The final dives were on a spot just outside the atoll edge. Even though the wind has been consistently strong, this reef area is close enough to the atoll that the waves aren’t too bad. However, since the small boat can’t anchor, we have to get ready to jump in the water the minute the captain stops. Otherwise the boat starts drifting, and the divers entering the water might get separated. We’ve all become pros at gearing up quickly!
The final dive was split into two. The big boat we usually use had to make a run into the mainland this morning, so we used one of the smaller boats instead. Unfortunately the smaller boats can only fit about 7 divers, instead of all 14 of us. So we split up, with the fish survey team going first, and the two benthic survey teams going second. As usual, the dive was gorgeous! Lots of coral that’s looking very familiar by now and fishes we’re all well acquainted
with. The ‘nauts are getting so familiar with the Belizean reefs that they can now spot unusual fishes and corals.
After the dives, we rinsed our dive gear for the first time all week. Let me tell you, a week of sun, salt water, and high humidity leads to some stinky gear. The rinse didn’t even begin to get rid of the smell. I feel bad for the customs agent who happens to open my gear bag… And with the diving for the trip over, it was time to finish up the science portion.
All week long, the ‘nauts have been collecting data on underwater paper during their dives. They’ve been entering in the data on the computer so we’ll have a record of everything they did. They also learned the importance of quickly reviewing their data – oftentimes the little marks we make during the survey to remind ourselves of something become cryptic notations after a few days. Looking over the datasheets the same day allows them to fill in any blank spots and make those little marks more understandable. The final count for the week was 18 fish surveys, 10 Point Count transects, and 5 Coral transects. That’s an impressive amount of data, and even more impressive is how knowledgeable all the kids are about their specific survey now.
Early in the week, I asked the kids to think up a small science project, collect data throughout the week (either independent from the surveys, or using them to answer a question), and give a short presentation at the end of the week. They were given free range to pick a project, and they came up with a diverse set. The presentations evolved from a quick science meeting to a large gathering of many of the research station residents and visiting scientists, and the kids definitely showed their skills at public speaking. I know I would have been nervous!
Brooke spent the week studying different sediment samples from around the island and at several reef sites. She taught us about how sediment is formed, what causes the grains to be different sizes, what small animals live in the sediment she collected, and how sediments can affect coral reefs. One of the visiting scientists will soon be
studying sediments, and Brooke was able to connect her project with the scientist’s future work.
Morgan, who spent the week focusing on fish counts and identification, chose to focus on juvenile fish distribution. Fish can be very tricky animals to identify, since their juvenile, initial and terminal phases can all look very different.
Morgan was able to identify lots of juvenile fishes, and she compared their depth distribution at our dive sites. She found that more baby fish hang out in the shallow waters, to stay safe from the larger predators. However, some young fish were found at every depth.