Monday, August 10, 2009

After Thoughts

Matt sends us a favorite sunset and Kathy captures a wonderful shot of a Large Eye Toadfish!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sad Saturday

We put smiles on our faces for the last group picture, even though we were sad to leave. (Kirsten had an earlier flight out, so is missing from the group pic.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Triple-dive Thursday

Three dives in one day! Starting at Mary's Place, we swam through overhanging rocks and deep valleys. An ocean triggerfish was sighted feeding.

On to Maya Key for lunch, with tasty conch soup. A new facility for showing the Mayan civilization to tourists was available for a tour. Other recent changes on Maya Key include a variety of animals on display. South American sea lions are being trained, macaws call out in loud squawks, and a jaguar sits quietly on a rock.

Back on the boat, we geared up for dive #2 at Smith's Bank, where an amazing number of healthy corals thrive. Most abundant were staghorn, lettuce, and finger corals. Acres of these corals are a great habitat for huge numbers of small fish and reef creatures. Two lettuce sea slugs were spotted, one a blue-green color. Truly spectacular, awe-inspiring sights for all!

Lastly, the night dive. As the sun set we headed to the reef where we saw spiny lobsters, king crabs (Mithrax crabs), basket starfish and 3 octopi moving along the reef. We also saw several fish sleeping including parrotfish, cowfish and surgeonfish decked out in there night coloration.

(Photos by Kathy Dole)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wet & Wonderful Wednesday

What could be better than starting your day with a dolphin kiss? The group got to enjoy a dolphin encounter, including touching and "holding" a dolphin. After our one-on-one encounter, we all got to swim in the dolphin lagoon and frolicked with dolphins as they investigated turtle grass and empty shells that we used to entice them in for a closer look. We even got to see the 2-day old calf with its mother. A true once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After our dolphin experience, we went out for a snorkel/dive where we saw crabs, lobsters, tunicates, and beautiful fishes. We all collected bits of algae and brought it back to the boat where we learned about these important ocean plants and the different types that can be found on the reef. We learned that some can actually indicate ecosystem damages caused by human actions that end up causing changes on the reef.

We finished the exciting day by going for an tide pool walk at the western tip of Roatan. We found sea urchins and brittle sea stars under every rock. We even saw a scorpionfish hanging out in 6 inches of water, waiting for an unsuspecting prey to come to close to this expert at camouflage.

Terrific Tuesday

The afternoon got off to a great start with a dive/snorkel to Four Sponges Reef. This unique reef has 2 walls to explore. The reef was filled with sponges, corals and reef fish of every color and shape. From the small yellow-headed jawfish that can be found by closely examining the sand channels between the reefs, to a very curious green moray eel that came very close to the cameras that were busily clicking away at its toothy grin. Moray eels have poor eyesight, but they have an excellent sense of smell. The divers also got to see 2 large (2' long) scrawled filefish that put on a show as they swam together in what looked like a spawning "dance" that went on as they moved along the reef. Before the dive ended, the divemaster pointed out a large eye toadfish that made its home under a coral ledge. This odd-looking fish uses fleshy tabs near its cavernous mouth to blend in to the background. Small fishes can be confused into thinking the fish is just part of the reef until the toadfish opens its maw and snaps up the unsuspecting prey!
(Photos: Helen Domske)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hydroponics in Action

The group got the opportunity to visit Blue Harbor Plantation where lettuce, herbs, flowers and fruits are grown for sale on Roatan. We learned how a person with a PhD in soil science can become a profitable producer of hydroponic produce in a tropical paradise. Val, the proprietor of the hydroponic operation, welcomed the group and shared his expertise in this fascinating operation. Although we all thought the tropical climate would be ideal for growing plants, we were surprised to learn that lettuce actually prefers cooler temperatures than the island provides. We saw how plants are planted, rooted, watered and eventually harvested. After this experience, we won’t take our salads for granted.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Zack's Monday picks

Monday Morning

The morning dive at Fish Den revealed two seahorses, a lobster, and a good variety of corals that we heard about at Jen's lecture. We added tilefish and spotted drum to our group fish list, for a total of 62 that we can identify for sure. Many neon gobies posed nicely for pictures on coral heads and sponges. Most vase sponges had brittle stars inside. Can't wait to snorkel at Man'o'War Key this afternoon!

Afternoon Update: The trip to the mangrove proved that this ecosystem is an important nursery for the reef. The group saw juvenile barracuda, sergeant majors, schoolmaster snappers, angelfish and grunts. The invertebrates were interesting as well. The group snorkeled with upside-down jellies, fireworms, decorator crabs, featherduster worms
and brittle sea stars.

After the snorkel, the group headed back to the lab to investigate clumps of calcarious algae and "pick out" the living organisms including two tiny octopi, snapping shrimp, flatworms and over 6 different species of serpent or brittle stars. What a fun way to end the afternoon. We even got to see the tiny (arm span of 3") octopus ink several times as he swam around the container.