There is a palpable feeling of excitement as a group of students, clothed in bright life jackets, snorkels and masks, leap from their boat into the crystal blue water of the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve in northern Belize. They grab transect tapes and slates before swimming off to a nearby patch of corals to survey the colourful fish life under the watchful eyes of their teachers and Blue Ventures scientific staff.
These young researchers are in the final year of their Natural Resource Management course at the Centro Escolar Mexico Junior College (CEMJC) and have come to the marine reserve on a field trip in collaboration with Blue Ventures and with the assistance of the Belize Fisheries Department.
These field trips enable the students to gain invaluable first-hand experience of marine fieldwork whilst exploring their country’s beautiful coral reefs.
For the last five years Blue Ventures has provided technical support to the course, focusing on research design and delivery, and this relationship represents a key part of our commitment to scientific outreach and education in Belize. Furthermore these field trips enable the students to gain invaluable first-hand experience of marine fieldwork whilst exploring their country’s beautiful coral reefs. Our Community Programme Coordinator Cecilia Guerrero leads Blue Ventures’ contribution to the programme, with the Science Coordinator, Field Scientists and Community Officers also sharing their expertise with the students both in the classroom and in the field.
Upon their arrival in the marine reserve, the students were accommodated in San Juan Fisheries Field Station before being introduced to the fish belt survey methodology that they will carry out in the marine reserve. This includes a crash course in fish species identification, enabling the students to recognise the groupers, parrotfish, surgeonfish and snappers which they will be recording to answer questions on herbivorous and commercial fish abundance in different zones of the reserve.
Now ready to collect some data, the students excitedly piled into the boat. The excitement continued to grow as the boat made its way through the verdantly green mangrove channels to ‘Barracuda Patch’ and ‘Saraweh Patch’, the two survey sites on the reef in front of Blue Ventures’ base at Bacalar Chico Dive Camp.
As well as the diverse fish life seen during their surveys, the group were treated to some bonus wildlife encounters!
Having leapt into the water, the students swim in pairs, unreeling their transect tapes whilst scanning the reef intently for their target fish species. As well as the diverse fish life seen during their surveys, the group were treated to some bonus wildlife encounters! Several bottlenose dolphins were seen swimming past the boat, and two southern stingrays were discovered lurking in the sand as the students snorkeled past.
Once the surveys were completed the group were taken to dive camp and given a tour of the facilities by Expedition Leader Hugo Castillo, providing everyone with an insight into what life is like on a scientific expedition in such a remote location. There was also time for a question and answer session with our diving and scientific staff, who introduced the students to Blue Ventures’ work in Belize and shared tips on how to take initial steps into marine conservation work.
We are confident that the experience of the field trip will help to inspire budding young scientists at CEMJC to pursue a career which engages with Belize’s stunning marine environment, whether through scientific research, SCUBA diving, tour guiding, working for environmental NGOs or through other avenues.
We are confident that the experience of the field trip will help to inspire budding young scientists.
Blue Ventures actively works to provide Belizeans with such opportunities through our capacity building strategy, which includes training individuals to join our senior staff, hiring community outreach officers in our Belizean hometown of Sartenaja or providing administrative support and market avenues to Belioness lionfish jewellery group.
As the students prepare to leave our dive camp and return home, we firmly hope that we will see some of them return in the future to continue their involvement with Blue Ventures.