Friday, April 29, 2011

Belize Expedition: A riveting experience

Belize Expedition, 2011

Picture yourself on a tiny island. We're on a 0.74 acre barrier reef island in Belize called Carrie Bow Caye, home to the Smithsonian's Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystem Program. Though the island may feel small to most humans, it is reasonably large for a hermit crab. Among our underwater pursuits, we are investigating resource-use behavioral dynamics in Coenobita clypeatus hermit crabs, a mainly terrestrial crab with a marine larval phase. Here on Carrie Bow, there are approximately 1100 hermit crabs, which we measured a few years ago in a mark-recapture experiment in collaboration with Dr. Sara Lewis (Tufts University).

Despite the small size of the island it is still too large to conduct our behavioral experiments effectively, so we have reduced the area available to our experimental hermit crabs by creating enclosed arenas.

To keep experimental hermit crabs successfully in (or out) of our arenas, we used aluminum flashing because it's one of the few things that hermit crabs can't climb. Hermit crabs are expert climbers - though you might not guess it, they can scale walls, trees, and PVC pipe (to name a few).

Apparently, these are also Pete enclosures. :-)

There are no hardware stores on this island; we brought all of our materials with us. If we need something else, we have to create it ourselves given the resources at hand and our own ingenuity. Today was all about building. We built a variety of different things in the shop. Like any good workshop, this one has all the basics... but there is what there is. No more. We riveted our hermit crab enclosures to PVC frames to brace them against the wind. Finding creative solutions to unique island problems is indeed a riveting experience. :-)

More soon,

Pete and Randi

Monday, April 25, 2011

Belize Expedition: No more trawling!

Belize Expedition, 2011
I have some great news to share: Belize has just banned trawling. Yes, that's right, there is now a ban on ALL trawling, from inland rivers to lagoons to the reefs to the deep sea. This clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Belizean government to protecting their aquatic resources.

Trawling is a particularly harmful form of fishing because it can destroy large tracts of the benthos (the bottom), including sessile invertebrates, seagrasses and other forms of complex structure.

An example of bottom trawling (Photo: Brian Skerry)

As we head to Belize to investigate the impacts of marine protected areas, it's nice to know that Belize is simultaneously taking additional steps to protect its resources.

To read more about the trawling ban, click here.

Back to packing--we leave soon!


Friday, April 22, 2011

Belize Expedition: Why am I going?

Belize Expedition, 2011

What’s the Aquarium’s Chief Operating and Financial Officer doing on a research expedition to Carrie Bow Cay in Belize? That’s a very good question! Well, a field perspective on Randi and Pete's work would be helpful to me and the Aquarium in my role as a senior manager--and I jumped at the opportunity to participate. Although I’m a little nervous and have a lot to get done before I go, I can’t wait to join them.

On board the Coral Reef II, leaving Miami during the 2010 Bahamas expedition

Although I am avid diver and participated in last year’s Spring Bahamas Collecting Expedition, I don’t know much right now about the science we’ll be conducting other than what I’ve talked to Randi and Pete about. I can wax eloquently about Aquarium’s day-to-day operating and financial challenges--but no one wants to read blogs about those kinds of things. So my blog posts from Belize will be different, and hopefully interesting. I know they will be interesting to me and I hope they will be for you as well!


Belize Expedition: Earth to Explorers....

Belize Expedition, 2011

Hello Explorers,

Happy Earth Day! Spring is in full-swing here in Boston, which means that it's time for me to think about the tropics. Some Aquarium colleagues (Pete and Walter) and collaborators (Jay) and I will be headed down South to my favorite island: Carrie Bow Cay, home to the Smithsonian Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystem Program.

Carrie Bow Caye, Belize

Right around this time last year, we were on-island when a no-take zone was being implemented in the Southwater Caye Marine Reserve, which was a momentous occasion. With the deployment of no-take marker bouys (pictured below), neither artisinal nor commercial fishing can take place within the reserve. Just in time, too - while fish populations throughout the Caribbean are suffering major declines, marine protected areas have the opportunity to provide a buffer from fishing pressure... but only if they are well-marked and enforced.

No-take zone buoy marking the perimeter of the Southwater Caye Marine Reserve.

Fishing fleet in Belize City, harbored due to rough weather, demonstrates the massive effort per boat
(4-6 dugout canoes per sailboat, each fishing all day every day on the reefs).

In Belize, there is a massive "artisinal" fishing effort based on a smaller sailboat loaded with dugout canoes. But the fishing pressure is still intense, and to see if the marine reserve is working, we need to measure fish abundance, diversity, and biomass inside and outside of the reserve over time. We started this monitoring effort last year, and this year we will be expanding and honing our design to ensure that we will have an effective monitoring program that will be compatible with other efforts in the region. By implementing such no-take marine reserves, the Belize Government is working hard to help reefs stay healthy and keep stocks of groupers, snappers, jacks, and herbivores from further decline.

Jacks, snappers, groupers, and herbivores are all protected in the Southwater Caye Marine Reserve; an MPA newly designated as "no-take".

What a fitting day to think both locally AND globally... we'll be posting updates from the field in just a few days, so stay tuned. Why not make it an Earth Day resolution to stay informed on global marine research and conservation?!

Happy Earth Day,