Saturday, August 16, 2008

Last Ocean Day

The group visited the most beautiful spot for a snorkel/dive…West Bank Wall.
We enjoyed seeing large parrotfish, wrasses, angelfish, and schools of blue chromis and sergeant majors. The snorkelers had the chance to see mimicry in action, as a fish eating trumpetfish swam along in a school of herbivorous blue tangs. This trick worked well as the trumpetfish fooled a couple of damselfish that it eagerly gobbled up.

A turtle swam along with some of the snorkelers and several of the experienced snorkelers were thrilled to see a parrotfish with a bright yellow and black remora or shark sucker firmly attached to a male stoplight parrotfish. We watched in amazement as the parrotfish tried to shake the hitchhiker loose.

After our water day, the group headed into town to visit the iguana farm. The iguana farm has hundreds of iguanas that the owners feed and keep from ending up as meals. The group then helped out the economy of the island as they bought souvenirs and mementos of this wonderful week.

As the group headed back to Anthony’s Key Resort several of the teachers commented that this was an exceptional learning experience. They will take back more than pottery and coffee, they will take back the excitement of experiencing the ocean realm first hand and sharing it with students for years to come. The COSEE GL trip enabled many of them to have this wonderful professional development experience.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On the reef from morning to night

The day started with a boat ride to the other side of the island where the snorkelers and divers got the rare treat of exploring the largest concentration of staghorn coral in the Caribbean. These branching corals get their common name from the resemblance to the antlers or horns on deer. The location, Smith’s bank, is in shallow water and the corals seem to form a woven matrix that is home to parrotfish, grunts, harlequin bass and trunkfish.

Afterwards, the participants headed by boat to Fins and Flipper key, a small island near the airport. There, the teachers enjoyed a picnic lunch, including conch chowder, a delicacy on the island. Following lunch, a local troupe of dancers and drummers shared some of the songs and dances that are part of the island culture.

Helen Domske shared Ocean Literacy principles and classroom ideas with the teachers. A quiz on fish identification made the educators really think about the names of the fishes that have been accompanying them on their snorkels and dives. As part of COSEE GL, the teachers learned how some Great Lakes fish have similar adaptations to those in the oceans. For example, bullhead catfish use their sensory barbels, or “whiskers” in the same way that goatfish do.

As evening drew near, the divers of the group headed to the boat for a night dive on the reef. As they entered the water, they saw the changes that take place from day to evening underwater. A large (12 diameter) king crab held its ground on the coral, while an octopus put on a show by changing color from green to brown to blue in just a matter of seconds. An amazing end to another incredible day of learning about the ocean!

Sonnet For Smith’s Bank, Roatan

In a world where our coral’s receding,
Where they lose tiny algae, essential
To their living and breathing and feeding,
We seem unaware of their potential.

For, the corals are home to so many
Of earth’s algae and fishes and creatures.
Where there used to be beauty aplenty,
Now huge patches of dead rock are featured.

But, Smith’s Bank is yet Paradise Jungle,
With huge staghorn, white tips of growth telling,
Far from land’s suffocation and bungle,
Rinsed and fed with Blue Ocean’s upwelling.

Oh, when will mankind ever learn not to be
Disrespectful of coral and life in the sea?

By Kathy Dole

A Day of Ocean Diversity

The day had participants learning about algae, fish and sharks. While three of the divers headed to the other side of the island to come face-to-face with black-tip reef sharks, the rest of the group heard a lecture on algae, followed by a dive/snorkel to collect some of these important single-celled organisms.

The diversity of Roatan is incredible, with the healthy reef ecosystem displaying colorful reef fish and corals of many shapes. The dive/snorkel included trumpetfish, that get their name from their slender bodies that end in a large, flexible mouth that when extended looks like the bell of a trumpet. Schools of grunt and surgeonfish patrolled the reef, while a beautiful black and white spotted drum showed the difference in coloration and markings between the adult and young.

The shark divers were enthralled by the antics of a group of sharks that were enticed by a bucket of bloody fish parts, known as chum. The sharks sniffed at the contents of the bucket and swam just inches above the divers’ heads. One of the teachers actually found 2 shark teeth in the sand, proof that these predators are constantly replacing teeth…a great adaptation that leaves a shark well prepared for its next meal.

The evening brought a cookout on the key, with crab races, fire dancers and lively island music. The diversity of the group, like that of the ocean inhabitants, makes this year’s adventure interesting and enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dolphin Encounter

Who started this??????

Monday, August 11, 2008

Where is the reef going?

The morning started with a lecture from Education Coordinator, Jennifer Keck, who has been conducting research on reef diversity since 1996. She provided insight into changes taking place on the reefs around Roatan. Some of the damage has come from El Nino events and hurricanes that hit this small island. Over a 12 year timeframe, Keck has seen changes in the amount of corals covering the reef, as well as the species of corals found.

Afterwards, the group headed to Wayne’s place for a dive/snorkel. The teachers saw large groupers and colorful reef fishes. The divers threaded their way through a coral maze, filled with a number of swim-through tunnels, while the snorkelers kept watch above. One of the snorkelers commented that it was fun trying to catch the divers exhaled bubbles as they headed to the surface.

In the afternoon the group headed to Man-o-War Key to view the extensive mangrove islands that provides habitat to many types of animals. The group also snorkeled along a beautiful back reef area where many saw a 5’ nurse shark resting under a coral ledge. After collecting algae, the group headed back to the lab to pick through small inhabitants, including crabs, brittle sea stars, mantis shrimp and even a tiny octopus. This hands-on learning experience really gave the educators a real lesson on the productivity and diversity of algae.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Under the sea….

Sunday morning started off with a lecture on fish identification followed by a snorkel/dive on the reef observing the fish that we learned about. It was an exciting day for the teachers who made their first dive in the ocean after taking scuba lessons in the Great Lakes. Colleen Kelley (pictured) was in awe of the beauty and the colors of the reef. Her first dives today will be remembered for years to come.

After a lecture on invertebrates, the afternoon dive/snorkel introduced teachers to many of the animals covered in the class. The divers came face to face with nine squid that came within feet of the curious educators. Some actually “inked” when the divers got a little too close for comfort. These cephalopods, or head-footed mollusks, are able to change colors in an instant, putting on quite a show for the educators.

As the divers entered the water, they saw several large black groupers (pictured) that followed along and kept a watchful eye on the educators. Groupers are a predator on the reef, but they posed no threat to the larger human visitors.

The snorkelers were greeted by a school of blue tangs, an interesting schooling reef fish that have small scalpel-like fins at the base of the tail that are used for protection. The large school (pictured) grazed along the reef as they picked on algae.

While the snorkelers floated above the reef, the divers had the chance to see a toadfish, a weird looking, secretive fish that made its home in a small hole in the reef. The toadfish (pictured) is not as attractive as many of the colorful reef fish, but its large mouth and eyes make it an interesting find on the dive.

As the divers headed off to the boat to meet up with the snorkelers, a yellow tail snapper (pictured) followed the group. These curious fish are easy to identify because of the colorful tail and bright stripe that give this fish its common name.

Welcome To Roatan!

The COSEE GL Tropical Marine Ecology group arrived on time and ready to roll. We were greeted by the friendly staff of Anthony's Key Resort and took a ride over the mountain to the north side of Roatan, to the place we will call home for the next 8 days. The island is lush and tropical, filled with banana and coconut trees, and flowers of every color.

Once we arived at the resort we heard the orientation and headed to our rooms to wait for the luggage. We were amazed at the pile of bags that our group of 18 created on the dock. Many of the bags had to go over to the small key (one of the 65 keys that ring Roatan - they are low sandy, coral based formations) in a small boat.

Some of the group that got their luggage and snorkel equipment were able to take advantage of a pre-dinner snorkel off Bailey's key, home to the islands 19 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. We snorkeled among turtle grass beds that had grunts, damselfish, wrasses, small parrotfish and different species of invertebrates.

After a delicious dinner, the group listened to a lecture on the Roatan Institute of Marine
Science, by Jennifer Keck. Then headed off to sleep. The first of many exciting days!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tomorrow --Roatan!!!

Hi Everyone,

Our flights depart at 7:15 AM. You should plan to be at the airport by 5:15 AM! You must have your Pass Port to get your boarding pass. Please check in at the ticket counter and be sure your bag tag's final destination is RTB, Roatan.

We are allowed two checked bags at 50 pounds maximum. If your bag is close to 50 pounds I recommend weighing it on the bathroom scale and leaving a few extra pounds for retuning additional purchases and scale error.

All liquids & gels in your carry on must be less than 3 oz. size and all be in a one quart clear zip bag. You will need to remove the zip bag at security and place it in a gray bin to pass through the x-ray machine.

Liquids & Gels larger than 3 oz must go in a checked bag. (I strongly recommend putting any liquid containers into a strong zip bag before packing in your checked bag in case they get crushed and leak.)

Remember to attach the AKR green tags to all your bags, carry-on too. These will be used by the AKR Staff to collect your bags at the Roatan Airport and deliver them to your room. The red, green & yellow yarns in your pre-trip pack are also helpful identifiers -especially on the return trip in Atlanta. I will have extras if you need them -see me at the airport!

Divers --don't forget to pack those c-cards!

And if you were looking for a hurricane next week it seems you will likely be disappointed! The Caribbean and waters to the east are remarkably quiet for August! Roatan has been getting some showers so be sure you have some insect repellent and anti itch meds!