BFREE’s ‘The Bladen Review’ 2014 Online


Read The Bladen Review, BFREE’s second annual print publication, now online. Articles are contributed by staff and partners and cover topics such as bird and turtle conservation efforts, infrastructure improvements, educational programs, and staff development.

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

To download a PDF of The Bladen Review click here

William Garcia Completes Two-Year Training Program with C-EWCL

Graduation-pic-by-Darshan-Narang-for-webWilliam Garcia from BFREE wrapped up his two year participation in the Caribbean Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (C-EWCL) training program this spring. He met other members of his cohort in Tobago in early May to finalize the project, make recommendations, and celebrate the group’s success.

Funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), C-EWCL is an opportunity for up-and-coming conservation professionals in the Caribbean to gain invaluable skills and experience working with proven conservation leaders. Graduates become future conservation leaders of the Caribbean with the competence necessary to lead on critical issues facing wildlife in the region.


CEWCL Class 2012-2013

Participants received three training sessions over a two-year period, and worked in teams to develop, implement and evaluate a wildlife conservation project in the Caribbean. “With many of today’s conservation leaders in the Caribbean retiring in the next decade and numerous mid-career professionals having left the region for international opportunities, there is a critical need to develop a new generation of wildlife leaders in this region,” said Beth Allgood, C-EWCL Director and Campaigns Managers at IFAW. “C-EWCL provides today’s young professionals hands-on, comprehensive experience to become tomorrow’s conservation leaders.”

C-EWCL class members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences in the conservation field. William’s cohort included:
• Abdel Abellard, Haiti, USAID/Haiti
• Marchilio Ack, Belize, Ya’axche Conservation Trust
• Marlon Oliver Beale, Jamaica, Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust
• Felicity Burrows, Bahamas, The Nature Conservancy
• Jorge Castillo, Panama, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
• Jamal Galves, Belize, Coastal Zone Management Authority
• Jeanel Georges, Barbados, CARIBSAVE Partnership
• Renee Gift, Tobago, Gift & Co, Attorneys at Law
• S.K. Natalya Lawrence, Antigua, Offshore Islands Conservation Program
• Clarissa Lloyd, Anguilla, Terrestrial & Wetlands Conservation Officer, Anguilla National Trust
• David Mahabir, Trinidad, Research Officer/Wildlife Section
• Andres Jimenez Monge, Costa Rica, International Student Volunteers Costa Rica
• Darshanjit Singh Narang, Trinidad & Tobago, Environmental Management Authority
• Feria Narcisse-Gaston, St. Lucia, Forest Officer, Forestry Dept
• Angela Randazzo Eisemann, Honduras, Marine biologist consultant
• Paul Watler, Cayman Islands, Environmental Programmes Manager Designate

About Caribbean Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (C-EWCL)
The goal of the Caribbean Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (EWCL) program is to facilitate cross-organizational networking and mentoring for emerging wildlife conservation leaders in the Caribbean region while conducting training and guiding concrete innovative conservation projects. For more information, please visit

Conference News


Sofia Marlin and Elijah Eyerly


Elijah at the LEEF conference.

Sofia Marlin and Elijah Eyerly represented BFREE at the League of Environmental Education in Florida (LEEF) conference in late March. LEEF is committed to educating Florida’s citizens about environmental issues. LEEF provides a network for awareness, communication and growth about Florida’s natural environment. During the conference in Ocala National Forest, Sofia and Elijah shared information with in-service teachers, parents of homeschoolers, and other educators about BFREE and the rainforests of southern Belize.


Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, UNCW, and Heather Barrett, BFREE, co-presented at the 61st annual conference for the Southeastern Council Latin American Studies (SECOLAS). Held in New Orleans, Louisiana, the conference was a two-day event bringing together faculty members, independent scholars and students to discuss issues around the theme “Latin America’s Global Presence.” Rotenberg and Barrett focused their talk entitled, “Community-Based Conservation: A small-scale model that extends beyond Belize’s borders,” on the avian technician training program established by BFREE and UNCW.

May and June 2014 Field Courses

It’s hard to believe that another field season has come and gone! This season wrapped up in May and June with fantastic returning courses and a brand new teachers’ institute. Groups enjoyed hikes through the rainforest, family homestays in Maya communities, evening adventures at the Belize Zoo, tasting tours of the Spice Farm, snorkeling in Belize’s beautiful waters, and so much more.

May Field Courses

• “Biology” led by Instructor Sara Ash from University of Cumberlands, Kentucky.

University of the Cumberlands.

University of the Cumberlands.

University of the Cumberlands beginning their hike.

University of the Cumberlands beginning their hike.

• Tropical Biology” led by Instructor Paul Pickhardt of Lakeland College, Wisconsin.

Lakeland students during their tour of the spice farm.

Lakeland students during their tour of the spice farm.

Lakeland students visit the spice farm.

Lakeland students visit the spice farm.

• “Field Study in Belize” led by Instructors Jon Evans and Jordan Casey of Sewanee: University of the South, Tennessee.

Sewanee University of the New South.

Sewanee University of the New South.

Sewanee students learn mammal-trapping techniques.

Sewanee students learn mammal-trapping techniques.

Sewanee students set mammal traps.

Sewanee students set mammal traps.

June Field Courses

• “Tropical Biology” led by Instructors Maarten Vonhof and Michael Buchalski of Western Michigan University.

Maarten Vonhof of Western Michigan.

Maarten Vonhof of Western Michigan.

Western Michigan participated in a day-long hike.

Western Michigan participated in a day-long hike.

Western Michigan visit Xunatunich.

Western Michigan visit Xunatunich.

• “Teacher’s Institute in Belize” led by Instructors Mary Risner and Mandy Monroe of University of Florida, Center for Latin American Studies and BFREE.

Teachers Institute during a hike.

Members of the Teacher’s Institute during a hike.

Teachers Institute participants have lunch with Golden Stream.

Teacher’s Institute participants have lunch with Golden Stream teachers from Golden Stream School in southern Belize.

Teachers Institute's visit to Golden Stream school.

Teacher’s Institute participants during their visit to Golden Stream school.

USFWS feature BFREE Pen Pal collaboration on their blog

After a visit to Belize this spring, Molly Sperduto of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Heather Barrett of BFREE helped establish pen pal relationships between a primary school in Golden Stream, Belize and another in Canterbury, New Hampshire, USA. Recently, a blog article on the USFWS website was recently posted that describes this new initiative.

N.H. students connect with birding pen pals in Belize

Third-grade students in Canterbury, New Hampshire, have become pen pals with the Golden Stream School in Belize. Our staff recently visited the Canterbury school to deliver letters from Belize and teach the students about the migratory birds that they share during different parts of the year, such as red-eyed vireo, yellow warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, magnolia warbler, black-and-white warbler, northern waterthrush, gray catbird, least flycatcher, eastern kingbird, and wood thrush.

For the full post, visit USFWS Northeast’s blog.

Field Course Installs Solar Panels at the Bunkhouse


This summer professors and students from three different technical colleges installed solar panels on top of the bunkhouse at the field station as part of a field course.  Joel Shoemaker of Madison College, Chris Miller of Heartland Community College, and Sarah Hawkins of Lakeshore Technical College led the course.

Sarah, Joel and Chris knew each other from all being involved in a grant to expand study abroad at two-year colleges. Sarah knew colleagues at her school who had gone to BFREE and heard the field station was running off of solar energy. Sarah and Joel then went down to BFREE to check out the field station and a year later they had a class planned to install a new system at the bunkhouse.

Sarah brought her student, Shannon McCabe; Joel brought three students, Omar Zguerdoufi, Josh Stern and Tyler Anderson; and Chris brought his student, Lori Estrada.

The Photo Voltaic panels used on the bunkhouse were previously installed at Madison College, but had been blown down in a storm and were later donated. Charge controllers, LED lighting, wiring and batteries were among the other items donated by Joel and Chris.

Though the instructors may have brought most of the supplies, the students, said Chris, did all of the work.

solar-panel-1-for-web“The mission is to put what we learn in the classroom into operation,” he said.

All of the instructors said they hoped their students would learn to be self-reliant and gain confidence by doing an install in an environment with limited resources.

“If something is missing or broken, you would have just bought a new piece,” said Sarah. “But here, you need to problem solve on the spot. For example, when the generator broke instead of going out to get a new one, Tyler took the whole thing apart and fixed it.”

Students not only had to be quick on their feet, they also had to think ahead.

“In order to do this, we would have to plan very well and make sure we had all of our parts and pieces,” said Joel.  “I wanted our students to experience the process of really thinking through everything they were doing and figuring out how to deal with whatever limitations were around them.”

solar-panel-3-for-webChris and Joel also wanted their students to get the experience of installing a solar system that would be the main source of power. Unlike in the US where these systems usually function as a secondary source, the system on the bunkhouse would be the sole source of energy.

In addition to all working together as a team, the students also learned a lot from BFREE manager, Marcelino. They admired his work ethic, Sarah said, and it was great for the students to get to know a local Belizean outside of the tourist/host relationship and as part of an everyday work context with the goal of completely a job together.

Before the new install the bunkhouse only had D/C indoor lights with no outlets and the picnic tables outside of the bunkhouse did not have any lighting at all. The system inside was often unreliable with students having to fumble around after dark.

Now the bunkhouse is equipped with stable lighting, outlets for students to charge phones and laptops and lighting for the outdoor picnic tables.

In 10 days the group was able to complete the bunkhouse install as well as another install of solar energy on the community center in the Golden Stream Village.



A Bird-Friendly Chocolate Forest in the Making


Using Belikin Boxes

The Belize Cacao-based Agroforestry Restoration Program (BCARP) has made great strides in the past couple of months. On August 12, 2013, BFREE provided a half-day forest/farm preparation workshop as part of the continued agroforestry training for farmers participating in the project. This workshop, organized by Jacob Marlin and William Garcia of BFREE, was presented by Christopher Nesbitt of Maya Mountain Research Farm. Seventeen farmers and day laborers participated. The training focused on preparing forested and farm areas in the Trio agricultural area adjacent to BFREE property, for planting cacao saplings, identifying beneficial canopy species in the existing plots, and recommending canopy species for inter-planting. Smaller fruiting species were recommended to provide both short-term yield and soil supplementation over the next five years while the cacao trees mature. Larger timber species were recommended to provide more substantial shade and to offer the long-term benefit of financial return in twenty to twenty-five years. It is our hope that by encouraging a variety of species in the forested farm areas the farmers will have a diversity of goods to offer and will extend their growing season while also providing habitat to a diversity of wildlife, including migratory birds that spend the summers in the USA.

Project coordinator, William Garcia, managed the five days of farm preparation and planting that followed. A total of 10,000 cacao saplings were planted on 26 acres across the three participating farms. Thanks to the BCARP farmers who have dedicated their land, time and energy to this project: Maria Antonia Perez, Anecleto Garcia, Adelso Garcia and their families. Their patience, hard work and dedication have allowed the project to take shape and we look forward to continued partnership with them and additional farmers in the coming years.

BFREE has become aware since the project’s inception in late 2012, and particularly over the past couple of months, that many farmers are very interested in producing organic shade-grown cacao in their farms, and have recognized this as a new and innovative type of farming practice that will benefit not only their economic status, but will also create a healthier environment to live. BFREE is proud to play a role in helping Belizeans become better stewards of their land.


Moving trees.


Nursery before planting.


Nursery before planting.


Carrying trees in.


BFREE – In Print

A necessary part of conservation work is getting the word out. We’ve made concerted efforts this summer to share BFREE’s conservation initiatives – both by delivering talks at conferences and other forums and by producing short articles. Many of you have seen some of our articles posted on Facebook and BFREE’s Jungle Blog. For those who haven’t – here are the highlights.

The Bladen Review was printed in July representing the first publication of what is planned to become BFREE’s annual magazine; Turtle Survival Alliance included Jacob Marlin’s article on the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center in their magazine, Turtle Survival; and BFREE circulated a press release to update Belizeans and the international conservation community about the discovery of two new Harpy Eagle nests in the protected areas of southern Belize – the press release has been picked up by numerous online and print news venues, including Wingspan (a monthly publication of the Raptor Research Foundation) and Amandala (a newspaper in Belize).

From Grower to Market: Investigating the Cacao Value Chain

Gentry Mander picking cacao in Belize.

Gentry Mander picking cacao.

I first worked with BFREE and the Belize Cacao-based Agroforestry Restoration Project (BCARP) through the University of Florida Levin College of Law’s Conservation Clinic. However, it was not until I went to Belize as a part of UF Law’s sustainable development field course that I began to fully appreciate the scope of the project. While visiting the cacao nursery in Trio, Jacob mentioned the need for graduate research. My ears perked up at the opportunity to return to Belize. In addition to my law studies, I am also a Master’s student in UF’s Sustainable Development Practice (MDP) program.  As a part of its curriculum, the MDP program requires its students to conduct a field practicum.  Prior to seeing BFREE’s work in person, I was struggling to define my practicum.  I was seeking a practicum that allowed me to utilize the interdisciplinary nature of my studies, while taking an active role in a project that emphasized the relationship between people and the environment. I finally realized that BFREE presented me that opportunity.  In the last hours of the field course trip, Heather, Jacob, my professors, and I started designing a practicum project that furthered the goals of BCARP.

The result of those designs was a 10-week investigation of the cacao value chain in Belize.  The purpose was to identify constraints and opportunities along the value chain to allow Trio farmers to make informed market decisions for their future crops.  From my base in Punta Gorda, I researched the inner workings of the Belizean cacao industry.  I interviewed many key actors, including representatives from the Toledo Cacao Growers’ Association, Maya Mountain Cacao, Cotton Tree Chocolate, Ixcacao Chocolate, Kakaw Chocolate, Ya’axche Conservation Trust, Sustainable Harvest International, and Belcampo Lodge, among others.  Through these interviews, I began to piece together a model for how cacao makes its way from the farms to the supermarket.

Elmer Tzalam

Elmer Tzalam

I also interviewed a number of local farmers.  With Elmer Tzalam as my guide and interpreter, I traipsed through communities including Indian Creek and San Miguel, interviewing Mayan cacao farmers about their experiences.  We discussed farming, post-harvest processing, and their personal experiences with the market.  These interviews allowed me to trace cacao prices through the chain, illuminating the costs associated with farming, processing, and exportation.  These interviews helped me identify the risks, difficulties, and opportunities present in the cacao industry.

My project continues to explore new opportunities for farmers. In the event that the Trio farmers opt not to employ existing markets, I am using the contextual information I obtained to develop a proposal for cacao export in partnership with an American chocolate producer. By utilizing true vertical coordination with a dedicated and trusted buyer, Trio farmers can receive the best price and incentive for their environmentally-friendly cacao. At the same time, their American partner can tout the organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly product to specialized markets. Ultimately, this would restore and conserve more rainforest, while providing farmers with valuable livelihoods and unique partnership opportunities.

Harpy eagle nest discoveries in Belize

photo by Tom Pop

Harpy Eagle on nest Photo by Tom Pop

TOLEDO DISTRICT, Belize – Scientists and local community members recently discovered two new Harpy Eagle nests in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize.  The new nests in Belize are approximately 15km from one another; the first, located in Columbia River Forest Reserve, was discovered by a resident of a nearby village in July 2012. A female Harpy Eagle was observed interacting with the nest by the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE) Avian Technicians over the following weeks; however, no juvenile was sighted.

The second nest was discovered in January 2013 by BFREE Avian Technicians; William Garcia, Liberato Pop, and Marlyn Cruz, during bird monitoring surveys in the Bladen Nature Reserve. This nest and its residents – both adult parents and their juvenile – were monitored on a monthly basis, and in May 2013, the healthy juvenile fledged.

“These nests may be the most significant biological discoveries for Belize in recent years,” states Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE. The presence of the nests suggests that a healthy breeding population of Harpy Eagles exists in this remote area. The magnificent raptors were thought to be locally extinct in Belize since 2000 and extirpated from Mexico and most of Central America until 2005 when a team from BFREE sighted a juvenile Harpy while on expedition in the Bladen Nature Reserve.  Harpy Eagles (Harpia harpyja) are designated as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are considered “Critically Endangered” in Belize.

The initial sighting in 2005 led to a collaborative program begun by Mr. Marlin and Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, ornithologist and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The program entitled, An Integrated Community-Based Harpy Eagle and Avian Conservation Program for the Maya Mountains Massif, was created to monitor the species, find nests, and study the entire bird community. Central to this initiative is the training of local people from nearby buffer-zone villages to monitor the birds and collect scientific data as part of an innovative alternative livelihood-strengthening program. The resulting team of Avian Technicians conducts the majority of the research; five of whom were responsible for locating both the first-ever recorded active Harpy Eagle nest in Belize in November 2010 (as documented in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 2012) and one of the two recently discovered nests in January 2013.

Harpy Eagles are well known as one of the most powerful eagles in the Americas, hunting prey as large as monkeys and sloths for food.  Birds can weigh up to 20 pounds and have a 7-foot wingspan making them a formidable predator.  However, due to deforestation and hunting, Harpy Eagles are typically missing from most of Central America’s rainforests where they once freely ranged. In November 2012, another Harpy Eagle nest was discovered in Patuca National Park in Honduras, south of Belize.  “These new nest discoveries in Belize and Honduras are significant because only a handful of individual Harpy Eagle sightings were made in Central America north of Panama over the last decade,” said Rotenberg. “It means that Harpy Eagles are hanging on in these remote protected parks and reserves, and they may not be as isolated as we once thought.”

Because of the sensitive nature of the nests, Rotenberg, Marlin and BFREE decided to wait until the juvenile safely fledged the nest before releasing the news of the new Belizean nests.  “We waited until now to release the news because we wanted to make sure the young Harpy Eagle fledged the Bladen nest,” said Rotenberg. “Other than reporting it to the Belize Forest Department and Ya’axché Conservation Trust, who jointly administer the reserve, only a handful of local conservationists knew about the Bladen nest. This was the same for the Columbia River Forest Reserve nest too, just adding the folks of the local village nearby.”

“After we publicized the discovery of the first nest in 2010, there was a lot of excitement within Belize about it, including reports on the radio and television.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature took that nest tree down with a bolt of lightning,” said William Garcia, Lead Avian Technician at BFREE. In response to BFREE’s request to continue expeditions in search of the surviving birds, in 2012 the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium provided funds to continue monitoring of the area surrounding the original nest.

Ya’axché Conservation Trusts protected area rangers also stepped up their protection of the immediate location of the nest to help ensure the survival of this iconic species.  Protected Area Manager, Lee Mcloughlin, indicated that the valley in question had been known to be a target of illegal hunters, fishers and even looters of the many late Classic period Mayan archaeological sites located on the lower slopes,

When interviewed about the 2013 Bladen nest discovery, Mr. Garcia stated, “My technician team and I were on a bird monitoring expedition when we heard a juvenile Harpy Eagle call.  Because of all of our monitoring experience with the eagles, we know that call very well.  After just a bit of looking, we located the nest right away. It was very exciting to find the new nest only about 500 meters from the old one,” Mr. Garcia went on to say that it shows the bird’s resilience that the pair re-nested in the same area.

Garcia made the first presentation to the scientific community about the new nests at the Belize Chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation’s Natural Resource Management Symposium held at the University of Belize this past spring.  Garcia covered eight years of Harpy Eagle research since that initial sighting in 2005. “I was happy to have the opportunity to share our research and let people know that Harpy Eagles are still their neighbors,” said Garcia.

Mr. Marlin added that, “Discovering top predators such as Harpy Eagles in places like the Bladen Nature Reserve and the Columbia River Forest Reserve means that preserving protected areas works. Besides Harpy Eagles, the 1.5 million acres of continuous tropical rainforest that makes up the Maya Mountains protects a wealth of biodiversity.   The Belize Protected Areas System is one of the largest protected tropical rainforest ecosystems left in Central America -it is often referred to as the last remaining truly unspoiled wilderness areas of its kind.”

This press release can also be found on the Environmental News Network –