Scientific COMmunicator: An Ode to Island Life Mornings in Belize

Welcome or welcome back to the blog series about my experience “in the field” as a marine science minor. Within Boston University’s Marine Program, undergraduate majors and minors (as well as graduate students) are required to fulfill a research-based semester with the opportunity to complete coursework in Belize. This is how I enjoyed the program’s curriculum and related it to my Communications major.

Mornings at Calabash Field Station in Turneffe Island promised a long-awaited time of relaxation. It permitted a powerful sense of relief before a long day of data collection and analysis. 

Within the community of hammocks resting below our dorms, students continued to sleep or enjoyed easygoing morning reads. Turns out, a lot of marine science students love fantasy series. Honestly, I regret my pick, The Grapes of Wrath, an American classic that attempts to reimagine the intricate beauties of pastoral land during the Great Depression. 

Needless to say, tranquil mornings in the middle of the Western Atlantic Ocean was simply not the place to re-envision history through literature.  

The community of hammock-goers. My neighbors spent every night sleeping in their hammock, except for the night of a storm. 

Instead of waking up to a phone screen, I woke up to an ancient — yet very effective — bug tent screen cover, courtesy of Boston University.  I felt bliss and connectedness with each moment, separated from my basic everyday electronics. We took advantage of the slow mornings, drinking our pre-breakfast instant coffees while cuddled up in our hammocks. Even with a snail-like morning schedule, we were out in the mangroves or patch reef by 8:30 a.m. 

As you can see, hammock placement on the first day was very important business. But honestly, you couldn’t go wrong. By the end of the program, I became friends with my neighbors and slept in my hammock on the very last night. My hammock smelt like smoke from the ceremonial bonfire, but I was comforted by the ebb and flow of the ocean waves gently hitting the shore. We felt lucky to have a night celebrating the island staff, including our island mothers in the kitchen and our beloved boat captains. 

Morning view from my hammock. 

Wake-up was around 6:30 a.m., but the many early risers, squeeks of the aging bunk beds, shuffle of heavy feet, and a single, determined woodpecker eased me into consciousness before that time every morning. Each day began very slowly. Without any personal WiFi, we were able to ease into the mornings by appreciating what was around us.

The Diadema rolls in at sunrise after a recreational morning snorkel, which we called “free snork!”

Quiet at first, silence was broken by jokes of endless harassment from tropical bugs — predominantly sand flies and mosquitoes. For twelve days, we started our days looking toward the great expanse peeking through the wooden shutters. The one thing that brought us all together in the first place: the ocean. 

Some days, we rose earlier than others and watched the sun rise before there was too much action among the students. 

My bunkmate and pal Grace welcomed the sunrise.

After the initial bathroom dash, we all gathered in the cafeteria at exactly 7 a.m. each day. The picnic table-style of seating allowed us to have bigger conversations and encouraged us to talk to different students in the program. 

Breakfast was always an exciting time. We were fed better than I usually feed myself, with three meals each day. Crispy, flakey bread with guava or pineapple jam. Cut-up watermelon. Beans with everything. Belizean cheese. One day, we even ate delicious spiny crab.

Our leftovers were put to even better use, as they were fed to handsome island dogs. 

But here I was. I had spent the whole semester anticipating the place I now occupied. The outside world was distant to me. Without WiFi, we were forced to confront a simpler world with no electronics. For me, it was a necessary release from civilization. It was a time to reflect on my career path and academic choices, while learning to identify coral, fish, and invertebrate species by scientific name. 

Everyone on board the Diadema preparing for our “adopt a coral” activity, in which we measured the coral’s ecological size, motile and sessile neighbors, and recorded GPS coordinates. 

After thoroughly enjoying the easygoing mornings, it was go, go, go.  

Data collection. Lunch. Data collection. Data analysis. Dinner. More data analysis and species ID. Repeat. 

But with a clear mind, we were able to appreciate all of the moments in our days filled with learning, growth, and exploration. 

Rebecca Campbell, Study Abroad Correspondent 

Becca is a senior in the College of Communications studying Advertising with a Marine Science minor. Currently, she works for Matter Communications as a Digital Copywriter. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach are her favorite hobbies when not discussing climate-based issues, the US Women’s soccer team, or the latest book read.

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