Poop, crap, sh*t… these words can be said in excitement or in frustration. I’ve used these words in both context within the last week. You could say it’s been one “poopy week” of research related work. And I ended this week traveling with poop all over me… I’ll get to this at the end.
Just a bit over 2 months, and Maia has gotten her taste of field work and mommy’s job. This past week we did research in the very southern point of the island, near Hol Chan Reserve on Ambergris Caye. Absolutely gorgeous area, in which would be recognized as “semi-pristine” for my study given it’s somewhat of a secret spot that is rarely visited by locals. At this particular site, I’ve seen sting rays jumping out of the water, some of the rarer bird species of the island and in Belize… and a Hammerhead Shark and an 8 foot American Crocodile are also known to swim within these waters. Given that this area is pretty remote, I usually bring my dogs to run around and play. My dog Asha is really good at finding crabs and birds for me, which helps with my aquatic and bird surveys. This past week I noticed she found something to chew on- looked like a coconut husk from far away so I didn’t pay any real attention. THEN she brought it to me- this was no coconut husk! Asha was chewing on a piece of skin, A LARGE PIECE OF SKIN!!! I took it away and instantly recognized the skin- it was shark skin! Not even 5 minutes later Karl comes out of the water from performing his aquatic survey holding a long piece of vertebrate – shark vertebrate. We found the remains of a shark scattered around the area. The dogs found a couple more pieces of shark skin in the area. “F’in sh*t!” Something didn’t seem right about the whole situation. I contacted Dr. Rachel Graham from Mar Alliance. The pieces are identified from a Nurse Shark and liking poached as there has been a problem in the area. Of course, if someone is poaching sharks in the area, how about the crocs? A poopy way to end a day of research.
Given that this site is pretty remote, I figured when dissecting snails for parasites that I would find a high prevalence- it’s not like the other areas where heavy metal pollution is likely interfering with the parasite life cycles. However, as I dissect, and dissect and dissect- NOTHING! “Sh*t!!!!!” But then… “Oh crap! This is awesome!” I finally found 1 parasite with HUNDREDS of cercariae. Cercariae is one of the stages of the trematode life cycle. Cercariae moves from the 1st intermediate host to the second intermediate host. So the trematode goes from snail to fish to… croc? Don’t know if this was a croc parasite per se, but hopefully I will be able to find out one day. Either way, totally cool to see the cercariae moving around! Yet surprising and alarming that I found only 1 snail parasitized out of 30 snails in an area that is protected…
The excitement continued to the next day with a new paper being published by friends and colleagues
Thomas Rainwater and Stephen Platt about hybridization between Morelet and American Crocs in Southern Belize (http://www.forbes.com/sites/shaenamontanari/2015/10/02/human-impact-may-be-causing-crocodile-species-to-interbreed/). I had been arguing for years with local crocodile biologists that 1) hybridization between Morelet’s and Americans can happen and has already been proven with research published from northern Belize and the Yucatan in Mexico, and 2) if it can happen with other sympatric crocodilian species internationally, when not here in Belize? But for no other reason than “it just can’t happen between Americans and Morelets” they constantly disagreed. Now with even more evidence, how can they deny? A very great study indeed, however, it also illustrated how coastal habitat and continual alteration of the environment via human hands is threatening the integrity of 2 crocodile species, particularly the American crocodile. The American crocodile is considered “threatened” by the
IUCN and is cited as Appendix I in CITES. If the integrity of both species is to be preserved, some immediate action will need to be taken to preserve habitat. However, development is not going to stop anytime soon in Belize. Thus, another solution will be needed. Should some of the cayes be turned into American crocodile sanctuaries? Would that mean transporting crocs from the mainland to the cayes? There are a lot of issues that must be considered, and there will be no immediate solution. Until then, further research, education and conservation tactics will need to continue to fight and preserve as much coastal habitat as possible to ensure the viability of the American crocodile in Belize. In all honesty, it’s a crappy situation.
There is no other way to end such a “poopy” themed week than traveling to another country covered in poop. The day didn’t necessarily start with poop… but breast milk. Maia and I were heading back to the States so I can catch up with my boss, she can meet her Garcia family, and so that I could attend my Master’s student Oral Exam and give a talk at University of West Virginia. Everything was great- we got on the jumper plane and she began feeding and was peaceful. Fantastic! However, as I bent over to get my bag as we excited to the international airport, a flow of milk came out of my nipple cover on the unfed boob and soaked my shirt… my white shirt. Ok, nothing horrible. After going through immigration (and be interrogated on whether or not Maia was my child), I had some time of peace and rest. We got on the plane and Maia was being an angel. Then as we were about to take-off, my little angel farted that sounded like a symphony of trumpets, with a bit of “freshener” you can say. She looked at me and smiled. I guess it was a good one. Ok, not a big deal. But then, I noticed my thighs felt wet. Oh yeah… Maia pooped soooooo much it went through her diaper, onesie, onto my skirt and WHITE shirt. I luckily had her burpee out and covered the rest of her, but I couldn’t get out of my seat as we were taking off. Then she fell asleep. Do I change her and make a crying baby for the next 2 hours, or do I let her sleep and just sit covered in shit. I choose the latter. Needless to say I covered us up pretty well and ran to the bathroom in the Houston airport once we landed like a bat out of hell to change her and me. I hadn’t seen that much shit in one spot since my last gator intestine dissection. I changed her, I changed my breast milked and pooped soaked white shirt. Unfortunately, I had no extra bottoms with me. So there I am, walking with a pooped stain skirt, carrying my dirt-stained field back-pack through the airport. I must have been a sight to see!
Needless to say, it’s been a poop-ful adventurous research week!