Two new faces greet BFREE visitors in 2023. We are happy to introduce Pedro Witz, Office and Hospitality Coordinator, and Mario Teul, Tour Guide and Educator.
(Header photo of Mario Teul with students from Kutztown University by Chris Habeck.)
Pedro Witz was born in Puerto Barrios Guatemala in 1987. Shortly after, his parents migrated to Belize where they made it a home. In 2008 Pedro graduated with an associate degree in Business Administration with concentration in Finance from the University of Belize. He began working for the Toledo Cacao Growers Association in 2008 as a Financial Controller and then moved up to Project Coordinator. In 2016 he was working directly with the cruise line in the hospitality sector where he gained much experience in the tourism industry. He then went back home where he worked five years as a secondary education teacher at the Julian Cho Technical High School. During that period Pedro obtained a Pedagogy Certificate in secondary education from Galen University.
Pedro’s interests in helping young adolescents at risk and his passion for sports has made him an inspirational and motivational figure for many youths in Toledo District. He believes all is possible and everything happens for a reason. Pedro began working for BFREE in January of 2023 and is happy to be a part of a wonderful and dynamic team who values and protects the precious wildlife of the Belizean magical tropical rainforest. He is the Office & Hospitality Coordinator, and his role is extremely important in making the stay of guests and visitors a most memorable one. Pedro takes pride in his new job.
Mario was born in San Miguel Village but grew up in Blue Creek Village. He attended the Toledo Community College in Punta Gorda Town and later attended the University College of Belize (now known as the University of Belize). As a young kid, Mario spent a lot of time outdoors and fell in love with nature. His first job as a Field Biology Assistant with a conservation organization called Programme for Belize increased his love for Belize’s flora and fauna. A few years later he was hired as a Site Supervisor for an International research, conservation, and education project based out of Wisconsin, USA in collaboration with the Belize Zoo.
Mario taught Primary School for a few years but since nature is his passion, he quit teaching and went into full time tourism. He worked for several resorts mainly leading guided tours throughout Belize. Given his knowledge of Belize’s avifauna world, he was contracted by Belize Audubon Society to customize a Basic and an Advanced Level Birding Curriculum to teach upcoming tour guides about the Birds of Belize. Mario is currently the Tour Guide/Educator at the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education located at the foothills of the beautiful Maya Mountains in Southern Belize.
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Kutztown-University-at-TEC-1.jpg5371262BFREE Contacthttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngBFREE Contact2023-04-13 21:12:122023-04-14 02:55:37Introducing New Hospitality Staff at BFREE
This year, we, members of the TSA – North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (NAFTRG), had a team of ten people fly down to trap turtles on the BFREE private reserve in southern Belize. If you have never been to Belize, I highly recommend it. The country is beautiful and the people are wonderful. Working with the people at the BFREE Field Station on this project has been so much fun.
This is our second year of a planned 10-year survey of freshwater and terrestrial turtle species on BFREE’s 1,153-acre private reserve. Last year, we identified several species range extensions and caught seven of nine freshwater and terrestrial species known in Belize. The survey is valuable information not only for the TSA, NAFTRG and BFREE, but for the country of Belize where very little data exists on many of these species.
During the first 12 days we caught 221 turtles representing 8 species. The holy grail capture of this trip was finding our first Narrow Bridged Musk Turtle (Claudius angustatus), which is a really cool and understudied species of musk turtle. One that is not known from southern Belize. We ended up catching a dozen including some juveniles and a hatchling indicating a viable breeding population.
Our team also helped kick off a new grad student project for Collin McAvinchey who will be staying in Belize for most of the month of July tracking Tabasco Mud turtles (Kinosternon acutum). Collin’s project started off slow due to weather conditions. Finding adult Tabasco Mud Turtles was more of a challenge this year than last year. Still the data he is gathering is surprising and amazing. As of yesterday, he is now tracking ten of these turtles all over the rainforest. For a mud turtle they seem to act more like box turtles….
I am really looking forward to generating our first manuscripts from this work and seeing Collin’s thesis come together. I’m also excited to return next year! A valuable and exciting part of this program was the opportunity for citizen scientists to contribute to a long-term dataset. There will be opportunities next year for additional participation.
Thanks to an amazing crew Arron Tuggle, Madeleine Morrison, Nicole Salvatico, Stephen Ross , Tabitha Barbree Hootman, Luke Pearson, Becca Rádio Cozad, Georgia Knauss, and Collin McAvinchey. Also to the BFREE team: Thomas Pop, Barney Hall, Jonathan Dubon, Heather Barrett, Jacob Marlin, and many others, thank you for all of your efforts and hospitality and making this project such an early success! Finally, thanks to Tyler Sanville for supporting our travel logistics and to Eddie Pop who kept us well fed and always ready to get back out into the field.
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/IMG_4603.jpg15122016Eric Munscherhttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngEric Munscher2022-07-14 21:40:202022-07-15 21:09:21Freshwater and Terrestrial Turtle Survey – Year Two
Students from Keene High School in Keene, New Hampshire helped BFREE staff celebrate Earth Day by planting seeds. This is Keene High School teacher, Matt Brady’s, fourth trip to Belize and to BFREE. He is joined by fellow teachers, Christine Gillis, Monica Foley, and Jodie Ballaro. Their group was scheduled to come to the field station in 2020 but was cancelled due to the pandemic. They tried again last year with no luck. This makes us especially thrilled to host them in 2022.
In a BFREE interview with Mark Canti and Jonathan Dubon on Facebook Live for Earth Day, Matt described why he wanted to return. “BFREE is a really special place for lots of reasons. I’m really happy to be here to meet young people like you. People who contribute to the ecology of the area and are conservationists. That is very important to me, the way BFREE is set up to keep young people coming in from the area. This is why we keep coming back.”
In a surprising turn of events for dry season, it began raining at 9am during the student orientation. The rain continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon, but this didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The students continued their orientation and tour of the facilities. After lunch, everyone divided into groups for service projects. Nine students helped with planting germinated cacao seeds in the nursery. An additional fourteen students helped at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center where they assisted in a project to improve the exterior fence. The remainder of the students supported the long-term large mammal research project by checking camera traps on the property.
We are grateful that Matt, Christine, Monica and Jodie worked so hard to come back to BFREE this year.
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/IMG_4796.jpg20161512Heather Barretthttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngHeather Barrett2022-04-24 03:24:582022-04-24 03:25:03Celebrating Earth Day
It is no secret that the global pandemic has significantly impacted travel. For BFREE, that has meant a drastic reduction in all types of visitation over the last two years from researchers, specialists, eco-tourists, to our annual Field Courses. However, things are slowly but surely changing, and we are ecstatic to have had our very first student groups back at BFREE since February 2020!
Nearly two years to the day since our last student group, we welcomed two groups from an organization new to BFREE, ARCC Gap Year Abroad. ARCC offers summer and gap year programs for students focused on community-driven and community-led sustainable projects around the world. The two student groups visiting BFREE alternated between 5-nights at BFREE and 5-nights on the Belize Barrier Reef. Each group was made up of ten students and two instructors. The groups volunteered with BFREE’s cacao agroforestry program supporting the growing nursery and painting signs for trees on the farm. Additionally, students learned to make chocolate from bean to bar.
Other highlights include being the inaugural guests to sleep in the newest accommodations at BFREE, The Hammock, exploring the Rainforest on a boundary line hike with Protected Areas Manager, Canti, and meeting and learning from all of the incredible and inspiring staff at BFREE.
These students are part of a 70-day program that will take them from the Rainforest to the Barrier Reef, to sea turtle restoration and surfing in Costa Rica, and finally exploring the Panama Canal over the next two months.
What an amazing adventure these students are on – wishing them all a safe and incredible trip!
Below are a collection of photos taken by BFREE staff and volunteers of both the ARCC GAP GROUPS A and B during their time at BFREE in February 2022.
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/image6.jpeg8441500Tyler Sanvillehttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngTyler Sanville2022-03-28 17:40:342022-03-30 14:04:21Student Groups Return to BFREE After Two-Years
BFREE internship opportunities have returned since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than two years of not hosting interns, Autumn Dietrich is welcomed with open arms to BFREE for a 10-week program from January to March 2022.
Autumn is no stranger to BFREE. She first visited on a Field Course as an undergrad with Western Michigan University in 2018. On a hike with Protected Areas Manager, Sipriano Canti, Autumn describes the experience as having changed her life. Impressed by the sheer scale of life that existed at BFREE, she hiked with her fellow classmates winding through trees, climbing embankments of creeks, and cutting through giant leaves. The hike led the group to the Ranger Observation Post on the boundary of BFREE and the neighboring farming village of Trio. Autumn’s excitement turned to dismay as she witnessed for the first time the harsh boundary line between a healthy and thriving forest and a large expanse of farmland. At this moment, she felt an overwhelming feeling that she wanted to help make a difference and help support protected areas. She knew she would come back to BFREE.
After graduation, Autumn applied to return to BFREE as an intern for three months, April – June 2020. At the time, we had no idea we would soon be facing a global pandemic. Determined not to give up on her dream to return to BFREE, Autumn’s postponed trip came to fruition this year when she traveled to Belize in January.
Autumn worked alongside BFREE staff during her ten-week internship, providing invaluable support. Her first week was spent documenting and assisting a research crew from Kutztown University. They are establishing a long-term experiment that quantifies the influence of Yucatán black howler monkeys on biodiversity and ecosystem function in Belize. She then assisted Cacao Fellow, Mark Canti on a large-scale survey of the cacao farm to determine the farm’s overall health. When not focused on collating the cacao survey data, Autumn assisted Housekeeping Manager, Ofelia Cus with preparing accommodations for visitors and BFREE Chef, Edwardo Pop in the kitchen.
In addition to supporting BFREE’s various conservation initiatives, Autumn, immersed herself in learning and experiencing Belizean culture. She was honored when Operations Manager, Elmer Tzalam and his wife Gina invited her to spend a weekend with them at their home in Golden Stream. Autumn loved spending time with Elmer and Gina’s two children, Esther (12) and Travis (9), and enjoyed a delicious homemade dinner of panades, a dish that’s similar to empanadas but with a Belizean and Mayan twist.
Living full-time at BFREE for ten weeks brings plenty of challenges. The remote location and intense heat are not for the faint of heart. However, Autumn not only thrived during her two+ months, but she also brought so much joy and laughter to the BFREE community. Thank you so much, Autumn, for your sincere dedication to BFREE’s mission and for being an incredible and loyal team player. We all look forward to seeing you amongst the giant ceibas again one day!
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/IMG_4076-edited-scaled.jpg25242560Tyler Sanvillehttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngTyler Sanville2022-03-16 17:51:212022-03-16 17:51:24Autumn Dietrich Completes 10-week Internship at BFREE
Professional photographers, videographers, and documentarians Jorge Silva Rivera and Carlos Miguel Herrera traveled from Chiapas, Mexico, to BFREE for 10-days in February 2022. Working with Zamia Media, the pair set out to document the people, facilities, wildlife, and natural beauty of BFREE. Zamia Media will then use the images and videos captured during their time to create updated visuals for BFREE to use on our website and in other marketing materials.
The duo has vast experience documenting remote, hard-to-reach places throughout southern Mexico and has worked to discover and learn more about some of the most ancient and biodiverse locations in the world.
During their time at BFREE, they spent several days interviewing all of the staff and many of the volunteers and other visitors who overlapped with their visit. They used multiple drones to capture BFREE’s privately protected area and spent hours photographing the flora and fauna throughout the property. It was an honor to host Jorge and Carlos at BFREE and such an incredible experience to have them alongside our team for nearly two weeks.
We understand the importance of documenting our work and sharing the incredible place that is BFREE. However, it can be difficult to do so when all of the other work is so demanding. We are so grateful to have had these two professionals join us so that we can continue #BringingBFREEToYou!
You asked, we answered! BFREE is partnering with Bonfire to create and sell t-shirts that support our conservation programs. Our first t-shirt design is in honor of the BFREE Birding Club and sports a beautiful Rufous-tailed jacamar. Anyone can join the BFREE Birding Club! The best part – you can pick from five different styles of shirts and nearly twenty different colors! Profits from each sale will directly support BFREE’s conservation programs. Shirts are mailed every 4-weeks directly from the Bonfire warehouse. If you have a question about shipping please do not hesitate to contact us!
Bird watching is the ultimate connector.
The BFREE Privately Protected Area is home to more than 80 species of migratory birds and hundreds of resident species. When we scour the branches for our feathered friends in Belize, we are reminded that some of them have migrated from your backyard to ours. Our location is critical for wildlife, and with your support, we can make a difference in protecting critical wild spaces for all of our furry, scaly, and feathered friends!
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/tshirt.jpg795789Tyler Sanvillehttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngTyler Sanville2021-07-07 21:03:252021-08-16 17:32:07BFREE Birding Club T-Shirts For Sale!
The Bunkhouse has served as the main dormitory for guests visiting BFREE since its completion in 1998 when it began as a 40’x12’ two-room structure. In 2008, it was expanded to double the original size and consequently doubled occupancy sleeping up to 24 people. Located just over 200m from the river and situated under the hulking shade of a massive 140-ft Ceiba tree, the bunkhouse is the first stop for most visitors as they arrive at BFREE.
Bunkhouse renovations have been scheduled since last year and were made possible by a generous donor who specifically designated funds for infrastructure improvements. While we have had to reassess many priorities this year due to COVID-19 with its sudden and extreme impact on our field season, we are grateful to be able to move forward with the much-needed improvements to this essential structure. It is important to us that we are ready for our guests as soon as they can return and that includes comfortable accommodations!
The new layout will create six private rooms, each sleeping up to six guests, and will include a 10’x32′ observation deck facing the Ceiba tree which will serve as a great spot to view wildlife like Harpy eagles. The bunkhouse is being designed to accommodate visitors of all kinds, not just student groups, and to create additional common space for guests to relax together. The staff has thus far completed the first step of the renovation which was to pour the concrete footers. They are now in phase two, dismantling everything from the floor up while also constructing the frame for the expansion.
One of the most exciting aspects of the renovation is that this building is almost completely “zero waste.” The bunkhouse is being dismantled board by board and each piece of material is being evaluated to be reused; including boards, nails, and the roofing. If the material is not reused on the bunkhouse it will be repurposed for other projects throughout the property. With the exception of the new roofing and tongue and groove flooring, which were purchased, the other material is coming straight from the BFREE property. We salvaged three dead trees from the property and all have been milled into lumber by chainsaw.
We are so incredibly excited about the improved accommodations and we look forward to seeing the place full of guests again!
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IMG_5060-scaled.jpg19202560Tyler Sanvillehttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngTyler Sanville2020-06-11 23:50:462020-06-18 15:32:52Renovations to the BFREE Bunkhouse are Underway
The beginning of the year means the start of a brand new field season for BFREE. Kutztown University helped kick-off 2020 with an incredible group of 15 students and two instructors ready to embark on a two-week adventure in Belize. The group arrived on New Year’s Eve and spent the evening with Ernesto and Aurora Saqui in Maya Center Village where they participated in a traditional ceremony to welcome in the new year. From there the group spent eight nights at BFREE giving them enough time to really make the jungle feel like a home away from home. In addition to the week-long stay at BFREE, the group ventured to the coast for three nights in Placencia. We were excited to partner with our friends at the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) for a presentation led by Dr. Marisa Tellez, Executive Director, and Co-Founder. The group joined Dr. Tellez and a local boat captain for an evening on the water looking for crocs. This was a great opportunity for our group to learn more about research and educational outreach taking place in southern Belize.
The next group to arrive was from SUNY Potsdam. Led by Dr. Glenn Johnson, the group spent an entire week at BFREE. They developed independent research projects which is one of the main activities for our field courses. The students generally spend their first day at BFREE thinking of a research question before starting to collect data. Below are a frew of the research projects that stuents have worked on so far this year.
Are insects attracted to different colors at different heights along the observation tower?
What is the dragonfly diversity at BFREE?
Are insects more attracted to cow dung or tuna?
Are leaf cutter ants more active in the day or night?
A highlight of SUNY Potsdam’s time at BFREE occurred on their first morning with a tapir sighting along the Bladen River. The group was just finishing breakfast when they got a call from Head Park Ranger, Sipriano Canti, who spotted. Everyone was able to arrive in time to watch the Tapir as it slowly moved along the rivers’ edge. Students also had the opportunity to learn the traditions of basket-weaving using Jippy Joppa palm with Ofelia and cooking on the fire hearth with Edwardo.
Last weekend we hosted our first student group from Belize in 2020. Led by Natural Resource Management teacher, Ms. Abigal Parham-Garbutt, Independence Junior College brought a group of 37 including instructors and students from Accounting, Agribusiness, Information Technology, and Natural Resources Management departments. Ms. Parham-Garbutt first visited BFREE in 2006 as a student herself when she was enrolled at the University of Belize. In 2011, she brought her first student group to BFREE and has continued to do so ever since. Students learned about the majestic Harpy Eagle, Central American River Turtle (Hickatee), Cacao based Agroforestry, small mammals, fruit phenology, migratory and native birds, insects, and snakes. Ms. Parham-Garbutt said, “Experiences like these are certainly one of the best ways to engage students in understanding how the forest works, how people can co-exist with nature and how blessed we are in Belize.”
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/SUNY-2.jpg13652048Tyler Sanvillehttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngTyler Sanville2020-02-26 16:13:102020-02-26 16:27:23Kicking off the Field Season
Join BFREE in the great world-wide celebration of migratory birds during the entire month of March!
Below are educational resources and additional information for you to use in your classrooms. We encourage celebratory events throughout the month of March such as educational presentations, cleanups, and other habitat restorations as well as bird walks, and creative art activities
Classroom Activity Ideas:
Host or join a trash clean up, this can be done around your school, in your community or along the beach! Bonus challenge, have class competitions to collect the most trash or create an art project with the plastic collected.
Download the bird count and bring your class outside to record data from around your schoolyard.
Have a school-wide plastic-free challenge week. Challenge your students to go a full week without using any single-use plastic at school!
Host a movie party, watch Wing of Hope, Yochi, or Birds of Belize to get to know more about the incredible birds in our country.
Share Migratory Bird Day in Belize on social media! Share the Facebook banner or post on Instagram and tag @bfreebz so we can see your activities!
February 22: “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution” Presentation to students of Natural Resource Management from Independence Junior College
March 1 – 31: Join BFREE in celebrating World Migratory Bird Day in Belize the entire month of March
March 4 – 6: BFREE presentations and activities for Primary and High Schools in Independence Village
March 14: Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) and Next Gen Croc Club will host a beach clean up in Seine Bright
What is World Migratory Bird Day:
World Migratory Bird Day in the Americas is coordinated by the organization, Environment for the Americas, which promotes bilingual educational materials and information about birds and bird conservation. Environment for the Americas celebrates the migration of nearly 350 bird species between their nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Now in its 26th year, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) has grown from a one-day event to hundreds of projects and programs year-round and encourage individuals and organizations to join them in selecting their own date to celebrate WMBD. BFREE has selected the entire month of March to celebrate WMBD in Belize and we invite you to join us!
We are inspired by the phase-out plan to ban single-use plastic in Belize that became effective on 15 January 2020. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Immigration, Hon. Goodwin Hulse, signed into law the Environmental Protection (Pollution from Plastics) Regulations, 2020 that is set to reduce plastic and styrofoam pollution through the phasing out of single-use plastics in Belize as a control measure to protect the terrestrial and marine environment from harmful plastic contamination.
With this in mind, we at BFREE are celebrating WMBD by embracing the message, “Protect birds: Be the solution to plastic pollution.”
We invite you, our partners country-wide to join BFREE in tackling the challenges of plastic pollution in the environment by sharing with your classrooms the many ways that plastic can harm birds and by offering some ideas for ways that we can reduce our use of plastic items.
The Truth Behind Plastic Pollution:
Since plastic was introduced in the 1950s, an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons have been created. Only about 9% of plastic materials are recycled, leaving more than 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics in landfills or polluting the environment. “One of the main types of debris in the marine environment today is plastic. We know fishing gear, plastic bags, bottle caps, utensils, and other plastic pieces are entangling and being ingested by birds. Plastics harm birds in marine environments, as well as other habitats. As human use of plastics grows, so too does the amount of plastic pollution that invades most ecosystems around the globe. “Plastic debris such as fishing line poses a serious risk of entangling birds, which can entrap them and cause serious injury,” says Dr. Susan Bonfield, Director of Environment for the Americas. Migratory birds also have a high risk of directly ingesting plastics. It’s been estimated that 80% of sea and shorebirds have consumed foam, pellets, thread, and other items. In addition, small bits of plastic, known as microplastics, pose a hazard to birds and smaller organisms throughout the food chain due to the toxins they concentrate in the environment.
The Spectacular Journey of Birds:
In addition to raising awareness about issues important to bird conservation, World Migratory Bird Day is also a celebration of the spectacular journeys that migratory birds take as they travel between nesting and non-breeding sites around the world. Global partners at the Convention on Migratory Species in Bonn, Germany recognize that “World Migratory Bird Day joins our voices as one for the protection of the birds we share. With raised awareness of threats such as plastic pollution to birds, it is our opportunity to take action by making changes that help birds, whether personal or more broadly.” Although WMBD is traditionally celebrated in Canada and the U.S. on the second Saturday in May, in reality every day is bird day, and programs, festivals, and other events occur throughout the year, whenever it works best for organizers—and the birds. “Ultimately, the goal of WMBD is to connect people to nature through birds,” says Miguel Matta, WMBD Coordinator in Latin America.
The Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) operates a biological field station in the rainforest of southern Belize. Our mission is “to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize.” We strive to successfully integrate scientific research, environmental education, conservation, and create sustainable development opportunities for alternative livelihoods for Belizeans.
About Environment for the Americas:
WMBD in the Americas is coordinated by Environment for the Americas, which provides bilingual educational materials and information about birds and bird conservation throughout the Americas. Their programs inspire children and adults to get outdoors, learn about birds, and take part in their conservation. To learn more about migratory bird habitats, download WMBD educational and promotional materials in Spanish and English, and search for activities planned in your area, visit http://www.migratorybirdday.org/.
Miguel Matta, Latin America World Migratory Bird Day Coordinator, Environment for the Americas, Boulder, CO, USA. Email: email@example.com
https://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Belize-01.png830601Tyler Sanvillehttps://www.bfreebz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Logo-1080.pngTyler Sanville2020-02-14 15:05:072020-02-25 14:34:19Let’s Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day in Belize!