Fully Booked! 2024 BFREE TURTLE SURVEY

LONG TERM TURTLE SURVEY IN THE JUNGLE

Thanks for the incredible interest in our 2024 survey. We are no longer accepting deposits for this program.

You can be added to the wait-list by emailing bnelson@bfreebz.org

Join the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) and the Turtle Survival Alliance’s North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (TSA-NAFTRG) to participate in a long-term population monitoring project for freshwater and terrestrial turtle species located within BFREE’s Privately Protected Area in southern Belize. The BFREE Privately Protected Area is a 1,153-acre reserve that adjoins the largest tract of rainforest north of the Amazon. It’s an incredible hotspot for biodiversity where tapirs, howler monkeys, jaguars, and harpy eagles are often spotted and is the last stronghold for many endangered species.

Participants will be supporting researchers in the fourth annual survey of a 10-year long-term monitoring project to provide basic demographic and population information. Turtles will be captured using various methods, including hand capture and baited traps, and will be given unique identification marks and injected with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags for future identification. You’ll be joined by herpetologists and experts in the field from both the US and Belize. From 2021-2023 the BFREE and TSA-NAFTRG team marked, measured and safely released 836 turtles. Turtles found included White-lipped Mud Turtle, Tabasco Mud Turtle, Scorpion Mud turtle,Narrow-bridged Musk Turtle, Mexican Giant Musk Turtle, Central American Snapping Turtle, Furrowed Wood Turtle, and the Meso-American Slider. These species represent eight of Belize’s nine known freshwater turtles.

We look forward to you joining us in Belize for the July 2024 BFREE and TSA-NAFTRG Turtle Survey in the jungle!


DATES

July 8th-18th, 2024 – OPEN

Spaces are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Deposits will be accepted beginning January 30, 2023. Participants are required to book their own transportation to BFREE, including international airfare to the Philip Goldson International Airport (BZE) and domestic airfare to Savannah (INB).

REQUIREMENTS

  • Able to hike between 5 and 10 miles a day in 90-degree weather with 100% humidity.
  • Able to lift and carry 40 lbs. for periods of time.
  • Willingness to get dirty and to put long days in.

CONTACT

Questions, please contact Eric Munscher, Director of the Turtle Survival Alliance’s – North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (TSA-NAFTRG) at

emunscher@turtlesurvival.org

ITINERARY

  • Day One: Arrive at BZE by 1:30 PM, fly to INB at 3:30 PM (exact flight time to be updated in 2024). Transportation provided from INB to the BFREE Entrance road. Hike in to field station. Settle into rooms and unpack before dinner.
  • Day Two: Tour the BFREE Facility and familiarize yourself with the various trails and facilities. Free time to relax and swim in the crystal-clear water of the Bladen River or explore one of BFREE’s many conservation initiatives, including the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC), a captive breeding facility for the critically endangered Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii, locally known in Belize as the Hicatee.
  • Day Three – Nine: Turtle surveys throughout BFREE’s 1,153-acre private reserve. Turtle surveys will primarily take place on the ground. There will be one or two days of river surveys but most data is collected on land.
  • Day Ten – Breakfast. Hike out from field station, transportation to Hokey Pokey water taxi. Stay at Sea Spray in Placencia. Dinner on your own.
  • Day Eleven: Transportation to INB for a domestic flight back to BZE.

COSTS

The cost is $1,750 per participant.

Cost Includes:

  • Double occupancy in BFREE’s newest accommodation, the Hammock, which features an open-air veranda connecting six private rooms. Linens, pillows, and blankets provided.
  • Three chef-prepared meals per day.
  • Guided night hikes and tours of BFREE’s conservation programs
  • Transportation from Savannah Airport (INB) to the BFREE entrance road.
  • Ground and water taxi transportation to Sea Spray hotel in Placencia with one night stay included.
  • Fees paid to this program not only support your participation in critical turtle research for Belize but also have a direct impact on the country’s next generation of conservation leaders. Funding from this TSA-NAFTRG-BFREE research program helps to support Belizean participation in scientific research at BFREE.

REGISTER

Space is limited for this incredible opportunity; make your deposit today to secure your spot. Deposits are due by April 1, 2024. The final payment is due by June 7th, 2024. To register for this program, read the Booking Terms and Conditions on the next page.



BOOKING TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Participants must agree to all terms and conditions of booking before registering for this program. This program is coordinated by the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE).

Covered Costs.

Participation in the 2024 Turtle Survey at BFREE is $1,750 per person. These covered costs per person include accommodations, meals (while at BFREE), guided tours of BFREE and transportation to Placencia. Program Fees Do Not include the following: international airfare to BZE, roundtrip domestic airfare with Maya Island Air to Savannah (INB), meals in Placencia, soft drinks and beers, or travel insurance, gratuities/souvenirs – at your discretion.

Deposit and Final Payment.

A $500 USD Non-Refundable initial deposit will secure your spot on the trip, or you may choose to pay in full. The remaining balance is due 30-days before the retreat start date. Failure to make payment by the applicable due date may forfeit your booking on the trip and be treated as a cancellation. If a booking is made less than 30-days before the trip start date, the full amount must be paid at the time of booking.

Payment Schedule.

The $500 deposit is due for all participants by April 1, 2024. Final payment for Participants is due by June 7, 2024. Payments should be made at www.givebutter.com/turtle2024

Cancellations.

Cancellations made by participants should include a formal refund request sent by email to reservations@bfreebz.org. According to the outline below, approved refunds by BFREE will be returned to the participant.

  • Refund requests more than 60-days before the program start date will receive a full refund minus the $500 deposit.
  • Refund requests more than 30-days before the program start date will receive a 50% refund minus the $500 deposit.
  • Refund requests less than 30-days before the program start date are non-refundable.
  • Cancellations 30-days or less to the program start date due to events directly relating to international travel restrictions and border closings, will receive a 50% refund minus the deposit.

BFREE is not liable for additional costs incurred due to cancellation, including flights, lodgings, activities, meals, etc. BFREE strongly recommends that all participants purchase travel insurance (medical, COVID-19 coverage, and trip cancellation) to protect you in case of any unforeseen emergencies. BFREE shall, in its sole discretion, have the right, upon written notice to the participant and without further liability, to terminate a program. Participants will be refunded following the Cancellation policy outlined above. BFREE is not liable for any loss or damage suffered by you, including but not limited to the loss of the Deposit and/or Full Payment, as a result of a Force Majeure Event and/or the cancellation of a Program due to a Force Majeure Event.

Travel to BFREE.

International flights should arrive at the Philip Goldson International Airport (BZE) no later than 1:30 PM on the first day of the program. On the program’s final day, international departure flights should not depart BZE before noon.

COVID-19 Policy.

All guests must adhere to the Government of Belize’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols at the time of their visit to Belize, as well as those from the departure destination. BFREE is not liable to cover or absorb losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Cancellations 30-days or prior to the departure date due to events directly relating to COVID-19, specifically international and university travel restrictions and border closings, will be refunded 50% of the program’s total cost minus the deposit.  All visitors to BFREE are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Info Session.

Turtle Survival Alliance and Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education will host an informational virtual meeting in 2024 for all
confirmed Participants prior to survey. Meeting Date: TBA

Roses and Thorns: A Reflection on Life at BFREE by Cacao Fellow Graduate

There are experiences in life that can be considered life-changing, but nothing compares to spending about 70% of two years in the rainforest. I can confidently say that the two-year fellowship program at BFREE has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

It all began when I came across a Facebook ad about an opening at BFREE for a Fellowship position. Applying was a no-brainer for me, as I was tired of being confined to a small cubicle in my previous job. A few days after applying, I received an email from Heather inviting me for an interview. I vividly remember my first trip on the entrance road – I was supposed to get a ride in and ended up helping push a pickup truck along with some of BFREE’s staff. I won’t pretend that I enjoy traveling the entrance road, but as with most things in life, there are silver linings. For instance, I began to consider the 14 km trek as a great workout—truly a win-win situation!

To call myself a “naturalist” would be an understatement; many times, I find myself at peace when I’m lost in nature. If I’m not alone, I’m probably with Nelly, Heather, or Mario, engaged in a friendly competition of bird recognition—mind you, I had never been involved in birding before. The abundance of bird species at BFREE intrigued me, leading me to learn as much as I could from these amazing creatures. Another wonderful aspect of working at BFREE has been the chance to share cultural experiences with guests from other countries. Meeting and connecting with people who are passionate about conserving the environment is an incredible feeling.

The most significant highlight of my time at BFREE was being mentored by Mr. Erick Ac, a prominent agronomist from Guatemala. Under his guidance, I learned everything from seed germination to pruning grafted Criollo cacao trees in the field. BFREE’s relatively new initiative of propagating wild cacao in degraded landscapes is fascinating, as it aims to tackle two main problems. The first is preserving cacao genetics, and the second is restoring degraded landscapes through agroforestry.

I was initially skeptical about the project, but now, three years later, the Crioco staff has harvested a few hundred kilograms of wet cacao beans. This success shows that the project is achieving its objectives. I am even more enthusiastic because of this, and I strived to maintain accurate data to support the extension of this project. Such efforts align with BFREE’s vision of research and addressing scientific questions within the Bladen and Maya Mountain region.

The cacao program has opened up other remarkable opportunities for me. BFREE generously awarded me a partial scholarship to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of Belize. Moreover, I’ve been honored with a unique scholarship from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), where I am pursuing a master’s degree in Entomology and Plant Pathology. This special scholarship is a result of the collaboration between UTK and BFREE in the cacao program over the past few years.

My aim is to carry forward my research in cacao production and contribute insights into pest and disease management. The support that I have received exemplifies BFREE’s dedication to help provide opportunities for marginalized groups. I’m deeply thankful for the invaluable learning experiences I gained at BFREE and appreciative of the fellowship opportunity offered by Mr. Jacob Marlin and Ms. Heather Barrett. I’m also grateful to the friends and professors I’ve met along the way, especially Dr. Denita Hadziabdic Guerry and Dr. DeWayne Shoemaker, for their significant contributions to my academic development.

New Collaboration between BFREE, Penn State University, and University of Tennessee Knoxville

BFREE is excited to announce a new innovative collaboration among faculty and students from Penn State University, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and BFREE. The overall goal is to build on BFREE’s cacao agroforestry program by initiating science-based projects that both develop and enhance our understanding of the novel cacao-based agroforestry systems at BFREE and, more broadly, for Belize and Central America. Our hope is this new program will support sustainable development goals while conserving tropical rainforest.

Three projects have been awarded seed grants totaling almost $150,000 as part of the Penn State-BFREE Research and Education Initiative. Funding for this initiative was provided by Penn State Cacao and Chocolate Research Network (CCRN), the Hershey Company, Penn State Global, Penn State Huck Institutes of Life Sciences, Ag Sciences Global in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, and a private donor affiliated with BFREE.

One project seeks to identify a range of woody plant species in Belize, which incorporated into future cacao agroforestry systems could bolster biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services, and increase climate resilience. An outcome of this effort will be the creation of a comprehensive resource — the “Belize Agroforestry Manual.” Designed to be practical and accessible and provide information to BFREE staff and Belizean farmers and landholders on suitable woody plant species, their uses, benefits, various practices, and adoption guidance.

A second collaboration revolves around the ancient criollo cacao varieties at BFREE. The cacao trees will be studied with the goal of developing distinctive agroforestry systems that combat deforestation and empower local communities. The project will delve into the adaptability of criollo cacao across diverse environments and its potential to preserve biodiversity.

A third project includes the expertise of Penn State, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and international specialists in cacao fermentation. Together, they aim to unravel the mysteries behind the flavors of wild criollo cacao. This research includes sensory evaluations and a comprehensive examination of economically vital attributes like flavor and lipids. The goal is to craft fermentation and roasting guidelines that maximize flavor. Furthermore, genetic information will be connected to important commercial traits of wild criollo cacao, opening new horizons in chocolate production, which can provide insights for BFREE’s up and coming chocolate company, Crioco, as it embarks on its business venture in the near future.  

UTK PhD candidate Holly Brabazon’s research is focused on the genetics of the wild cacao trees found at BFREE. Based on previous sequencing performed by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund and the
Cocoa Research Center at the University of West Indies in Trinidad, these trees were identified as pure Criollo. Criollo cacao is highly valued for its fine flavor qualities but is extremely rare in cultivation
partly because of susceptibility to modern cacao pathogens, relatively low productivity, and a long history of interbreeding with other varieties. The overall objective of her project is to provide a robust,
sustainable framework for Belizean farmers to grow this high-value, shade-tolerant, locally adapted Criollo cacao variety. 
 
The first step will be to understand the population structure of the Criollo cacao trees at BFREE by partially sequencing the genomes of the 300 standing trees. Analyses of the sequence data will allow us to
answer several important questions regarding mating biology, pollen dispersal, breeding patterns within and among the different phenotypic variants, and recent history of Criollo cacao at BFREE. These data
will provide a foundation for a second planned study analyzing parentage of seeds to determine patterns of pollen flow throughout this population and for future genomic studies aimed at understanding or
improving various Criollo phenotypic traits of interest.

Finding Hope Amidst the Loss

A memory that is deeply lodged inside my brain – me, at the age of ten, navigating a trail behind my house winding through the lush broadleaf forests to the purpose of my being, the Belize River. A river that is deep and wide, created by two rivers colliding into one another. My heart pounds like a piston on a super truck climbing up a hill as I reach the cliff’s edge and peer over because I’m able to see schools of fish that are not scared off by my human presence. This was a time when I felt most connected to nature because the animals I witnessed didn’t seem traumatised by their contact with people. 

As a child, I was constantly fishing. I was also always observant – and when boats filled with fishermen were coming near – I quickly hid. I clearly remember one group of fishermen in a fancy John boat. They had an odd way of fishing by using ropes. Two men would shake the ropes as if they’ve hooked a giant fish and needed help from the others who would then jump in the water. When those who jumped in returned to the boat, all I would hear was a loud “bang” as if a rock fell into the hull. When I looked more closely, I could see a large turtle. I winced as the boat full of men celebrated in triumph.

I was a witness to the poaching that has led to the decline and critically endangered status of the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii) or Hicatee as we call it in Belize. It was very difficult for me to understand what was happening at that age. Now, I see things a bit more clearly.

Another memory that is crystal clear to me, is sitting on a cliff watching a dark brown, huge shell surfacing. I would hear a sharp sound as it released air for a couple of seconds and then torpedoed back down. The Hicatee is a unique species with a complicated physiology. I could never understand why I didn’t see them on land and always thought they were a mysterious animal. 

Animals in the wild don’t behave in the same way as they did when I was ten.  In the past I could watch fish closely as I’ve trained my eyes from a young age to spot an Iguana through dense trees or a toucan up on a high tree, but now as soon as a fish sees a glimpse of you it’s racing a bullet to hide.  Could it be because of these aghast methods of fishing? From a cliff, on a clear day, if I see a Hicatee, I must be very still when it comes up to breathe, because any sign of movement causes it to disappear. 

The trail that I once walked as a kid is no longer in existence. Now, I walk through an anthropogenic field of corn with no trees present until I reach the riverbank, which barely has twenty feet of riparian forest. What I see now are large pipes releasing effluents in the rivers, banks degrading, garbage accumulating, herons and cormorants caught in nets and fishing line, water colour not as vibrant green, and animals missing on the trails I once enjoyed. Observing all these losses breaks my heart. I wonder, when will there be sustainable efforts to restore these ecosystems and the animals that depend on them? 

Working with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE) has allowed me to develop a mindset aimed towards conserving Belize for future generations. My work at BFREE is focused on the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center which was created in conjunction with Turtle Survival Alliance as a response to catastrophic declines of Hicatee populations due to elevated levels of harvesting for human consumption. 

The facility strives to accumulate information on the species in captivity. We facilitate and promote research on the biology and ecology of Hicatee focusing on areas like breeding and nesting behaviours, temperature sex determination, dietary needs, growth rates, as well as pathogens and parasites. Through breeding efforts, we have been able to hatch and raise over 1,000 turtles and, to date, we have released over 500 of these captive-bred animals into the wild. We offer volunteer opportunities and training associated with our bi-annual Health assessments. We also host meetings and symposia to help further collective knowledge on the species.

On a national level BFREE has established the largest outreach campaign on the species – Hicatee Awareness Month. Through this campaign, we engage young minds, teachers, and the general public via events, media, and school programs to create awareness and enhance community involvement. 

We are also gearing up and planning for the launch of our field research team. Our initial research team members will consist of HCRC Manager – Thomas Pop, Dermatemys Program Coordinator – Jaren Serano and myself. There will also be opportunities for others to collaborate and assist in the field work once we get started. Together, we will gather the data needed to better understand the species and its current distribution in the wild. My team’s ultimate goal and hope is for the Hicatee to become sustainable once again in its native habitat. As for me, I won’t stop dreaming of the day when I return to the cliff of my youth and see my beautiful Belize as it once was and can be again – rich and lush in all its natural glory.    

The Importance of Involving Local Communities in Conservation

I vividly recall my first time on the Belize River, navigating a canoe while assisting in population surveys for a Hicatee assessment. Despite my Belizean upbringing, my familiarity was primarily inland, leaving the fishing communities’ way of life somewhat foreign to me. Engaging in river-based research marked my initial exposure to the intricate relationship between these communities and the waterway.

The river serves not only as a food source but also as a gathering place for families, where they bond through storytelling and laughter on a relaxing Sunday afternoon. This is a place where elders pass on swimming and life lessons to their grandchildren, while youngsters test their aquatic stamina through diving games. Apart from fishing, the river holds multiple significant meanings to the communities who consider it their backyard.

“Save the Hicatee” banners have been created and signed by community members (young and old) across Belize who share the concern for this critically endangered species and who want to take action.

By observing fishing communities seamlessly blend into their environment, I started to see that, even though we all live in the same country, different communities have their own special ways of connecting with the environment we all share. This recognition as well as my recent experience studying abroad has helped me to realize that integrating local knowledge in the work that we do allows for the development of conservation strategies that are culturally appropriate and tailored to the specific needs of the area.

In Belize, Hicatee turtles have historically been harvested as a traditional and celebratory food source, resulting in a significant decline in their population. The consumption of Hicatee meat holds deep -roots within the Belizean population. I believe it is our responsibility as conservationists with a scientific perspective to consider how we can address this cultural tradition while also preserving the integrity of the species. Local perspectives can help us identify potential conflicts between Hicatee conservation efforts and local needs.

Incorporating these communities in our work can also improve the effectiveness of our research. For example, by communicating with local fishers we can identify areas where Hicatee turtles are in abundance but are being heavily harvested; this information can help us make informed decisions about areas to protect. Hiring dedicated locals as riverkeepers of these protected areas also offers the opportunity to create sustainable livelihoods within target communities. By involving communities in conservation efforts, we hope to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility. When people are valued and engaged, they are more likely to actively participate in protecting their environment as well as the biodiversity that inhabits it. 

To effectively contribute to the preservation of the Hicatee turtles, it’s crucial to involve community members of all ages, backgrounds and professions in our conservation and research endeavors. Some examples include the involvement of community leaders, local fisherfolks who know every twist and turn of the rivers, the popular food vendors down the street who help to keep the community fed, farmers who provide us with local produce and the dedicated educators who are shaping young minds. In closing, Biodiversity in ecosystems contributes to resilience and adaptability. Similarly, diversity in conservation teams enhances adaptability to changing circumstances and challenges.

Jaren Serano returns to BFREE as Dermatemys Program Coordinator

By Jaren Serano

During my first stint at BFREE, I had the privilege of witnessing the positive impact that organizations like this have on land conservation, wildlife protection, and the conservation efforts among the local communities in Belize. When I joined as BFREE’s first Science and Education Fellow in 2017, I was immediately drawn to their ongoing Dermatemys mawii (Hicatee) captive breeding program. At the time, this was still a relatively new collaboration between BFREE and the Turtle Survival Alliance, and we were experiencing our second year of hatching success.

My desire to contribute to the conservation efforts and help safeguard this species motivated me to be a part of this program. Through my active engagement and with guidance provided by Thomas Pop, the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center Manager, I acquired priceless firsthand experience working closely with the Hicatee turtles, both in controlled environments and their natural habitats. At the captive breeding facility, my daily responsibilities involved caring for and handling the turtles, which allowed me to develop skills in husbandry and effective management practices.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job was assisting in the care and rearing of hatchlings and juveniles. Being responsible for the well-being of over a hundred critically endangered Hicatee hatchlings instilled in me a profound sense of purpose and pride. Additionally, as a fellow, I had the privilege to gain insights from and work alongside various biologists, including Dr. Donald McKnight, Dr. Day Ligon and Denise Thompson. Together, we conducted population assessments for the Hicatee turtle within river systems in Belize. This not only enabled me to observe wild Hicatees for the first time but also provided a platform to engage with local anglers and raise awareness about the species’ conservation status.

After graduating from the fellowship program at BFREE, I traveled to the states to complete my bachelor’s degree in Sustainability at Jacksonville University (JU) under the advisement of Dr. John Enz. Being part of this program gave me a deeper understanding of the requirements needed to make a significant impact in today’s conservation field. Additionally, it offered me the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of like-minded individuals, some of whom have since become lifelong friends.

Following my accomplishments at JU, I then applied to and was accepted at the University of Florida (UF) for my master’s degree program. Throughout this period, I collaborated closely with Dr. Ray Carthy, Dr. Nichole Bishop, and Dr. Todd Osborne. My main focus was directed towards researching aspects of the reproductive ecology of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). While at UF, I worked as a graduate research assistant at the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, which allowed me to further develop as a student of nature and has provided me with a solid scientific foundation. This dynamic environment has sharpened my analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and aptitude for effectively communicating scientific information and wildlife management programs to my peers in the sciences as well as the general public.

Now, as the Dermatemys Program Coordinator, I am incredibly enthusiastic about my new role. I am confident that my educational background, ever-expanding knowledge of the Hicatee turtle, and experience in wildlife conservation management will allow me to make immediate contributions to the ongoing efforts to prevent further decline of this critically endangered species.

Amidst a world challenged by increasing anthropogenic pressures, Belize is blessed to still possess approximately 55 percent of forest cover and a vibrant array of wildlife. As a proud Belizean, I derive immense satisfaction from actively participating in conservation initiatives within our country, striving to maintain the integrity of our diverse ecosystems. Over time, I have developed a profound respect for the ecological and cultural importance of D. mawii in Belize. This has fueled my determination to assist in implementing effective management practices that can strengthen this unique relationship and collaborate towards the restoration of declining and extirpated populations of D. mawii throughout its entire range.

My goal is to help promote governmental recognition of the Hicatee, with the hope that existing regulations can better align with the long-term sustainability of the species. Additionally, I aim to actively engage the community and foster a nationwide appreciation for D. mawii as a crucial member of Belize’s riparian ecosystems, rather than solely viewing it as a food resource. I firmly believe that by working together and actively collaborating, we can save the Hicatee from the brink of extinction.

With Thanks

Special Thanks to the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) for their continuous support of the BFREE Science and Education Fellowship Program. Also, thanks to TSA and the Disney Conservation Fund for their financial support to launch the position of Dermatemys Program Coordinator.

BFREE staff at Jaguar Lanes Bowling Alley in Maya Beach. This was for our 2018 Staff Retreat.

The Fascinating Characteristics of Sundew

By Mark Canti

The astonishing characteristics of sundews are unbelievable to me. During two research trips with Dr. Rob Naczi of NY Botanical Garden, I learned a lot about plants, especially sedges. I was introduced to carnivorous plants and found them fascinating. I was shocked to learn that while walking around, we have been stepping on a lot of different species of exciting plants!

The Sundew was one of the common plants I saw in the field and it caught my attention because of the uniqueness of its survival skills. It is a variable perennial plant (meaning the plant can adapt to any environment and that the plant will grow, die out and grow again). I learned a lot of the basics of this plant in the field and, because of my interest, I continued my research after returning from my most recent research trip.

According to the International Carnivorous Plant Society, Sundews are generally about 4 cm in diameter. An individual leaf is about 5 mm long and 4 mm wide with erected scapes from the center of the plant about 8 cm long. The sepals have hairy glands that secrete sundew glue and the plant colouration ranges from pale green to deep red. It has approximately six pink or white small flowers that are constantly self-pollinating. Sundews have almost 200 different species making it one of the most diverse of all carnivorous plants.

Sundews capture their prey from glistening drops of dew at the tips of the hairy-like tentacles on their leaves. A healthy plant can have a hundred dew drops which makes it look gorgeously dainty and beautiful, but it is a sticky death trap for small insects. They have the ability to move or bend their tentacles in contact to respond to their edible prey. When an insect is trapped, it either succumbs to death through exhaustion or through suffocation as the fluid from the plant releases encloses, and blocks the opening of the insect exoskeletons. Death usually occurs within 15 minutes. (Photo credit left: internet image)

Meanwhile, the plant has trapped its prey, the plant secretes enzymes that will dissolve the insects which will free the nutrients that are trapped within its body. Eventually, the nutrient mixture is then absorbed through the leaf surfaces to be used by the rest of the plant.

Antique botany illustration: Drosera rotundifolia, round-leaved sundew

This is a plant that is common throughout the country of Belize and can be found in wet pine savannas. Discovering Sundews made me realize that many of us in Belize have no idea how extraordinary nature can be. This experience made me curious to learn about the multiple thousands of plant species that exist in this country.

As the Cacao Fellow for BFREE’s agroforestry program, I have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of nature. As someone who loves Belize, I’m dedicated to protecting our beautiful environment by understanding and appreciating the natural world around us. This research has taught me about the significance of each organism’s existence and its essential role in maintaining the environment.

Brittnacher, J. (2017, July). Drosera spatulata Species Complex. International Carnivorous Plant Society. https://www.carnivorousplants.org/cp/taxonomy/Droseraspatulata

Cacao Fellow Assists in Country-wide Sedge Survey

by Mark Canti

Last month, I participated in a research expedition to understand biogeography and documentation of sedges in Belize and to fill in gaps that previous botanists have left unexplored and unidentified. My role throughout this research was to help navigate, locate, and identify existing, new, or unusual sedges, but most importantly to learn and acquire knowledge and experience. Dr. Robert Naczi of the New York Botanical Garden led the research project and I traveled as his assistant. Together, we visited multiple savannah ecosystems from the mid to the northern, western, and eastern parts of the country.

Sedges are perennial plants that are commonly found in shallow waters or moist soils. People confuse them with grasses because they resemble grasses and often grow along with grasses. Much of the vegetation in lagoons and savannas are sedges and they provide food and shelter for wildlife. Studies on pastures in Canada where sedges and grasses are both present have shown that cattle prefer to graze on sedges more than grasses. Analysis has shown that sedges are more nutritious than grasses.

Rob has been traveling to Belize for the past 18 years. His first visit to Belize was in 2005 to prepare for a course that he anticipated teaching. He visited various parts of the country and realized that it would be a wonderful place to study sedges due to the countries’ rich biodiversity, especially for plants. Eventually, when he started teaching the Belize course, he brought his students to do research projects that focused on sedges in the savanna near BFREE.

Over the years, Rob has noticed increased deforestation in Belize. Previously wild areas are now becoming urbanized: we are seeing an increase in human occupancy and agriculture, also more dangerously, with the expansion of international drug trafficking. You’ll also note in the picture at the top of the article, Mark is shown in a savanna recently cleared for sand mining, an increasing threat to savanna vegetation.

On each trip he makes, he finds additional sedge species. Most have previously been discovered elsewhere and named but have not been recorded in places he explored and are therefore range extensions for the species. The newly identified locations allow him to better understand and gain knowledge about different types of savannas.

Mark and Rob’s explorations included many wetlands such as this shallow pond.

Usually, Rob travels to Belize during a part of the dry season – March, April, and May. Obviously, there are sedges that flower and fruit during the rainy season, which his schedule causes him to miss. In the future, he hopes to explore during the rainy season.

Interestingly, many sedges are fire-dependent plants, which means they require fire to flower and fruit. When there is no fire, the competing vegetation tends to grow high enough that it will shade the sedges. Therefore, sedges will go dormant for a few years but will eventually die if they receive shade for too long. Also, fire suppression for too long will cause the fuel load to build up, which can lead to a much more intense and catastrophic fire. 

For me, this trip was a remarkable experience. I have learned to exercise and improve research and important observational skills. Last year, I also assisted Rob in his research. We focused on the southern coast of Monkey River Village, which is the northern part of the Toledo District. We had an easygoing trip whereby we easily accessed the targeted locations via boat.

This year it was a much longer and more intense, but exciting, experience. We drove miles and miles into savannas through rough roads but almost every location was successful. Everything was new to me. I learned so much and got to explore amazing parts of my country. I saw a vast amount of wildlife and added bird species to my birding list that I have never seen before. Lastly, I learned more about sedges and other plant species than I could have imagined. Overall, this experience has been a highlight of my Fellowship Program.

Thank you to Dr. Robert Naczi

The staff of BFREE would like to extend their gratitude to Dr. Rob Naczi. We are grateful that he has faithfully returned to Belize and to BFREE over the past 18 years to continue his important research. Dr. Naczi has always been willing to teach motivated staff members to assist him in the field and has created opportunities for many of us to participate, even if only for an afternoon.

All photos by Dr. Rob Naczi and Mark Canti

Header Photo Caption: Mark in a savanna recently cleared for sand mining, an increasing threat to savanna vegetation.

Naming Opportunity for a New Species of Beaksedge

By Dr. Robert Naczi and Heather Barrett

Through his research to document the diversity and conservation status of Belizean sedges, Dr. Robert Naczi of New York Botanical Garden recently discovered a species of beaksedge previously unknown to science. In Belize, the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae) is one of the five largest (most species-rich) plant families. Beaksedges (genus Rhynchospora) are a diverse and ecologically important group of flowering plants, especially in the tropics. Beaksedges constitute the largest genus of plants in Belize, with 53 species.

When a scientist formally publishes a new species in order to make it known to the world, the new scientific name is one of the most exciting parts of the publication. This name becomes the means of communicating about the species throughout the world. Because this name will be permanent and must be unique, its formation is very important and provides an opportunity to be creative.

The fact the new species of beaksedge is unnamed presents an opportunity. Dr. Naczi has generously offered to donate the naming rights to BFREE to support our spring fundraising. Therefore, from Earth Day until Arbor Day (donations made in response to this eNews will also be included), any donation of $100.00 or more will be entered into a raffle to win the opportunity to name the beaksedge. The minimum value of this naming opportunity has been set by Dr. Naczi at $15,000.00 with all proceeds going towards BFREE’s conservation programs. For every $100.00 you donate, your name is entered into the raffle one time. The more you donate, the more chances you have to win! To donate today, click here.

Note: The fundraiser must reach its minimum goal of $15,000 for the raffle to occur.    

The new species is remarkable in several ways. It is known only from Belize, and increases the number of known plant species restricted to Belize to 42, highlighting the importance of Belize as a biodiversity hotspot. Also, this new species belongs to a group of species most diverse in the eastern U.S.A. In fact, this new species is the only member of this group that is restricted to the tropics. Its occurrence in Belize is completely unexpected, but Belize is full of surprises!

Botanical drawing of the newly identified Beaksedge – Copyright Bobbi Angell

The Bladen Review 2022

The 8th edition of BFREE’s annual magazine is now available in an interactive format online at Issuu! Get the latest news from the field station and learn about exciting research, conservation and education projects taking place in and around the rainforests of Belize. 

Highlights of the 2022 magazine include: updates on the conservation and outreach programs associated with cacao agroforestry, the Hicatee turtle, and Science & Education Fellowship Program.

Click here to download a PDF of The Bladen Review 2022.

Special thanks to Alyssa D’Adamo for designing this year’s magazine and to Shaman Marlin for photographing the cover image.