Today, the guests on board National Geographic Quest woke up to flat calm seas, sunny skies and a gentle breeze. A short distance away from the ship, Laughingbird Caye looked like the idyllic island in paradise. This island got it its name from the laughing gulls who nested on the rocky beaches many years ago. The beach, a transition zone between land and sea, quickly became a launching area for snorkelers, kayakers and those who wanted to try out the stand-up paddleboards. As the human activity calmed down, a school of two-inch-long silversides in the shallows just off the beach, attracted bar jacks and brown pelicans hunting for a meal. A small flock of about a dozen ruddy turnstones checked the beach carefully for hidden surprises and overhead, a pair of ospreys called to each other from the highest palm fronds of the coconut trees. Ghost crabs and hermit crabs dragging their shells left behind interesting patterns on the white sand beach.
Further out to sea, on the patch reefs, a cleaning station is open for business and the two juvenile porkfish on duty seemed to be overwhelmed as a blue tang, red-band parrotfish, and a large blue-striped grunt all lined up, impatiently awaiting their turn to get groomed. In the crystal-clear waters above the reef, seven great barracuda hovered stealthily in a loose school and hundreds of horse-eye jacks moved quickly through. Among the large boulder corals damselfish dart out, chasing the algae-feeders such as blue tangs, doctorfish and grazing stoplight parrotfish away from their algae gardens. Throughout the reef, healthy clusters of staghorn and elkhorn corals were seen and were a favourite hiding place for the tiny juvenile yellowtail damselfish. With its iridescent blue dots on dark blue background, this is certainly one of the most striking fish seen by the snorkelers. The abundance and variety of soft corals swaying gently certainly makes coral gardens some of the most beautiful of all gardens.
As the sun moved closer to the western horizon, cool refreshing rum punch served up by our friendly bartender were a most welcome and tasty addition to a perfect day in Belize.