Co-ordinates: 17° 13’ N; 07° 35’ W
Weather: Light cloud cover in the morning, opening up into sunshine by late morning.
Early in the morning, at 6:00 am, the Prince Albert II picked up our local pilot at San Pedro, Ambergris Key. He will lead us through the maze of channels and coral heads that comprise the Belize Great Barrier Reef.
Belize’s Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world, smaller only than the one in Australia. Coral reefs are the most diverse aquatic ecosystem. There are around 2,000 species of fish, not to mention other reef inhabitants, like starfish, sea cucumbers, and the coral itself, which is also a living organism.
We had an easy morning and leisurely breakfast, and around 10:00 we were in front of Long Key Island where our catamaran was waiting for us. We transferred from the ship to the catamaran using our Zodiacs. There, we were met by Captain Kirk and his crew, all of whom are experienced dive masters. They operate from Belize City, taking passengers for day trips to the Great Barrier. On board were Expedition Team members Robin West, Jarda Versloot, Richard Harker, Christian Walter and myself. Robin gave some general instructions, and helped people get in the water with their snorkels and fins. We had to swim over some sand to get to the coral heads, but we were rewarded with all sorts of different coral formation: brain coral, staghorn coral, fan coral, and soft coral. The coral itself was quite healthy and colorful. There were also schools of colorful fish: parrotfish, goatfish, gobies, and wrasses swimming around looking very busy. A few people saw a stingray that swam close to the boat.
Around 12:30, the snorkeling was over and we were shuttled back to the ship, where we had lunch.
At 14:30, we were called to board the catamaran, which we rode towards Lighthouse Reef. This is an Audubon Society Nature Preserve, mainly because of the Red Footed Boobies that nest here. These are medium-sized seabirds, with brightly colored feet and peculiar breeding habits — unlike most seabirds that nest on the ground, they make their nests on trees.
They share these arboreal nesting habits with Magnificent Frigate Birds that we could also see, soaring around the island. Ignacio Rojas and I led the group along a sandy trail, and Ignacio explained to about the biology of the birds and of the island in general. The trail led to a platform from where we could see the birds on their own level. Our ornithologist, Brent Stephenson, was there to give further explanation. It is quite an experience to be on the small platform, surrounded by noisy birds all around!
Some people returned to the ship on the Zodiacs, but those of us who stayed until the last departure at 17:30 and returned with the catamaran, were rewarded with a beautiful sunset.