On, In, and Under the Water!

Published: September 21st 2009
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I have been lucky to spend a great deal of time observing and thinking about the seas this summer through snorkeling and diving with educated guides and reading some amazing scientific and science-fiction books. The ocean is a living, breathing, and adapting organism with a geologic evolution we can barely appreciate!
Because Belize’s entire coastline is protected by a 170 mile barrier reef, there is an abundance of small islands and shallow waters teaming with marine life in close proximity to Placencia. I am finding equal joy in snorkeling or diving, as there are different kinds of animals, plants, and behaviors to observe depending on the depth of the water and location. Within a 12 mile radius from our village, there are two isles in particular that I love to snorkel - Colson and Crawl Cayes. The amazing thing about the cayes of Belize is that each has a strikingly different underwater landscape. My first visit to Colson caye brought many first sightings for me, and with near perfect visibility, it was a great day for my new waterproof camera. When I first jumped in the water, I was immediately distracted by a comb jellie (different phylum than the jellyfish) of a cylindrical shape 6 x 3 inches. These jellies are not bioluminescent, but the cilia they use to propel through the water scatter the light to produce a pulsating rainbow show on all four sides! I took a very long video, but the rainbow reflections can only be viewed en vivo.
The next thing to stop me in my swim kicks was a small garden of purple cylindrical “flowers” attached to a rock, later to be classified as blue bell tunicates. I was astounded to find out that this flower bouquet was actually a colony of tiny animals - belonging to the same phylum as vertebrates - with a digestive and circulatory system! The most interesting thing about this small organism is that its heart pumps the blood in one direction for a little while; then it stops and reverses the circulation. I take that back - actually the most interesting thing is that this tiny little sea squirt even has a heart! 😉
Nearby, I recognized the twin orange and white spiral plumes of a Christmas tree worm. These inch-tall “trees” are found on reefs all over the world, and the small spirals disappear into the coral at the slightest disturbances. Of course I couldn’t resist diving down, taking a picture, and then watching my shadow initiate their vanishing act. … And every time I smiled through my snorkel I got a mouth of seawater, yet I kept doing it! After one day with my camera, I deduced that my photography would be best focused on coral landscapes instead of moving organisms and fish!
On the reefs of Crawl Caye, I am often swimming with large schools of fry, wrasse, or jackfish. Lobsters are common, unless we just finished hunting for lunch! Quite often, I’m following my one true love, the Scrawled Cowfish, in and out of the coral mazes. This yellow and blue scrawled fish has two forward pointing “eyebrows” that make it look like it’s always ready for a party! And speaking of parties - it was here that I first observed the French grunts schooling in what Aly and I have scientifically named “A Fish Party!” When there are hundreds of one fish species just hanging out around one specific coral head or under the shadows of a pier, it’s GOT to be a party!
Every time I’ve snorkeled there, I’ve been excited to encounter small crowds of the colorful and curious Caribbean Reef Squids. I usually see them in groups of 3-7 and they are always working in perfect synchronization with each other! They send messages to each other through color changes, and range from a lovely purple to a mottled brown to almost transparent, depending on their message or impending doom. It is color changing features and camouflage techniques like these that keep me intrigued by so many fish. The previously mentioned Scrawled Cowfish changes colors to match his background and the long thin brown trumpet fish always hangs out vertically in matching coral branches, yet these fish don’t have a mirror so how do they know what they look like!?!?!?
I have also snorkeled with the largest school of tiny frys ever imaginable! Their sleek silver bodies stretched on as far as I could see in every direction! And when Jess or I would swim near them, the silver streaks would part in a perfect sweep with the baby fish equidistant to every part of our bodies! The way these small creatures can swim in perfect formation and to the exact same standards is remarkable!
Another visual treat is the sighting of a Spotted Drum Fish. It is a fish with an unusually long dorsal fin and a diverse array of black and white patterns all over its body. It’s such a fun fish to watch because as it swims around, the patterns twist and sway in a flurry as the long fins dance! I spotted a juvenile on a dive recently, and the dorsal fin of this inch long baby was at least 9 times longer. That must be tough to manage for such a little fry!
I could sit here all week and tell you about each and every creature that I’ve been observing, because they are all so fascinating and unique! I’m glad I got to share a few of my favorites, and I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve been taking of my new obsession!

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21st September 2009

Not fair!
Wandke, I am officially jealous that while I am ferociously trying to close 3Q strong and dealing with cancelled cases and doe doe surgeons who take all day to do a case YOU are flitting about exploring different phylum and flowers of the Belizean coast. When will you come back so we can all say, "Well that was fun, now what Wandke?" For I fear you may never rejoin the rat race and this fun may just continue. Fondly, Jealous Guy
25th September 2009

I hope you aren't planning on your skiddish family diving down to those depths when we are visiting in a few months. I'd rather look at the lovely pics you have taken and not smile and swallow sea water! Am thrilled that you are able to explore your passion! XXOO

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