January 31, 2010

The changing of the guard went smoothly with the arrival of Sadie and the departure of John. Needless to say we were sorry to see John go. In the last 48 hours Kip and Sadie have been busy with interviews, capturing the hustle and bust of life in Belize City, and exploring the diverse critters of Turneffe Atoll.

On Saturday afternoon Sylvia Earle, Kip and Sadie headed out to Turneffe Atoll, about 45min east of Belize City by boat. We were accompanied by a group of divers visiting the Oceanic Society and Blackbird Caye Resort; all masterminded by Birgit Winning, the Oceanic Society’s fearless leader, president and one of Turneffe’s biggest advocates. Through the Oceanic Society, guests are invited to spend their vacation learning about Turneffe Atoll and assisting with current research projects. Click here to learn more. Shortly after arrival we happily settled into our comfortable rooms at the resort, while an amazing full moon glowed amber as it emerged from the ocean.

The next morning was full of discovery and exploration of the atoll. We were up early to capture the sunrise on an almost seamless horizon. The water was flat and calm, great diving conditions! Turneffe Atoll is almost completely covered with mangroves, and is the largest of Belize’s three atolls. Almond trees and sea grapes line the beach surround the resort. It was in one of these almond trees that Kip’s sharp eyes spots a rainbow boa constrictor lounging in the shade.

Snowy Egrets, woodpeckers, pelicans, osprey and frigate birds are also abundant on the atoll.

Kip and Sadie took a short dive along the fringing reef, where we captured some great footage of the local fish and reef which was spotted with brain coral, mustard hill and large areas of lettuce leaf coral. Our second dive of the day brought us to a sea of sponges, all different colors, shapes and sizes, many with inhabitants, such as large crabs and juvenile fish! We were graced with the presence of “Her Deepness,” who took as many photos of Kip and Sadie as we did of her! Following our dive we learnt from Birgit Winning that parrot fish have recently been listed as protected in Belize, due to a rapid decline in their population. This decline was caused by overfishing. Diligent monitoring by groups such as the Oceanic Society help bring attention to conservation issues at Turneffe Atoll.

On our way back from our second dive we met a local fisherman, Billie, who was walking along the fringing reef, towing a hand carved boat behind him. We caught up with him once he was back in his vessel and found that he was looking for lobster.
The season for catching lobster ends on February 15th and there are some regulations about taking females with eggs; however, the lobster population is greatly depleted at the atoll. In protected areas, such as the nearby Lighthouse Caye, you can find several lobsters sitting under each coral head. Billie’s catch ranges from about 3-30 lobster per day throughout the season. In an interview we had with a former fisherman in Belize City before heading out to Turneffe, we were told on a good day he would catch up to 70 lobster!

Written by: Sadie Waddington
Photography by: Kip Evans

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