By Jared Katzen, BV Volunteer, Belize
31 August 2013
There’s only a week left of our expedition and I can honestly say that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. While many volunteers come to Blue Ventures to escape their regular working or studying lives, I’m actually here to do just that; work and study. Although I’m a regular volunteer, excited about the new friends I’ve made while staying in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, I’m also a researcher. The four weeks that I’ve spent at the Bacalar Chico Dive Camp (BCDC) have left a huge impact on me. While I came here to study coral reefs, I also participated in lots of enjoyable games of cards and volleyball with new friends from around the world.
I came here to conduct a research project on coral reefs, but I have to admit that prior to this trip I knew nothing about conducting field science in an underwater environment. I came knowing a few things for sure; I love to dive, I love science, and I wanted to spend my summer helping to protect the environment. After finding out about Blue Ventures, I set about creating a research project with my school. It was everything that I could possibly ask for in a summer.
I began by conducting my background research at home, getting as much done as possible before I got here and experienced the inevitable lack of internet access (it’s a near essential tool for research these days). By the time my July 26th flight came around, I was ready to start learning how to conduct field science on coral reefs. Our first full day in Sarteneja was just that, a FULL day. There was no shortage of lectures, videos, and presentations all aimed at teaching us how to identify over 50 species of either fish or coral. On top of that, we learned how to conduct reliable field science, following the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Survey protocol. While this may sound like a lot of exhausting work, in reality I found that it was fun and exciting to learn about all of the different species that we would be encountering in just a week at BCDC.
Once we actually got to BCDC, we were ready to start taking our science training to the next level. Diving in Bacalar Chico brought the pictures from lectures to life. All at once a seemingly impossible task (mastering identification in 3 weeks) became a lot less difficult. By the end of the first week at dive camp, I had completed all of my tests and was ready to start practice surveys. By the end of the second week, we were conducting our first real surveys. Just three weeks before I had no knowledge of fish identification, and now I could tell the difference between a juvenile princess parrotfish and a juvenile striped parrotfish. Best of all, now that I had finished learning how to conduct surveys of invertebrates and fish, I could actually take part in them! I was proud both of myself and the other volunteers, and our commitment to Blue Ventures’ cause. We help Blue Ventures to help the world understand how coral reefs impact the entire ocean ecosystem, one survey at a time.
At the end of our four week stay at BCDC, my data collection was complete. All I have left to do now is to analyse my data and draw conclusions. While conducting research was nothing new to me at the start of this expedition, conducting dive surveys certainly was. Blue Ventures trained me superbly and now I feel like a true field scientist. The experience that I have gained here is outstanding!