By Robynn Phillips, BFREE Engagement and Communications Coordinator
BFREE, our committed partnering organizations and this year’s Hicatee Awareness Month Planning Committee are excited to announce that two (2) billboards have been strategically installed along Belize’s Western Highway.
The billboards were printed and installed by Big Signs Belize at the following locations:
- Mile 47, George Price Highway facing west.
- Mile 57, George Price Highway, Iguana Creek Roundabout facing north on the left side.
The billboard design was created by the 2022 Hicatee Awareness Month Planning Committee and it reads, “Save the Hicatee from Extinction: Follow Belize’s Fisheries Regulations.” The billboard will be on display for one year through October 2023. The goal of the billboards are to raise awareness through a larger platform, aiming to reach more people. We hope the billboards will bring awareness to Hicatee conservation not only during Hicatee Awareness Month but throughout the entire year.
The billboards feature two dedicated conservation professionals, Mr. Thomas Pop and Mr. Barney Hall, each holding an adult Hicatee turtle. These gentlemen are responsible for the daily care of all turtles housed at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center at the BFREE Field Station in Toledo. The Committee would like to point out that the turtles pictured are an adult male and female that live at the HCRC. Hicatee turtles don’t reach adulthood and become reproductive until they are approximately 16 years of age.
The HCRC is a captive breeding facility for this critically endangered species of river turtle and is a collaboration between BFREE, Turtle Survival Alliance, and the Belize Fisheries Department that began in 2013. The purpose of the HCRC is to conduct research on the reproductive biology and nesting ecology of the species in captivity. This information learned at the HCRC helps guide conservation efforts in wild populations. The HCRC has produced over 1,000 eggs and 800 hatchlings, of which over 400 have been released into the wild.
Studies over the last decade have determined that there are a few healthy populations of Hicatee existing in Belize’s protected areas. However, populations in most unprotected water bodies are continuing to decline at alarming rates. The billboards serve as a reminder that for the Hicatee to continue to survive in Belize, it needs everyone’s support. Further, it recognizes a few of the individuals who are currently working to preserve the species for future generations.
A special thank you to the US Fish and Wildlife Services for providing funding and to Big Signs Belize for working with the Committee on the design and then later printing and installing the billboards onsite. Both of these important contributions allowed the Billboards to be a reality and an ultimate dream come true!!