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Members of the St. Thomas Aquinas H.S. Marine Biology Club were guided on the trip of a lifetime by Ms. Aimee Lowe, and Mr. John Laakso. The team of students included Sean Annan, Michael Erenbaum, McKenzie Forde, Charlotte Grampa, Emma Kavanaugh, Mia Martone, Chloe Morrison, Tony Reres, Giavonna Sheridan, Ana Troncoso, Grant Walsh, Finnia Wamboldt, Samantha Weick, Tye Wellnitz, and Sam Whitaker. Jennifer was our RIMS instructor and ARK hostess with the mostess, and David and Edwin were our fantastic dive guides. Our mission was to embark on the first Green Edventures Roatan Marine Biology Student Trip with an activity filled itinerary which included multiple educational classes, incredible daily dives and snorkeling boat trips, swimming with dolphins, exploring local towns, interacting with monkeys, sloths, and iguanas, dancing under the stars, and ziplining through the Roatan jungle. Mission accomplished!

This trip report is written from the perspective of the students.

 

• DAY 1 •
Travel to Roatan, Honduras from Miami


We arrived at the airport bright and early in our obnoxiously green “Ban the Bottle” shirts. After bidding our parents a “reluctant” farewell, all of our bags got checked, and Ms. Lowe managed to convince the flight counter attendant into letting us check the 4 huge suitcases full of school supplies for SOL for free. Feeling an awful lot like a group of ducklings, we finally got through TSA and found our gate and immediately scattered to grab all the Dunkin’ Doughnuts and Starbucks we could find.

It was a short 2-hour flight, and we quickly arrived in Roatan.

Clearing customs with the help of our official trip translator Ana, we walked a long and gruesome 15 ft to the exit of the building while a kind worker helped Ms. Lowe with her bags. A short bus ride later, we checked into Anthony’s Key and got our room assignments. After running across the wooden platforms through the jungle like a bunch of monkeys, some of us decided to take the paddle boards to Bailey’s Key and get our first taste of the Roatan ocean.

Our after-dinner orientation slideshow was given by our RIMS instructor, Jennifer.

 

• DAY 2 •
Easter in Roatan! Easter Egg Hunt & Our First Dives/ Snorkels

Our first morning on our Roatan Marine Biology Student Trip began as we all miraculously managed to move our gear on time and scramble down to breakfast. Since it was Easter Sunday, before we ate our food, we had a small prayer service performed by the honorary ‘Father’ Laakso, FYI, every day breakfast included a full menu of options, and then we had a choice between 2 entrees for lunch and 2 entrees for dinner, plus a choice between the soup or salad of the day as well as a yummy dessert.

We had a little time before our first dive, and we were all dreading the class Ms. Lowe had told us to expect, since we were anxious to get in the water instead of the classroom. Imagine our surprise when in reality it was an Easter Egg Hunt! The hunt consisted of 60 “Eco Eggs” that Ms. Lowe and Mr. Laakso had filled with candy and cash; the money having been donated by the parents. Sean ended up finding the prized $20 bill, but it was Tye who found the most money ($28).

Shortly after, we were on our way westward on a bus to get to the boat that would take us to Five Star Point, our assigned diving spot on the other side of the island. Normally, we would have hopped on the boat right in front of the classroom, but the seas were a bit rough today, so we were bused to the other side of the island which was calmer. Jennifer predicted that it would calm down in time for our afternoon dive, and she was in fact correct in her assumption, so this was to be the only time we had to take a bus to get to our assigned dive boat, the Miss Cheryl.

We continued our adventure at our next dive site, Mary’s Place, where we went through a cool coral valley and saw many little fishies.

We then took a bus and made our way back to the resort to put our dive gear away and eat a late lunch.

After our bellies were full, Emma and I went paddle boarding with Tony, Tye, Sean, Sam, and McKenzie.

We got out of the ocean and went to the pool where Tye immediately tackled Emma into the water. While we were all playing in the pool, it started pouring rain. Although we were already wet, we thought it would be a good idea to get out of the water and take cover at the pool bar. After sharing several virgin strawberry daiquiris, everyone rushed back to the main island from the key completely soaked.

Having adequately dried off, we all made our way to our Coral ID lecture. After an hour of learning about the different species of corals, we all went to our rooms and then ran to dinner, because it had started raining again. Grant thought his windbreaker was a raincoat and ended up drenched underneath.

Fifteen minutes after dinner, we went back down to the classroom with Ms. Lowe to learn 21 different fish. After Fish ID, we all collapsed into the hammocks on the boys’ patio, a brief period of relaxation quickly followed by multiple violent pillow fights.

 

• DAY 3 •
Dives/ Snorkeling, Fish ID


Today we woke up at 6:30am in order to be at breakfast at 7:00. Unlike the other meals, breakfast was a full menu so we all got different things, which resulted in a lot of stealing and sharing. After breakfast, we loaded the boat with our gear and were well taken care of by our fantastic dive masters David and Edwin. Props to them for setting up and breaking down EVERYONE’S gear for EVERY dive – we were absolutely spoiled with our scuba gear preparation. Once we had taken care of our gear, we were off to the first lecture of the day. This particular one was on invertebrates which were plentiful along Roatan’s reefs, and we talked a lot about the native black ball sponges and the long and stiff barrel sponges that we would likely see on our dives that day.

Post lecture, we ventured to our first dive site of the day, Sea Quest. It was full of massive rocky ridges, sand grooves, and a wall drop off from 50ft to about 80-90ft. We were able to see some unique biodiversity in action with a ton of reef species including Tiger Grouper, Cubera Snapper, a plethora of parrotfish and wrasses, and multiple turtles.

After lunch, we ran to our rooms to get what we needed to get back in the water and headed down to the boat for round 2 of diving, which involved a quick 5-minute boat ride to a spot called Blue Channel.

After the dive, we met back in the classroom for the first of 2 dolphin presentations to prepare us for our dolphin swim the next morning. We learned about how dolphins are not to be trusted due to their immense intellect, but how they comply to get tummy rubs.

Afterwards, we went to dinner which consisted of a choice between jerk chicken or a pork chop with apple sauce that I personally thought was uncomfortably warm, but Grant thought it tasted like apple pie and commented that “next time I want a full soup bowl of it”. After dinner, we spent some more time in the classroom again with Ms. Lowe in order to learn another 20 reef fish.

 

• DAY 4 •
Dolphin Swim, Snorkel at Man-Of-War Key, Reef Dive, & Night Snorkel

A few of us woke up and made our way to the key to go on a quick kayak trip before breakfast. Afterwards we had breakfast, which was quickly followed by our second dolphin class from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM. As soon as the class ended, we all made our way to Bailey’s Key where we were scheduled to meet a dolphin one-on-one and then swim with most of the pod. We met Tank, a 3-year-old dolphin, and his mother Bailey, who was thirteen years old. We separated into two groups, and the dolphins performed tricks, eager to show off for their trainers, and us. We got to take pictures, touch the dolphins, and learn about their anatomy and behavior.

After the small session in our two groups, we joined together to snorkel with the dolphins. Sean ended up kicking a dolphin in the eye. Although this was completely by accident, the dolphin spent the rest of the swim discreetly trying to bite his fins off. We continued to interact with the dolphins by playing with small patches of seagrass and swimming with them.

After our incredible dolphin encounter, we made our way back to our gear to find one of the island cats, the sweet calico one, on Tye’s bag, preventing him from getting to his towel and drying off. We rushed over to the mainland and made our way to the boat to head out for today’s dive.

We made our way back to the hotel for lunch. Afterwards, we headed to Man O’ War Key. All of us snorkeled for about 45 minutes and then spent a few minutes just chilling out. There was a bit of excitement when David called out: “Hey, anyone want to see an octopus?” We all rushed back out to get a glimpse of the deep crimson octopus (the first one of the trip!) The octopus had firmly wrapped itself around a bunch of coral and was reluctant to move, despite Ms. Lowe’s prodding.

We then headed to Anthony’s Key. After the turtle class everyone was more than glad to get a little more free time before dinner. Sam, Sean, Grant, Finnia, Emma, Tye, and Tony visited the dolphins at Bailey’s Key while Gia played with Spoingus, the cat. A dolphin waved at Tony, and Sean supposedly threw a rock further than Sam. We took pictures on the steps before heading back. All in all, a fantastic time on our Roatan Marine Biology Student Trip.

While the rest of us were eating dinner, Mr. Laakso, Mia, and Charlotte went on a night snorkel and saw a bunch of squirrel fish, 4 octopuses, a crab with a conch shell the size of a dinner plate, a moray eel, and many other cool marine animals.

 

• DAY 5 •
Coral Restoration Dive, Island Tour with Cleve, and Anthony’s Key Fiesta Night!

The day began with Grant casually throwing all the laws of time to the wind and declaring a “tank top Tuesday” on a Wednesday. To be fair, it was an exceptional tank top.

Breakfast quickly segued into our first (and only) class of the day with Jennifer, who was excited to tell us all about coral restoration. She spent some time explaining the differences between the hard and soft bristle brushes, the plague of fire coral on the trees during Covid, and the importance of fragmentation when it comes to coral restoration. Before we knew it, we were at the site and excited to get in the water. The snorkelers took a brief look at the artificial forest of elkhorn and staghorn coral fragments and then left the divers to their underwater character building. Char, Mia, and Mr. Laakso were taken to a snorkeling site nearby and got to see a TON of balloon pufferfish.

Once the coral trees were spotless, the divers came up and we headed back for the next round of planned activities.

We rushed through lunch, anxious to get down to the buses where our tour guide, Cleve, was waiting. He introduced himself as Cleve – “like Cleveland, but without the land.” In an instant, Ms. Lowe became Cleve’s sister, and all of us his family. His intelligent, but slightly less animated, wife Jessica ended up with Ana, Sean, and Mr. Laakso, while the rest of us eagerly piled into Cleve’s bus. And so began one of the best days on the trip.

Our first stop was the iguana farm a ways away, giving him ample time to relate crucial island facts as fast as his mouth could move. Cleve was like a divemaster for the island of Roatan; instead of pointing out fish and various natural formations, he expertly picked out political, socioeconomic, and cultural signs as we crossed mountains and diverse neighborhoods. He told us about the five distinct cultures on the island, who were able to coexist without any of the strife and conflict that existed on the mainland. “Roatan is an island without racism,” he proudly boasted several times. We got a short break from the lessons when we finally reached the iguana farm! Each of us got to feed our own tiny cult of iguanas and watch them flock to the outstretched branches. Sam managed to buy the loudest shirt in all of existence and drop his sunglasses into the tarpon pool all within 20 minutes! After Mr. Laakso slipped in a quick photoshoot (he was the most photogenic one on the trip, let’s be honest), we were back on the bus with Cleve and on to the most important part of the entire trip: sloths!

The wonderful guys at the animal sanctuary had us imitate trees in order to make the sloths more comfortable, and soon we were able to hold them. Mia fulfilled her lifelong dream and can now die happy. Right after the sloths, were the Capuchin monkeys (all named after the Jersey Shore gang.) Sam, Grant, Tye, and Sean all became best friends with “Mike”, who the workers there referred to as ‘little brother’ and enjoyed riling him up. Mike enjoyed jumping from head-to-head and frequently stealing Ms. Lowe’s hair ties. Once we moved on from them, came the Macaw encounters with beautifully colored birds (although Gia seemed a little hesitant around them), and everyone got some fantastic photos.

Once back on the bus, Cleve continued to excitedly tell us all about the island, specifically Little Venice, an area we were going to visit on a boat tour with one of his close friends. Unfortunately, that leg of the trip did not go as smoothly as expected… Although the town on stilts was indeed beautiful, and the mangrove maze used by natives to escape the fierce pirates was full of mysterious beauty… Michael managed not only to drop himself, but also his phone, straight into the water, much to the chagrin of Mr. Laakso and their boat guide. Although the resort told us that this happens all the time, and that the boat men may even be able to search for it tomorrow, his phone was never recovered. Fortunately, this was the only casualty of our trip. Cleve’s friend returned us to the buses (relatively) unscathed, and we all enjoyed a rather spiritual trip back to the resort with Cleve.

He and his wife were generous enough to buy us pastelitos and starfruit juice from a friend’s restaurant. I’m not kidding when I tell you this was probably the best food we had eaten on the entire trip and, even though Ms. Lowe warned us, we all ruined our appetites for the upcoming barbecue. As the sun set and we all dozed on the bus, Cleve began to tell us his life story. It was one of mistakes, forgiveness, and, ultimately, the happiness that can be found in the simplicity of things. He told us about his near-death experience after scorning his parent’s kindness and going to work for a major cruise line. He told us of how he spoke to God and learned, from firsthand experience, about how “hate begets hate and love begets love”. He explained how the kindness of strangers allowed him to begin Cleve’s Tours and Adventures, and that no matter what, we should learn to appreciate what we have, rather than what we don’t. I can safely say that Cleve will live forever in each of our hearts and live on in memory long after the sun tans from this trip have faded.

Back at the resort, we quickly raced down to the Key where the fiesta was going on! We got to eat excellent food (though no one was hungry after eating with Cleve) and watch beautiful tribal dancers mimic their ancestors just mere feet in front of us. Ana, Mia, Sean, and Gia were foolish enough to volunteer and help the dancers, although Ms. Lowe and Mr. Laakso definitely put them to shame with their dancing. We watched crabs race, Mia and Ana dragged Tye up to dance, and nobody stopped moving for even a minute. The night ran late, everyone was hot, sweaty, and so far beyond happy. It was one of the most eventful, and most joy-filled, days of the trip.

 


If you are interested in taking you students on our Roatan Marine Biology Student Trip, click the link to view the details from our past trip.


 

• DAY 6 •
Maya Key, Dolphin Training Session, & Night Dive

Maybe, just maybe, we partied a little too hard at the fiesta. Who can blame us, we’re only young once. Either way, today started too early. Breakfast, at 6:30 was an absolute struggle to get through, but we all made it in one piece miraculously.

Today was our dive at West End Wall; which actually turned out to be an awesome wall dive where we spotted a few sea turtles. Eager to rinse off the saltwater following the dives, we took a team shower. For lunch we had burgers and immediately knocked out in room 1. After an hour, I woke up Char and Finn, and we paddled to the reefs until it was time to meet up with everyone at Bailey’s Key to learn how to train dolphins. Apparently, dolphins, like people, sometimes choose to do what they want, since they get bored.

At this point in the day, it was time for a quick snack and to get right back on the boat for our big night dive. Night dives are very weird. All of the fish swim in a trance and every shrimp/crab/lobster has reflective eyes you can see from far away… always watching. We managed to see three different octopuses and saw a ton of brittle and basket stars. The scariest part of the dive were the bloodworms that swarm you if you hold the light in one place for too long. When we surfaced, we were in awe of the first cloudless night and the expanse of stars above us. It was absolutely incredible as we ended the night by stargazing on the docks.

 

• DAY 7 •
Wreck Dive, REEF Fish Survey, visit to SOL, & Zip Lining Adventure

We kicked off our last full day on our Roatan Marine Biology Student Trip with an early breakfast and a wreck dive. It was a bittersweet moment as the mounting excitement of what would for many of us be our first wreck dive, intertwined with the melancholy recognition that this would also be our last dive in Roatan.

As we loaded onto the boat and started suiting up, our dive masters briefed us on what to expect. The spot we would be visiting is known as the Deep Eel Garden, and at this site lay the wreck of El Aguila. Resting on the sandy bottom at a depth of 115 feet, the El Aguila, or “The Eagle,” is a massive freighter ship that sunk in the 1990’s. Under the guidance of divemaster David, we would be keeping to a max depth of 70 feet, first exploring the upper portion of the wreck, and then heading up to shallower waters in order to conduct our REEF surveys.

After a brief 5-minute boat trip, we were in the water and on our way down to El Aguila. We slowly made our descent, and in no time, the ship loomed into sight. The wreck towered over the bottom, broken into three vast sections. Beginning at the bow and making our way down the starboard side, we observed the fish and invertebrates that have made their home in this sunken ship. Coral jutted out of the jagged framework, covered in algae and concealing Green Morays, Gray Angelfish, and a handful of other marine creatures.

After we had explored the wreck, we began our ascent up the wall of the reef. Once we made it back into shallower waters, the reef was teeming with life, and we began collecting data for our REEF survey. Although we had all given Ms. Lowe a hard time for holding us hostage in the classroom and forcing us to learn how to identify the 60 most common reef fish against our will, it most certainly paid off when it came time to record the fish. Holding tight to our tiny pencils and little yellow clipboards of underwater paper, we surveyed the reef and tallied up the fish we observed. Schools of Surgeonfish were prevalent, with Blue Tangs and Ocean Surgeonfish being particularly abundant. A great school of Sergeant Major Damselfish lingered around us as we traversed the reef, examining every nook and cranny and marking down each species of fish we came across.

All too soon, David was signaling for us to head to the surface and conclude our final dive in Roatan. Though it was a tough goodbye bidding farewell to the stunning underwater world, we still had a long day ahead of us, packed with adventure.

After the dive, we rinsed off and headed to SOL, which was just a 5-minute walk down the road. We finally got to deliver the supplies we had spent weeks collecting, and seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces as they got to enjoy the art materials, games, books, and school supplies was priceless. We spent the next hour or so getting absolutely demolished by some eight-year-olds in soccer, as well as drawing in chalk, playing volleyball and tag, and giving piggy back rides to the kids. Grant and Sam were much adored for giving multiple piggyback rides and spent a half an hour running around with children on their backs like show ponies. It was reeeeeeeeeallllyyyyyyy hot out, and our tolerance to Florida heat was no match for the humidity of Roatan.

After a shower, we were jumping on a bus and beginning our trek up to the top of the island for our ziplining adventure. At the peak altitude of the island, the view of the pristine blue water glistening over the lush foliage looked like a perfect postcard, and I had to pinch myself just to be certain I wasn’t dreaming. Once we arrived, we got strapped into the harnesses and briefed on how to not die. We would be going down 11 courses, with the highest one being 200 feet in the air.

At one point, we were offered the opportunity to go ziplining upside down, and almost all of us jumped at the chance. Ms. Lowe made a point to constantly remind us how much she prefers diving to heights, saying she “would rather go down than be high” (or something to that effect).

Back at Anthony’s Key, we split up, with some heading to the gift shop, some getting their dive logs stamped, others taking a hard-earned hammock nap, and the rest of the gang paddle boarding, during which Grant and Mackenzie caught a lobster. At dusk, we all took the ferry over to Bailey’s Key to watch the sunset. When we arrived at the key, the dolphins heard our impeccable music taste and all rushed over to party with us. (Obviously because they love us, not just because they thought we had fish for them.) They all clicked and jumped and splashed alongside us as we crossed the long wooden dock to the key. On the west side, we played with the island cats and watched the sun go down over the water.

After stuffing our faces with steak, we returned to the rooms to shower. We spent the last night in Roatan with Ms. Lowe at the boys’ patio. Being “DA QUEEN” that she is, she provided us with materials to make bracelets, which included a plethora of ocean themed charms ranging from tiny seashells and wooden beads, to glass fish and dolphins. After making a point to tell us “DON’T SPILL THE BEADS” a casual 20 times, in true Ms. Lowe fashion, it was she who in fact spilled the beads all over the patio.

Right before bed, some of us went down to the dock for one last trip to gaze at the magnificent starry night.

 

• DAY 8 •
Dolphin and Roatan Goodbyes & Flight Back to Miami

Grant and I (Tony) had the fun idea to go paddle boarding one last time. We took the boat over to the key, and I suggested that we paddle over to Bailey’s Key and say goodbye to the dolphins. I then grabbed a kayak, while Grant grabbed a paddle board, and we began the strenuous paddle towards Bailey’s Key. As I approached Bailey’s Key, several of the dolphins swam up to the net closest to me (probably because I’m their favorite) and swarmed like moths to a flame. I made my call to my favorite dolphin, the beautiful Bailey. Of course, Bailey heard my heart song and greeted me at the net, and we said our goodbyes.

Grant and I made our way back to the key and took the ferry boat back across to our room. After breakfast, we headed to the classroom to take a few family photos and retrieve our notebooks.

Fast forward an hour, and everyone makes it down to the bus on time. The bus ride was fairly short.

At the airport, we completed the normal, boring airport tasks. The food we ate at the airport prior to boarding was delicious Ms. Lowe managed to herd all of us onto the correct flight, which was smooth and went by fast, and before we knew it we were home. Sadly, The End.

 

FAVORITE TRIP MEMORIES:

Sean Annan – My favorite part of the trip was making a bunch of new friends!

Michael Erenbaum – My favorite memory was reaching over the “canoe” to grab a piece of plastic trash from the water and then falling overboard and losing my phone in the mangrove muck.

McKenzie Forde – My favorite trip memory was playing with the monkeys and listening to Cleve’s story.

Charlotte Grampa – Watching everyone shout over each other during group meals and exploring the almost-deserted island at Maya’s Key.

Emma Kavanaugh – My favorite memories of the trip were the dolphin swim and the communal showers.

Mia Martone – Relaxing with everyone each night on the hammocks and finally meeting a sloth!

Chloe Morrison – My favorite trip memories were swimming with the sea turtles and the island fiesta night.

Tony Reres – My favorite personal memory of the trip was Cleve’s story for sure, and my favorite activity was the dolphin swim, because we were able to be face to face with the dolphins and play with them underwater.

Gia Sheridan – My favorite thing about the trip was getting to hang out with all my friends and spend time paddle boarding and just talking in the hammocks.

Ana Troncoso – I loved meeting and training the dolphins and everyone hanging out on the boys’ patio by the hammocks just talking or playing games.

Grant Walsh – My favorite trip memory was of the night Gia and I went out to the docks and saw several eagle rays swimming at the surface. Bats started coming out and swooping down to the water, and giant moths and tarpon came out at night as well. My favorite activity was visiting Maya Key. At Maya Key, I sprinted up the walls of the temple vertically like Spiderman.

Finnia Wamboldt –My favorite personal memory was going to the key to watch the sunset and chilling in the hammocks on the boys’ patio.

Tye Wellnitz – My favorite trip memories were swimming with the dolphins and taking naps in the hammocks on the boys’ patio.

Sam Whitaker – My favorite trip memory was wall diving and stargazing on the bow of the boat after our night dive.

Ms. Lowe – My favorite trip memory was watching everyone become more and more comfortable diving and snorkeling throughout the week and seeing them take on the night dive/ snorkel, shark dive, and deep wreck dive without freaking out. I also loved how all the students bonded so well and had so much fun together.

 


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