by Jon Slayer (written in February before the first Blue Ventures expedition)
Belize has been a fantastic experience so far, JJ and I arrived mid-December and have been working non-stop to get an experience worthy of Blue Ventures ready for volunteers. In Sarteneja we have found a welcoming community to add to BV’s locations worldwide. The majority of the village families rely on fishing for their livelihood and there is an interesting culture that has grown around these industrious fisherfolk. Lobster and conch fishing dominate their trade which is carried out from wooden fishing boats. These boats are built and repaired by carpenters in the village who craft them in their backyards. The villagers are warm and friendly to outsiders and we have made many friends already, even though there is sometimes a little difficulty communicating. The official language of Belize is English but this village is dominated by Spanish. Fortunately for all of us our boat Captain, Hilmar Salazar, is fluent in English and is a great tutor in his native Spanish. We have just hired him, so our staff team for expeditions is now complete! Nick, our field scientist, and Al, our dive instructor, arrived from the UK this last week and have rapidly acclimatized to the ‘winter’ weather in the tropics. For all in the Northern Hemisphere, migrate south and join us, we have been amused by the pictures of snow and ice, particularly in the last few afternoons which have been quite warm and humid.
In a break at the end of the day we have had a bit of a knock around with a football in an empty plot next to the Blue Ventures House. Within a few minutes we have several kids from the neighbourhood join us and get a great game going. The kids and schools seem receptive to conservation messages and the local conservation organization, Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD) has already opened an education branch run by a chap called Abisai. We look forward to tying in with their efforts to help with environmental education and English lessons for all the youngsters who are already showing an interest in our presence. SACD have some great staff, whom will be helping us in other areas. Joel is the principal employee of SACD and he is instrumental in coordinating all of our monitoring, research and community work around Sarteneja and the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the bay area out to the front of Sarteneja. It is a haven for a wealth of marine life.
Just a few weeks ago I was fortunate to go for a boat patrol around the Corozal Bay to the west of Sarteneja. We motored with a pod of 15 dolphins along the way and disturbed Manatee wallowing in a submerged hot spring. The coastline was unbroken mangrove forest with a couple of islands separated from the shore providing a haven for a wealth of birds including frigates and giant herons. This wilderness experience is complimented inland by the Shipstern Nature Reserve. The manager for this area, Heron, has gone out of his way to help Blue Ventures and is keen to provide us with conservation work and adventures inland. The reserve encompasses shallow mangrove lagoons, mangrove forests, savannah and jungle. The main road out of Sarteneja passes by this protected area and we’ve heard several stories of jaguar, peccary and antelope sightings. Should make for interesting jungle walks and patrols with the rangers…
Another place that offers a great experience is Wildtracks. This environmental organization is run by Paul and Zoe from their house on the edge of a mangrove lagoon beside the Shipstern Nature Reserve. The walk to their home is along a 2 mile track through the jungle so keep your eyes open for wildlife. When there the lagoon offers the opportunity to see lots of small puffer fish and larger stingrays and best of all, a juvenile Manatee. Christened Twiggy for her finicky eating habits, this little manatee was stranded several miles away from Belize City and transported here for rehabilitation. She is a cutey. Wildtracks may need extra hands to help if any other distressed manatees in need of rehab are found along the Belize coast. We may be called upon to help. From the experience of helping with Twiggy this will be a great opportunity for us.
So that is a brief glimpse of our life and connections so far in Sarteneja. We’re thoroughly enjoying ourselves out here and look forward to sharing the experience with volunteers soon!