by Marc Fruitema, Community Officer, Belize
As we squeezed ourselves under the narrow roof of a snack tent, sheltering from the fifth squall to disrupt the fair that day, our spirits and energy were not to be diminished thanks to Pandemonium’s bouncy steel pan rhythm in the background. Despite having been on our feet for 12 hours since leaving Sarteneja at 6am, volunteers and staff were all still beaming, eagerly soaking up as much of the lively Belizean ambiance while we waited for the bus to take us home.
There was a lot to be proud of, Reef Week 2015 was coming to an end but our involvement this year was bigger than ever. Though it might have felt overly ambitious at first, and demanded an incredible amount of coordination in the weeks leading up to it, we successfully collaborated on six different initiatives over the course of five days. Working with eight different organisations in Belize, we planned a high school field trip, educational reef-themed party, radio/TV appearances, sustainable seafood gala, and a booth at the Reef Fair – phew!
First item on the calendar was an overight field excursion with 18 students from the Sarteneja Baptist High School organised with partner MarAlliance. On the first day the students participated in MarAlliance’s Kids Meet Sharks programme, learning about sharks and rays and participating in critical data collection efforts in Hol Chan Marine Reserve. We then travelled to the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve where they learned about the purpose and value of protected areas as well as coral reef and mangrove ecology through short presentations and a snorkelling experience. As we had hoped, Blue Ventures’ good friend Terrence the hawksbill turtle was calmly swimming around, stirring up the excitement of students before coolly swimming off.
For our next big initiative, Oceana and Blue Ventures hosted a sustainable seafood gala, celebrating Belize’s efforts to support sustainably caught seafood. Targeting government representatives and the restaurateur community, the evening was meant to include Belize’s high society into the conversation and ongoing efforts to source and promote managed access conch and lobster as well as lionfish.
Our next programme was a family friendly Reef-themed party at the Blue Ventures office with educational booths and games by the Managed Access program, MarAlliance, Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD) and Wildtracks. Since Sarteneja lies pretty remote along the northern coastline of mainland Belize, most of the reef week activities were inaccessible to families from the village. To remedy this, we organised the Sarteneja Reef Party, complete with collaborative painting, conservation messaging, educational games and prizes, and appearances by the shark and lobster mascots of MarAlliance and the Managed Access program. As the largest fishing community in Belize, BV is fortunately well positioned to include Sarteneja families and fishermen in the discussion and reflection about the use and preservation of Belize’s marine resources.
Finally, the Belize City Reef Fair was our platform to provide deeper insight and knowledge into the major issues affecting tropical fisheries in Belize, and thereby, the livelihoods of coastal communities here. Outreach activities like the Reef Fair are invaluable opportunities to get people thinking critically, and engaging in a process of self-reflection whilst surrounded by their peers. In doing so, we hope to encourage visitors to interact amongst themselves in discussion, reflecting on the information we present and bringing some of that knowledge home to share within their own communities
As a single event, it is also a rare moment where NGOs drive a concerted message, using a streamlined series of events to advocate for the intrinsic value of the Mesoamerican reef, across every corner of Belize. Not driven apart by territoriality, competition for funding or the race to publish. This week is about everyone returning to our common goal of protecting and preserving Belize’s greatest and most valuable heritage. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Beautiful, diverse, rich with life, yet precariously fragile, and under threat.
This last week has been a fantastic encapsulation of all that Blue Ventures works towards here in Belize. Celebrating the value and importance of coastal resources, whilst emphasising the role that Belizeans play in the dynamic human-environment exchange. Instead of just highlighting Belize’s rich marine ecosystems and the many threats that jeopardise them, we place communities at the forefront of that dialogue. Emphasising their roles as resource users, but most importantly, as potential catalysts for sustainable change.
All this would have been very difficult without the assistance and input from our motivated group of volunteers. Coming from all over the world, the strengths of their diverse perspectives and knowledge were harnessed towards the development of enriching and educational games and activities. As well as providing unique mentorship and guidance to the students reached through our programmes.
Of course this would not have been possible without the support of Belize’s active marine conservation network. A very big Thank You to all our partners, supporters and funders who made these Reef Week programmes possible: Belize Tourism Board, Oceana Belize, SACD, Sarteneja Tour Guide Association (STGA), MarAlliance, and the Turneffe Atoll Trust
From Sarteneja: Superstore, El Mirador, Crabby E’s and the generous community of expatriates without whom our field trip would not have been possible.
Sustainable Seafood Gala and cocktail evening– organised by Oceana Belize. A BIG thank you to the sponsors; Moho Chocolate, Maya Mountain Cacao, Turneffe Atoll Trust, and Swirly Head Wine.
Reef Week 2015 Media appearances:
Thursday 12th March
Open Your Eyes interview with Jen Chapman & Mr. Isaias Majil (MPA Coordinator Belize Fisheries Department) – discussing the lionfish invasion, safe handling and reef week – starts @ 58 min https://vimeo.com/channels/78545/122028293
Friday 13th March
Grace & You cooking show featuring Matt the Travelling Chef preparing a lionfish coconut curry: https://vimeo.com/channels/78545/122156965, starts @ 14:57