Study Abroad

A Trashy Day

May 28, 2014

Today started out around 8 a.m. with eggs, bacon, beans, and fry-jacks (a crowd pleaser with our group) provided by the cooks here at Tobacco Caye Paradise Lodge.  Around 9:30 a.m., we met Michael, a manager at the Marine Station, to start our volunteer work. We lathered ourselves up with sunscreen, put on our lovely leather work gloves, and got to work cleaning up trash from the coast. We were surprised at the diverse amount of objects we found, including a Barbie arm, a baby's shoe, a car battery, and a thermometer. We discussed the possibility from which these items came and the impact that these items have on the ocean, the marine life, and the world as a whole. Many people in the world, including the locals of Belize, have not been taught the impact that improper disposal has on our planet and, therefore, often use the ocean as way to solve garbage problems.

cleanupOnce we were finished with land, it was time to grab our snorkels and fins and head to the dock. We jumped in with gloves and onion sacks and began diving down to collect garbage that was lying in the reef. We found glass and plastic bottles, cans, and an aluminum cooking pan, among other things. We were also amazed to see the other items that were on the floor that we could not pick up, such as large tires, metal roofing, and old anchors. While some of these have become a home to marine creatures, it also hurts the area where the coral can now not grow properly and house the rest of the marine life living in the area. It was very hard for all of us to swim carrying our very full trash bags so getting back to the dock was a bit of a struggle. After all of that work, we felt that we earned the lunch that was served after we got back to Paradise Lodge.

After lunch, we met Jen, Michael, and Mathilde back on the dock, boarded the boat, and headed out to sea for the afternoon. We first drove to an island that is occupied by almost 3,000 Man of War birds during mating season. This island is only one of ten islands in the Caribbean that have nesting sites for these birds and is one of the largest.  It is also protected land and no one is allowed to step foot on the island nor is anyone allowed to sail near it by boat without the proper permits and entry fees paid to the Belize Fisheries Department.

From there, we drove to the mangroves- trees that live in salt water and form a mock island. The roots of the mangroves are under the water and allow marine life, such as anemones, to grow on them, creating a home for other sea creatures. We got into the water and followed our guides through the mangroves, viewing upside-down jellyfish, barracuda, sponges, and anemones. We also hoped to see manatees, but, unfortunately, we did not see one as they are somewhat rare to see and the water was choppy, making them even more difficult to spot.

undertheseaWe then moved closer to Tobacco Caye and snorkeled over the actual barrier reef. It was an amazing adventure that none of us will soon forget. We were able to see the live coral, fire coral, and a lot of other plant life that makes its home off the coast of Belize. We also saw starfish, flounder, trumpet fish, a sea turtle, and much more. Snorkeling the reef today made all of us realize how important it is to do our part to protect the reef as tourists, to educate others that may be traveling to view it, and to understand that protecting the environment and lowering our carbon footprint could potentially save this magnificent ecosystem for years to come.

This evening, we had a lecture given by one of our guides, Mathilde, on Conservation, Fisheries, and Marine Protected Areas (MPA's). We learned about different techniques used by commercial fishermen and the effects that it can have on the endangerment or extinction of species of fish and other marine life. We learned that Marine Protected Areas are areas that are protected by government that are no-catch or catch and release areas in order to replenish the species population and/or protect the population that already existing in the area. We also had a discussion about what fish species may be sustainably caught and what logos to look for in a grocery store to ensure we are finding sustainably and responsibly caught or farmed fish.

As the day ends, some of the group will be going for a night snorkel around the island. They are armed with nothing but their snorkel gear, their guides, and flashlights and are hoping to see Morey Eels, octopi, squid, and many other creatures. They are all a little nervous, but still very excited and hoping to have an incredible experience.

Tonight is very bittersweet for all of us. We are very excited to return to the United States to be with our family and friends, report all that we have encountered, and have the luxuries that we are accustomed to (warm showers in particular). However, we have all learned so much on this journey and have come to love this country. The people we have met, the places we have seen, and the activities that we have endured have made us appreciate the lives that we have at home and made us more aware of the world around us. Many of us have conquered fears, be it water, heights or bugs. It has truly been a rewarding experience for all and one that we will remember for the rest of our lives. And now we are off to bed for an early morning rise and a journey home that begins with another unconventional ferry ride!