Your own idyllic island

By Jon Bailey, Blue Ventures volunteer medic, Belize

Expedition 12, Bacalar Chico Dive Camp (BCDC). The camp has seen a number of upgrades and repairs, but as of the start of this week, camp life has returned to normal, and the dive boat is now going out four times each day, giving staff and volunteers numerous chances to get in the water!

Tuesday 6th September 2011 was a good example of such a day – with an added bonus. The first dive went out at 6am with five people enjoying a deep dive on the forereef at Firing Range. This site has a wide range of fish species, and as such is a popular choice for the ‘in water fish test’ – where volunteers demonstrate their knowledge of 30 species of fish prior to being approved to participate in reef survey dives.

“We saw 26 species of fish in just 20 minutes!”

After a hasty breakfast and dive briefing, the next dive left at 9am, again visiting the forereef for a second deep dive. The third dive went out at 11am, visiting a site not yet dived on this expedition; Rocky point, distinguished as being the only point where the barrier reef proper contacts the mainland shoreline of Ambergris Caye. This shallow backreef site is very close to the reef, but has an amazing diversity of fish life – we saw 26 species of fish in just 20 minutes! The close location to the reef means that the site can be affected by a lot of swell, but with so much to see it is definitely worth a visit.

The final dive of the day saw some diver training with field scientist Sarah, and volunteer Eva, both undertaking their Rescue Diver courses. In the shallow water back reef dive site of Barracuda Patch, dive manager Sam and I took the two candidates through some of the necessary skills of self rescue, surface rescue and ‘out of air’ scenarios underwater. The session finished with some search patterns, and for Sam and I to take a relaxing tow back to the boat… all in the name of diver development, of course!

Arriving back at BCDC, there was just enough time for some exercise before a lecture on coral from field scientist Jen. Some of us went for a swim in the shallow waters south of BCDC for 20 minutes, before running back along the beach in a bid to avoid the mosquitos that had gathered in force since the wind dropped previously. After getting a sweat on, there’s nothing better than a dip in Desi’s Jacuzzi – a sandy bottomed pool amongst the sea grass just off the end of the pier at BCDC that regularly reaches 40°C in the afternoon sun.

Whilst wallowing, BV volunteer Moon noticed a fin just off the shore – the family of dolphins that occasionally visits the waters off the camp beach. We have been lucky enough to see them on several occasions over the last few days and weeks, but this was the first time anyone had been in the water at the time they had been sighted. As I still had my mask with me from the swim, I was able to swim out to them, and was rewarded with a couple of minutes swimming with mother and calf – the first time I have ever been able to swim with dolphins. Out in the wild, off your own idyllic island, isn’t a bad place to do it!

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