Friday, August 13, 2010

Fantastic Friday in the Sun

Friday began with discussion about the Thursday night dive, which included seeing a tiny reddish-orange crab on a sea fan, and a slipper lobster.  We listened to Jen at a morning sea turtle lecture with current information about conservation techniques being utilized in Central America.  We found out that all sea turtles are either endangered or threatened, and were encouraged to educate our students about choices they could make that could have a positive impact on ocean life.  

The morning divers went to see the shipwreck Aguila, where a spiny oyster was observed.  Snorkelers saw fishes and creatures at the nearby reef crest.  After lunch, a trip into town was helpful for souvenir shopping, and an island tour included a stop at the iguana farm.  If you are ever in West End, be sure to stop at Earth Mamas for a fruit smoothie!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thallasia Thursday in the Sun

The day started with a lesson on mangroves, which make up an important ecosystem in the tropics. These specialized trees, the red, black, white and gray mangroves, help to protect the islands, stabilize sediment and serve as nurseries for the coral reef. Our snorkel along the red mangroves delivered a snapshot at this amazing, but often unprotected area. Seen by some as nuisance plants that are bulldozed to make sandy beaches, the mangrove community that we experienced showed us oysters, colorful worms, small fishes and even a problematic invasive…the lionfish! These fish have made their way from its native Pacific to home aquaria where they have been released to the wild. Roatan saw its first lionfish last year and already we have seen this venomous invader on several of our dives/snorkels. Fortunately, our dedicated dive-master, Alson, was prepared to capture and eliminate the 3 lionfish that the group spotted on our snorkel. Shouts of “lionfish” sent Alson over to rid the area of this dangerous fish. More than just a threat to unknowing snorkelers or divers, this Pacific invader has a huge mouth and a voracious appetite for small reef fish. Some biologists believe they can eats dozens of small fishes each day, which has the potential to impact fish communities on the reef.

After lunch, Helen gave a lecture that compared/contrasted the fishes of the Great Lakes with marine fish. COSEE Great Lakes teaches about ocean literacy through this course, but since the teachers call the Great Lakes home, it is important for them to realize there can be a connection between fish species. Body-shapes, fin structure, coloration and reproductive strategies can be compared/contrasted between the two distinctive environments.

The evening ended with a night dive for part of the group. These dives offer a unique experience to be on the reef during an important transition time from daylight to night, when the reef comes alive with creatures not seen during the day.

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Wonderful Wednesday in the Sun

Helen with Marguerita

 We woke up after dreams of a night snorkel that the group took the night before. Seeing reef creatures at night adds a special dimension to reef ecology. As Kathy Dole said, “Put your PJ’s on!” describes how some fish change their daytime or diurnal coloration to the coloration they show for the nocturnal period. A juvenile butterflyfish can show a brown splotch where a white body side had been. Others, like parrotfish, completely darken their coloration; or, a surgeonfish adds bars to its “PJ’s” at night. Night snorkels also bring sightings of crabs, lobsters, and the octopus!

Wednesday morning started with an algae lecture and then came the highlight of the week: an encounter with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that call AKR home. Our dolphin, Marguerita, proved to be a young, enthusiastic female, who put on a real show for us. We all got to hug her and get a dolphin smooch from this sweet little cetacean. After our encounter with her, we got to spend 30 minutes snorkeling with the entire pod of 28 dolphins, but Marguerita, seemed to stand out. She eagerly squeaked and squealed as we played with her, using seagrass and shells. Garry occupied her attention for over 10 minutes by playing “catch” with her using a pencil sea urchin. She would gently grasp the urchin, carry it away, and then drop it for him to “fetch” it back for her. Hmmm..who’s training whom? We all left the seaside enclosure with big smiles and warm memories of the little dolphin who showed off her gentle ways.  
The day also included 2 snorkel/dives where we picked samples of algae to observe up-close, providing some experiential learning. The dives/snorkels also let the group get some more practice identifying the reef fishes and invertebrates we have been learning about.

The evening brought the island barbeque that offers a taste of island food, hermit crab races, limbo dancing contest and breath-taking fire dances from a troupe of native entertainers. It was a nice ending to a memorable day at AKR.

Octopus from night snorkel


Arrow Crab

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Terrific Tuesday in the Sun

Group at western tip of Roatan
Nurse Shark with Sharksucker
Lettuce Sea Slug
Nassau Grouper
Val and his hydroponic facilit
The day started out with a trip to Blue Harbor hydroponic farm, where we met with Dr. Val Eylands, an agronomist who left his faculty position in the US to start a new venture in Roatan. Val provided an inspiring tour of his operation, comparing the hydroponic operation to traditional farming. As he pointed out, he can produce a similar crop of lettuce using 10% of the land, water and pesticides of traditional farms. Although hydroponics can be labor intensive, he has empowered local women by providing them jobs and a chance to improve their standards of living. The teachers were thrilled to find out that the lettuce they have been enjoying in their daily salads comes from Val’s farm….fresh to the kitchen at AKR.

After the farm trip, the group headed to the intertidal area where they got to see snails, anemones, algae and small fishes that make their home in the tidepools and under the coral rubble. The teachers walked along a wall at a newly built resort and were able to see that the construction material was huge chunks of dead corals that had washed up on shore. They were actually able to pick out brain, star and staghorn coral formations from the wall. In many of the islands of the Caribbean, coral rubble is used for road and building construction. The calcium carbonate skeletons provide a concrete-like building material that provides strength and support.

The afternoon dive/snorkel really made it a “terrific Tuesday” as the divers encountered an 8’ nurse shark resting between two coral outcroppings. As the nurse shark rested on the bottom, it was easy to see its gill flaps as the cartilaginous fish pumped water over its gills. Although many sharks need to keep swimming in order to force water over their gills, bottom-dwelling nurse sharks can breathe as they remain in one place. The nurse shark gets its name from the suckling or nursing sound that they make as they suck up bottom dwelling prey like crabs and mollusks. The nurse shark is pictured with a remora, or shark-sucker that scrapes off parasites from the shark’s body and gills. This symbiotic relationship provides a cleaning service for the shark and a free meal for the remora. The dive and snorkel also provided views of a Nassau grouper with its brown body bands and an odd-looking trunkfish with it triangular shaped box-like body. The delicate lettuce sea slug proved to be the most beautiful sighting of the dive, with its frilly gills and colorful markings. These nudibranchs are often overlooked by divers who may not keep a watchful eye out for the colorful invertebrates.

Marvelous Monday in the Sun

The day started with a lecture on coral formation and the teachers learned about the corals of Roatan, including massive brain corals, stately pillar corals and fragile lettuce corals, to name a few.

The second half of the lecture featured research that has been conducted in Roatan that shows that hurricanes, global warming, and human impacts have taken a toll on the coral cover along the island.  After the lecture, the group headed to a dive/snorkel to actually see these fascinating reef builders.

 Unfortunately, the group was able to see some of the damage on the reef as well.  Divers have been known to "love the reef to death" and some of this damage is visible on the reef.  Although the group is instructed on proper treatment of the reef, uneducated divers often touch, kick, or stand on the coral doing damage that will take years to recover from.  We headed to Maya Key, where we enjoyed an island lunch and a tour of their animal refuge, that included monkeys, toucans, macaws, and cats, such as a margay and a jaguar.

As we headed back to AKR, we stopped for the final dive/snorkel of the day.  Several hawksbill sea turtles swam along with our group, probidig an exciting end to a busy day on the reef. 

As we go on to educate the next generation of stakeholders, we need to make students realize the vital role that coral reefs play in the health of the world's oceans.  That is another reason why COSEE Great Lakes teaches educators about Ocean Literacy principles. Without our oceans, our world would not be as healthy or as beautiful as it is.  Here's to the coral reefs of the world...a small veneer that adds beauty and color, and feed the engine of the marine feed webs!!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Super Sunday in the Sun!

So, our first full day in Roatan got off to a great start with a lecture on fish identification.  We learned that angelfish have a specialized spine on its gill cover that it uses to protect itself and that a blue tang is actually yellow when it is a juvenile.

After the lecture, we went out to the reef to put our new-found knowledge to the test.  The snorkeling group headed inshore, while the diving group went down to 80' to see a bright yellow seahorse that was securely fastened to a flexible coral.  

The photo to the left shows a Cubera snapper with a remora attached to its side.  The little hitch-hiker is getting a ride on the side of this predator.

As Jeff Hoyer got back on the boat after the snorkel he said, "It's like being in an aquarium!"  The bright colorful fishes that the teachers learned about were all around them as they went on the snorkel or dive.

After lunch and a lecture on marine invertebrates like crustaceans, sponges, mollusks and worms.  We learned that sponges are not boring, but there are boring sponges that actually bore into reef substrate.  A non-boring, bright yellow boring sponge is pictured on today's blog.


Sunday, August 8

Hi everyone, We all arrived safely except for Dave. His flight was canceled in the middle of the night before travel day! He should be here later today....

Hope to have some photos for you later today.