Reef Guardians: Education and Outreach on Belize's coastal waters

Although it was a bit late to start, the rainy season is now here with a vengeance! I knew going into this internship that my community (Punta Gorda) was one of the rainiest, but I didn’t realize just how much rain that would entail! It rains POURS every evening, with amazing wind, lightning, and thunder storms here in Toledo. I love falling asleep to the sound of rain on the zinc roof. Sometimes the power goes out, but it usually returns within an hour or so. My bike rides to work now include dodging land crabs and puddles.

Lately at my internship I’ve spent a lot of time out on the water. I get to see a lot and the days fly by! I’ve visited Abalone Caye, Monkey River, Punta Negra, and West Snake Caye, all by boat. A caye is an island that develops off of a coral reef after enough sand builds up; cayes can be a few metres wide or large enough on which to build a whole town.

Abalone Caye is the site of the TIDE Ranger Station. The TIDE rangers are based here in the centre of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve for two weeks at a time. Along with the Belize Coast Guards, the rangers patrol the area and enforce fishing regulations. In their spare time, the rangers are working to stabilize the caye and protect it from erosion by creating a seawall made of wire cages filled with rocks.

When fisherfolk and conservation workers from the eastern Caribbean islands visited TIDE earlier this month, we took them to the villages of Monkey River and Punta Negra. Because Monkey River is difficult to access by road, and Punta Negra is only accessible by boat, these communities are very isolated. The purpose of visiting these villages was to speak with the fisherfolk and village chairs about their feelings towards the managed access fishing program that TIDE implemented in 2011. This program grants commercial access to the fishery only to traditional users, and regulates how they can fish in the area. 

One of my favourite spots to visit is West Snake Caye. We’ve been taking local primary school students there for field trips to celebrate the end of TIDE’s Reef Guardians Belize program. The goal of these trips (and the Reef Guardians Program) is to foster a greater appreciation and awareness of the value of the reef to the Belizean public. While the children involved in this program come from three schools in the coastal Punta Gorda area, many of them have never been out in a boat before. The kids had an amazing time out at the caye, playing with hermit crabs, swimming in the shallows, and participating in beachcombing scavenger hunts.

Now that the Reef Guardians Belize program is wrapping up, we’ve begun planning for the 2016 TIDE environmental summer camp. The 2016 summer camp theme is “Be the Change” and coincides with the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress theme of “Planet at the Crossroads”. The camp will take place mid-July in seven communities in the Toledo District. It will be a lot of work, and we have just begun to collect activities and plan lessons for it.

The personal highlight of my month so far has been snorkeling off of Caye Caulker. I boarded the sailboat for the day with some friends from the UK, and slathered on the sunscreen. Our first stop was Shark and Ray Alley, where we were instructed to jump right in with the nurse sharks and sting rays. It was amazing to be so close to them, and I was even able to touch the tail of one of the sharks. We moved on to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where we got our first taste of the coral reef and saw many different types of coral and tropical fish. The third stop was at a coral garden, where we swam around remarkable coral structures, which were home to many different creatures. Between the second and third stops, I encountered three sea turtles (two hawksbill sea turtles and a green sea turtle). I was able to swim along and admire them from quite a close distance. The trip ended with some fresh shrimp ceviche and a great tan!

I’m looking forward to spending the Canada Day weekend in Caye Caulker with most of the other Canadian QES Students that are working and researching in Belize! That weekend also coincides with the Caye Caulker Lobster Fest -- mmm.

Haley Robinson, Geography, VIU