By Jodi Burley, Blue Ventures Belize Volunteer. I arrived in Belize early January via Belize International Airport, flying via Miami all the way from Australia. The view of vast blue oceans below from the airplane window awaits….
From Belize City, I hopped on the blue bus to Sarteneja, and arrived late afternoon at the Blue Ventures house. In Sarteneja, I met all the friendly Blue Ventures staff and some locals, including a family that I would be living with as part of a Homestay programme. My Homestay family were of Belizean and Honduran background, they told me many stories about the history of Sarteneja and the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. The locals also explained the community issues of low employment opportunities and poor health services that they wished to improve. In the first week of the expedition, I studied some of the fish and coral species of Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve under the direction of Blue Ventures scientists. We also visited the local school and helped the children with their reading skills.
Then off to Bacalar Chico, we arrived at the camp with all our supplies and equipment for the trip. I spent the first week learning how to scuba dive in the shallow waters of the sea, much more interesting than a local chlorine swimming pool, complete with sightings of the Great barracuda. Then off to open waters where I dived at a monitoring site outside the reef, filled with an array of plentiful reef fish, I was so amazed at the colours and variety of fish, the experience was somewhat surreal. Some of my favourite fish spotted included the web burr fish, blue head wrasse, red-lip blenny, Nassau grouper, eagle ray, queen trigger fish and the midnight parrotfish. Over the next week, I completed my Advanced Open Water scuba certification, which was both challenging and rewarding.
Now that I was certified to dive, I began fish point-outs with Blue Ventures staff and later on was able to take part in fish surveys at the monitoring sites. Blue Ventures also started to conduct surveys for bird species in Bacalar Chico for habitat areas in mangroves, shorelines, and lagoon areas. The bird surveys were a personal favourite activity for me, and I was thrilled to see birds such as the roseate spoonbill, cinnamon hummingbird, little blue heron, and the anhinga. I also took part in seagrass surveys with the Belize Fisheries Department where I helped set up transects and record data and enjoyed spending time with fisheries staff, learning about the history of fishing and the conservation initiatives that fisheries and Blue Ventures have introduced. I was impressed at the Blue Ventures and Fisheries Departments close working relationship for both environmental monitoring and regulations enforcement.
One of my favourite nature encounters was while on a bird survey one morning, we spotted five beautiful manatees swimming amongst the mangroves in a channel, an elated feeling of joy stayed with me for the rest of the day.