Tobacco Caye is a tiny 4 acre island located directly on the Belize Barrier Reef. The word “caye” in Mayan means sand accumulation on the reef and that is exactly how Tobacco Caye was formed.

Tobacco Caye is located roughly 14 miles off of the coast of Dangriga which is the culture capital of Belize, home to a large Garifuna population. Due to the location of Tobacco Caye, many different weather forecasts on sites such as Windy and Windguru use weather stations on larger cayes which could be a distance away from Tobacco Caye. This is turn means that weather forecasts can be inaccurate and unreliable, whereas the Atlas weather station is set up on the island, making weather predictions more relevant to Tobacco Caye. The Atlas weather station reports on the weather that is happening right now, meaning we never have to guess wind speed or humidity as it is all reported on the digital display.

Tobacco Caye Marine Station sought to find a solution to generating a local weather forecast for Tobacco Caye which is how Acurite and Tobacco Caye Marine Station partnered. Acurite supplied Tobacco Caye with an Atlas 7 in 1 Weather Station with lightening tracker mod, touch screen display and Access unit to upload our data online.

With the Atlas 7 in 1 weather station we can we actually monitor:

  • Indoor and Outdoor temperature
  • Humidity
  • Wind Speed
  • Wind Direction
  • UV Index and light Intensity
  • Pressure trends
  • Rainfall
  • Lightening strikes and proximity

Installing the Acurite Weather Station

Installation was easy and simple and required no tools which is beneficial here on Tobacco Caye as specialised help has to be arranged in advance and incurs large costs with arranging the water taxi.

Why is monitoring different weather parameters beneficial for Tobacco Caye and the Marine Station?

With global climate change impacting local weather patterns it is increasingly vital to monitor changes in the weather. The approximately 30 residents on Tobacco Caye rely solely on rainwater harvesting for all of their freshwater usage. Therefore, by knowing rainfall patterns on Tobacco Caye the local lodges and residents on Tobacco Caye can understand rainfall patterns and whether or investing in desalination plants is a requirement if we end up experiencing less or more sporadic rainfall patterns.

Wind speed and direction is highly significant to monitor as these parameters impact our decision on where to run boat excursions with our study abroad student groups around the South Water Caye Marine Reserve and out to Glovers Reef. Furthermore, when the wind direction switches to originating from the West this means poor water clarity on the leeward side of the reef. Wind speeds of 15 mph or more mean the open Caribbean sea between the Belize Barrier Reef and Glovers Reef Atoll is too rough to travel.

Being located right on top of the Belize Barrier Reef we always warn students of the high UV index and now with the touch screen display we can accurately display the UV index and the risks associated. With the Atlas weather station installed we are consistently seeing high to extreme levels of UV Index. This evidence allows us to emphasize the use of UV rash guards for students during snorkel excursions and the need to wear sunscreen and specifically a reef safe sunscreen free from chemicals such as Oxybenzone and Parabens.

Tobacco Caye Marine Station is promoting gardening on Tobacco Caye, whilst also trying to encourage other lodges on the island to compost and also become more sustainable by cultivating their own gardens.
Relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air relative to the maximum amount of water vapor that the air can hold at a certain temperature. Relative humidity levels affect when and how plants open the stomata on the undersides of their leaves. Plants use stomata to transpire, or “breathe.” When the weather is warm, a plant may close its stomata to reduce water losses. The stomata also act as a cooling mechanism. When ambient conditions are too warm for a plant and it closes its stomata for too long in an effort to conserve water, it has no way to move carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules, slowly causing the plant to suffocate on water vapor and its own transpired gases.

As plants transpire, the humidity around saturates leaves with water vapor. When relative humidity levels are too high or there is a lack of air circulation, a plant cannot make water evaporate (part of the transpiration process) or draw nutrients from the soil. When this occurs for a prolonged period, a plant eventually rots. When surrounded by warm temperatures in low relative humidity levels, transpiration rates in a plant increase, reducing the need for a grower to fertilize it.

Using the Atlas weather station we are able to track humidity and therefore have located our garden in a 50% shade/sun spot with good air circulation to curtail the affects of humidity arising from our location. By monitoring barometric pressure we are able to help local fishermen improve their catch rates as the Atlas weather station is able to predict weather patterns and pressure trends. When it is a nice sunny day with higher pressure, the fish will not bite because that higher pressure nauseates them. So, on what would seem a horrible day to fish, rainy and cooler, the fish are quite hungry, especially after a high-pressure system moves out.

Tobacco Caye Marine Station is now able to share this pressure data with local fisherman which in turn will have a positive impact on their livelihoods:

  • High Pressure (30.50 +/Clear Skies) – Fish bite Medium to Slow in deeper water or near cover while fishing slowly.
  • Medium Pressure (29.70 – 30.40/Fair Weather) – Normal Fishing using different gear or baits to meet the needs of the fish.
  • Low Pressure (29.60 and under/Cloudy/Rainy Weather) – Fishing Slows. Go at them slow in deeper water or near cover.
  • Rising Pressure/Improving Weather – The fish are slightly active. Go at them slow in deeper water or near cover.
  • Stable Pressure/Fair Weather – Normal Fishing. This is the perfect to try different gear or baits.
  • Falling Pressure/Degrading Weather – Best Fishing. The fish are likely to take anything they can get!

Finally, the additional modification of lightening detection on our Atlas Weather Station is hugely important as Tobacco Caye Marine Station is a study abroad education and research center, where all of our work happens in the water on the Belize Barrier Reef. The risk of lightening strikes when in the water is a high issue of safety that we haven’t been able to accurately determine, until now! With the lightening detection mod we are able to determine the frequency and proximity of lightening strikes, therefore impacting our decision on running in-water excursions especially during night snorkels.

Overall, we are extremely happy with our local weather monitoring station from Acurite and we look forward to using their Access system to upload our weather data to Acurite’s weather app where anyone around the world can tune into the local weather at Tobacco Caye.