Sunday, May 1, 2011

Belize Expedition: Taking time to smell the (Thalassia) flowers

Belize Expedition, 2011

Yesterday, we had to snorkel out in the lagoon to collect some algae for some nutritional ecology experiments. Along the way, we stopped to admire the beauty of the underwater flowers. Thalassia testudinum is a common tropical seagrass (commonly known as turtlegrass), and it is a true vascular plant (not an alga). It forms thick and beautiful meadows in the shallow waters surrounding Carrie Bow.

One of the amazing things about Thalassia flowers is that they are wave pollinated. There are both male and female flowers (below is a photo of a male flower). It is white (almost clover-like), with 9 stamens. Pollen gets released into the water column and waves then transfer the pollen to female flowers, which will eventually produce greenish/yellowish fruits.

Thalassia is also commonly grazed by parrotfishes - see the semi-circular bite mark to the left of the flower above?

In the past (and later on this trip), we've conducted experiments looking at the grazing rates of parrotfishes on Thalassia seagrasses. You can see the seagrass blades below (L) before deployment; and (R) afterwards. Delicious!

Never a dull moment here, we have to head off to continue our surveys of reef health, measure more hermit crabs, collect more algae, and replace more temperature loggers. But it was nice to take a brief moment to stop and smell the flowers. :-) How fitting - May Day - when all of the flowers at home are also beginning to bloom.

Happy Spring,

Randi, Pete, and Jay


  1. Thanks. Now I'm wondering what other vascular plants are in the ocean!

  2. Hey you crazy kids,

    Fantastic flower picture. I always wanted to see turtlegrass in bloom. You made my day! Holy cow...wave-pollinated, too.

    I didn't know Walter was a scuba diver; very cool. And then you've got Brian on hand to take photos-Hey Brian, I love your work. Hello Randi! Safe travels.

    Are you getting out to Half-moon Cay? The sponges there are astonishing—at least they once were-like an orchestral brass section designed by Dr. Seuss.


    Paul Erickson

  3. Hi Paul,

    Brian is not with us on this expedition - but we'll pass along the compliment. The expedition members are Walter, Pete, Jay, and myself.

    We won't make it out to Half-moon Caye this trip, but maybe next time. Thanks so much for reading the blog!