Hands-on Exploration in the Caribbean

Hands-on Exploration in the Caribbean

Four students are spending their spring break in Belize, Central America, together with professors Dr. Amy Berger and Dr. Michele Castleman. This week-long trip is the primary component for their class “Caribbean Biogeography”. While there, they explore reef, shore, and jungle environments. Follow the students’ experiences, in their own words.


tubesDay 6

Meriah Estremera

Biology major

This morning we were able to have a beautiful breakfast made by Maggie and then we headed off to the Zoo. There, we saw toucans, snakes, howler monkeys, pumas and even a sleeping jaguar. We saw some spider monkeys and all agree that they were very cute and used their tails in such an extension to themselves. All of which was very cool. I was kinda jealous that the animals were sleeping or napping; personally that sounds like the life to me. Many of the animals were rescued or they were kept as pets and abandoned before the Zoo adopted them. There was a crocodile that looked very contemptuous in the water, but was super close to the fence I didn't know how to feel about it! All the animals had enough space for themselves which was greatly appreciated.

BirdsAllison Krebs

Biology and Political Science major

After our excursion at the zoo, we headed off for something new to all of us--cave tubing! We hiked for half an hour with our tubes in tow until we made it to the mouth of the cave. We hopped in our tubes and we were off to Xibalba! Xibalba is the underworld of the Mayan culture, and the Mayans that inhabited this area believed that this cave was an entranceway to Xibalba itself. Going through the cave our guide explained many of the practices of the Mayan people to us, as well many of the geological structures we witnessed. We were able to experience complete darkness, a waterfall, a sinkhole, and multiple species of bats! Coming out of the cave, we rode down river in our tubes and relaxed. As we all laid back and soaked up the Belizean sun, I couldn’t help but think that the weather could not have been any nicer than it was. Following our cave tubing experience, we were able to ‘cheers’ with ice cold bottles of soda before journeying back to TREC. When we returned home, Maggie cooked us an incredible dinner of fajitas and we were all more than stuffed when we finished our meals. I know Maggie is mentioned in practically every one of these blog posts, but she is truly one of the most incredible parts of our trip!

Archaeological siteDay Five

Kylie Smith

Environmental Science major

We had to wake up early in order to get to the mainland, but the second breakfast that we got definitely made up for it. Being able to explore Lamanai was an amazing experience, and our tour guide knew the ruins inside and out, and he answered every question we asked him. I've never been able to visit an archaeological site like Lamanai before, and the fact that I was able to physically interact with the ruins made everything feel more real, rather than the tour guide just telling us a story.

Tabitha Griffin

Environmental Science major

Today was an exceptionally fun day. We visited Lamanai Mayan ruins, with buildings that were thousands of years old. Some had been abandoned for many lifetimes, others were used up until the 1800s. We took a couple boats and a local bus to get to our destination. The bus (an old school bus) went right through the towns and we got to see a lot of the country. It rained a little bit, but the weather overall was still better than Ohio!

dockDay Four

Meriah Estremera

Biology major

On today's adventures of Belize, we were heading to Caye Caulker. We were able to get to that part of the island by a water taxi boat that took about 30 minutes. It was basically a large speed boat. Caye Caulker is most definitely an island where you can tell alot of tourists visit. Gift shops, chocolate shops, juice bars, restaurants, and a whole lot of people. We were able to see a couple of tarpon that were at least 3-4ft long and were able to feed them as well. They almost ate my hand! Then we walked to see a beach/bar area that had pretty signs to take pictures from. Walking to our next destination was seahorses. They were super-camouflaged and were hard to see, but we were able to see at least 3 of them in the little patch set up near the ocean. After the seahorses we were able to have a nice lunch, and buy some gifts at the gift shops and chocolate! Super Yummy. Note to self: Never forget to bring money with you. However if you are spender like myself it might save you from being broke because all the things that the native people of Belize make were absolutely beautiful. Once we got on the boat, we were able to take a little swim before our night snorkeling. Super interesting and cool to see at night, very terrifying if you already can’t see like myself!

pelicanAllison Krebs

Biology and Political Science major

After returning from our adventures at Caye Caulker, we all relaxed from a tiring day in the sun with a nice dip in the pool. As evening arrived, we walked out to the dock for our night snorkeling excursion. As the boat departed from the dock, we all sat on the stern, ate a slice of pizza for dinner, and watched the sun as it set across the shoreline of San Pedro. It was truly one of those tiny moments that makes you appreciate life a little bit more. When we arrived at our dive location we had a quick briefing on the boat by Dr. Ken and then we hopped into the ocean with our dive lights ready for action. This night excursion was unlike anything we had previously experienced--the water was pitch black around us except for the piercing beams of our flashlights. The feeling of moving through the ocean void was something that all of us students, along with Dr. Castleman, were witnessing for the very first time. The thought of being submerged in darkness seems frightening and intimidating at first, but it ended up being an absolutely incredible dive. The water was calm as could be, so we were able to see lobster, squid, octopi, pufferfish, and bioluminescent creatures alike. Following our dive we rode back on the boat to TREC and quietly marveled at the glorious golden full moon and sky dusted with stars, another day in Belize in the books.

Group 2Day Three

Kylie Smith

Environmental Science Major

We swam directly over a nurse shark today, which was only like ten feet from the surface. It’s definitely not an experience I’ll ever forget!! We also practiced free-diving, diving down to try to see into an underwater cave, where angelfish like to hang out upside down. I did my best to stay close to the guide because he was always the first to find and point out fun things in the water, including the giant stingrays hiding in the sand!

Tabitha Griffin

Environmental Science Major

Today was not only 1 adventure, but 3! We saw distinct marine life at each location, and were surprised to see all the fish we learned about the day before. The sun was much brighter than the previous day, but luckily we remembered sunscreen. Many sharks were observed and some barracuda got very close to us! Tomorrow we are having our first land day, so it will be nice to get a break from all the swimming.

OctopusDay Two

Meriah Estremera

Biology Major

On Day two of Belize, Allison and I woke up confused as ever due to the fact that half the group was on Ohio time and the other half was on Beize time. We eventually figured out the time when we asked Maggie what the time was. We had a beautiful breakfast, and geared up to go snorkeling. We walked down to the boat, admiring the trees and the way that people were driving past us so closely. Arriving on the boat, we placed our gear down and were ready to head out to the water. Allison, Kylie, Tabitha and myself decided to sit in front of the boat to see everything. The water was so clear and eventually the sun was shining on us while the wind was blowing in our hair. When we got to the location we were going to snorkel at, we got a debrief on what we were seeing and what our location consisted of. The first location was more on shallow water where it was deep enough to snorkel but if we needed to stand, certain parts of the location were good to do so. Much of the coral we saw was Pillar Coral. Beautiful coral that head many fish in and around them. We were also able to see a Stingray and an Octopus. I had a hard time with my mask and tried to see everything, but the saltiness of the water made my eyes burn while snorkeling. Once we saw everything we could in our first location, we proceeded to the next location once again, all the girls sitting in the front of the boat.

sting rayAllison Krebs

Biology and Political Science Major

When we dove in the water at our second location, the whole team was ready for the swim ahead. Having completed our first dive reasonably unscathed, we all were feeling slightly more professional about our snorkel skills.  The second location, Tuffy,  consisted of deeper waters and we were able to swim fairly close to the reef crest of the barrier reef.  The sun had decided to be more agreeable by this point in the afternoon so the visibility in the water was spectacular. Swimming around I couldn’t help but wish that I had a camera hooked onto my goggles so I could document everything I was experiencing. On this swim we were lucky enough to encounter a Queen Conch, Green Turtle, Eagle Ray, and Nurse Sharks. When we returned to TREC, only slightly worn out from our aquatic adventures, many of us celebrated our first day on the boat with a swim in our freshwater pool, only to be rained on relentlessly a la Shawshank Redemption. After settling back in and putting on some dry clothes, we met in the classroom on site and began to develop a species list of all the coral, invertebrates, fish, and self proclaimed “cool things,” that we will keep for the remainder of our trip. Our afternoon was spent relaxing at TREC and working on drawing up site maps from our dives. Our day ended with an incredible dinner of curry and rice courtesy of Maggie and, like always, our stomachs and souls were well fed. All of us were more than ready to head to sleep early following our meal to prepare for our next day out on the boat.

Belize BoatDay One

Tabitha Griffin

Environmental Science Major

The travel to get here was long and tiring, but it’s worth it the second you get off the plane and see the sunshine. We were greeted with tropical plants, palm trees, and warmth Ohio has been without. Flying over the water was so neat; just knowing that soon we’ll be able to get in and explore it is so exciting! After learning how to use our snorkel gear today, I think everyone is ready to go observe and document all the coral and sea life.

Kylie Smith

Environmental Science Major

It took 12 hours and 3 planes to get to San Pedro, but as soon as we finally arrived, none of us had any complaints. All the people we’ve met so far have been super friendly, the city super colorful, and the food super delicious! The Belize Marine TREC (Tropical Research Education Center) is full of zoology specimens and books and I can’t wait to get to start snorkeling tomorrow!


Currently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Belize as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Published in The Sciences, Travel

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