Welcome back to a conservation blog series on Belize! I recently returned from spending 10 days in the diverse Central American country as part of a Master’s program through Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Here I will be highlighting some of the conservation projects going on throughout the country in hopes to connect our Houston community with the global conservation community.
Luckily for me (an aquatic species at heart) our class involved learning all about the diverse marine ecology of coral reefs. Belize has the largest barrier reef system in the western hemisphere (only 2ndin the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). We traveled by small boats from Dangriga (a city on the east coast of Belize) to Tobacco Caye; a tiny island (which you can circle in 5-minutes) with only about 20 permanent residents.
Several days were spent in the water using a variety of field methods to survey fish diversity and abundance, coral diversity, overall health of the reefs, fish identification, and the list goes on and on! This may sound glamorous -but don’t underestimate the work that marine biologists must do. I could not foresee the amount of physical and mental effort needed to conduct these studies-just try communicating data with a group as you’re bobbing up and down in the ocean with very fragile coral beneath you, and a variety of marine life circling your feet! Thank goodness for special whiteboards and pencils which allow you to record information in the water.
If all that time in the water wasn’t enough, we even had the opportunity to venture out at night to observe the nocturnal creatures of the sea. If you ever get the chance to do this-I highly recommend it. The first thing we observed after entering the water was an octopus, then eels, puffer fish, stonefish and lots rays!
One of the highlights of being involved in this Master’s program is getting to feel like a kid again. Most people would say they would neverwant to return to school, but when your job involves being the teacher or leader of a group, it feels great to let go of control and be a student again! Participating in the field activities (night snorkeling, inquiry-based outdoor experiments, manatee tracking, etc.) reinvigorated the feeling that most of us wildlife-loving people had when we were kids playing outside.
As a conservation educator, it is my job to make sure the future generations of my community experience this same feeling-exploring the wonderful world outside of our cement walls so that we may all care a little bit more about our natural world, and try to save it.
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