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).

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