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Conservation

Unbelizeable, part II

{pictures are at the bottom!}

Welcome back! Where were we? Oh, right – just about to land in Belize.

A hop, an overnight, a skip, a jump, another overnight, another skip, and we were there – at Glover’s Research Station, our home for the duration of our photographic adventure. The sun and mosquitoes grin at their bleary January New Englander prey, and we grin back. We set our things down and don’t waste any time.

The research station is a Goldilocks degree of modest. Alva and Eva serve up delicious Belizean foods (Belizean sweet breads are to die for, as is the traditional black bean soup) in a breezy dining hall, next to the beach volleyball rig. There is a little library room in another building where we set up tables for assembling/disassembling the camera rigs, across from a ‘wet lab’ which serves as a place to take naps in hammocks and test that the cameras are waterproof; it has the only phone on the island, which never works. There are a few dormitory huts, elevated with clotheslines strung underneath, and a hut for the gargantuan compost toilet named CLIVUS; being the research station for one of the largest global conservation organizations, they take the leave no trace thing pretty seriously. Then there’s a hut for dive equipment next to the dock where a couple of small boats are kept, and the rest is forest.

Everything is painted an inviting turquoise. The island crawls with iguanas and hermit crabs – some as big as footballs – and is ringed with mangroves, seagrass beds, and patches of reef. You can walk around it in 15 minutes. It’s a two hour boat ride from the nearest island that’s big enough to have an airstrip.

We hit the ground swimming, you might say. The afternoon we arrive, we take our first dive – this time no cameras, just to get a feel – about a kilometer away from the station. That evening we go over plans for the week, then the next nine days follow a repeating pattern. Wake up for (or to?) a beautiful sunrise. Breakfast. Half the group dives at 8am, either at a shallow cluster of patch reef a thousand feet from the dock, a sprawl of reef on the back side of the island, or at one of a number of reef sites nearby. The other half goes at 10am, giving the first group just enough time to dive, return, and dis-/re-assemble the camera. Lunch is at noon. The afternoons mirrored the mornings, though many of us would instead go snorkeling in the mangroves, photograph on land, or pass out in hammocks. Dinner is at 6pm, then evenings are for critique of the day’s photographs, with eyes for how to get a better shot tomorrow. This pattern repeated for the duration of our stay, and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and take the boat back to another series of hops and jumps home.

Some mornings we’d rise before the sun to catch the reef waking up, or a photograph of the sun glinting over the horizon of ocean. Some nights we’d stay up late to be mesmerized by the bioluminescent worms migrating past like souls on their way to Hades, to get long-exposure photographs of the Milky Way, or to practice fluorescence photography. A delicate balance was to be struck. We felt driven to throw ourselves into this unique opportunity, to work as hard as we might to get the best shots we could; at the same time, the opportunity to enjoy proper removal from the busyness of modern life – no cell service, no wifi, no obligations but to take photos, every last potential for lackadaisical ‘island living’ – felt unique in itself, equally deserving of our attention. In the end, each in their own way, all of us found ways to tap into both; we all worked hard to get the shots we wanted, yet everyone returned with a little bit of the island’s charm still warm in their hearts.

As I sit writing this in the gallery where our final work is displayed – we had our first gallery opening for the work at the beginning of this week, which will stay up for a month and continue on to the Boston Museum of Science, the Bronx Zoo, and a number of other places – I can see that everyone got the shots they wanted, not only the ones they’d arrived on the island describing their hopes of capturing but also the photos none of us could’ve predicted getting. Things went wrong; cameras flooded, time passed too quickly; in the end, though, it all worked out. This, I think, is the essence of field work. You work endlessly to prepare; you arrive and everything is magical, joyous, stressful, rushed; you return a split-second later with fond memories, broken equipment, and something you can work with. Perhaps not all fieldwork, but the fieldwork of faerie tales.

These are a few of the images:

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A flamingo tongue, chillin’ on a sea fan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A squid, with lots to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Solar panels have fantastic-to-photograph reflections, in addition to providing clean electricity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes you just happen upon a random shipwreck & there’s nothing to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gualtiero sleeping in the wet lab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alva posing in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My dive buddy Max holding a (dead, shhh) lobster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Megan trying out some nighttime fluorescence photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of my final pieces for the exhibit – a painstakingly laser cut sea fan replica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the walls in the exhibit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keith offers a peek at a conch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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View of the dock from the watchtower.  Off in the distance are little patch reefs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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These hermit crabs were camera-shy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Siesta.

cael
Cael was once told by a professor that applied mathematicians are ‘intellectual dilettantes,’ which has been a proud self-identification for Cael since that moment. Cael is a graduate student at MIT & Woods Hole, & studies the ocean from a mathematical perspective; right now Cael is trying to figure out how detailed our measurements of phytoplankton communities can be if we detect them from space. Otherwise, Cael plays accordion, gardens, & reads instead of sleeping like it’s still fifth grade.

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