The reflection of the early morning sun sparkled on the surface of the turquoise Caribbean Sea as it gently rose from the east. The sea was so calm it almost seemed as though we were floating on a mirror. Only 500m south of our position we watched a seagull effortlessly gliding over the deep blue tint of Belize’s iconic Blue Hole. Gearing up for our first dive of the day, I couldn’t help but look back and appreciate the journey that brought me here.

Although it looks less impressive from the sea than from the air, Belize’s iconic Blue Hole is an absolutely beautiful dive!

My goal in life is to contribute to the important work other marine biologists are doing towards the conservation and protection of  the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Five years ago, I had finished my bachelors degree in Marine Biology in Mexico and was set on pursuing my passion for marine conservation. However, my field work skills were weak and needed more development. So, with a job working as a field biologist at Punta Allen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, I got my first experience in working with fishing communities doing data collection and analysis of the lobster fishery in the area. This offered me many wonderful experiences to develop my skills that I ultimately wanted to apply in my home country of Belize.

My goal in life is to contribute to the important work other marine biologists are doing towards the conservation and protection of  the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, so once I got back home I actively pursued every opportunity to volunteer and work with different organisations. Slowly but surely I was taking important steps towards my professional development.

Tyrell representing Blue Ventures at the Reef Week Fair in Sarteneja (2016)

This is what brought me to Blue Ventures. With my interest and skills in coral reef conservation, data collection and analysis, I first joined Blue Ventures as a Research Assistant in February 2016. I initially started working on a joint project between Blue Ventures and Colorado State University conducting fisher interviews to understand the growing lionfish fishery and the challenges fishermen face. Although my true interest lies in marine biology, Blue Ventures’ approach is multi-disciplinary and I recognised the potential to learn and develop from the integrated social nature of this work.

After a while as a Research Assistant, my responsibilities shifted to supporting the operational and research objectives of the volunteer expeditions. This new role was designed to accommodate more personal science and dive training, and I’ve now reached Dive Master level. This has not only been a fantastic professional opportunity for me, but also a chance to lead as an example for other Belizean youth with similar interests, hopefully inspiring the next generation of marine conservationists. I’m proud to say that since 2017 I’ve been a full time member of the Expeditions Team in the unique role of Science Coordinator.

Blue Ventures was recently offered a spot in an Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) survey training in Akumal, Quintana Roo, organised by the Healthy Reef Initiative, and I was asked to attend on behalf of Blue Ventures. Of the 12 other invited participants, four were Belizeans; community researchers or staff members from other NGOs around the country, and it was a true pleasure to meet and train with others that share my passion in marine conservation. This training was a very exciting opportunity, as not only did it contribute to my personal skills and further my professional development, but it also ensures that Blue Ventures remains involved in important national and international coral reef assessments and conservation efforts in the region.

 The AGRRA surveys are used to evaluate coral reef health and the management effectiveness of marine protected areas in the Gulf region, and in the past Blue Ventures has assisted with AGRRA surveys done around the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system. Having more staff with AGRRA training allows us to better support national monitoring efforts and the work of our partner organisations.

The course consisted of 2 days of theory on coral reef conservation and 4 days of practicing survey methods for benthic organisms and fish. I focused on the AGRRA benthic survey since I was already familiar with the point intercept transect technique as part of the MBRS-SP surveys that are carried out by our volunteers at Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.

My professional skills have greatly improved over these past months, and through integrating social science and marine biology I have been able to play a part in building a much more complete vision of the reef that I care so much about.

After the completion of the course I was one of the few AGRRA trained personnel in Belize to be contacted to participate in a national and international data collection for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Health Report Card 2016. To this end, I surveyed many sites alongside other AGRRA trained personnel and Healthy Reef Initiative’s Belize Country Coordinator, Roberto Pott.  This included many incredible dives and, most memorable amongst them, the chance to experience the beauty of the great blue hole for myself!

This is all thanks to the generosity of Blue Ventures for investing time and resources in a young Belizean, for valuing professional development and for opening many marine conservation doors in Belize. I’m so proud of my accomplishments and of working for an important contributor to coral reef conservation in my country. I look forward to continue to learn, grow and develop even more over the coming months and years.

Posted by Tyrell Reyes

Tyrell is the Science Coordinator for Blue Ventures' Expedition Team in Belize. His favourite marine creature is the beautiful midnight parrotfish!

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