment, but I wanted to share a few photos and give a little update before I become a tourist for a few days on the mainland. I've spent the last four days with a super fun couple from Denver, John and Molly. John is a semi-retired high school AP chemistry teacher who's golf game has improved since he shattered his arm falling off of a roof. Molly is a world-traveling former-special-education teacher turned administrator, who has only 4 years before she can play, play, play. I've had a great time getting to know the couple. They are so well-read and excited about learning that we've sat around talking for hours and hours each day. Today we all went to the Blue Hole together to snorkel. I think that it is a much better snorkel than it was a dive. Here are a couple of pictures from my trip. The soft corals around the Blue Hole are absolutely amazing.

The Edge of the Blue Hole

I love these feather duster worms (toward the bottom). I think that John may love them too.

Some of you know how I feel about Anemones.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

People that I work with...

Here are pics of some of the folks that I've been working with at the Oceanic Society field station. Some of them are staff of Oceanic Society and others work with OS. There are some folks that I'll have to include later because I haven't been able to get a good photo of them yet. Starting with some of the staff, one of the hardest working guys down here, Chico (pictured on the right). He takes care of the grounds. He's working all of the time. The dude is always smiling! Unfortunately, my Spanish is so bad these days that I can hardly talk to the man. Chico tries to keep up on all of the trash that washes up down here, but it would take a crew working around the clock to keep up.
Alton, on the left, is one of our boat captains, our coconut demonstration guru, and our maintenance and repair man.
On the right, is Mr. Kent, our island manager and boat captain. He's the guy that brought Jacques Cousteau to the Blue Hole. He always has this totally amused smile when he's driving the boat.

Our third boat captain, is Richard. He's usually the guy that takes me all of the places that I need to go around the atoll. I'm lucky to have him there when I don't know where to go on a snorkel, I can just look up at him and he'll point me the right direction. I still need pictures of Rose, assistant cook and housekeeper, and Wanda, our head cook, so I'll have to post them later. Sometimes Wanda's grandchildren visit the atoll too. Here's a picture of Maureen, one of her grandaughters. I think that it's great to have the local kids around. Giving them a chance to see more of what goes on here is perfect. I would like to see a program develop through Oceanic Society for the local kids from Belize. We'd need a donor to support such an project, but I think that it could really pay off in the end.

Then there's the researchers.....I've already posted pics of Thomas Rainwater, the croc-guy, but I haven't posted many pics of Leslee Parr, Mario Mota, or Kathryn Patterson, although they've been mentioned many times in my posts. Leslee Parr is a geneticist from San Jose State University. She's does work on all kinds of organisms, but is well known for her work in Sirenian (manatee, dugongs) genetics. Her good friend, colleague and drinking buddy, Mario Mota, will undoubtedly hate this picture, but, fortunately, he's not a big fan of blogs, so it doesn't matter. He's looking pretty serious here and all decked out for protection from mosquitoes as we went into the freshwater lagoon out back to look for crocs. Mario has also worked with a lot of different marine megafauna, but turtles are his specialty these days. Finally, there's Kathryn Patterson, and she'll hate this picture too, but until I have a different one it will have to do. Kathryn is currently working on her Masters degree. She's down here studying Bottlenosed Dolphins and relationships between mothers and calves. Many of the groups that come down here go out with Kathryn to help her collect data (and to see some of the charismatic megafauna themselves). I think that she's sad here because we didn't see any dolphins while out looking for crocodiles.
We also had a volunteer turtle research assistant, Nicole Hyslop, that came down and found out that she was going to be a volunteer crocodile research assistant. She sat on the tail of some good sized crocs and every time she went snorkeling we had to drag her out of the ocean.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Reef news

Our reefs are in trouble. Many people of the world depend on coral reefs, but they are in critical danger. Here's the latest news release.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Blue Hole

Katheryn Patterson and I joined divers from Blackbird Caye Resort yesterday and dove the Blue Hole and a couple of sites outside of the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is Belize's most famous dive. Actually, our island manager and boat driver, Mr. Kent (that's a common way of referring to people down here -- I'd be Mr. Jerred), was part of Jacques Cousteau's first visit to the Blue Hole. I preferred the dives that we did outside of the Blue Hole to the dive inside of it. The Blue Hole is a limestone sinkhole. One of the draws to the dive is that there are huge stalactites deep in the hole and there are a lot of sharks that hang out in the area. We did see a number of large reef sharks and huge grouper. Because of its depth, I didn't bring my camera, so I don't have any pictures, sorry. It's depth also makes the dive very short. (Biology majors and A&P students should be able to calculate about how many atmospheres of pressure is at 130 feet. Taking that information, I'm sure that they could calculate the partial pressure of Nitrogen and understand why the dive is so short.)
After the dive in the Blue Hole, we dove a site called Half Moon Caye Wall and another site called Aquarium. Here are a few pictures from those dives.

Underwater scenery from "The Aquarium"

A Hawksbill Turtle

A spotted moray eel

A Ruffled Feather Duster Worm

A neon goby on Whitestar Sheet Coral (Agaricia lamarcki)

Grooved Brain Coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis) polyps

Blue Bell Tunicates
Sponge Brittle Stars on Pink Vase Sponges

Align Center

Final Croc Additions

Apparently, other folks did capture photos of one of the crocs that we caught hissing. The first image is Leslee Parr's and the second one is Kat Patterson's. These look pretty dramatic, so I thought that they'd be good to include.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Terror has a red eye

Since my last post, we surveyed a beach for crocodile nests, and found several, performed night shoreline surveys for croc eyes, caught a couple of crocs and had a lot of nice meals anchored in the boat waiting for dark. In case you haven't caught a crocodile from a boat before, I'll outline how it works.

Croc Capture Instruction (boat method):
1. Someone sits on the bow shining his spotlight on the mangroves looking for croc eye-shine. In this case, that someone was Thomas Rainwater. The eye-shine should be red. Thomas likes to say "Terror has a red eye." which helps distinguish between croc eyes and those of many other animals (e.g., wolf spiders). Thomas can't actually see the red, due to his color-blindness, but trust me, it works. When discussing your crocodile captures, you may want to employ Thomas' "Rambo Scale." Catching crocs rates higher on the Rambo scale than, say, analyzing satellite images of coral reefs or crocheting. Although we caught some nice crocs over the last few days, they didn't put up enough fight to be high on the Rambo scale. They fell somewhere in the mid-to-low range. We actually wonder if some of the crocs that we caught, which were recaptures from previous croc surveys, maybe enjoy being sexed (determining if they're male or female -- in case you were confused) a bit too much and thus didn't put up a fight. There is a bit of cloaca manipulation that has to take place to sex a croc. I digress.
2. Once you spot a croc, keep the light on its eye to "blind" it so that it can't see your approach.

3. Sneak up to it on the boat and and slip a snare over its head. After the croc is snared, it will likely start spinning. Don't worry this is normal. It may also start hissing. Again this is normal. (We got great photo opportunities when one pissed-off croc was hissing at us, but the Leslee's lens cap was in the way.) Eventually the croc will tire.
4. At this point, it can be brought over to the side of the boat.
5. Next, place a separate noose around the croc's mouth, so that it doesn't bite you. OK?
6. You can pull the croc into the boat.
7. Secure its head, hind legs and tail. Sit on it, if necessary.
8. Duct tape its mouth closed.
9. Cover its eyes. This may calm it down some.
10. Now look at how beautiful a croc is up close.

Now what are you going to do?
Collect data. Sometime during this process, collect information about the location of the croc, or eye-shine if you don't get a capture. Here's Kat and Thomas collecting location information. Take measurements of the crocodile (length, snout width, etc.) and mark it, so that if you catch it again, you can see how it has changed or if it has moved. Take a break and look at the funky crocodile features. Check this out. This croc's lower teeth go THROUGH its upper jaw! That's most of it.

Just remember, "Terror has a red eye." I think that both Thomas Rainwater and the crocs would agree with this.