by Genna Handley, BV volunteer, Belize
Arranging a conservation trip
At the start of 2012, I took some unpaid leave so I could do some travelling. I have been working in a Day Centre for homeless people for the last 5 years and have found it becoming increasingly challenging and no longer rewarding. I have wanted to become more involved with conservation work for a number of years but have found the transition from my current role into conservation work quite difficult!
I had previously travelled around Guatemala and was keen to improve my Spanish skills so explored a number of possibilities within Central America. I had qualified as a diver approximately 2 years ago and was keen to get some more diving experience. Belize seemed like the perfect destination! I managed to secure myself a place on an internship in the south of Belize but unfortunately, a few weeks after booking my flights, I was informed that because I didn’t have a Degree or Masters in Science that the NGO hadn’t accepted me onto their project so I frantically searched for an alternative.
I emailed a number of other NGOs within Belize to find a suitable replacement and seemed to face the same problem on a number of occasions. Although challenging, contacting NGOs in Belize lead me to come across an organisation called Blue Ventures. The information on their website looked really promising and I spoke to the volunteer co-ordinator, Kate Guy, and secured my place on the expedition starting in the middle of August. There were no entry requirements for this expedition but Blue Ventures encouraged me to do some reading and learn some fish families prior to arrival. I got to work studying and made a number of flash cards of the various fish families and their defining features. I then spent a few weeks teaching and boring my friends with information about fish before I left for Belize!
Arriving in Belize
After arriving in Belize City, I travelled for 4 hours on bus to get to a village in the north, called Sarteneja, which is where the Blue Ventures office is based. On the afternoon I arrived, Blue Ventures were hosting afternoon tea for the Sarteneja Homestay Program. The Sarteneja Homestay Program was set up by local families to provide another reliable source of income in an area predominantly reliant on the fishing industry. Families take on volunteers or other guests and provide them with a room in their house and all of their meals. This creates an extra source of income and reduces their dependency on the declining fish stocks.
Each Blue Ventures expedition runs for a 6 week period. For weeks 1 and 6 all volunteers are based in Sarteneja and for weeks 2-5, the staff and volunteers are based at Bacalar Chico Dive Camp (BCDC). This is a small camp based on Ambergris Caye near to Rocky Point that is surrounded by dense jungle so it is largely inaccessible. It takes approximately 1 hour to reach by boat from Sarteneja or San Pedro. The main route to and from Bacalar Chico Dive Camplso goes through a channel through the local mangrove platforms which was created by the Maya centuries ago and was thought to be quite a major trade route.
Read part 2 of Genna’s blog next week.
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