Posted by: Tori Wong | 2nd Mar, 2010

ESCI 305 to Southwater Caye!

If my blog entries were to have abstracts like peer-reviewed journal articles, this one would have two main points:

  1. I’m taking oceanography in Belize, and so, am learning about the ocean in the ocean instead of in a classroom in fredericksburg.
  2. This past weekend, my class took a field trip to South Water Caye, an island about a 25 minute speedboat ride from the eastern coast of Belize.

greatest. field trip. ever.

First of all, to say that South Water Caye is small is an understatement. When we pulled up to the dock, we could see straight through to the other shore of the island.  took a walk (camera in tow-see pictures below!) around the entire perimeter of the Caye in less than 10 minutes. Because of its close proximity to the Smithsonian Institute (so close I could easily swim the distance), South Water Cyae is used primarily for research purposes and student group programs.

Shortly after we arrived, we went out for our first snorkel! I wish I could describe its radiance with words or even pictures, but I just can’t. I have never seen so many (naturally occurring) colors or so much different life living together in such a small area. After about an hour and a half out on the reef, we reconvened in the research lab and talked about what we saw. By the time we left the lab, we had constructed a list of 78 fish and coral species we had seen in just that 1 and a half hours. Some of my favorites were the southern sting ray (at first, the only part of the ray I saw were its eyes! Then a cloud of sand and he was off gliding across the ocean floor!), the princess parrotfish (so named because of its bright teal color and beak-like lips), and the long spine squirrelfish (bright red with grayish/ivory scales).

After a little R&R (for me this included pulling knots of salt water out of my hair and taking a nice walk around the island), we met in the mess hall for dinner (rice and beans (no surprise there), potato salad, and one of the best brownies I’ve ever had), and suited up for a NIGHT SNORKEL! When I say “suited up,” I mean that I put my bikini and flippers back on, grabbed my water-proof flashlight and dove into the (much colder than expected) Caribbean Sea at 8:30pm!

I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting the reef to be an entirely different beast at night…we saw so many different organisms and experienced so much more life that simply does not come out during the day. One example was an OCTOPUS! It was such an amazing creature; our professor, Dr. Ed Boles dove down and picked it up so that we could play with it, but he dropped it coming back up to the surface, and the octopus just flattened itself out and oozed into the cracks of the rocks and disappeared. Octopuses are incredibly intelligent creatures; Dr. Boles was telling us that if you give an octopus a sealed jar with a crab in it, it will fuss with the jar and eventually figure out that removing the lid will release the crab. You could give that same octopus a jar 6 months later and it would pop the lid right off. So cool. During the night snorkel, we also saw a bunch of sea cucumbers (I even held a beaded sea cucumber-it was squishy…and for the record, it’s an animal…not a vegetable), a sea hare, some yellow stingrays, a bridled burrfish, a scrawled cowfish, and TONS more.

On Sunday, we took a quick boat ride out to the Carrie Bow Caye, where the Smithsonian Research Facility is located. This place was amazing, and made me think that this is legitimately something that I would like to do with my life. The tiny island houses up to 6 scientists at a time and has several research labs both inside and out. Sandy, the Caye manager for the month of February (there are 12 different people who cycle in and out and stay at the Caye for one month  of every year. They take care of the researchers and keep everything running at the facility) showed us around the facility and told us so many sweet stories about things she experienced working here. It was literally the coolest place I have ever been.

After leaving the Smithsonian, we stopped for a snorkel on the other side of the channel from South Water Caye. Because we were further from land, the water was pretty choppy and the waves were really intense. I swallowed a good portion of the Caribbean Sea, but it was totally worth it because the water was clearer, deeper and even more diverse than our first day snorkel. We found a ctenophore and made friends with a school of banded butterfly fish!

I will repeat: this was the greatest school field trip I have ever attended. period.

ilovebelize 🙂

Chalkboard in the lab with all the fish species we saw in just the FIRST day-time snorkel.

I like this tree. For some reason, the word hope comes to mind when I see it.

The product of a post-snorkeling photo shoot.

Just chilling with the fishes.

Awesome weekends are always better when they’re shared with good company. (Lauren, Kate, Alison and myself)

Baby mangrove ocean sunrise!

It’s funny to think about how often we take the sun rising and falling every day for granted.

If you’re reading this, then this message is for you. I miss you and think about you every day. Stay safe, be strong and I’ll see you soon!


tori, i always LOVE your photos. i actually saved the one of the tree to my laptop. it’s awesome! what kind of camera do you have? judging from your pictures it’s an SLR, but maybe it’s just a really nice point and shoot. i’m really jealous of all the beach fun you get to have!

I love your photos too! This does sound like the coolest field trip ever!