An amazing moment with a little girl, Dianna, and Maria, a stingray.

I was on a fellowship trip in Belize. I had a moment with a little girl, Dianna, and Maria, a stingray. After I finished the dive, I was with Dimas, who is a dive master, when he wanted to help a local fisherman cut fish on the beach. It was a quiet nice evening on the beach until I screamed “AEHHHHH!” A stingray touched my feet.I said, “Dimas, she keeps coming to me.” He ignored me and kept cutting fish.I backed up when the stingray came near to me. Right away, Dianna said, “She wants you to touch her.” I responded, “Oh Okay.” My feet were hesitating moving around stingrays. I was thinking of how I should touch her because I have never met a stingray before. She said, “Not now, when she comes to you. Now, here touch it. She is soft. Here, touch it. Here is bumpy.” She played with a stingray just like I played with my pet. She showed me how to interact with Maria. I kneeled down on the water. I was patting Maria very gently the way Dianna did. I greeted “Maria, Nice to meet you.” The moment came when we look into each other eyes. I felt she was telling me something then she showed me her dancing nicely.  Dimas threw more fish into the beach, more stingrays came. While the endless sunset surrounded us, I fed them, playing with them while birds were flying over my head. I had a great time with them. I didn’t notice my feelings had changed and I had started to love them. It was an amazing moment that I have never felt again. I was very happy when I was playing with Maria. I became friends with Maria and she is lovely.  I realized that the local people have a personal connection with ALL of nature’s species. Maria and Dianna grew up together in the same area. I miss Maria. Thanks to Dianna and Dimas for including me in their culture. The memory will stay with me forever.

It will be a very sad if coastal overdevelopment continues and stingrays get sick and die.

Dianna’s next generation won’t be able to see and play with stingrays.

Enjoy Vedio. Maria in Belieze !! Thanks

Importance of the reef

Importance of the Coral Reef

The people on the island of Ambergris Caye depend highly on tourists for their source of income. Every side street of the island has many gift shops and restaurants/bars with plenty of locals standing outside each of them trying to sell something and make their day’s pay. Locals know that they live in a “tropical paradise” at least in the eyes of Americans and other travelers. Good weather, warm water, palm trees and one of the most beautiful reefs in the world make it the ideal spot for a vacation or some good ole science research. Trust me too, diving these waters everyday allows you to see just how beautiful and breath taking it really is. I wondered to the gift shop at the end of the road that our hotel is on one evening to pick the mind of the owner whom I’ve seen multiple times before. I asked her if she knew anything about the reef and the importance of it to the health of the marine ecosystems. She looked at me and kind of laughed and said “the reef is a lot more important to us to survive not to know everything we can about it.” She then went off in a rant about the new people in government. “Drilling for oil in our ocean,” she mentioned, and it was a word I did not expect to hear as a problem down here. “With the approval of the new out-of-place clock in the center town I almost thought the mayor did not care for our city as we do and would approve drilling.” We went back and forth for an hour about how important the reef is and the most brought up topic was the reef potentially being destroyed, marine life dying, no food, and of course no divers to see the reef and revenue loss which go hand in hand. Drilling off the coast of San Pedro is something that still haunts my mind. It cannot happen.

A lot is being done to protect the reef though. While diving with Ecologic I’ve learned the extra miles that have to be taken in order to not harm it. Examples like not dropping anchors without knowing where they will land. The staff at Ecologic Divers would actually dive down and hand place an anchor if they were unsure that damage could be avoided. Also before each dive each dive master would reiterate to not tough anything, the reef or creatures. This could kill/harm the organism damaging the ecosystem. It was disappointing witnessing divers completely ignore their dive masters and start conducting their own private dives. This could mean the difference between a healthy reef and a damaged one. I also noticed that a lot of other dive shops are not as careful with their planning and just more concerned with making money as fast and easy as possible. I was very thankful that while we were surveying the reef we were with a group of people who actually care about what is happening down there.

Not only the does the reef attract divers that have to stay in Belize and spend money, it also provides the city of San Pedro with food. They eat a lot of fish down there which is all freshly caught. Fish would not be around if it was not for the reef for energy and shelter. The reef should be one of their top concerns; I know it is among the locals. However understand that it is a developing country and needs to focus a lot on creating stable and beneficial jobs and an actual way of life that makes it hard to completely understand everything that is going on behind the scenes. All I’ve come up with during our stay down there is that if this reef gets destroyed it is going to do a lot more harm than anyone can imagine.

Hello Curious Stingray 1 – I have never explored.

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We say hello when meeting people, I said AGHHHH when I met a stingray.

After the dive, everybody got together relaxing on the ecologic divers dock.

Suddenly, Dimas said “let’s cut the fish”. Let me introduce a short dialogue.

Kyung : What fish?

Dimas : Over there, fisherman on the beach.

Kyung : Why?

Dimas : Helping the fisherman.

He had a lot of skills using the knife to cut fish on a wooden table.

He throws away the skin on the beach and keeps what’s edible.

SOMETHING touched my feet.

AGHHHHH  ~~~~~~~~ I screamed.

Dimas : You are not to make a noise.

Kyung : What is it?

Dimas : A curious stingray.

There is a stingray , a curious stingray….. where the water meets the sand behind my feet. I have never explored ocean creatures.

Dimas and a fisherman give food for the stinray.

This is what the fisherman and Dimas do after a hard day’s work……..on the beach in San Pedro.

Continue….

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Coral Disease, Belizean Perspective

It has been a tremendous experience to snorkel the coral reef and witness the impact of coral disease first hand. Still, I can only see a single snapshot of the reef’s current state, and two weeks living on the island does not give me the perspective to understand the impact of coral degradation on the economy and lives of the local population. For that, you need to read articles, speak with locals, and come back to the island in successive years. We read articles during Coral Reef Ecology and while preparing for the trip. I plan to come back and continue to study the reef, one way or another. As for speaking with the locals, this was a team effort done by multiple students.

I spoke with Charlie, one of the dive masters at Ecologic. He has dived these reefs for years now, and therefore has personally witnessed its evolving condition. He has seen a steady increase in coral degradation, such as band diseases. On the other hand, he also commented on the resurgence of some coral, such as the staghorn at Coral Gardens. Charlie talked about what he thinks is responsible for reef degradation, and what can be done to prevent it. Sedimentation, for example, he blamed on Mangrove and turtle grass/wide blade sea grass dredging on the coast. Charlie pointed at the fields of grass off the Ecologic dock, noting that they maintain it. Other dive shops and property owners remove it so tourists have clear water and sand off the beach for swimming. The grass filters sediment, keeping it from covering offshore coral. Charlie has also seen the damage from careless, inexperienced tourists snorkeling and diving reef sites, kicking over coral heads. Lastly, Charlie discussed tourist sunscreen. He does not believe warming waters encourage disease, believing warming to be a process that has happened “since creation.” On the other hand, he believes that sunblock in the water from swimmers is cutting of UV rays that he thinks the coral needs to survive, and encouraging coral degradation.

I also spoke with local restaurant employees, intentionally wishing to meet with non-managers in affected industries. The ones I met with were largely uninformed on the issue. The waiters at Lily’s, a restaurant serving locally caught fish dependent on the reef, are a good example. They did not know what coral disease was. They did not know anything about the state of the reef. Most had not worked on the island long enough to notice changes in fish catches. This was interesting and somewhat surprising after having learned all semester about the awareness of Belizeans. Then again, many of these restaurants employ low income, poorly educated individuals from the mainland looking for work that they could not find back home.

Ashley and Rion met with someone at San Pedro’s mayor’s office while working on their own projects, but kindly asked about the reef. Their contact said that disease in the coral has actually decreased recently. He credited that decrease to a recent cooling water temperature, stating that it was much warmer at this time last year. Based on data we had seen in class, this is possible, but has not occurred long enough to constitute a trend. The contact at the office noted that most disease seems to be band types, though also noting some instances of bleaching. He blamed increased disease on water traffic. Lastly, he stated that red-band disease was a newcomer to the region. Personally, I did not see any red-band, but I agree with his statements on band-diseases in general, and may just not have seen areas with red-band. I have found research showing it in Caribbean coral reefs.

Lastly, Adam spoke with some of the local fishermen. They did not have a lot to say about coral disease, but did have  a low opinion of tourists and their impact on the reef. They claim to have seen a lot of the same kinds of damage as Charlie, with careless divers and snorkelers kicking over coral heads. They also noted impact from tourists traveling on their own without supervision or training. People will rent jet skis, for example, and crash them into the barrier reef and other shallow coral sites. All of this damage has a negative impact on their industry, in their opinion. We may have witnessed some of that damage; we had no conch fritters to eat on the entire island it turned out that because of low conch population, the season was ended a month early.

None of these opinions or witness accounts really amount to scientific data points on the health of the coral reef, so why are they important? They give us a window into the knowledge and thought processes of the locals who, in the end, may decide the fate of the ecosystem with their own actions and at the ballot box. They give a human element and vantage point to long term impacts that I, as a briefly present scientist, will otherwise miss. On June 29th, San Pedro is holding a referendum on turning Mexico Rocks into a marine reserve similar to Hol Chan. If the reserve includes coastal mangroves, as at Hol Chan, the  Mexico Rocks may be able to recover from the sedimentation I witnessed as the mangroves are restored. My impression was that the measure has local support.

On the other hand, the non-scientific nature means that some of the opinions need to be taken with a grain of salt. The man in the mayor’s office has a vested interest in the survival of the tourist dependent economy, for example, and therefore has an interest in saying that the reef is recovering and not declining. Charlie, the Ecologic dive master, has known Dr. Savage for years, and is possibly more upfront on what he has witnessed. Then again, his opinion blaming sunscreen more than temperature rise may not hold up to scientific rigor. It is worth conducting experiments and investigations to see if sunscreen is part of the problem; that work has been done and shown the negative impact of temperature rise, despite Charlie’s dismissal. We also met a man from the Belize National Tourism Board who was almost giddy at the prospect of removing mangroves to make room for coastal development. We know that it is a short term gain, and that the long term damage to the reef will end the tourist industry, but that is not his job to consider (yet).

I wish I could have spent another week just questioning the locals on the reef. A task for my next visit, I suppose.