Krisan's Journal

Krisan Christensen, is a 17 year old from the Bay Area in California and traveled with us to Belize. While there, Krisan posted her impressions of Belize and the manatee research project.

Friday, August 29, 2002

Today was a day that was new to all of us as volunteers. It was our main day of training, a day that started with us out on the water around 9:30 AM and didn’t bring us back to camp until dusk. Though our morning started off early, (we were really up since 6:00 AM) it surely started off to a great start as we were only on the water for one minute when we spotted our first manatee. This definitely started us off to a good day for we actually saw approximately 12 manatees while out on the boat.

Though we saw many of these gentle creatures it was great to see how excited everybody got each time. Every time a manatee was spotted every person on the boat quickly got up to try and spot the mammal but it was really great to watch how suddenly this excitement changed to absolute silence, for we feared that this gentle creature would be frightened away. This was a silence though that was so amazing because I’m sure that if you listened hard enough you could actually hear the racing hearts of the members on the boat who waited in anticipation for another peek at this beautiful mammal.

As our eyes peered out at the water we continued to wait in silence until the manatee had to come up for a breath of air and just as it did this we could catch a glimpse of its snout and actually hear it take in a deep breath before it rolled back under the water. Many times throughout the day I observed, and was truly amazed at, how quickly a great burst of energy could quickly transform into a new form of energy—one which waits in silence not really knowing what it is waiting for. These moments came and went frequently throughout our day—a day that was recorded very closely.

I was truly amazed at how much is recorded when out in the field. We recorded every time the boat stopped, every time we anchored, every time we saw a manatee, or any other sort of creature (at one point we stopped to observe a bottlenose dolphin). We even recorded when something flew off the boat and we had to retrieve it. I never realized how much information would be taken daily and how organized it all had to be, all through all the excitement of a sighting. The day carried on like such, much of it was spent just sitting in silence waiting and watching. This silence however was so strong that you could really feel the anticipation in each observer’s eyes, just waiting and eager to see another manatee.

Today was a day unlike any other I have experienced. I learned so much about how particular a researcher is and how organized everything must be. I now wait in anticipation for another day of excitement and silence and more amazing creatures.

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Saturday, August 31, 2002

As I first slipped my uneasy feet into my fins and pulled the snorkel mask over my face I took a deep, apprehensive breath into the long tube that would soon be my only source of oxygen. I never have been very comfortable in the ocean, whether it be snorkeling or just swimming around. I am always found kicking my feet for fear of fish nibbling on my toes. For our first time snorkeling while taking sea grass sampling I was extremely nervous and could not find a way to get calm. I tried to comfort myself but unfortunately I got too nervous and decided that it would be better to just get back in the boat. I knew I would have many chances to try it another time.

My next chance actually came the following day when we were given an hour to have a free snorkel over by the barrier reef. I knew that I had to give it another shot and try and overcome my fear of snorkeling. Again I put on all of my gear and took a nervous look into the water. This time as I peered into the water I could actually see straight to the bottom and the calm water helped calm my nerves.

I slowly fell back into the water and as the water splashed around me its warmth seeped into my skin and instantly calmed me. I don’t know whether it was the smooth waters or the beautiful landscape around me that helped me relax but I was ready to adventure closer towards the reef to observe all the fish living there. Shelly (my partner, which every time you go snorkeling you must have a partner) and I started to venture away from the boat towards the reef. After only a few smooth kicks, Shelly spotted the skeleton of a piece of dead coral resting on the ocean floor. Taking a deep breath she dove down to retrieve it so that we could take a better look at it. This is only something that you can do if the coral’s skeleton is exposed, for if you touch the actual coral it kills it.

This piece of coral was already dead. It had been ripped off the reef by a fishing line and weight. Upon Shelly’s return after the deep dive I was able to get a close look at the skeleton which was a light shade of purple with veins that stretch all along the large leaves. It was so neat to see what the dead skeleton looked like and then as we swam closer to the reef we were able to see what they looked like when alive. It was so amazing to watch all of the fish going about their daily lives. It felt like I was watching TV and observing different families going about their daily lives. There were fishes of all shapes and sizes; ones with a mesmerizing deep blue color, others that were so thin that if you looked at them straight on it’d look like a piece of paper. I even saw quite a few barracudas. They are such strange looking fish and the line at their mouth makes them look as if they are frowning.

As I was out there snorkeling I became so engrossed in the lives of the fish that I completely forgot about being nervous about snorkeling. As I was gliding through the water I felt more at ease, the only thing that really went through my head was how lonely it feels in the water. It is almost overwhelming how small and alone you feel when in the ocean, because it is so large and powerful, even with thousands of fish around you and your partner right by you, you feel very isolated. My second shot at snorkeling on this trip was much more successful than the first and I was very pleased to find in myself the ability to overcome my fear, you always have to give yourself another chance, like they say “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again”.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2002

We all sat in utter silence, waiting in anticipation for the manatee to surface again for air; our eyes searched the surface of the water watching for any sign of life. Like the many times before when we sat in silence, it was the type of silence that lingers deep down in your bones. Katie was perched like an eagle on the bow of the boat, but as we all sat silently waiting for the manatee , we also sat waiting for our food from lunch to digest.

As the manatee had still not surfaced and we continued to wait, we kept hearing a rumble kind of noise that would come and go in spurts. This noise was unfamiliar to us. Finally we were able to recognize it as Katie’s stomach—digesting her food. As we listened to the noise of her stomach, Michael kept joking around and saying that it was the manatee that was angry.
I’m sure this sounds kind of lame, especially since all of Michael’s jokes are lame, but for some very odd reason I found his jokes to be absolutely hilarious. It must have been the sun, but as her stomach kept growling and as Michael kept joking, for some reason I could not stop laughing. I probably laughed for 15 minutes straight. It was one of those laughs that just make your whole body ache. My stomach hurt and my ears hurt even more from smiling so much.

The bad part about my laugh attack, besides the pain and the embarrassment from laughing at such a lame joke, was that because we were waiting and watching for the manatee to surface, I had to try and stay as quiet as possible. This was a very difficult task and the harder I laughed the harder it was to stay quiet. It felt like one of those times when you laugh in class and you have to try and hide. Don’t you just hate it when that happens and the teacher asks you to tell the class what is so funny? It was that bad on the boat but fortunately I was able to eventually calm down and the manatee did surface again. I didn’t scare it off after all and thankfully, the manatee wasn’t subject to Michael’s extremely terrible jokes.

Watching manatees reminds me very much of the ride “Jungle Cruise” at Disneyland. Most of the time all that we really see of the manatee is its nose barely poking up above the water to get a breath of air. Many of the times that we have observed these gentle creatures they seem to be resting, and when they do that, they just kind of bob up and down occasionally to breath. This reminds me of the “Jungle Cruise” because as its nose reaches the surface it lets out a loud noise—the noise of it inhaling or exhaling—so it sounds much like the mechanical hippopotami at Disneyland. I have yet to believe that these manatees even have a body because all that we seem to see is just their nose. Sometimes they do a rolling dive and you see part of their back and then their paddle sticks out of the water for us to get a quick glance at it. This is truly a beautiful sight, almost too beautiful so it doesn’t even seem real. Everything I have seen here in Belize is absolutely amazing and like nothing I have ever experienced before.

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Thursday, September 5, 2002

The sun came blaring down on my back as I stepped off the bus to at the entrance of the Belize Zoo. After a rather exciting and new experience on the bus we were finally at the zoo. As we walked throughout the park, looking at all the different animals, I could feel the heat rising off the dirt paths, heating our bodies.

Though it was uncomfortably hot, the whole experience was very refreshing. The Belize Zoo is not like any zoo I have ever been to, primarily because the animals are so unique. What was so refreshing was that none of the animals there were bought for the purpose of human entertainment; all them are primarily there because they were injured and they are being cared for.

My favorite of all the animals I saw were the two jaguars. What was so interesting about them was that one was all black and the other was spotted. Though their colorings were very different they were still the same species. Susan explained to me that it was basically a matter of the difference in hair color between two people, and the black jaguar actually does have spots underneath his dark hair. When I first came upon these two gorgeous creatures were both resting under the shade of a tree. However, after some time, they did wake up. As the black jaguar opened his sleepy eyes he stared right at me. I could have sat and watched these two felines all day long. They look so powerful, but at the same time you just want to cuddle up with them like a teddy bear. However that would not be a good idea at all.

Though it was difficult to part myself from the jaguars I did wander around the rest of the zoo and found many more beautiful creatures. The monkeys were awfully cute as they swung through the trees. I also spotted many beautiful birds both high in the trees and down in the water. There was one bird that had a wingspan that was actually bigger then me.

Every single animal at the Belize Zoo had its own special story and each and every one of them was interesting to see. Many of the animals in the zoo we had never seen before, but what truly amazed me the most was that it felt like we were actually just wandering around in the wild, coming upon these beautiful creatures. It barely felt like the animals were caged because each separate habitat blended in with the rest. This truly was their habitat as all of the animals in the Belize Zoo are native to Belize. None of them were removed from their natural home and put into a fake one. The Belize Zoo was an experience all in its own, and even as the heat blared down on my shoulders, I was refreshed with how natural the zoo felt, and how unique each creature was.

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Saturday, September 7, 2002

I stared down where the wall dropped into the deep, deep ocean—just waiting to see the Loch Ness monster or some strange creature emerge from it. I didn’t see any such creature for it doesn’t really exist, but I did see many different types of fish and coral.

The Blue Hole and the Aquarium, the two places we snorkeled at, were absolutely amazing and so full of life. The waters were deep and clear and there was so much to see. I have found that the clearer the water is, the more comfortable I feel when snorkeling. I have gotten to a point where I can even dive down to get a closer look at things below.

It was so beautiful snorkeling out at the Blue Hole. What amazed me the most was that there were so many different species of coral so close to the surface way out in the middle of the vast ocean. Again, I felt so small, especially since there was no land anywhere in sight on the horizon. The waters were deep and abundant with fish. It was gorgeous.

At one point, I was completely surrounded by two different schools of fish. Never before had I ever been so close to fish. They were actually within my grasp. Every single thing that I saw out at the Blue Hole and the aquarium just blew my mind. It is amazing how much life there is in the ocean, and how many possibilities there are for life that has not even been discovered in the deepest parts of the waters.

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Monday, September 9, 2002

As I watch the sun shine its last few rays of light on this day I realize that it is not only ending the day but also ending my time here in Belize. The sun is setting on all that I have done and experienced. This sun that I have watched rise and set for three weeks now has shone so much light on my life and it has really opened up my eyes.

Before I started the expedition, I traveled around Belize for eight days and was able to see and experience things not possible in the United States. I have become aware of how much is out there beyond the States, and I can’t wait to go out and explore it all some day. I was most amazed at how simple people’s lives are here in Belize. Upon seeing this, I suddenly became so aware of all the “stuff” I have and how unnecessary it all is.

Through my travels in Belize I saw sights that just blew my mind—beautiful sights that will be engraved in my memory forever.

After amazing travels throughout the country, I started this expedition, which was another new experience all in itself. In the past two weeks I have lived with very interesting adults that have truly opened up my eyes even more. They have all taught me that there is still so much more for me to learn, and even more places to go. I have loved listening to all of the different stories that everyone has to share. I hope that one day I will have half the knowledge and half the stories that they have.

This expedition hopefully is just the start of my search for stories. It is a story however, that has been very entertaining, in which I have grown a new appreciation for scientists and their work, and an even greater appreciation for all of the life around me. I have learned and accomplished so much. I have overcome my fear of snorkeling, I have learned to think and observe about life around me as a scientist, and most importantly, I have developed a better understanding of how precious this world is that I live in.

This has truly been the experience of a lifetime and one that I will never forget. As the last bit of light shines through the clouds, I realize that even though that ray of light is so small, it still makes a huge difference on the world. With that light, the sky above and the waters below are still shining with color and the beauty still remains. Even though I am but one person I can make a difference in this world. This is what I have come to realize during my time spent here. There is still so much that I can do that can make a difference, No matter how small the task, the impact can be enormous.

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