Some images from the
Mangrove Virtual Tour Project

An image of George L. Venable at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize

A pix of me "sans beard" at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize
I have been asked many times about the Mangrove Bioecology project I have been working on, so here is a brief overview.

During the first two weeks of 2004, I had the opportunity to travel back to Belize for a third time in order to capture QTVR (QuickTime Virtual Reality) images for a project that I worked on for over four years. This project involved documenting Mangrove Bioecology research being done on a small island about fifteen miles off the coast of Belize. Ultimately resulting in a "Virtual Tour" web site of a tropical mangrove island aimed at educating students and laymen about the importance of mangrove forests in protecting tropical coastal waters from erosion and providing habitats for innumerable species of animals and plants. This site is now online, and you can visit it by clicking the link at the bottom of this page.

The Smithsonian Institution maintains the Coral Reef Research Field Station at Carrie Bow Cay in Belize which is part of their Marine Sciences Program. This field station provides shelter and laboratory facilities for researchers who are involved in very diversified fields of research in coral reef and other ecosystems, from microbiology up the chain to larger plants and animals.

The panoramic images shown below are all linked to QuickTime VR movies, and you will need QuickTime to view them. If you do not have QuickTime, click on the link at the bottom of this page, and download a free Quicktime Viewer from the Apple Website, Mac or Windows. Then place your cursor on the image that pops up and drag left and right, or up and down to view the pano in a full 360° view. Zoom in or out using the Shift and Control keys. You can resize these movies by dragging the lower right hand corner of the movie window down and to the right if you are using Internet Explorer. Or you can (Right Click - Windows, or Control Click - Mac) to "Save as a Quicktime Movie" to your hard drive if you are using Safari or Firefox, so that you can enlarge them for better viewing.

360 degree panorama Image of Smithsonian Carrie Bow Cay Field Research Station, Belize, Central America. This image was taken from the reef

"Carrie Bow Cay Field Research Station, from the reef"

Carrie Bow is a very small island as you can see from the pano. It supports five to six researchers at a time, and provides amenities that most scientists would envy when in the field. There are both wet and dry labs, a kitchen, workshop, and an area for holding live specimens that has a constant source of fresh seawater. There are two cottages that house researchers, and an equipment shed that houses the generator, dive equipment, compressor and showers. Electricity is provided by solar power and generator, so computers and other instruments can be used. It is occupied by a station manager, and when there are researchers on the island a cook is brought over from the mainland. The island that we do our research on; "Twin Cays" is approximately two miles from Carrie Bow, and directly behind it in this image, so it cannot be seen. The island you see to the right of Carrie Bow is Southwater Cay. There are three station boats available for use, along with an inflatable, which I used it to ferry my equipment across the reef lagoon so that I could take the images for this pano.

360 degree panorama Image of Smithsonian Carrie Bow Cay Field Research Station, Belize, Central America. This image was taken on the island

"Carrie Bow Cay Field Research Station, on the island"
The large green building in the opening screen, is the lab. Scrolling to the right are the two cottages for housing researchers, and the small building is the dive equipment shed, showers and the generator.

360 degree panorama Image of Smithsonian Hidden Lake on Twin Cays, Belize, Central America.

Hidden Lake, Twin Cays, Belize. This Lake is surrounded by a variety of mangrove species, with the predominant species being Rhizophora mangle, the "Red Mangrove" which is easily identified by their arching and branching prop roots. The white pvc pipes you see are part of an experiment monitoring growth and nutrient absorption, and delineate specific trees tagged for monitoring.

As you scroll around the pano, you will notice light circular objects just under the surface of the water. These are Jellyfish, Cassiopea frondosa the "upside down jelly", which abound in this pond. As you wade through the pond, it causes them to release pneumatocysts, which are the stinging organs of the jellyfish, and can cause a certain level of discomfort. But hey! A guy's gotta do what he gotta do.

360 degree panorama Image of Smithsonian Hidden Lake on Twin Cays, Belize, Central America.

If any of you are thinking of taking a nice Caribbean vacation, I can probably get you a "really" good rate at this camp.

This is one of several camps on Twin Cays, and which are unfortunately typical on many of the islands in the Caribbean. With total disregard for a beautiful environment, along with destruction of surrounding habitats, the occupants let insurmountable amounts of trash accumulate, which encourage pests and erosion of the islands.

Not the best QTVR, but considering that on this day and most of the others I had to contend with wind, rain, and lots of intermittent clouds, it came out better than I expected. Occasionally I had to resort to cubics, either because of the tight conditions, such as the image below, or because I needed to capture the image when there was a short opening in the clouds and not enough time to do a complete cylindrical.

cubic panorama image of inside a manrove forest

"A view Inside the canopy of a mangrove forest."

You can see why we have nicknamed our project "Tangled Roots." This is very typical of a Rhizophora mangle {Red Mangrove) fringe area forest. The roots create an almost impenetrable tangle that makes it difficult to navigate through, but is what provides the stabilization of the coast against erosion. Notice the debris scattered among the roots. These mangrove forests capture all kinds of floating debris that has intentionally or accidentally been put into the sea. The tides, wind, and storms drive the debris into the mangrove fringe, where it becomes trapped. Some very old gin and rum bottles have been found, which are highly prized, but mostly it is modern trash. Including styrofoam, all types of plastic items, such as bottles, toys, and medical waste. Light bulbs, and lots and lots of flip-flops, which curiously seem to be for the most part the left foot.

Image of a hermit crab, with link to a Quicktime Object Movie of the crab

The Soldier Crab (Coenobita clypeatus) a hermit crab. This little guy crawled across my foot as I was eating breakfast one morning, so I decided that he should have the opportunity to pose for me. I wasn't prepared to shoot object movies on this trip, but made do with a lazy susan from the kitchen, my rain jacket for a background, and a piece of wire and some tape from the lab to support him via an opening at the base of the shell. He was not harmed during the process, and was released immediately after the images were taken. Hermit crabs abound on Carrie Bow, and generally come out in the evening during dinner time, and crowd around the table, which is on the sand in front of the lab. Some of them get quite big, but this one was in a shell about an inch and a half long. It's fascinating to see the variety of shells they inhabit.

Twin Cays, Belize

This is a satellite image of Twin Cays. The white areas you see on the image are places where locals have cleared the forest and built camps or have entertained the idea of building resorts. Poor planning on their part, as the substrate of a mangrove forest is peat, and very unstable even though they have brought in sand and dirt to build up the land. If you walk across these areas, they are very spongy, and tend to erode in severe weather, so most of these efforts have been abandoned. Unfortunately they have caused permanent damage to the island.

The island is approximately 1.3Km long, and 1.1Km wide comprising about 74.7 Hectares. The nubby textured areas are Mangrove forests, and as you can see there are numerous ponds which play a great part in the nutritional cycle of the mangroves, as well as other organisms. There are approx. 44 species of birds of which many are migrants, several reptiles, including boa constrictors, crocodiles, and several types of lizards. Lots of different species of crabs. The water around the island hosts many species of fish, including sharks and barracuda. You may also see an occasional manatee or dolphin. It is the home of extremely varied and colorful reef creatures. Beautiful fish, sponges and tunicates are everywhere... a snorkeling paradise.

Satellite image of Twin Cays, Belize, C.A.
click to enlarge

To see more images and to get a virtual tour of the island, click on Virtual Tour, to open a new window, which you will need to close in order to return to this page. The tour requires Quicktime and Flash player to run, and a broadband connection, such as DSL, Cable or T1.

Tech Note:
All images with the exception of the satellite image were shot with a Nikon Coolpix 5000 and Kaidan Quickpan III panohead. Post processed with Photoshop CS, and LensDoc. The cylindrical and object movies created with VR Worx, and the Cubic with PanoWeaver and Cubic Converter.
Hope you enjoyed this QTVR tour
If you have questions or comments,
contact me: pxlpwr at verizon dot net
George L. Venable