“Wings of Hope” at Gainesville’s Cinema Verde Film Festival

The film “Wings of Hope” is included in the 7th annual Cinema Verde International Environmental Film Festival in Gainesville, Florida. Film time is 6:45 on Friday, February 12. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at cinemaverde.org. Cinema Verde’s goal for the festival is to increase public awareness about environmental practices that enhance public health and that improve the quality of life for all persons. The Festival also serves as a forum for community organizations, businesses, and citizens to discuss ways to work together to create a sustainable culture.

Juvenile Harpy Eagle spotted on the nest during a routine monitoring expedition in 2013. Photo by Kai Reed.

Juvenile Harpy Eagle spotted on the nest during a routine monitoring expedition in 2013. 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 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 September 2015, the film was shown in schools and community centers throughout the Toledo District in order to raise awareness of the significance of continuing to protect wilderness areas like the Bladen Nature Reserve and the greater Maya Mountains.
Liberato Pop of Bladen Village was one of the project trainees and since that time, he has worked all over Belize doing bird research using his expertise gained from the years of experience he had as an avian technician for the project. 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 will this video interesting and be willing to learn 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

It’s true. BFREE needs you.

The Bladen River at the crossing to BFREE.

The Bladen River at the crossing to BFREE.

I’m writing to you today to ask for your help. BFREE needs your support to expand our efforts to promote the stewardship and conservation of Belize’s natural resources.

The BFREE field station and the 1,153 acre private reserve are bordered on three sides by protected wilderness areas. These surrounding areas remain healthy but are under direct and constant threat of encroachment, due to a growing population, extraction of natural resources such as hardwoods, poaching of wildlife, mining and petroleum extraction, and ever-expanding agricultural lands. As we explained in The Bladen Review, Belize is being deforested at an alarming rate – during 2013, the country was stripped of an estimated 9,290 hectares of forests, and forest cover has diminished from nearly 75% in 1981 to 60.7% in 2014. Our work to conserve Belize’s natural resources is unique in the country. There is no other organization in Belize who has the capacity to do the work that we do.

Through our diverse programming, BFREE promotes the conservation of Belize’s wilderness areas. From study abroad experiences and internships for students from the US and other countries, field trips for primary school kids in Belize, to the production of books and documentary films, BFREE educates individuals and encourages stewardship of these precious lands and the resources they contain. We implement species-level projects (such as the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center, which is working to save the critically endangered Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii, from extinction) as well as land-scape level projects (such as the Belize Cacao-based Agroforestry Restoration Project (BCARP), a program geared toward forested-farming to promote habitat protection beneficial to both people and wildlife).

We recognize that there is no single solution and no magic pill to stop the clearing of rainforest and loss of biodiversity. However, we also recognize that everything we do plays a role in shifting the way individuals, communities, organizations, and governments think about, interact with, and impact the forests.

Those of you who have had the opportunity to visit BFREE, you’ve seen the forest and its wildlife first-hand, for those who haven’t, please take a minute to imagine yourself in the rainforest of Belize.

You are standing barefoot in the Bladen River enjoying its refreshing coolness on this hot, humid morning. You’re startled by a surprising nip on your toes and look down to discover a school of tiny, but motivated, Billum fish darting around your feet trying to determine if you are, in fact, edible. The sky overhead is brilliant blue, but there is a low rumbling in the distance and you look upstream in the direction of the sound, to see rain clouds building over Wright’s Peak, signaling a storm will soon follow that will excite the fish and frogs into action.

Downstream, two Belted kingfishers dart from bank to bank in search of breakfast, and a rustle in a stand of nearby Cecropia trees draws your attention to a small troop of lazy Howler monkeys who slowly begin their powerful chorus. Feeling thirsty, you kneel to scoop a handful of water and put it to your lips because yes, you can still drink the water that flows crystal clear from the headwaters of these ancient Maya Mountains- knowing all the while that somewhere nearby, a Jaguar is doing the very same.

This precious place is one of the last strongholds for numerous endangered plants and animals. These flora and fauna have intrinsic value and help mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon, by providing clean air and clean water for the world, and by providing the source for countless medicines and foods used across the planet. Over half of the world’s species live in rainforests although rainforests now cover less than 2% of Earth’s surface.

In the media today, there is tremendous focus on the negative, intolerance, and hatred, but very little focus on the beauty and preciousness that is the natural world. As a species, we should put more energy toward caring about one another and the planet. It is this belief that drives our work.  And to this end, we are asking you, our long-time friends and supporters, to contribute. With your donations, you have the opportunity to make a direct and positive impact on the long-term sustainability and institutional capacity of BFREE, directly translating to the conservation of the largest continuous expanse of tropical rainforest north of the Amazon!

Please consider supporting us with a donation of any amount. Your help truly makes a difference.

In conservation and stewardship,

Jacob A. Marlin

Jacob A. Marlin, Executive Director

 

P.S. US for BFREE is a 501(c)3 registered non-profit organization. All donations are tax-deductible.

 

The Bladen Review – 2015 Edition!

The third publication of BFREE’s annual magazine, The Bladen Review, is available online in an interactive format on Issuu! Get the latest news around the field station and learn about exciting research projects taking place in the rainforest of Belize.

Note: To view in full screen, click once in the middle of The Bladen Review.

To download a PDF version of The Bladen Review click here .

Dr. Rotenberg presents Bird Research at Canadian Conference

This July, Dr. James Rotenberg of University of North Carolina, Wilmington presented his research at The Association of Field Ornithologists, the Society of Canadian Ornithologists / Société des ornithologistes du Canada, and the Wilson Ornithological Society joint annual meetings at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. His presentation “Passive point counts of wintering Neotropical migratory songbirds in Belize yield high abundance and low availability – What does this mean for conservation?,” was co-authored by Evan M. Adams, Biodiversity Research Institute, Portland, Maine. Rotenberg and Olson plan to publish this research in the near future.

Dr. Jamie Rotenberg and his wife Dr. Vibeke Olson during his Field Course to Belize in March.

Dr. Jamie Rotenberg and his wife, Dr. Vibeke Olson, during his Field Course to Belize in March.

Abstract:

In the non-breeding season, birds are often less vocal and territoriality can often be non-existent.  Less is known about songbirds during the winter because of the lack of a consistent and reliable population monitoring effort during this life stage. To understand how effective survey techniques designed primarily for breeding ground use at the non-breeding grounds, we used two years of passive point count monitoring data to determine the number of Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) in southern Belize. Using package ‘unmarked’ in the R Statistical Computing Environment, we used a removal model to estimate the abundance (superpopulation), availability and detectability of Wood Thrushes.  Habitat data at different scales (50m, 1000m, 5000m and 25000m) were used to explore the scale at which bird abundance was correlated with habitat. Using an AIC model selection, we found that birds mostly responded to habitat at the 50m scale with birds negatively correlated with alluvial evergreen habitat (-0.71) and positively correlated with riparian shrubland (0.67) thus suggesting that Wood Thrush winter in greater abundance at sites with alluvial evergreen cover at a small spatial scale. We also found that availability was low for this species, which caused our estimates of abundance to be high. Still, Wood Thrush was the most common species at three of our sites, and separate banding data show that birds were not recaptured between locations of between 2-5km distance. Taken together, these data suggest that Wood Thrush maybe highly mobile during the wintering period with strong intra- and inter-seasonal variation in abundance. For the non-breeding grounds, passive point counts designed for territorial species are mismatched to use with such mobile populations.  From a conservation perspective, these results suggest that large tracts of land could be even more valuable than we have previously realized due to the spatial requirements of non-breeding migratory songbirds.

2015 Field Courses – Part II

BFREE groups came from the U.S. and from within Belize to engage in topics ranging from Architecture to Agriculture to Protected Areas to Biology.

April Field Courses

“Future Science Teachers of Belize,” Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College, Belize – Though not quite a field course, these self-motivated young teachers-to-be, journeyed to BFREE on a Saturday to learn what the field station can offer their students in years to come.

Students from Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College took personal initiative and visited BFREE for the day.

Students from Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College took personal initiative and visited BFREE for the day.

“Birding in Belize,” led by Peter Burke of Field Guides

The Field Guides tour,"Birding in Belize," focuses on the southern part of the country.

The Field Guides tour,”Birding in Belize,” focuses on the southern part of the country.

 

May Field Courses

“Belize: Environment and Sustainability,” led by Ed Davis and Laura Hainsworth of Emory and Henry College, Virginia

Emory and Henry College

Emory and Henry College

 

Emory and Henry help shell cacao

Emory and Henry students removed seeds from cacao pods that they harvested – pic by Nelly Cadle.

 

Charles Wygal and David Novotne helped Tom Pop (shown left) plot temperature by depth in the HCRC ponds – pic by Ed Davis.

“Tropical Biology,” led by Halard Lescinsky of Otterbein University, Ohio

Otterbein University

Otterbein University

 

Otterbein students take a break during their tour of the Spice Farm

Otterbein students take a break at the Spice Farm – pic by Sipriano Canti.

 

Hicatee Hatchlings – Three months old & Growing!!

This Hicatee hatchling has is changing since birth - it has lost its egg tooth, the carapace is flattening, and the spots are fading.

At 7 weeks, this Hicatee hatchling  has lost its egg tooth, the carapace is flattening, and its spots are fading.

The seven Hicatee hatchlings (Dermatemys mawii) born to the HCRC in June 2015 are extremely healthy and growing rapidly. In just three short months each has more than doubled their size and weight.

During this period, Thomas Pop, HCRC Manager, has been conducting feeding trials to determine preferred diet and activity periods. Food items offered have included leaves and grasses – wild fig leaf, cecropia leaf, Paspalum grass, banana leaf, bri bri leaf, mango leaf, mangrove leaf and fruits – fig, mango, hogplum, and papaya. Most items are taken by the tiny turtles with fervor. Additionally, fish was attempted on one occasion but the hatchlings showed no interest.  We will continue to offer new food items in the coming weeks and months, focused exclusively on native wild plants found in natural Hicatee habitat. Feeding occurs most intensely at night although they also eat during the day.

Rick Hudson of TSA and Dr. Shane Boylan, DVM, performed health checks during their August visit.

Rick Hudson of TSA and Dr. Shane Boylan, DVM, performed health checks during their August visit.

The hatchlings have been housed in clear plastic tubs with screened-locking lids during their first months. They will be moved to a larger, custom-built, and more permanent enclosure in the coming weeks.

Recent health exams of the adults including ultrasounds implemented by Dr. Shane Boylan, DVM, showed that at least one female is with follicles, verifying reproductive activity. Hopefully, additional clutches will be arriving in the near future. Stay tuned!

Dr. Shane Boylan performed ultrasounds on the turtles to determine health of organs and reproductive activity.

Dr. Shane Boylan of South Carolina Aquarium performed ultrasounds on the turtles to determine health of organs and reproductive status.

“Wings of Hope” lands on YouTube

Juvenile Harpy Eagle

Juvenile Harpy Eagle featured in “Wings of Hope” – photo credit – Liberato Pop

BFREE’s new film, Wings of Hope, was released on YouTube in August.  The 20-minute documentary chronicles the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize. The film 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 attempt to 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 the film was posted to YouTube – watch it here – and in early September 2015, the film was shown in fourteen schools and community centers throughout southern 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. The film has also been submitted to Cinema Verde, an international environmental film and arts festival in the U.S.A. and we hope to submit it to the 2016 Belize Film Festival.

Dr. James Rotenberg of UNCW and BFREE staff members published an associated article in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology detailing the finding of the first record of a Harpy Eagle Nest in Belize.

Article Citation:

James A. Rotenberg, Jacob A. Marlin, Liberato Pop, and William Garcia (2012) First Record of a Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) Nest in Belize. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology: June 2012, Vol. 124, No. 2, pp. 292-297

Dr. Rotenberg says of the film “ ‘Wings of Hope’ shows how a small non-profit, collaborating with scientists, universities, zoos and government agencies can truly make a difference.  The Harpy Eagle project is a great example of boots on the ground conservation – – working with animals and outreach to people.  This documentary will go far to change attitudes and behaviors about nature.”

Liberato Pop of Bladen Village was trained through the project and since that time, he has worked all over Belize doing bird research using expertise gained from the years of experience gained as an avian technician for the project. In a recent interview Mr. Pop stated, “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 will find this video interesting and be willing to learn about the value of what we have in our protected areas.”

Project Trainees:

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

 

BAL Shrimp & the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center

bal shrimp 2On Saturday, April 11, a team of 4 staff members from Belize Aquaculture Limited (BAL Shrimp) spent a good portion of the day doing some much needed work at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC). Both ponds had multiple slow leaks in the thick black liners. With 22 Hicatee turtles in residence in the ponds, BFREE recognized the importance of acting quickly to make both ponds fully functional.

BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, and BFREE HCRC Manager, Tom Pop, joined the BAL Shrimp team in prepping the ponds for the repairs and also assisted in sealing the leaks. We are grateful to BAL Shrimp for their continued support of the HCRC.

Bal shrimp 1

Turtle Survival Alliance blog post features Belize

The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) recently featured a blog post describing their February visit to the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC) at BFREE. Check it out below!

TSA Deploys Team to Belize by Heather LoweTom sm

The TSA assembled a team recently to travel to Belize to begin implementation of two grants designed to improve our understanding of the captive reproductive biology of the Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii, locally known as the Hicatee. The grants – courtesy of the American Zoo Association and Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund – will support research that should shed new light on the mysteries of managing and reliably breeding this species in captivity, and will eventually lead to a sustainable and larger-scale effort intended to take pressures off of wild populations. Hicatee are hunted extensively throughout their range in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, and many populations are heavily depleted. Article continued here. 

DSCN0181

ARCH 3900: Study Abroad to Belize

Four architecture students from the New York City College Of Technology (NYCCT) use a blog to share their experiences during their study abroad in Belize. They learn new form of architectural techniques, enjoy delicious Belizean cuisine, explore the rainforest, ancient ruins and the reef, and make a lifetime of memories.  http://archbelize2015.blogspot.com/ 

Danielle Zender, Baljinder Kaur, Patricia Paredes, and Walkiria Cabrera each shared stories of their BFREE Field Course led by their instructor Lia Dikigoropoulou.

NY City College of Technology

NY City College of Technology at BFREE