2019 Field Season Wrap Up

We are wrapping up another incredibly rewarding year of hosting field courses at the BFREE Field Station. 2019 brought seven colleges and universities from the US and one from Belize. Altogether, just over 100 students and 20 instructors spent between 4-10 nights at BFREE. They could be found immersing themselves in the jungle hiking both day and night, working on independent research projects,  learning about the critically endangered hicatee turtle, tasting cacao fresh off the pod, swimming in the river, snacking on johnny cakes, and searching for the elusive Harpy eagle. 

Most field courses require students to work on independent research projects in order to receive an introduction to environmental field methods through hands-on learning. Students gain a basic understanding of field methods necessary to discuss and research various environmental issues. Some will come prepared with a question in mind before they arrive at BFREE, however, for many once they arrive with one sweeping view of the jungle, the possibilities of research are endless. Below are just a few examples of the independent research projects students worked on this year. 

  • 1. Are howler monkeys most active at dusk or at dawn?
  • 2. Does the height of the tree determine the size of its buttress?
  • 3. Will the trees near the river or a waterbody grow taller than the ones that are not near a waterbody?
  • 4. Will a foreign liquid throw the leafcutter ants off their trail?
  • 5. Does the higher density of insects/food source in an area coincide with a higher density of birds in that area?

A special thanks to each of our instructors that make our Faculty-Led Field Courses a success. We look forward to having you back next time! 

2019 BFREE Field Course Group Photos

The University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, N.C.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, MA

Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia

Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL 

Flagler College, St Augustine, FL

Independence Junior College, Independence, Belize

Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska

PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS

We would love to see the photos you took during your time in Belize. Please share them via social media on             Instagram @bfreebz or by email to contact@bfreebz.org. 

Birds, Chocolate, Forests, and Allegheny College

Allegheny College students pose for a photo at BFREE during the Birds, Chocolate, Forest Field Course in May 2019. 

Written By, Beth Choate, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Environmental Science and Sustainability
Allegheny College

BFREE’s Birds, Chocolate and Forests course provided students with a real life example of the complexities of conservation within the rainforests of southern Belize. Through interactive demonstrations and presentations, field research and experiments, day-excursions, conversations with all members of the BFREE team, and exploring the surrounding environment, students developed an understanding of the relationships not only between birds, chocolate, and forests, but people as well. The complicated web of relationships that exists among efforts to conserve biodiversity and livelihoods is something we speak often about in our Environmental Science and Sustainability courses at Allegheny College. In our introductory course for the major, we make it clear to students that you will not find the solutions to environmental problems in a book. Each problem is unique and requires individuals who can critically examine the issue to devise a unique and thoughtful solution. The 2-week experience with our BFREE guides was a perfect compliment to this concept. In a country where people rely on the natural resources of the surrounding forests to provide them with medicines, food, and fertile land for agriculture, it quickly became clear that you couldn’t simply tell people to stop using the forest. BFREE  provides a unique solution: conserve the forest and grow a cash crop within the understory in an effort to conserve birds and other organisms, as well as livelihood. Jacob spoke with us about ongoing efforts to ensure that methods of cacao agro-forestry were fully understood so that local farmers could create successful farms and provide for their families demonstrating that BFREE is thinking about the sustainability of their program. The complexities of conservation also became apparent when learning about the Hicatee turtle, talking with Ernesto about traditional Mayan culture, and spending time on the coast in Placencia. This course was the perfect compliment to what we are saying in the classroom:
solving environmental problems is complicated.

Students from Allegheny College spend time in the BFREE cacao nursery. The group received hands-on experience in what it takes to make chocolate, from seed – to bean – to bar!

In order to solve those complicated problems, one must be curious, flexible, and have excellent communication and intercultural skills. Many of our students had minimal experience traveling outside of the US and very few had been submerged in a culture different to their own. When students are outside of their comfort zone, they are forced to adapt and push their own limits. It is through experiencing this unknown, whether it be using compost toilets, learning to fall asleep to the sound of howler monkeys, or discovering just how difficult harvesting cacao in the jungle can be, students were forced to overcome new challenges. After reading their final journal entries, many of our students surprised themselves. They learned that they are capable of much more than they ever thought possible. Through conversations with the BFREE staff and local Belizeans we met during the trip, worldviews were expanded and communication skills improved. For many students, this was the highlight of the trip, getting to know individuals with completely different life experiences than themselves. From an educational perspective, this is impossible to teach in a classroom or while simply touring around. BFREE provided an excellent experience for students to be completely submerged in the Belize culture, all while learning in a completely new environment.

A pile of roasted cocoa beans lay on the table. These beans have a thin, papery shell around them which needs to be removed. The students are cracking the beans open and the shell is removed in a process called winnowing. The lighter shells are blown away with fans, leaving behind pieces of pure cocoa bean, known as “nibs”.

Can Chocolate Save the Rainforest?

cacao podCan chocolate save the rainforest? BFREE has been exploring this question for many years, beginning when our certified organic shade-grown cacao demonstration farm was planted in 2006. Since then we have worked diligently to provide educational opportunities and support for those interested in learning more about the benefits of shade-grown cacao. We have offered workshops and training programs for local farmers which have provided Belizeans with the tools necessary to grow sustainable and successful crops. BFREE along with students of UNC Wilmington have co-produced ‘The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook.‘  This handbook is a resource manual for anyone interested in growing cacao in Belize.

Due to its high value and its success as an understory crop, cacao is proven to be a great alternative to other forms of agriculture in the tropics which generally require clearing of tropical rainforests and heavy input of agrochemicals.  Therefore, we have been promoting shade-grown cacao as a method for restoring the forest canopy and to help improve the lives of local farmers by offering higher income and healthier working environments, while also maintaining and expanding rainforests, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. Growing chocolate is a win-win; it’s good for the environment and can improve farmers’ livelihoods.

cacao agroforest

Pedro Rash and Elmer Tzalam manage BFREE’s cacao agroforest.

 

Cacao Pod photo credit: Graham Byers

BFREE Fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

BFREE volunteer, Lisa Ramsden shares informational materials with guests as they arrive. More photos from the event can be found on Flickr here!

On February 4th, BFREE hosted a social and fundraiser at Levine Music in Washington D.C. The event was attended by over 120 supporters interested in hearing about chocolate’s connection to rainforest conservation. 

The event marked the launch of a new campaign to raise capital for the Cacao Discovery Center, The CDC will be a centralized multipurpose educational facility dedicated to enhancing the learning environment at BFREE and promoting cacao-based agroforestry as a strategy to conserve and restore tropical rainforests in Belize. Once complete, the solar-powered facility will serve the many types of visitors that come to BFREE including students, researchers, farmers, conservation practitioners, and the public in general.

During the event, guests indulged their taste buds with BFREE’s finest hand-crafted chocolate made in Florida from cacao beans grown at the field station in Belize. The chocolate was presented in tasting squares, as whole roasted beans, as nibs and as a fondue from a chocolate fountain. Fresh fruit, as well as a variety of hors d’oeuvres were offered to guests. In classic, Willy Wonka style, gold-foil wrapped chocolate bars and hearts were available for Valentine’s gifts. The nights’ specialty cocktail; a ‘Belizean Rum Old Fashioned’ was created with homemade infused bitters using BFREE cacao nibs and Belizean One Barrel Rum.

A silent auction included food and handcrafted items all originating in Belize and including Marie Sharp’s hot sauces, beautiful wildlife and forest paintings, Maya hand-crafts, lovely hardwood bowls, and, of course, a variety of cacao products like nibs, cocoa powder, and soap.

Executive Director, Jacob Marlin shared some of BFREE’s history and described the growth of both the organization and field station over the past 22 years. He highlighted stories of the many projects BFREE has implemented, and focused on how growing cacao (chocolate) trees under the rainforest canopy is an important strategy for restoring and conserving tropical rainforests in Belize.

If you would like to support BFREE in our efforts to build the Cacao Discovery Center please consider making a a donation here: Donate now to support the Cacao Discover Center! 

If you have any questions, please contact us by email at: contact@bfreebz.org

More Photos of the event in Washington, D.C. are on Flickr here! 

Special thanks to Levine Music for providing the perfect event location and excellent staff support.  

Also, thanks to the artisans who created wonderful works of art just for this occasion: Grayson Sierra, Greta Leslie, Avelina Choc and Mr. Tyrone. We are grateful to event volunteers who donated their time and expertise: Kelly Sanville, Katie Bates, Lisa Ramsden, Shaman Marlin, Sofia Marlin, Hyla Marlin, Tierra Maclean, B. Trewin and Donato Alvarez.

Finally, thanks to David and Jackie Marlin without whom this event could not have been possible.

The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook

500 copies of the handbook are now available in Belize

500 copies were produced in the first handbook printing.

The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook is now complete and available in Belize. A joint effort between BFREE and UNC Wilmington’s Department of Environmental Studies with significant input from experts at the Cocoa Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, the handbook describes the benefits of sustainable agriculture for humans, wildlife and forests.

The 70-page manual is filled with illustrations and simple descriptions intended to guide farmers through the basics of land preparation, nursery management, planting, maintenance, harvest and post-harvest. The ‘Resource,’ section of the Handbook includes checklists, management schedules, and cultivation records, to help farmers track their farm activity and keep on schedule throughout the year. The hope is that this new handbook will provide a comprehensive resource for cacao farmers whether just starting out or experienced, and help promote organic cacao-based agroforestry practices as an alternative to traditional agriculture that often required clearing of rainforest and intensive agro-chemical inputs.

Five hundred handbooks were produced during the initial printing and will be made available to farmers in the Toledo District through farmer cooperatives, during meetings and workshops, in farm supply stores in Punta Gorda, at this year’s Chocolate Festival of Belize, and at the BFREE field station. In late January, the first books were distributed to BFREE staff who will share them with their village leaders and community members.

Partial funding for the Belize Cacao-based Agroforestry and Restoration Project (BCARP) is provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, on behalf of the Nyanza Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council – comprised of the Service, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

BFREE staff with Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook

BFREE Staff members pose with their copies of The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook in January 2017 at the BFREE Field Station.      Standing from Left to Right – Carmelita Shol|San Felipe Village; Patron Coc|San Marcos Village; Apolonio Pop| Santa Cruz; Jacob Marlin| BFREE; Pedro Rash| Indian Creek.    Seated from Left to Right – Thomas Pop|Golden Stream Village, Thomas Chub|Indian Creek; Elmer Tzalam|Golden Stream Village; and Cesario Pop|Silver Creek.

 

Agami Heron Study at BFREE

Agami Heron at the Agami Lagoon - Photo by Rick Hudson

Agami Heron at the Agami Lagoon in September 2015 – Photo by Rick Hudson

During 2016, BFREE began gathering data on Agami Herons and their nesting site on the edge of BFREE’s property, the Agami Lagoon. Students, staff and other visitors have helped with the project by recording their observations and specifically by counting pairs and nests. Because Agamis are only at the lagoon during their nesting season – from approximately late May through the end of each year, many visitors were only able to document the birds’ absence. However, because there is also a healthy population of Boat-billed herons year-round, we have begun documenting their numbers as well.

Juvenile Anhingas in a nest near 9 nests of Agami Herons in September 2016

The Agami Lagoon is rich with wildlife. Three fledgling Anhingas were seen on a nest very close to the Agami Herons in September 2016.

9 nests with adult Agami Herons were identified in September 2016. 5 fledglings and 4 eggs were also observed.

Nine nests with adult Agami Herons were observed throughout September 2016. Five fledglings and four eggs have been confirmed in the nests.

BFREE began this research after learning of the newly formed Agami Heron Conservation Working Group in late 2015 from Dr. Emily McKinnon, a bird biologist who completed her PhD research at BFREE. At that time, the working group had no documentation of nesting sites in Belize and they were eager for us to being collecting information that would help better their understanding of how many colonies exist.  Heather Barrett is currently representing BFREE and reporting findings to the Working Group. We anticipate that the study will continue to develop in coming years.

The Agami Heron (Agamia agami) is a medium sized heron with stunning plumage. This reclusive bird is sometimes known as the chestnut-bellied heron, due to the color of its neck and underparts.


Information from the Agami Heron Conservation Working Group on the current conservation status:

The Agami Heron is considered to be Vulnerable by Birdlife International / IUCN Red List because the population is expected to decline rapidly over the next three generations due to loss of its habitat (as predicted by a model of Amazonian deforestation) and possibly also due to hunting (BirdLife International, 2012). Unfortunately, in fact, nearly nothing is known about population size or trend. However there can be no doubt that habitat destruction is its greatest threat, and that of the Amazon one of particular importance as it covers so much of its overall range. There is no information that suggests that the overall population is large, despite its large overall range. Perhaps more importantly, it is now documented to be a congregatory species, apparently dependent on few large colony sites scattered over its large range. This clearly makes it vulnerable to disturbances at those sites as well as to loss of feeding habitat associated with colonies and in the nonbreeding season. Evidence suggests that in some places (Peru) egg collecting affects local populations. Only a few colony sites now are known, and it is likely that its dependence on relatively few nesting sites, any of which may be subject to habitat loss, makes it vulnerable.

Click here to read the full Agami Heron Conservation Plan.

 

 

First Sighting of Harpy Eagle at BFREE!

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September 9, 2016. At approximately 11:30 am, Tom Pop, Manager of the HCRC at BFREE, was doing routine work at the turtle ponds when he heard a bird call above him. Because of his training as an avian technician and his work with the BFREE bird project, Tom immediately recognized the call as that of a Harpy eagle. He quickly looked up toward the sound and identified the bird perched above him in a tall tree overlooking the ponds.

During the next several hours, Tom, and BFREE staff members Amarta (Maya) Choc and Sipriano Canti observed and photographed the large raptor. Eventually, it flew from its perch and moved through the cacao agroforest toward the BFREE kitchen where it was observed for about an hour before disappearing farther into the forest. Analysis of the pictures taken shows that the bird is a sub-adult, likely about 1.5 years old, providing evidence that the small population in the Maya Mountains is continuing to grow.

The presence of the Harpy Eagle at BFREE is big news in Belize.

The Harpy eagle is the largest bird of prey in the Americas but habitat loss and hunting have eliminated the raptor throughout most of its range across Mexico and Central America. Harpy Eagles are classified as extremely rare and endangered in Belize. Back in 2000 they were thought to be extirpated from the area, but were rediscovered in 2005 by BFREE and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington researchers.

BFREE staff  have reported a drastic increase in wildlife around the BFREE reserve recently, including large cats like pumas and jaguars, and other wildlife like peccaries and tapirs. As settlement in surrounding villages has increased, and forested areas near BFREE have decreased due to agricultural expansion, the BFREE preserve continues to play a vital role as a sanctuary for wildlife in southern Belize.

If you live in a community near BFREE and you spot a bird that might be a Harpy eagle, please call call or text Liberato Pop at 665-3788. Please be prepared to tell us where you saw the bird, what it was doing and at what time of day. Please do not try to scare or harm the bird.

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For more info on Harpy eagle research at BFREE:

First Record of a Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) Nest in Belize

Author(s): James A. Rotenberg, Jacob A. Marlin, Liberato Pop, and William Garcia
Source: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(2):292-297. 2012.
Published By: The Wilson Ornithological Society

Integrated Community-based Harpy Eagle and Avian Conservation Program

Between 2006 and 2014, BFREE and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington established and implemented an intensive Harpy Eagle and avian monitoring program onsite in the BFREE private reserve and in the Bladen Nature Reserve.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX5TXeGwMqo

“Wings of Hope,” is a 20 minute documentary chronicling the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize

Finalist in Wildlife Vaasa Film Festival

BFREE’s documentary film, “Wings of Hope,” was selected as a finalist in Finland’s Wildlife Vaasa – International Nature Film Festival. Created by Emmy-award winning filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster of Wildlife Film Productions, and produced by Carol Foster and Jacob Marlin of BFREE, the film is about the re-discovery of wild Harpy Eagles in Belize.  “Wings of Hope,” is being considered for a Special Award in the category of “Best Ethnographic Film (Man & Nature)” and will be judged against 15 other finalists from countries including Ghana, Nepal, Russia, Serbia, Peru, Italy, India, Estonia and the USA.

"Wings of Hope," a documentary film on Harpy Eagles in Belize, will be included in the Wildlife Vaasa Film Festival in Finland later this year.

“Wings of Hope,” a documentary film about the re-discovery of wild Harpy Eagles in Belize, will be included in the Wildlife Vaasa Film Festival in Finland later this year. Photograph by Kai Reed.

This year, Vaasa Wildlife Festival  received a total of 922 submissions from 83 countries, which was a  new record for the festival. From that original submission, 218 films from 54 countries were selected to be shown in the festival and to compete for awards. Submissions come from film companies, TV companies, production companies, independent producers, filmmakers, festivals, TV- broadcasters and journalists, as well as from newcomers and established professionals.

About Wildlife Vaasa International Nature Film Festival

Wildlife Vaasa International Nature film festival is located on the West Coast of Finland, and has been held in the city of Vaasa every second year, since 2002. Since its conception, it has grown in stature receiving commendation from participants, delegates, media and the public world-wide. The upcoming 8th biennial edition of the festival will take place from September 28 to October 2, 2016. The competition aims to raise public awareness , as well as to participate in a global dialogue about Nature and The Environment. Therefore, only Nature and Science documentaries related to Nature and produced after 2013 were accepted in the competition. The festival’s special themes in 2016 are ENERGY & GLOBAL WARMING. Wildlife Vaasa Festival is the only film festival of its kind in Scandinavia.

About “Wings of Hope”

In 2015, BFREE released, “Wings of Hope, a film chronicling the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize. The film details the history of the BFREE and UNC Wilmington initiative born from this discovery – the Integrated Community-based Harpy Eagle and Avian Conservation Program.  This 20-minute documentary is rich with breathtaking footage of adult and juvenile Harpy Eagles and other wildlife and vistas found in the pristine tropical forests of the Bladen Nature Reserve. Over the seven year duration of the project, the Fosters followed project trainees William Garcia, Liberato Pop, Alejandro Cholum and Thomas Pop as they work to learn about and ultimately save this rare bird and its diminishing habitat.

“The story captures the essence of BFREE’s mission. I think of it as a model for integrating science, education and conservation.” Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE.

In August and September 2015, the film was shown in schools and community centers throughout the Toledo District of Belize in order to raise awareness of the significance of continuing to protect wilderness areas like the Bladen Nature Reserve and the greater Maya Mountains. Over 1,100 people were reached during those events.

Liberato Pop and William Garcia pose with students at Julian Cho High School after a film showing in 2015

Liberato Pop (center) and William Garcia (right) pose with students at Julian Cho Technical High School after a film showing

Liberato Pop of Bladen Village was one of the project trainees and is featured throughout the film. In recent years, he has worked all over Belize doing bird research using expertise gained from his years of experience as an avian technician for the project. Mr. Pop, along with Mr. William Garcia of Trio Village, represented BFREE and answered questions about their work during film showings in 2015.

Mr. Pop says of the film, “As an Avian Technician at BFREE, I am very excited about the Harpy Eagle film and the work we have done. I think that many students and parents were interested to learn about the value of what we have in our protected areas.”

Project trainees include: Abidas Ash, Alejandro Cholum, Alan Romero, Frank Perez, Henry Perez, Liberato Pop, Macario Coy, Marlyn Cruz, Pedro Pop, Roni Florian, Sipriano Canti, Thomas Pop, William Garcia, and Wilfred Mutrie

“Wings of Hope” premiere in Gainesville, Florida

In US for BFREE’s home town of Gainesville, Florida our documentary “Wings of Hope” was shown at the 7th annual Cinema Verde International Film Festival. The festival showcased over 30 films from around the world with a goal “to increase public awareness about environmental practices that enhance public health and that improve the quality of life for all.” The Festival also served as a forum for community organizations, businesses, and citizens to discuss ways to work together to create a sustainable culture.

Juvenile harpy eagle - Photo by Kai Reed

Juvenile harpy eagle – Photo by Kai Reed

“Wings of Hope,” is a 20-minute documentary that chronicles the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize. The documentary showcases the history of the BFREE and University of North Carolina, Wilmington initiative born from this discovery – the Integrated Community-based Harpy Eagle and Avian Conservation Program. Created by Emmy-award winning filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster of Wildlife Film Productions, and narrated by Jacob Marlin, this film is rich with breath-taking footage of adult and juvenile Harpy eagles and other wildlife and vistas found in the pristine tropical forests of the Bladen Nature Reserve. Over the seven year duration of the project, the Fosters followed project trainees William Garcia, Liberato Pop, Alejandro Cholum and Thomas Pop as they work to learn about and ultimately protect this rare bird and its diminishing habitat.

BFREE was honored to have “Wings of Hope” shown as part of the Cinema Verde International Film Festival at the Hippodrome State Theater. Following the film, BFREE Director Jacob Marlin along with members of the Alachua Audubon Society answered questions from viewers about harpy eagles, migratory birds and how we can all work together to best protect them.


Haven’t seen “Wings of Hope”? Watch it here.

 

Student Spotlight

BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville, Interviews UNC Wilmington Graduate Student, James Abbott

Tyler: Hi James, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
James: I’m James Abbott, originally from Yorktown, VA but I have been in Wilmington, NC since 2008. I am a second year graduate student in the Environmental Studies Department at UNCW concentrating in Environmental Education. My undergraduate background from UNCW is in Conservation Biology and Wildlife, specifically birds. I would like to use my research into the conservation of threatened habitats and species as a means to educate and connect people to our environment, our role in that environment, and the positive impact we can have on our environment.

Tapir photographed in the Bladen River by James Abbott

Baird’s Tapir photographed in the Bladen River by James Abbott

Tyler: How did you find out about BFREE and when did you visit?
James: I began volunteering with Dr. Rotenberg’s painted bunting banding program in 2010 as an undergraduate and learned of his work with harpy eagle in Belize. In 2011, I had the chance to visit Belize with Dr. Rotenberg for the first time, though not BFREE. I heard a lot about BFREE that trip from both Dr. Rotenberg and Judy Dourson (Director of Educational Programs at BFREE from 2007-2012)  and told myself that if I got the chance I would try to come back to Belize to visit BFREE.

I graduated and worked as a threatened and endangered species biologist on a Marine Corps base near Wilmington, Camp Lejeune. I left that job to pursue graduate school and it just so happened that Dr. Rotenberg was running his Belize spring break class, the very same I had gone on back in 2011, and this time the class was traveling to BFREE. I couldn’t pass it up. I don’t think Dr. Rotenberg would have let me miss it anyway! That visit to BFREE was for a week in March 2015. The more recent expedition to search for the harpy eagle was over the New Year’s holiday for ten days.

Tyler: What did you do while you were at the BFREE field station?
James: This most recent trip to BFREE was an expedition into the Bladen Nature Reserve up to the harpy eagle nest to see if the birds were nesting or were in the area. We spent one night at BFREE then hiked up into the reserve and spent five days up near the nest. A team of people containing researchers, rangers, harpy experts, BFREE Avian Technicians William Garcia and Gato Pop, and finally BFREE Director Jacob Marlin made the all-day hike up the Bladen River. We did not find the harpy eagles on the nest so we spent the remaining days looking for the birds in nearby areas and from observation points on ridge lines. We returned to BFREE and conducted an unofficial Christmas Bird Count on the BFREE property.

James Abbott traveled with Dr. Jamie Rotenberg on an expedition in search of the Harpy eagle

James Abbott traveled with Dr. Jamie Rotenberg on a January expedition in search of the harpy eagle

Tyler: Do you have a favorite moment from your trip?
James: My favorite moments at BFREE are mornings camping by the river crossing in a hammock and listening to the river and the rainforest wake up; it is a surreal and immersive experience. My favorite activity at BFREE is climbing up to the top of the observation tower to see the 360 degree view of the canopy, the mountains, and the all of the birds and monkeys around you – all at eye level.

Tyler: Is there anything that you miss since leaving the BFREE field station?
James: I think the two things I miss the most about BFREE are the camaraderie between the visiting groups and the staff at the station. Everyone is very welcoming and it creates a great atmosphere for learning and research. The second thing I miss is that special kind of peace that comes from a total disconnect of contact from all of the information and technology that clouds up everyday life in the states. It really makes you appreciate the natural world and your real part in it.

Tyler: Do you have any advice for someone visiting the BFREE field station?
James: 

  • Welcome the full experience – the field station and the rainforest it helps protect are truly special.
  • Realize how liberating it is to be BFREE and how much more natural you feel.
  • Talk to the staff and any other people visiting the station. You will get a greater understanding and appreciation of life in Belize. Other visiting researchers and groups have a wealth of knowledge and experience in many different fields so it is a great place learn.
  • Embrace long pants and shirts, howler monkey wake up calls, and bring an umbrella.