Thursday, March 25, 2010

#3 Time is a precious commodity.

Peter Gawne, Belize Expedition

Every moment of every day on this island seems to be a race against the clock. We rise with the sun and quickly get to work. While the days are long, they are not without limit and there is much work to do before the sun goes down.

Time in the field is an extremely limited resource for scientists. The daylight hours are spent in parts unknown. Samples must be gathered. Measurements must be taken. All of the data that is going to sustain a scientist's work is to be gathered in the field. Later there will be time, albeit limited, to crunch numbers, analyze samples and work toward the eventual goal of publication (as mentioned in post #2).

When working underwater the issue of time is compounded. Beneath the surface, time is measured in minutes rather than hours. There is a constant struggle between air--supply, decompression limits and the work that must be done. Each failed attempt to capture a fish eats precious minutes that will never be recovered.

Each dive we do has multiple objectives, all of which are categorized in terms of priorities. It is stressful trying to fulfill all of the objectives for any given dive, all the while watch the dial for your air-supply ticking downward toward zero. I will admit that diving is a great deal of fun, but there is pressure to get the work done within the time allowed. Fortunately, Randi and I are proving to be a good dive team, which is keeping us on or near our agenda.

When finally the sun has dipped below the horizon, the work mode switches from field to laboratory. There are fish to feed, experiments to run and data sets to analyze. Samples collected in the field often have a limited shelf life, and it is a race against the clock to get them analyzed, catalogued or preserved before they breakdown and become useless. It is difficult for anyone to turn off the microscopes, put down their tools and call it a day. Few have found themselves in bed before midnight.

Mercifully, sleep comes quickly to most, as the rigors of the day have taken a toll on both mind and body. Unfortunately, to some, sleep proves difficult, as the clock is always ticking, and precious time is slips away while we slumber. In the field, something is always just around the corner to slow your pace to a grinding halt. For some, these scenes play over and over as they close their eyes and wait for sleep.

Commercial fisheries experience their last days within the Marine Protected Area surrounding Carrie Bow Cay.

Scientists are not the only ones feeling the pressures of time at Carrie Bow Cay. Overfishing has taken its toll on even this island paradise. Many of the large predators have been harvested from the reefs, and have seemingly been replaced by miniature versions of themselves. While these small fish may one day rival the size and abundance of their ancestors, they need time to grow, to spawn and to rebuild their numbers.

The reefs themselves are also under enormous pressure. Major storms, pollution, overfishing and climate change are all serious threats to Belize's coral reefs (similar threats to those described facing coral reefs in the Phoenix Islands).

Fortunately, the government of Belize recognizes the value of their reefs, and is putting measures in place to protect and ensure their future. It is an interesting and tumultuous time to be on Carrie Bow Cay. On Monday, 3-22-2010, the waters surrounding Carrie Bow became a part of Belize's Marine Protected Area. Sailboats laden with dugout canoes will no longer be able to harvest these waters. The reefs, fish and invertebrates have been granted a little breathing room. Hopefully it will be enough.

Spear-divers leave the Marine Protected Area with their catch, hopefully for the last time.

As with any regulations, enforcement is a major issue. Protected areas require constant vigilance, and greater manpower than the Belize fisheries service can provide. Monday was the first full day of protection at Carrie Bow. It is a step in the right direction. I hope that step was taken in time.


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