Archive for March 2nd, 2010

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!

Posted by: Tori Wong | 2nd Mar, 2010

La Ruta Maya (aka 180 miles of paddling death)

So every March, Belize hosts the second longest canoe race (in the world!) in honor of Baron Bliss Day. Depending on who you ask, La Ruta Maya is anywhere between 170 and 190 miles from San Ignacio to Belize City (fyi-that is across the entire country) over 4 days; the race is by far the largest sporting event in the country and it attracts people from all over to both paddle and follow. This year, La Ruta Maya is begins at 5:30am on Friday the 5th and ends on the evening of Monday the 8th.

For some strange reason, I decided that I wanted to be part of this madness. But not only part of it (some international students joined the support crew that will take care of the injured, dehydrated, and mentally unstable paddlers), nooooo, I wanted to paddle in the race.

So, early Friday morning, I will be loading up my dry bag full of sunscreen, gatorade and powerbars and joining over 100 other canoes (ranging from incredibly competitive professional paddlers to intramural high school students to 75 year old men to peace corps volunteers) under the steel Hawksworth bridge for the mass start of what I’m anticipating will be the hardest (and most epic) undertaking of my life.

Can you tell I’m nervous? Wish me luck-I’m sure by Tuesday of next week I will have a multitude of stories to tell. Until then, here’s to rocking the boat and always saying ‘yes’ to new adventures! peace out!

one of our many 6-hour Ruta Maya practices. love it!

Posted by: Tori Wong | 2nd Mar, 2010

Teaching at St. Barnabas!

This semester, I’m taking a service-learning based class called “Applications in Sustainable Development” that focuses on experiential learning and community involvement as a way to promote sustainability. Our class of about 45 students was divided into groups and given 9 choices of service-learning projects to work on all semester. For the first few weeks, we sat in the lecture hall and talked about how we define service learning and how we can make sure everyone (both the students in the class and those we are serving) get the most out of our project. After 4 weeks of lecture, they introduced us to our project partners and set us loose to develop our own plan for the semester.

All the projects seem really neat and they all have a different focus. One group is working with a battered women’s shelter, tutoring the women so they can go back to school. Another group is teaching school teachers how to use computers and word processing. The athletes in our class are using soccer drills to teach elementary kids about HIV and AIDS awareness.

My group (of four) is teaching environmental education at a primary school called St. Barnabas, located only 5 minutes walking from Galen’s campus. I’m teaching standard 3/4 (who are for the most part 8 and 9 year olds-my favorite age!) with Hannah Aitken, another international student from the University of Vermont. Hannah has more enthusiasm and passion for environmental education than anyone I’ve ever met, her energy is contagious and the only thing more fantastic than her dedication to environmental education is her laugh. I really lucked out on this one; my group is rad.

Hannah and I taught our first lesson (on biomes and ecosystems) last Wednesday, and I LOVED IT! We have 30 8-9 year olds who are all so bright, energetic, and pure! We got to the school a little early, and were just walking around the campus during their recess when a group of 4 girls (all with names after flowers: Daisy, Azalea, Jasmine, and Rose) ran up to us and hugged us! They call us Miss Tori and Miss Hannah, answer everything with “yes ma’am,” and every time we ask a question, 30 little hands shoot up in the air as they shout “miss! miss!” to get us to call on them!

I have so much real school work to do (I’m in the middle of midterms week right now), but all I really want to do is write more lesson plans and go play with these kids all day! I realized that I love working with kids and I LOVE talking about the environment, so this is perfect for me, and think this is probably going to be one of the best experiences I have while I’m down here.

Playing a game of “name-tag” with 31 standard 3/4 students