By Rachel Murphy, Blue Ventures volunteer, Belize
Even at 4.30am as we walk through the village the air is hot and humid. An occasional startled dog starts barking enthusiastically in a bid to warn off intruders, breaking the otherwise silent morning. Belize in August.
One week spent in science training; learning and revising fish species and seeing how the science fits in with the local community has now led us to the eagerly awaited departure to dive camp. We leave today and rise early to pack the boat for the first run to Bachalar Chico. In the week leading up to this we have managed to see a lot of the work Blue Ventures does in the small village of Sarteneja. The village is in the top north east corner of Belize and the community is searching for alternative livelihoods. Previously they relied mostly on fishing for their income, however now, with declining fish stocks, they need to look elsewhere. The community has developed a tourism scheme for the village, based along sustainable development ideals. During our week in Sarteneja we were able to support this as Blue Ventures makes use of the ‘homestay’ network – a group of women who have guests stay in their houses for a sustainable source of income and to give visitors a truly Belizean experience.
We also spent a fun afternoon at the SACD (Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development) running a programme of activities for the local children, currently on school holidays. Through artwork, games, and question and answer sessions, we encouraged them to recognize the incredible biodiversity of Corozal Bay. This bay right on their doorstep is home to manatee, birds and marine wildlife, and has recently been discovered to be a nursery ground for Bull sharks. The bay holds significance for the whole Belize barrier reef in the populations of species it supports. We then looked at the various threats posed to each species and what could be done about it. We sent the children home with ‘park ranger’ badges. Much to my delight, my homestay ‘Mum’ told me her son had come home and announced he now had a job to do – protecting the bay!
We also slotted in a trip to Wildtracks – a manatee and monkey rescue centre. We were introduced to the soon to be released Twiggy, a manatee, who had come to the centre nearly two years previously as an orphan. She impressed us with her skill in emptying a baby bottle filled with milk in roughly 15 seconds.
All in all it was a thoroughly exhausting and satisfying week and we left Sarteneja full of anticipation for dive camp, itching to get in the water and to start spotting some of the fish we’d learnt.