BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS –
JUNE 13, 2014 – Vanessa Treviño, 21, a
senior biology major at The
University of Texas at Brownsville, does not know how to swim. But she did not let it deter her
from taking a class and a trip she learned about seeing informational flyers in
the Life and Health Sciences Building.
“Fortunately, I was
able to take a short lesson and become a certified scuba diver so that made my
decision that much simpler,” said Treviño, a 2011 graduate of La Joya High
School in La Joya in Hidalgo County. “I thought this would be the perfect
opportunity to see if marine biology could be a step in the right direction.”
UT Brownsville Associate Professor Dr. David Hicks and a group of students visited the Mayan Xunantunich Archaeological Site in Belize.
The University of
Texas at Brownsville’s Department
of Biological Sciences recently conducted its first research trip to Belize for
students taking Coral Reef Ecology during Maysemester.
Dr. David Hicks,
Associate Professor and Department Chair, led a group of students for a week at
the Calabash Caye Field Station managed by the University of Belize’s
Environmental Research Institute in Belomopan, Belize. The facility is Belize’s
first nationally owned and managed marine research facility.
“The reef environments
we visited were pristine, and some, particularly the Blue Hole, were truly
unique,” said Hicks. “I am already planning for next year.”
The class was a
combination of lectures, laboratory work and field studies to examine the
evolutionary patterns and ecological importance of coral reefs.
23, a second year graduate student in biology from Newton, Mass., signed up for
the class to learn about natural coral reefs. Her graduate thesis focuses on
fish surveys on artificial concrete reefs.
“The class was very
fulfilling,” said Froehlich. “The first week we learned all about coral reef
ecosystems, as well as the organisms that inhabited them. This allowed us to
become familiar with the sites and associated systems we were going to visit.”
UT Brownsville students scuba dive in the coral reefs at the Calabash Caye Field Station managed by the University of Belize's Environmental Research Institute in Belomopan, Belize.
Once landing in
Belize, the group boated through a channel surrounded by red mangrove forests.
The group quickly held their first snorkeling session once arriving at Calabash
“We were welcomed by a
vast seagrass bed infiltrated by sea urchins, elegant anemone, Halimeda algae,
damselfish, snails and crabs,” said Froehlich. “Then there were the stoplight
and princess parrotfish that swam around coral and munched on the hard coral so
loud you could hear it underwater. What an experience of sensory overload! We
got lucky because we even saw spotted eagle rays or southern stingrays.”
Treviño also enjoyed
her views from underwater.
“The view was
beautiful,” she said. “We encountered blue tang, French angelfish, parrotfish,
spiny Caribbean lobsters, a sea turtle, octocorals, sea fans, sponges and so many
other remarkable organisms that would take anyone’s breath away. We snorkeled
every day and dove practically every day. We even had the chance to do a night
drive and night snorkel.”
The University of Belize Environmental Research institute
Ricky Alexander, 28, a
master’s student in biology from Evansville, Ind., did algal surveys on the
leeward and windward sides of Calabash Caye.
“In general, windward
sites were more diverse than leeward sites and patch reefs were more diverse
than turtlegrass beds,” said Alexander. “The data was very neat, and that makes
me a happy scientist.”
Students also did
research on fish assemblages, lionfish diets, coral community structures,
urchin densities and other oceanic topics.
Calabash Caye, the group visited the not-for-profit education Monkey
Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, an education and training center, east of Belmopan, Belize.
“Several of us camped
in our tents for fun,” said Froehlich. “The array of plants, shrubs and trees was
astonishing. Our guide was equipped with a machete which she used on countless
occasions to cut down some vegetation. Walking through the jungle, we saw
beautiful birds and insects in the greenery. Some flying splendors we saw
included toucans, frigate birds, red footed boobies, cormorants and many
On the last day of the
trip, the group experienced some of Belize’s Mayan history by visiting the
Xunantunich Archaeological Site near San Jose Succotz, a village located a few
miles east of the Belize-Guatemala border.
“The climb up the hill
and up the ruin was a long, steep one, but the view from the top of the ruin
made it completely worth it,” said Treviño.
For more information
contact the Department of Biological Sciences at 956-882-5040 or Academic
Department Liaison Raquel Vasquez at email@example.com.