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.

Celebrating Seven Years of Hicatee Awareness Month

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we are waiting for. We are the change we seek.” Barack Obama

Hicatee Awareness Month was born out of a need – as are many things. The Hicatee turtle was on the brink of extinction. Belize was identified as the stronghold for the species throughout its small range. Yet, how do you get an entire country to care about saving one species of turtle? And even more challenging – a turtle that is entirely aquatic and seldom seen, so is most recognized as a delightful and celebratory meal?

With baby steps as well as trial and error. 

In 2015, I designed a t-shirt with the Mountain Printing Company in the states. The shirt displayed a photo of the first Hicatee hatchling to the HCRC (Freckles) with #SaveTheHicatee written underneath. The turtle was perfectly adorable and a hit with kids. I was excited that this was the first significant material I had created for the purpose of conservation. 

Soon after the shirts were delivered to Belize, Jacob Marlin wore his on the Hokey Pokey to travel from Mango Creek to Placencia. He ran into an old friend from the village, who said to him, “Your shirt is making me hungry!” 

Jacob later told me the story and it stuck with me. Not as a failure but as a lesson and an opportunity. We had to do more and we had to think differently.

Richard and Carol Foster were finishing a documentary film that described the plight of the Hicatee in Belize. BFREE and Turtle Survival Alliance needed to share it with audiences in Belize who could care about the species and do something about it. 

As a result, Hicatee Awareness Month was born in October 2017 as a national campaign to save the species. “Hope for Belize’s Hicatee” documentary was the centerpiece and schools and NGO partners throughout Belize partnered in ensuring that film viewings and events happened throughout the month. We featured a different #HicateeHero every day in October and shared knowledge about how cool it is to be a teacher or researcher or student or biologist and told stories about everyday heroes. We reached hundreds of students and community members in person throughout Belize and thousands online.

When October 31st rolled around in 2017, I was proud and relieved to have made it through. I also thought that would be the end of Hicatee Awareness Month, because I had only envisioned it as a one-time event. However, I started to get emails and requests about what next year’s celebration would look like. And so, it continued….


In 2018, we hosted a national poster contest and had wonderful entries from all over the country. We were thrilled when the Standard IV class at Hummingbird Elementary in Belize City formed their own Hicatee Committee and used materials we sent to teach kids throughout their entire school.

In 2019, we produced a calendar with the winning poster entries from 2018. Those calendars were included as one of the new materials in the 100 packets that were distributed that year.


Then, there was the 2020 pandemic. And the small BFREE team was running short on new ideas for the month, so we decided to form a committee and invite members from other districts in Belize to contribute a fresh perspective to the annual celebration. The results were beyond our expectations! Soon, the team created a new mascot, Mr. Hicatee, as well as activities including a new sing-a-long song and Hicatee Hero video. Packets were delivered by committee members to schools in the districts where they lived. This was incredibly important that year because teachers were required to send materials home with students.


In 2021, new materials included a poster and bumper sticker to target older audiences. These materials were distributed throughout Belize on buses and cars, in grocery stores and other locations.


In 2022, Committee membership expanded and so did our reach. This year, we continued to focus on adult audiences, creating tote bags and even a billboard asking Belizeans to Follow the laws of Belize to protect all wildlife including the Hicatee. We shifted our language to talk about the importance of protecting the watersheds that Hicatee inhabit.

This year, we continue our quest to see the Hicatee become the National Reptile and to ultimately save a species from extinction. I couldn’t be more excited and proud of what we (a growing community of people who care about Belize’s wildlife and wildlands) have accomplished. Our next steps will be to put a research team together who will go into the field to learn about Hicatee in the wild and to collaborate with the communities who share the waters with these special turtles.

The Hicatee is disappearing, but together we can save it. 


Since 2017, Hicatee Awareness Month milestones include: 

  1. More than 2,000 pages of printed educational materials, including fact sheets, coloring pages, writing prompts, and more, have been delivered to educators across Belize. 
  2. Those same educational materials are made available for free online in our Online Toolkit and emailed to more than 500 principals and teachers each year. 
  3. We have distributed Hicatee-themed items including: 500 t-shirts, 5,000 stickers, 200 posters, 160 “Herbert the Hicatee” books, 100 tote bags, and 100 “Hope for Belize’s Hicatee” DVD’s.
  4. Hicatee Hero volunteers hosted over 50 public events and classroom visits.
  5. More than 25 features on radio, TV, and in printed magazines and newspapers.
  6. Created “Mr. Hicatee,” a catchy sing-along video and song.
  7. Featured two roadside billboards in strategic locations in Belize.
  8. Over – local and international visitors to BFREE have taken the Hicatee pledge and signed the Save the Hicatee banner!

Thanks to 2023 Committee Members: Ornella Cadle (2023 Committee Chair), Colleen Joseph, Jessie Young, Claudia Matzdorf, Barney Hall, Abigail Parham-Garbutt, Jonathan Dubon, Ingrid Rodriguez, Jaren Serano, and Heather Barrett.

Thanks to past Committee members: Robynn Philips (2022 Committee Chair), Tyler Sanville, Marcia Itza, Belizario Gian Carballo, Monique Vernon, Celina Gongora, Gianni Martinez, Ed Boles, and Elvera Xi.

We are also grateful to our local and international partners who have supported Hicatee Awareness Month over the years: Turtle Survival Alliance, Independence Junior College, University of Belize, the Belize Zoo, Crocodile Research Coalition, Sacred Heart Junior College, Hummingbird Elementary, Zoo Miami, South Carolina Aquarium, Disney Conservation Fund, and Zoo New England.  

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.

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

Collaborative Cacao Research Project

By Roxanna Chen

BFREE in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) facilitated a cacao research project at the BFREE’s Field Station in May 2023. The primary objective of the collaboration was to co-design and enhance post-harvest practices and methods for Criollo Cacao which is intercropped and shade-grown in several experimental plots within the property. Criollo is a Spanish term that means “of local origin” or native. Criollo beans are usually white to pale pink in color, and it is a pure cacao variety.

The four-day project was made feasible by several participants including the Crioco staff, myself as BFREE’s Advanced Cacao Fellow, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville student researchers and professors. The project involved a variety of activities that ranged from harvesting ripe criollo pods to pod-cracking and bean extraction, to fermenting and data collection. The collaboration commenced with the Crioco staff playing an instrumental role in the cacao field specifically in teaching the students how to appropriately harvest pods. This activity is considered a crucial first step for good quality and fermentation because the pod must be mature, healthy, and not damaged. Good quality also means good chocolate!

Thereafter, I taught the students our recommended methods for pod cracking and bean extraction, as well as fermentation set-up and preparation. The students were very hands-on and did not hesitate to share useful ideas and information regarding data collection during fermentation and the application and usage of instruments. The exchange between both partners was mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

The student researchers received many first-hand experiences; these include the ability to differentiate the four criollo phenotypes grown at BFREE, harvesting and extraction of cacao beans from pods and most importantly getting practical during fermentation. Additionally, as the advanced cacao fellow, I became more knowledgeable about fermentation chemistry and terminologies and was exposed to multiple lectures on basic food components relating to Food Science and its applications to cacao. 

Special Thanks

Thank you to everyone from UTK who participated in making the project a success. Professors: Dr. DeWayne Shoemaker, Dr. Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry, and Dr. Kevin Moulton Student Researchers: Holly Brabazon, Celeste Chadwick, Amber Gunter, Laura Whaley, and Madison Fomich.

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.

Billboards installed across Belize share a very important message, Save the Hicatee.

By Robynn Phillips, BFREE Engagement and Communications Coordinator

BFREE, our committed partnering organizations and this year’s Hicatee Awareness Month Planning Committee are excited to announce that two (2) billboards have been strategically installed along Belize’s Western Highway. 

The billboards were printed and installed by Big Signs Belize at the following locations:

  1. Mile 47, George Price Highway facing west.
  2. Mile 57, George Price Highway, Iguana Creek Roundabout facing north on the left side.

The billboard design was created by the 2022 Hicatee Awareness Month Planning Committee and it reads, “Save the Hicatee from Extinction: Follow Belize’s Fisheries Regulations.” The billboard will be on display for one year through October 2023. The goal of the billboards are to raise awareness through a larger platform, aiming to reach more people. We hope the billboards will bring awareness to Hicatee conservation not only during Hicatee Awareness Month but throughout the entire year. 

The billboards feature two dedicated conservation professionals, Mr. Thomas Pop and Mr. Barney Hall, each holding an adult Hicatee turtle. These gentlemen are responsible for the daily care of all turtles housed at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center at the BFREE Field Station in Toledo. The Committee would like to point out that the turtles pictured are an adult male and female that live at the HCRC. Hicatee turtles don’t reach adulthood and become reproductive until they are approximately 16 years of age.  

The HCRC is a captive breeding facility for this critically endangered species of river turtle and is a collaboration between BFREE, Turtle Survival Alliance, and the Belize Fisheries Department that began in 2013. The purpose of the HCRC is to conduct research on the reproductive biology and nesting ecology of the species in captivity. This information learned at the HCRC helps guide conservation efforts in wild populations. The HCRC has produced over 1,000 eggs and 800 hatchlings, of which over 400 have been released into the wild.

Studies over the last decade have determined that there are a few healthy populations of Hicatee existing in Belize’s protected areas. However, populations in most unprotected water bodies are continuing to decline at alarming rates. The billboards serve as a reminder that for the Hicatee to continue to survive in Belize, it needs everyone’s support. Further, it recognizes a few of the individuals who are currently working to preserve the species for future generations. 

A special thank you to the US Fish and Wildlife Services for providing funding and to Big Signs Belize for working with the Committee on the design and then later printing and installing the billboards onsite. Both of these important contributions allowed the Billboards to be a reality and an ultimate dream come true!!

Saying goodbye to 55 Hicatee turtles

No, more like saying see you later!

By Jonathan Dubon

Watching your children grow up and eventually moving on may be hard for some, but it is something that takes place by nature. Although I am not talking about real children, it still feels the same when I release Hicatee turtles that I have helped to take care of over the past 2 years. The Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC) is a multi-pronged conservation effort for Hicatee, with one of the tasks being head-start rewilding.

On April 1st, I along with HCRC Manager, Tom Pop, loaded 55 juveniles and hatchlings from the HCRC at BFREE, to be taken to a creek in north central Belize – roughly 4-hours’ drive. Upon our arrival, we met with the Feste Films crew and locals from the nearby community to conduct our releases. There was a turnout of around 15 community members, including adults and children. Feste Films documented our release as a part of their upcoming four-part series ‘Belize Uncovered’ to be available online later this year. The well-known local chef, Sean Kuylen, and International Journalist, Gelareh Darabi, were the interviewers for the film and so participated in all the day’s activities.

Community participation

Before the actual release of the turtles, we gathered and talked about why we are releasing turtles and how important they are to the environment and to the culture. I asked the children “why do you think releasing juvenile Hicatee turtles is important?” I got responses such as: “because they are getting scarce”, “it is better for the wild environment” and the one that stood out the most to me was “because they are critically endangered”. We visited this village in August of 2020 and did a much smaller release, and many of the children who attended then, also attended this time around. To know that information shared a couple years ago is reiterated and remembered means that we are on the right track.

I also mentioned to the community that we are not just releasing turtles to say we do, but we are releasing them to be a part of a long-term studying and monitoring project since this is an active study site for us. All our turtles that were released have unique identification codes, which are placed by scute notching and inserting PIT tags (a microchip inserted under the skin of the turtles). This will allow us to accurately collect data for each turtle and monitor their growth rate, age and so forth.

When it was time to place the turtles in the water, we let every child who attended release a turtle. Hopefully, this will spark a love and passion in them for protecting this species. We only released 10 of the 55 at the creek’s bank where everyone was gathered. After which, Tom and I got into 2 canoes and went up stream to release the remaining 45.

Reflecting on the day

Tom was asked, “How do you feel to release these turtles? Are you sad that you are saying goodbye?” He replied, “I am happy and excited to release these turtles. Even though they have been under my watch and care since being hatched, and I have tried my best to raise these turtles, there is no better caretaker than mother nature herself. I believe with the help of the community and everyone else, we can help them to grow and reproduce on their own. Then we can say we have successfully reintroduced Hicatee turtles into the wild.”

Overall, it was a wonderful and amazing experience that not many can say they have gotten the chance to be involved in. When we were driving off, the mood of everyone was so cheerful and bright, not because we were leaving, but because we accomplished something so important and unique. I look forward to more releases in the future and spreading information with people who may not know.

World Migratory Bird Day 2022

BFREE celebrated two important bird days on Saturday, May 14 – Global Big Day and World Migratory Bird Day. Global Big Day is an opportunity for citizen scientists to gather essential data about the birds in their area. While World Migratory Bird Day uses a different theme each year to draw attention to challenges migratory birds face across the globe. The 2022 campaign focused on light pollution’s impact on migratory birds. Activities to mark the day were under the theme “Dim the Lights for Birds at Night”.

BFREE staff and students from Lakeland University were excited for the opportunity to participate. We split into three teams to cover as much of the property as possible. Lakeland University began early at the observation tower and were rewarded with an assortment of parrots, raptors and small birds.

In addition to the observation tower, we explored other areas including the garden and orchard, the Agami Lagoon, the cacao agroforest, the boundary line, and various spots along the Bladen River. During our day-long adventure, we observed some beautiful and interesting birds. A few of the many birds we enjoyed included: Common nighthawk, Swallowtail kite, Keel-billed motmot, Amazon kingfisher, Sepia-capped flycatcher, Yellow-headed parrot, and the Great currasow. We observed a total of 117 bird species. Because all participants were not eBird subscribers, we submitted one checklist at the end of the day.

The BFREE Birding Club keeps growing! BFREE participating staff were: Nelly Cadle, Thomas Pop, Sipriano Canti, Marcos Kuk, Jonathan Dubon, Mark Canti, and Heather Barrett.

Celebrating Earth Day

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.