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Citadel News Service
2 Aug 2006

A summer in Belize

[@tb]Biology professors John D. Zardus and Danny Gustafson took nine students – four graduate and five cadets – to Belize for the summer. While there was time to enjoy the tropical vacation paradise, the students spent their time studying the tropical rainforest and reef ecology as part of a new course Zardus offered this year. Beth Bohachic, who graduated from the Corps of Cadets in 2004, was among those to make the trip.[@te]

By Beth Bohachic, ‘04

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While snorkeling in the sea grass beds and walking along an exposed reef at low tide, students were able to view animals and algae off South Water Caye.

When I would tell people that I was going to take a class in Belize, they would always have two questions: Where is Belize and what are you going to do there? Belize is located to the south of Mexico, west of the Caribbean Sea, and east of Guatemala. Secondly, I would tell them I was going to spend 10 days studying the biodiversity of the rainforest and reef habitats. 

The class, a combination of cadets and my classmates enrolled in the College of Graduate and Professional Studies, spent the first five days at the Blue Creek Rainforest Lodge within the Mayan Mountains on a 200-acre rainforest preserve and wildlife sanctuary and along the banks of Blue Creek River. This freshwater river has a clear blue-green color and is home to several freshwater tropical fish and a few nocturnal poisonous snakes. The river provided a cooling relief from the heat as well as a spot for washing clothes and bathing. Also, the river bank was an excellent spot for bird watching.

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It’s daylight outside but inside the cave creek system in the Blue Creek rainforest, it’s black as night. Students explored the cave system by walking a half mile through the creek.
During our first night at Blue Creek we went on a night walk and learned about the different kinds of “creepy” crawlers we would encounter during our stay in the rainforest. This also helped us recognize the different things we would find in our rooms and beds at night. Over the next three days, we went on a variety of eco adventures. We went on a cave swim and cave walk through the Hokeb Ha cave system. Here we were able to see stalagmite and stalagetite formations as well as some Mayan pottery. We also went on a jungle hike up one of the mountains and a monkey hike in search of the black howler monkey which we were able to see from a distance. Our last adventure at Blue Creek was an ethno botany walk. We learned how the rainforest provides the locals with different medicines, foods, and materials for building houses. We even tasted some of the plants and ate a few termites; they taste like carrots not chicken. In the end, we survived the insect bits, the encounters with the poisonous plants, and the occasional tumble here and there. Now, it was time for us to head towards the Caribbean Sea and the small 12-acre island known as South Water Caye.
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Cadets and graduate students stand in a modified tree support structure that is common on tree species growing in the tropics. During the Ethnobotany walk they studied tropical plants and learned how Mayan people use the plants for food, medicine and other purposes.

South Water Caye is a private island located on the Belize barrier reef and is about 14 miles from the mainland. It is one the largest reef reserves in Belize. We began snorkeling within our first hour there and did not stop for the next four days. We snorkeled on both the back and fore reef several times and each time we would see a new species to add our species list, which would contain more than 100 different species by the end of the South Water Caye adventure. 

We were also able to visit Carrie Bow Caye which is home to the Smithsonian Institution Marine Research Field Station. We toured the facilities and then snorkeled the shallow reef located a short swim off the island. This allowed us to have an up close view of the coral reef and the various organisms that make their homes in the coral reef community. We spent one morning snorkeling in the mangroves and saw sponges that were purple, green and orange, upside down jellyfish that covered the bottom, and huge sea stars. When we were not snorkeling, we could fish, kayak, have a game of volleyball, or just enjoy the white sandy beach and beautiful surroundings. It is true that all good things must come to an end and that was our 10th and final day.        

I cannot describe the beauty of the flora and fauna of Belize. It can only be appreciated and enjoyed by those who have actually experienced its unique diverse environments. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to observe the lush rainforest and dynamic coral reefs of this neo tropical country.

Students taking the Tropical Rainforest and Reef Ecology summer course were cadets Alan Benda, Sarah Deptula, Emily Hill, Tucker Mabry and Garret Ryan along with graduate students Beth Bohachic, SCCC ’04, Knight Galloway, Angela Robinson and Samantha Suiter.
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