Lying on the jetty looking out over the lagoon towards the barrier reef I marvelled at huge white breakers boiling, crashing, thundering over the reef, unable to hold back the tempest allowing rolling waves into our normally calm lagoon. The sky, the palest, palest blue and the lagoon vivid turquoise, white flecked and ever moving.
Almost a week passed and we were unable to get outside the barrier reef, on a few occasions we attempted to get through the cuts only to be turned back by the enormous breakers…..there were days when we could not even see the cuts, the barrier reef a line of exploding jagged white against the shocking azure. The importance of the barrier reef in protecting the coast was clearly shown as we suffered no more than having huge piles of seaweed on our beach and a few less than welcome guests in the lagoon in the form of a massive Portuguese Man o’ War and today, a box jellyfish.
The weather has now improved enough for us to get outside the cuts and we have completed exploratory dives to look for the new science sites and at one we have seen a huge loggerhead, remoras, a massive barracuda which was at six feet in length and the most beautiful sponge and sea plume gardens.
While the tempest was raging we were kept busy by diving inside the barrier reef, the science practice and some of the diving skills taking place by Barracuda patch which has, unsurprisingly, lots of barracuda; but also huge stingray and the biggest porcupine fish known to any of us!
We have also been carrying out mangrove monitoring by snorkelling down a long channel right in the middle of the mangroves and counting the fish. After a very short while it was clear why the Grey Snapper is called the Mangrove Snapper, there were literally hundreds of them, together with great Dog Snappers and Cubera Snappers ; we also saw the startling Atlantic Spadefish, large schools of Jack and two huge manatees. The mangroves are almost silent except for the occasional cackle of the Chachalaca (crazy birds), the herons and the beautiful Melodious blackbird. We have carried out bird surveys seeing Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Black Hawks, Osprey, Black Cat Birds (which really do sound like cats) many types of heron and the elegant White Ibis together with the Cormorants and Pelicans which daily relax on the broken jetty next to our sunbathing spot!
But mostly our days are filled with diving, snorkelling and science. Nick has been working like a Trojan preparing tests and lectures for staff and volunteers alike and incredibly he managed to prepare a brilliant lecture the night before my birthday when we had a visit from two boatloads of local school children.
The day started brilliantly for me I was serenaded by the Blue Ventures staff singing Happy Birthday to me at five in the morning, accompanied by Al on the guitar we then went out as usual seeing dolphins, stingrays and we had a possible sighting of a Tiger shark.
We arrived back at Bacalar Chico dive camp to make last minute preparations for our welcome to the children but it was Nick and then Al who took centre stage, Nick his usual ebullient self; teaching the children about the corals and fish they would be seeing later on that day; and Al gave the most fantastic demonstration of his scuba gear the children’s eyes lit up with excitement and fascination. We then went out with the children to one of the patches of reef in the lagoon. The children donned life-jackets, fins and masks and in two groups Nick led them around the patch, we assisted with the identification of the ten fish they were specifically looking out for and with their snorkelling.
Al gave scuba demonstrations and most of the children are now very keen to become marine biologists and divers! When the children arrived back there was an incredibly energetic game of football on our beach before the children made the long journey back to Sarteneja. After completing our chores and meetings Nick made palm leaf party hats only to be completely outdone by Hilmar who made a Carmen Miranda hat and Samos who made a turban (also out of palm leaves!) we had a lovely meal and Roberto our new chef made a magnificent coconut pie as a birthday cake.
JJ’s birthday was next and, although he said he did not want to celebrate it we completely ignored him and wrote a birthday poem, gave him ridiculous presents and he was then presented with a magnificent cake.
In addition to our diving and science we also have keep fit swimming when we can and Nick has almost daily workout sessions which are pretty tough but we are all looking much more gorgeous than before his sessions, so they must be working!
Last party day we went over the border to Mexico (at the invitation of the Xcalak port authority) and had an early dinner, after having the best guacamole ever we returned for a rather mad party night and a visit to San Pedro to collect supplies and sort out visas the next day.
We have been finalising the point outs with William and Emily and they have both passed their fish tests, as I write this they are taking their benthic exam.
Today we went out for an early dive, I was boat marshal but everyone in the camp was jealous of Samos our boat captain and me ……. because we saw a massive Whale Shark heading south, that must have been one of the highlights of this expedition but a squid jumping into the boat was amusing, seeing the loggerhead was wonderful but just being here diving and enjoying the peace is pretty perfect.