When I signed up to take Tropical Ecology as an undergraduate at Loyola University New Orleans, I had no idea that the final exam would be a two-week trip to Belize. Imagine my surprise on the first day of class as my professor, Dr. Bob, explained that we’d be spending time at a jaguar sanctuary, in a modern Mayan village and on an uninhabited island in the Caribbean to learn first-hand about the flora and fauna of the tropics. I packed up my dad’s old yellow hiking backpack with sunscreen and bathing suits and got ready to explore Belize.
After 10 days of exploring the Cockscombe Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and living among the modern Maya in a remote village, we traded our hiking boots for flip-flops, boarded a boat in Belize City called Captain Hoho and headed out to Half Moon Caye.
Half Moon Caye, via TripAdvisor
Half Moon Caye is a tiny 40-acre island located about 50 miles southeast of Belize City. It is a National Monument in Belize, which means that no one lives there, save for one lucky caretaker. It is the closest I’ve ever seen to a real desert island—just an expanse of sand and palm trees that is home to about 4000 Red-Footed Boobies. By night, we dined on freshly caught fish by the shore, and slept in hammocks strung up between the palm trees, swinging gently in the sea breeze.
Belizean hammocks, via TripAdvisor
By day, we explored the clear Caribbean waters around us, some of us snorkeling and others scuba diving. We swam with schools of enormous grouper, so close that we could feel their scaly bodies slipping past our arms and legs in the water. We watched crabs scuttle sideways along the seafloor. We saw brightly colored fish of every hue, the likes of which we’d never seen outside of an aquarium.
School of grouper, via www.reef.org
One magical day, Captain Hoho sputtered to a stop over the Lighthouse Reef at the edge of the Great Blue Hole. I had never seen ocean water that color—a deep, rich navy blue. We suited up, and we dove in.
What we experienced there is beyond words. Feeling the pull of the abyss below you, tiger sharks circling in the murky dark… I breathed a long wowwwwwwww into my snorkel before I could stop myself.
I don’t have photographic evidence of my own trip into the blue, but check out this great video of MSNBC’s Matt Lauer’s dive into the Great Blue Hole to get a feel for what I experienced that day:
My trip to Belize and the Great Blue Hole was an unforgettable experience that I will carry with me forever. Of course, I was delighted when I had the opportunity to pull from my own experience when we decided to set our version of A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea at Great Blue Hole. It is such a joy to bring the magic of this incredible place to a new generation of young explorers. I love how the book turned out, and I hope you’ll love it too. Anchors aweigh!
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