A group of biology students from the University of Great Falls, Montana have been travelling with us on a faculty-led ‘reef and ruins’ tour of Belize. After exploring the indigenous wildlife and Mayan ruins on the land, they are currently enjoying the best diving in Belize on our marine conservation project in the Sapodilla cayes.
One of the students – Sebastian Makinson – has sent us his thoughts on island life so far:
Second day of scuba diving. Boy was that a blast! It is the absolute most
surreal experience I have ever had. I feel like an astronaut on a foreign
planet. We went through our confined water dives 2, 3, 4, and 5 today. We
are now ready for our open water dives. We ended our confined water dive 5
with a nice swim over and through the reef. Saw my first ever lion fish in
the wild. They are so very pretty. It is rather unfortunate they are so
destructive to the local ecosystem. We also saw a few rather cool fish and
lots of neat parrot fish. I think seeing and learning about the parrot fish
is my favorite part of the journey.
Adjusting to island life was surprisingly easy, I really do miss showers
though. They said I would have a chance to see a whale shark hopefully if
we can conserve enough water to not have to get some from another island.
SO when deciding between swimming with whale sharks or showering; whale
sharks won out by a long shot. Never the less the day ended in absolutely
the best way, Fresh Coconut Pie!!! Yummy!!! The cooks here are unbelievably
There is only one name for a day like today: a bucket list day. The
morning started with my first deep dive. Check item #122 off the
list. We went to 100 feet and cracked an egg open, just to watch the
yolk float out of the shell as though it hadn’t yet realized it had
been released from its calcium prison. On our second dive of the day
I spotted a turtle, as we were all oohing and awing over a pair of
trunkfish, both rare sightings.
But at lunch we were informed the real fun would begin. The water was
calm enough to go searching for whale sharks. We had all foregone
showers for the week to conserve gas. Gas that could either be
consumed by the boat going to other islands for fresh shower water
since the island hadn’t been rained on in months, or gas that could be
used for a whale shark search. Enough said. We were all going stinky.
If we spotted one, that would be bucket list #32.
Today was a very hot day, and the sun beat down on us as we tip-toed
around the boat that was radiating the same heat it had been absorbing
all morning. We had been told the way to spot a whale shark is by
spotting the birds going after the bait ball of fish at the surface
that had been driven up. Ten minutes of searching went by for it.
Nothing. Tracy jumped to the bow of the boat to get a better view.
Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Nothing. I started to wonder when
they’d call off looking when Snake, our wonderful captain, spoke
Tracy’s name, she said “Yup” and we were full speed ahead toward a
bait ball unseen by any of us.
“Everyone get your fins and masks on; get ready!” I’ve never seen so
many people get snorkel gear on so fast in my life. I think if we’d
been timing it, we’d beat most Navy Seals teams. The bait ball
appeared out of nowhere. Cormorants, turrets, and other sea birds
swooped this way and that, diving full speed into the water at their
prey. Snake yelled “Shark!” and “Go!” and the first group was gone,
swimming as fast as they could towards some lure the rest of us could
only imagine. Then it was the second group’s turn. We had our gear
on and slipped erratically over the side of the boat when Snake gave
I searched and searched and saw nothing but blue. My stomach filled
with dread. What if I’d missed it? What if that was my only shot?
Then I saw the first group that had made it into the water headed our
way. Below them emerged a silhouette of white spots, then an open
gape, and then two eyes. A mass of whale shark body followed. I
turned and our group plowed ahead, trying to keep pace with the
animal’s effortless propulsion before it dove too deep for us to see.
We hovered. Minutes past. Like the Cheshire cat’s white grin, the
whale shark’s white spots reemerged and were the only things to be
seen in the darkness. Finally its outline appeared and its whale-like
head gave way to a shark-shaped body. Another race ensued to keep up
with its shallower projection until it dove down once more.
haven’t seen the whole group that ecstatic in days. Don’t get me
wrong, they’re having a lot of fun here on the island, but they are
long, course-intensive days. This adren
aline rush purely for the love
of fun and wonderment was essential for everyone. And I’m pretty
happy myself. #32. Check!
Tonight will be our first night dive. Bucket list #121. I’m so
excited for what it will bring, as many species are creatures of the
night. And checking off a third bucket list item truly makes today a bucket list day. Now I just hope none of us are taken by sea monsters. If the ocean can hide a whale shark, it is unknowing what else may lurk out there. Wish me luck!
We will keep you posted on Seb and the group’s experiences and hope they can inspire you to join this great marine conservation initiative in paradise!