Dany Pleau's Diary
|Tuesday, January 31, 2006
||Tuesday, April 11, 2006|
|Tuesday, April 25, 2006
||Friday, April 28, 2006|
|Friday, June 2, 2006
||Saturday, June 3, 2006|
|Sunday, June 4, 2006
||Monday, June 5, 2006|
|Tuesday, June 6, 2006
||Wednesday, June 7, 2006|
|Thursday, June 8, 2006
||Friday, June 9, 2006|
|Saturday, June 10, 2006
||Sunday, June 11, 2006|
|Monday, June 12, 2006
||Tuesday, June 13, 2006|
|Wednesday, June 14, 2006
||Thursday, June 15, 2006|
|Friday, June 16, 2006
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Last year, after reading the Earthwatch diaries, I applied for an expedition because it seemed very interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected. I said to myself “It’s not a big deal!” I reapplied this year, and this morning I received an email about the Earthwatch Institute. This email indicated that I had been awarded a place on the 2006 program, and I would be heading off to Belize to work with the manatees between June 3 and June 16.
I was very glad. I read only the first three sentences of the email because I was too excited, and it took me around 20 minutes to read the rest of it. Then I spread the news to my wife, children, parents, and friends.
I went on the Earthwatch website to look at some pictures and learn more about manatees, where exactly I would go, and what I would do. I am happy that the research will take place in the Caribbean, because I am fond of snorkelling. Every time I go on vacation in the south, I take my snorkelling equipment. What an opportunity I have. It’s going to be fantastic.
I’m looking forward to taking part in this expedition. I am sure I will have wonderful moments and will never forget it. Thanks, thanks, and thanks.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Last week, I was on the front page of the local newspaper. I was very surprised. I would have never thought the journalist who interviewed me would quote me on the front page.
I have had a lot of pleasure with it. Everybody has been teasing me since I was quoted. They have been asking me for autographs and different things like that. People are still glad for me and congratulating me. In addition, it was very good publicity for Earthwatch.
After that story, plenty of people came to me to learn more about Earthwatch and the expedition. People were very interested, so I decided to write an article for our plant’s newspaper. I wrote a good summary of my trek, explaining more about the trip and Earthwatch, since the organization is not well known in Quebec. I also explained what a manatee is and wrote about Belize, where I will stay, what I will do, etc. I think next year more people from Quebec will apply for an expedition. I think I have tempted them.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Today, I received the list of other volunteers who will be taking part in the expedition. Besides Bruce, whom I have written to since January, there are three other volunteers: Roger from Hertfordshire, United Kingdom; Chip from California, United States; and John from North Carolina, United States.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Only five weeks left before my adventure in Belize. I think about it every day. I am really looking forward to it.
On the first of January, I made a New Year’s resolution. I wanted to go to the swimming pool to do laps at least once a week. Up until now, I have kept my resolution. I have to say that being selected for an expedition in Belize encouraged me to continue. At the beginning, I had difficulty doing one length. Now, I am able to do 40 lengths in a row, which equals one kilometer (0.6 miles).
Another thing I have been doing these days to get ready for the expedition is attending a private English course twice a week with two different teachers. It is not easy to improve my English, because everybody speaks French here in Quebec. I don’t often have the opportunity to talk with someone who speaks English, so I work like a beaver to improve my skills. I think that spending two weeks in an English-speaking country will help me.
I also have read many articles on manatees to learn more about them. I think it’s quite important to know a little about this animal before leaving.
I have begun to think about what I should take and have read the “What to Bring” section of the expedition briefing. It gives us good advice, so I bought a wetsuit and other different things.
I can’t wait to snorkel and see different kinds of fish. I went to Cuba last month, and I did a snorkeling tour. It was amazing, so it made me anxious to go to Belize.
Friday, June 2, 2006
The day of my departure arrived at last. At 6 a.m., my plane left Quebec and headed toward Toronto. It was a nice flight, and the sky was very clear. I flew over the St. Laurent River up to Toronto.
It was superb. I flew just over Cap-Sante, which is my town, and I also could see Donnacona, where I had worked for a paper mill and lived for three years. Then I went over where I currently work. It is an aluminum plant, and I could see it perfectly since it is located in a forest.
It was not a long flight from Quebec to Toronto. It took only about one hour and 20 minutes. When I arrived in Toronto, I didn’t have a lot of time to make my connection. By the time I got off the plane and arrived at the gate, it was time to board my plane for Houston. I almost missed my flight. Even though I had to hurry, just hearing the sound of my suitcase wheels calmed me. I know it may be weird, but I like hearing this sound. For me, it means vacation and relaxation.
I next flew from Houston to Belize, and it was an uneventful flight. When I got to my final destination—Belize—I took a shuttle to my hotel. On my way there, I had to stop at an office to settle some trip details. The person to whom I was talking asked me if I wanted to meet Caryn Self-Sullivan, who is one of the principle investigators for the Manatees in Belize project. She was at the office, so I said yes, for sure. It was not very difficult for me to recognize her, because I saw her photo many times on the Internet, and she had written to me a couple of times before. I was very glad to meet her, and I was looking forward to working with her
At the hotel, Bruce (the other Alcoa volunteer) was waiting for me at the reception desk. It was very kind of him. It was quite strange, because it was like we had known each other for ages. He had the same feeling as I did. We had written each other since last January when we knew we were selected for the expedition.
We talked and then had more conversation and an excellent meal at a restaurant located on the seashore.
Saturday, June 3, 2006
I got up early this morning. It’s certainly because of the jet lag, since we have two hours time difference with Quebec.
I had breakfast with Bruce at the hotel, where we had a beautiful view of the ocean and the marina. The dinning room had a relaxed atmosphere, and I enjoyed it. There was a talented guitarist who was playing some classical and flamenco pieces. I studied music (guitar and piano) at college, and, needless to say, I love music.
After breakfast, we went to see downtown, and a taxi driver offered to do a tour. He had suggested many kinds of tours, so we decided to go to Altun Ha, a Mayan site about one hour from Belize City. It was the second time I visited a Mayan site. The last one was Coba in Riviera Maya, Mexico. It’s always interesting to visit a Mayan site.
After the tour, we went to the rendezvous point at the marina. It was very special to meet everybody—I had been waiting for this moment for around five months.
We left the marina for the Spanish Bay Conservation and Research Center on Spanish Lookout Caye in Belize, which is about 10 miles southeast of Belize City. It took us about 20 minutes by boat.
When I arrived at the Spanish Bay base, I was very amazed by the beauty of the area, the buildings built on stilts, and my balcony facing the Caribbean Sea. We then introduced ourselves and had dinner together. It was a wonderful day.
Sunday, June 4, 2006
Today was our first complete day in Spanish Bay, and we had breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Our dinning room was also used as a room for meetings and presentations. It was where everyone gathered together for discussions.
After having breakfast, Caryn introduced us to the research project by giving a presentation on manatees. It was very interesting.
Manatees are mammals. They are warm-blooded, nurse their young with milk, breathe air, and have hair. They like warm and swallow water, around two to five meters (six to 18 feet) deep. They can’t live in cold water—they need it to be around 20° Celsius (67° Fahrenheit). They can weigh 300 to 500 kilograms (620 to 1,100 pounds) and have a flattened, round tail and textured, paddle-shaped forelimbs. They have a large, double-nostril snout, and the upper lip is large and flexible with whiskers. Their diet includes manatee grass, turtle grass, mangrove leaves, and various species of algae. They may consume 10% of their body weight daily in vegetation. Their teeth are constantly replaced, an adaptation to their diet of abrasive vegetation.
Manatees are an endangered species, and Belize has been considered their last “stronghold” in Central America and the Caribbean.
After the presentation, Caryn showed us around Spanish Lookout Caye for general orientation. We also went to see the dolphin park on the other side of the island that opened the first of June at the Spanish Bay Resort. It has four dolphins and is based on education and conservation.
The park’s head trainer introduced us to her team and then asked us if we wanted to participate with her in a training session with the dolphins. I don’t need to tell you that she didn’t need to ask us twice. I was the only one with Caryn in the water, because the other volunteers hadn’t brought their swimsuits. Sorry guys.
I liked it. The dolphins were calm and well-trained. Food is the primary reward, but they also need clapping and smiling to encourage them. It was a nice experience.
There was a scan point close to the dolphin park, so we went for a walk along the sea to check if a manatee could be there.
The study area is a complex labyrinth of mangrove islands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, and there are 54 scan points located in different strategic places along the mangrove islands. At each scan point, we spend 30 minutes observing.
There it is—our first manatee. I wouldn’t have thought I could see a manatee so quickly. We spent some time observing him. It was fabulous.
After lunch, Caryn decided to go to the field—that is to say, on the sea. It didn’t take long before we saw our second manatee at scan point #49—Gilroy’s Grassbed. We did a 30-minute scan at that place. We hadn’t had our training in the field yet, so Caryn and the interns Karen and Haydee taught us how to collect data about the manatee. There were so many things to learn in a short period of time, but I knew in the short run we would be able to do it.
After that, it was time for our snorkeling training session. Caryn and Gilroy taught us how to snorkel safely. For instance, we should always snorkel in pairs. We also needed to be on the lookout for jellyfish, fire coral, and other things that could potentially harm us.
The next thing we did was sail through the labyrinths up to the Spanish Bay base. On our way to the base, we saw our third manatee of the day.
We had a debriefing about our day and cleaned and put away our equipment. After dinner, Caryn showed us the video she had filmed in the sea today. We could see the manatee from Gilroy’s Grassbed. It was amazing. Three manatees today—what another wonderful day.
Monday, June 5, 2006
There was a superb sunrise this morning. Last night, there were lots of mosquitoes in our room, and I did not sleep well. The night was very warm and humid, as well. One of our windows didn’t have a screen, but Bruce fixed it during the day, and thankfully there were no more mosquitoes after that.
I got up at 5 a.m., and we had breakfast at 7 a.m. Every morning during breakfast, Caryn gives us a review of the weather report before leaving the dock and asks how our night was and if everything is alright. She takes care of us, and I really appreciate that.
After breakfast, we prepared everything we needed in the boat. For instance, we needed a cooler since we had to spend all day (six to nine hours) on the boat and sometimes quite far from the base. It would be a waste of time to go back to the base for lunch. It also would be an expense of gas for nothing.
We loaded the equipment we needed into the boat, such as a jug of water, underwater camera, global positioning system (GPS), data sheets, secchi disk (a tool used to measure vertical and horizontal visibility in the water), compass, thermometer, binoculars, and other equipment.
Caryn and our captain, Gilroy, selected the day’s study site from among the 54 scan points. Not far from the base we have to collect weather information and data about the water before sailing toward our destination.
We surveyed slowly up to the scan point. Once there, I went snorkeling with Caryn. We swam around a shallow lagoon and had to be careful not to disturb the bottom because it had different things that could irritate us. We snorkeled up to the mangrove, and there the water was cooler. There were also more fish, and on our way back we saw a batfish. I liked my experience.
Next, we went to another scan point, and I filled out a data sheet. We’re getting better at filling these out.
We went back to Spanish Bay to have lunch because we were not too far from the base. After lunch, we went to the barrier reef to make our third scan of the day. We had free time there, so we snorkeled. It was wonderful—clear water with lots of fish and corals.
We next sailed to another scan point somewhere else on the barrier reef. We had free time again, and we were spoiled. This site was better than the other one, with more fish and corals.
We headed back to camp. Our day ended with no manatee sightings, but it was a splendid day.
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
I got up at 5:30 a.m. because I wanted to see the sunrise.
We left the dock around 10:30 a.m. We headed to a scanning point, taking a very nice path through a narrow labyrinth in the mangrove.
After 20 minutes of scanning, some people in the boat had to take a habitat sampling while the others kept watching for manatees. A habitat sampling is when you collect data about the water, including air and water temperature, salinity, visibility, and depth. We also have to take a sample of the water at the bottom. Take a deep breath!
There we spotted a manatee. When we spot one, some people watch it while another fills in the sighting data sheet. There are a lot of details to write down. These include the behaviors each time the manatee breathes, does a paddle dive, or when we see his back. We also have to log the time of each action, and we measure the distance between the boat and the manatee.
I snorkeled with Haydee and Caryn, looking for an eating and rest area. We had lunch in the boat, which is really special and relaxing. We had lot of fun in the boat. It’s a great ambience, and we have a fantastic team.
In the afternoon, we did two scans. Caryn then took us to the barrier reef. She said the manatees are elusive and could be everywhere, so I went snorkeling with Roger, my snorkeling buddy. For safety, we always must snorkel with another person.
We were alone at some distance from the others when I spotted a flounder (flat fish) at the bottom of the sea. Roger wanted to take a picture of it, so he dove to the bottom. As he was taking his picture, he saw two manatees right next to us. He grabbed me and said to look at the manatees. Yes, sir!
It was completely amazing and just like the movie Caryn had filmed a couple of days before. Incredible! We felt excited. We clasped our hands together and stayed still as the current took us gently away. What a surprise. There they were coming back toward us. Manatees are very curious. One made a turn back to go to the sea grass, and the other one came next to us. It was still completely wonderful.
We were lucky to see them. I never thought I could see a manatee in my adventure in Belize and in the barrier reef as well. According to the expedition briefing, we were not allowed to swim with the manatees. Manatees are elusive, and we met them by chance. What chance it was.
What is funny with this story is that everybody saw the manatees except one person. Do you who the person is? Yes, it was Caryn. We laughed a lot about it.
When we got back to the base, it was the usual cleaning, washing, and dinner. After dinner, Haydee gave a presentation about her country, the Dominican Republic, and what the country will do to protect the manatees and what she will do in the field (she will work for a manatee project). It was a very nice and interesting presentation, as I was in the Dominican Republic twice before. I was really interested in it.
Now it was time to go to bed. It was a full day, with lots of pictures in my mind. It didn’t take long to fall asleep.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
I got used to the schedule and woke up at five in the morning. I have to say, Caryn is a good leader and well-organized. We know exactly what she want us to do. It’s important to be a bit serious when we do the research if we want to get good results, but that didn’t prevent us from having fun.
There was another nice sunrise—never the same each morning. Each of them is different and beautiful.
We had a breakfast of pancakes, sausages, and fruit in the dining room, and the team then boarded the boat for another day at sea.
We did one scan in the morning and saw one manatee. In our free time in the morning, all of the team got off the boat for snorkeling in a channel. Gilroy had gotten us to the other side since the boat couldn’t go through that channel because it was too narrow. Caryn told us that this channel was often used by dolphins and manatees. We had to swim in a row because there was not enough room for two people swimming side-by-side. After swimming through the channel, Caryn said that the habitat wasn’t as it was last year. There was lots of sediment on the mangroves’ roots, and there wasn’t any grass left at the bottom. But it was still a nice swim, and I appreciated it.
After that, we had lunch—vegetables, fruits, salsa, tortillas, coleslaw, and boiled eggs. We then went back to where we had been before lunch and took another channel with the boat. We spotted a manatee traveling toward the mouth of where we got in.
We went back to the Spanish Bay base. Before having dinner, Chip, Roger, Haydee, Bruce, and I went snorkeling around the bay. It was really shallow—we could feel the sea grass lightly touching our chests, and we saw a cowfish, starfish, and an eagle ray. Once again, it was really beautiful.
Each evening, we review our data sheets to make sure everything is correct. Then we have dinner and a discussion about our day.
Thursday, June 8, 2006
It was a warm and humid night, and I had difficulty sleeping. Everybody had arrived late for breakfast, so I’m sure I was not the only one who hadn’t slept well.
Breakfast was at 6:30 a.m.—Johnny cakes, fruits, cheese, and eggs. We loaded the boat and left the dock around 8:30 a.m. We spent the entire day in the field, doing surveys, scans, habitat samples, and sightings. Now we are more comfortable with working on our data sheets.
Today we saw six manatees; five of them were together. We spent one hour observing them and taking notes on everything they did—breathing, paddle diving, socializing. We could also hear their breath. Sometimes when we were surveying (a survey is when we sail slowly to the scan point looking for a manatee), we could hear a manatee’s breath. We are able to spot it that way and do a sighting. We had to be awake with eyes and ears wide open. We had to be patient, as well, but I didn’t mind. It was so relaxing sailing across the mangrove island.
Another way we spotted a manatee was when we saw a footprint. A footprint is a circle left on the sea’s surface by a manatee when it submerges.
Even if it was a rainy day, today was an awesome day with lots of pleasure. But let me tell you about something funny that happened when we were observing the group of five manatees. I know this is not to my advantage, but we had so much fun with this story. Moreover, it became an inside joke.
Caryn asked us if it was possible to take some pictures of the manatees’ tails, so I tried to get some. Some means five to six photos. Caryn was in the water filming the manatees when I took my pictures. Suddenly, I could see two manatees following Caryn. What an opportunity, I said to myself. Click, click, click. I thought I had succeeded until John (another volunteer) said to me: Dany, what are you doing? You took pictures of Caryn’s fins! Hey, yes. I mistook her fins for two manatees. Everybody on the boat laughed non-stop and kept kidding me about it. I laughed until I cried. We had a lot of fun with that.
On our way back to the Spanish Bay base, we did another sighting of one manatee. After that, we got back at the dock for our duties.
It was so relaxing to be sitting on my porch. I could see two cruise ships just in front of me leaving Belize. Tuesday and Thursday are the cruise ship days. Several tourists come here to Spanish Bay to go on a tour, see the dolphins, snorkel, kayak, and sail. The Spanish Bay Conservation and Research Center is under major construction and renovation. It will be really nice when it’s finished.
After dinner, Caryn gave the second part of her presentation (manatee’s anatomy). It was still very interesting. I feel so good here.
Friday, June 9, 2006
It was the best night I have had so far. I had a good sleep, probably because the generator wasn’t cut off. Usually each night, the generator cuts off from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. Our rooms are equipped with a fan and are quite useful when they work. It’s so warm and humid in the Caribbean, a fan makes a difference.
We had breakfast at 6:30 a.m. as usual. Then we went for another day in the mangrove island and its beautiful labyrinths. We did a scan at Gilroy’s Creek and saw a manatee. We had lunch there, and then we continued on our way. When we got out of that creek, we spotted another manatee.
We had free time, so Caryn decided to take us to the barrier reef—named my reef. It was a wonderful place and different from the other places we snorkeled at before. It looked like a small mountain, with a round shape and some parts of the coral that were out of the water. Just next to it, the depth was maybe about 10 meters (35 feet) deep, although it’s hard to say.
The side of that mountain was steep, and Caryn told us you can see large fish here. It was true, as we saw a large barracuda. I don’t want to tell you a story like a fisherman and exaggerate, but that barracuda was at least one meter (3.5 feet) long. We also saw a sea turtle, lobster, stingray, and different other sorts of fish and corals. It was absolutely amazing.
Everyday, we have the opportunity to go snorkeling, but it’s always different one day from the next. Very different, believe me. I would have never thought there were so many things to see.
I played a trick today on Roger, who had reacted very badly from mosquito bites. On the boat, we have a large jar filled with water that we use to refill our own bottles of water. I made a sign that said “Bug Repellent for Reactor” and stuck it on the jar. We laughed a lot when Roger noticed the jar.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Today was our day off. We decided to visit the Xunantunich Maya ruins and Belize Zoo.
First, here’s some information about Belize. Belize lies on the eastern, or Caribbean, coast of Central America and is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Formerly a British colony known as British Honduras until the name was changed in 1973, Belize gained its independence from Britain in 1981. Although the capital city is Belmopan, the largest city in the country is Belize City, with a population of about 87,000. The population of the country is about 274,000 people. English is taught and spoken at all school levels and is the official language.
The country’s greatest length from north to south is 280 kilometers (174 miles), and its greatest width is 109 kilometers (68 miles). Belize’s coast is protected by 298 kilometers (185 miles) of barrier reef studded with hundreds of coral islands. Belize boasts the second largest barrier reef in the world!
One the reasons manatees come to Belize is perhaps the extensive sea grass, mangrove, coastal, and riverine habitat within the Belize barrier reef lagoon system. The barrier reef may also protect them from bad weather like hurricanes, and they like the inner coastal waters, which are shallow.
The Xanantunich Maya ruins in Belize are close to the Guatemala border. It took us about two hours to get there. Situated in tropical rainforest completely different from the forest in Belize City, Xanantunich contains one of the tallest Mayan structures found in Belize. I was impressed. I said to myself; they must have worked hard here with no equipment like we have now. We could see two stella—a stone monument on which the Mayan carved either major events in their life or something that would happen in the future—that were preserved in a building. It was a nice visit and was worth it. Our guide said a sentence that we kept in mind for the rest of our trip: “All is not lost.”
Then we headed to the Tropical Wings Nature Centre, located in San Jose Succotz in the Cayo District. There was a little museum inside with a butterfly farm where we had lunch—rice and beans, a typical Belizean dish, with a well-deserved Belikin beer. We could see a blue morpho butterfly, which reminded me of a movie from Lea Pool about a true story that happened in Quebec. Called “The Blue Butterfly,” the movie was one of the best we had in Quebec.
After that, we went to the Belize Zoo. There are more than 125 animals in the zoo, and all are native to Belize. The zoo keeps animals that are orphaned, born at the zoo, rehabilitated, or sent to the zoo as gifts from other zoological institutions. When you are in the zoo, you feel like you are with the animals in the jungle because of its natural setting. It was different from the other zoos I have seen.
We had the opportunity to see crocodiles, black jaguars, ocelots, pumas, otters, kinkajous, deer, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and many more animals.
We got back to the marina and headed to Spanish Bay. On our way back, we saw a dolphin and took some photographs.
I had a splendid day, even if it was rushed because we had so many things to see in a short period of time. I could get used to living here. I will certainly be coming back someday.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
This morning, Roger and I decided to play a trick on John. Last Friday, when we went to the barrier reef called My Reef, we saw many kinds of fish and corals. It was fabulous, and everybody had a great time except John, who had trouble with his mask. After we had finished snorkeling, he said to us, “I couldn’t see anything. My mask was leaking. You saw a barracuda, a stingray, and a sea turtle, and I saw nothing. It’s not fair.” So Roger and I taped a pair of binoculars on his mask early this morning. It was very funny when he found it.
After breakfast, we went back to the Drowned Cayes and saw seven manatees together at the same spot. Caryn told us that it was not common to see so large a group of manatees like that. We spent an hour and a half watching them. It was unusual to see that group. Every time one came out of the water to take a breath, the other ones followed him. It was funny to see all those noses getting out of the water simultaneously. It was also great to hear so many breaths—one after the other.
Every time we did a sighting, we had to draw the location on a data sheet with the help of a compass. We showed the place where we were, where we first saw the manatee, distance, and direction.
Then we had free time in a lagoon, where we snorkeled. It was quite shallow. We had to swim with care because we didn’t want to stir the bottom and get itchy. Caryn showed us a channel close to the mangrove where the manatees used to rest. When we were in the water, two bottlenose dolphins passed the other side of the boat, but unfortunately I couldn’t see them.
We headed back to the base. It was another great day in the Caribbean.
Monday, June 12, 2006
This morning, Caryn decided to take Roger to see a doctor in Belize City because he had reacted badly to the mosquito bites. Thanks to Roger, we all had our morning free.
Karen, Chip, Bruce, Haydee, and I decided to go kayaking. We went through a narrow channel to Gilroy’s Lagoon, and then we headed to the other side of the island because Caryn had told us there was a crack there and it was a nice spot to snorkel. It was special to swim along that crack, as there were many fish hiding under the rock face. It was another type of snorkeling, and I enjoyed it.
Then we went to the dolphin park to take part in a training session, since the head trainer had invited us. We spent one hour there. We got in the water with the dolphins, and we hugged and touched them, and they gave us a kiss. Everybody had their swimsuits this time.
Roger came back to Spanish Bay around noon. He was with Dr. Leszek Karczmarski, who will work with us in the field. Leszek is a researcher working on dolphins, and he is responsible for the development of the bottlenose dolphin component of our research project here in Belize.
We had lunch together, and then afterwards we went snorkeling at the barrier reef. I saw many kinds of fish. Among them were a green moray, sea turtle, parrot fish, and a gray angel. Caryn spoiled us again. Thanks.
In the evening, Leszek gave a presentation about the work he had done in Hawaii. His principal job in the field is to take pictures of the spinner dolphins. He studies their social structure, population, movement, and conservation.
Tonight, I could admire the moonrise. Wonderful colors.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Today was an amazing day. As we developed a taste for playing jokes, we decided to play a trick on Gilroy this time. I made a sign with some pieces of wood and painted it. On it, Bruce wrote “GILROY’S POST” and underneath that “John, Roger, Chip, Dany, Bruce 06-164-EW #1.”
We made that sign, because last week Gilroy hit into a plastic pole used to guide the boat into the dock. Since that event, the pole was fixed. Tomorrow morning, Roger and I will snorkel to the new pole and place the sign on it. I’m looking forward to seeing the expression on Gilroy’s face when he sees the sign.
Today, we saw eight manatees and three dolphins. One of our sightings was when Caryn was in the water filming two manatees. Suddenly, two dolphins came to her, and she was able to film them. In the meantime, Leszek took many photographs for his research. We could say that event killed two birds with one stone. Two researchers were happy while all the team members in the boat were busy with their data sheets. That sighting thrilled us all.
Then the dolphins swam away. Leszek and Caryn decided to follow them in order to take some more photos. We sailed close to the dolphins, and Leszek took wonderful photos of them. Sometimes the dolphins were swimming alongside us. It was very different from the work we usually did, and everybody was exited to see the dolphins so close to us. We learned another aspect of the researcher’s work, and we appreciated it.
We next headed to the barrier reef. My snorkeling buddy was Roger, and as soon as we got into the water, we saw two stingrays. We also saw a porcupine fish, two green morays, and a wonderful eagle ray—one of the most sensational fish in the Caribbean Sea.
We got back to the Spanish Bay base and cleaned and put away all our gear. Then we had dinner—spaghetti tonight. After dinner, Caryn showed us the movie she made when she was with the manatees and the dolphins, and then we saw Leszek’s pictures. It was unbelievable how great his pictures were. Leszek could tell they were the same animals we saw a couple days before just by comparing the photos.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
This morning around 6 a.m., Roger and I snorkeled to the pole and put the sign on it. After breakfast, we had a meeting with Caryn. She wanted to know how we found our weeks at Spanish Bay with regard to our expectations.
Then we loaded the boat and went to the sea. Everybody in the boat had their cameras in hand looking at Gilroy. He found it odd that everyone in the boat was holding their cameras. We were anxious to see his reaction. When he noticed the sign saying “Gilroy’s Post,” he laughed and said thank you! And everybody laughed with him. I have never said it, but we have such a good team. Everybody gets along well.
We saw six manatees today. First, we had lunch close to a fishing camp. The place is used as a resort, where tourists from cruise ships can come and spend the day sailing, snorkeling, fishing, or just relaxing on the beach. It was a beautiful place.
Then we went to scan point #33 Heraclitus Cove, and we did a scan there. I did the horizontal visibility with Roger, and then Caryn told us we could snorkel around a little if we wanted to. It was up to us, so we decided to stay in the water and swim along the mangrove. As we were snorkeling, the team spotted a manatee in front of the boat. Caryn was in the water at that moment and, after some minutes, asked Roger and me if we could reach her. We swam slowly toward her, conscious that we could see a manatee. The water was murky. We could barely see in front of us, and the depth was about three meters (10 feet). Not easily spooked people are welcome here!
We reached and followed her. The visibility got better as we went into a narrow and shallow channel. As we made our way into the channel, I could see a manatee swimming just underneath me. I could see him perfectly, swimming in a gentle way. He made a large cloud of dust, and everything at the bottom came up to me. I had just enough time to avoid a jellyfish. My wife got stung by one in Cuba, and she said it was like you put an iron on yourself. I didn’t want to have the same experience as her.
Caryn told us to pay attention, because we could see another one. We continued our way through the channel. At the dead end of that channel, we spotted another manatee. This time it was very close to us—less than one meter (three feet). I had to curl my legs up under me because I didn’t want to touch and scare him since Caryn was filming him. He was looking at me, and I could see his eyes, nose, and whiskers perfectly. It was surprising how the manatee was not afraid of us. What an end for my adventure in Belize. Thanks for that, Caryn. I will never forget it.
After dinner, Caryn showed us what she had film during the day, including the manatee I saw with Roger.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Today was our last day in Belize. We did one scan just in front of the dolphin center and saw one manatee. Since we saw a manatee, we did a sighting there. We spent about two hours observing him as he swam in the same spot feeding on sea grass.
Roger was not with us at the beginning because he had the opportunity to participate in a training session with the dolphins. He had missed it before because he had gone to see the doctor.
We picked him up at the dolphin center, and Caryn decided to take us to the barrier reef for the last time. On our way there, we met two dolphins, and Caryn took some pictures of them. Then we spent one hour swimming at the barrier reef. It was so beautiful. The water was clear and turquoise. When I was in the water, I said to myself “Oh no, this is the last time we come here. Enjoy it!” We saw two green morays and a lizard fish.
After dinner, I decided to lie down on the dock and look up at the sky. It was so dark here, we could see zillions of stars. Wonderful! While I was lying on the dock, our cooks Jeremy and Ellen arrived. They offered for me to have a drink with them. Then John arrived, and later all of the team reached us. We talked all evening. We all knew that it was our last night, and we didn’t want to go to bed. We wanted to stay up late and not put an end to the adventure. That night was the best night I had. No doubt a good team spirit was built, and I didn’t want to leave everybody.
Friday, June 16, 2006
I packed my suitcase this morning. I was looking forward to seeing my family in Quebec, but at the same time I had become attached to the people and the Caribbean Sea. I was reluctant to leave everybody and that lovely place.
We saw 44 manatees during our stay, and I twice swam with two manatees. I liked my experience, and I have learned so many new things, such as how scientists work and other different things I’m not used to doing in my daily routine. It was the most amazing trip that I have ever been involved with. I improved my skill in the water and increased my passion for snorkeling. I appreciated everything. I know someday I will come back to Belize. It’s a beautiful country with lots of things to see. I took plenty of photos, and everything is printed on my mind forever.
Caryn has been working on this project since 1998. She has been doing wonderful work on manatees, and I want to thank her for everything she did for us. I also thank Haydee and Karen, the interns, who were always available for us, as well as all the Earthwatch volunteers for their complicity and friendship and for making me laugh. I thank Gilroy, a pleasant person who was always in a good mood, and Ellen and Jeremy, our singing cooks.
My challenge is accomplished!
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Manatees in Belize
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