Introducing Jonathan Dubon, BFREE Science & Education Fellow

Jonathan Dubon, BFREE Science & Education Fellow

BFREE is pleased to introduce our newest Science & Education Fellow, Jonathan Dubon. Jonathan grew up in Independence Village about 20 miles east of BFREE and has known from an early age that he wanted a career that would include his passions for field experience and outdoor adventures. This passion grows from visiting his Grandma’s farm near Punta Gorda as a child where he has many fond memories of exploring her land and being exposed to nature. Because of this childhood experience and influence from his brother who is also involved in conservation, Jonathan went on to study Natural Resource Management at Independence Junior College. He graduated with his Associate’s Degree in June 2019 and with the highest honors in his department.

Jonathan’s first visit to BFREE was on a school field trip with Independence Junior College in February 2019. Jonathan says, “I fell in love with the place and it’s environment – at that very moment I knew I wanted to come back. I like everything about being at BFREE including the friendly staff, the environment, everything is just very welcoming. This is exactly where I imagine my dream job.” He returned one year later as a volunteer in the Spring 2020 Hicatee Health Assessments where he assisted in the 5-day health check.

Jonathan, second from the left, back row, along with fellow classmates from IJC on a field course at BFREE in February 2019.

Now, in the second week of his fellowship, Jonathan shares, “It’s so exciting to be here at BFREE right now. I only know a little bit about the biology of Hicatee Turtles and I am overly excited that every day I now get to learn something new about them. It is thrilling to work with the hatchlings; I am also eager to learn about all the other animals found here at BFREE such as birds, snakes, and mammals. I also really enjoy hearing the birds singing early in the morning while working by the pond. “

Jonathan says, “my message to all Belizeans is that the Hicatee are especially important to our ecosystem, and it is critical that we protect them – Belize has the honor of being the final stronghold for these turtles, who are the last in their lineage. “

We are thankful to the Turtle Survival Alliance for their funding of the BFREE Science and Education Fellowship. This is the second fellowship funded by the TSA; the first was awarded to Jaren Serano who served as the BFREE Science and Education Fellow from January 2018 – December 2019. The Science and Education Fellowship is assigned to support the operations in one of three areas at BFREE – the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center, the cacao agroforestry project or the protected areas program. It is a two-year immersive work training opportunity for recent Belizean junior college and college graduates who exhibit leadership potential combined with a clear interest in the conservation of the country’s natural resources

Jonathan hands an adult hicatee turtle from the breeding pond to BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin during the Spring 2020 Hicatee Health Assessments.

Summer Cooking Series with Nelly!

This summer, we are bringing BFREE to you with a summer cooking series hosted by BFREE Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle. Each month, Nelly has selected a staple of Belizean cuisine and the most loved dishes by our guests at BFREE to share with all of you through a Facebook Live cooking class.

Follow @BFREEBELIZE on Facebook and tune in for the next upcoming cooking class on Saturday, 11 July at 10 AM Mountain Time (Belize) / Noon Eastern Time to make one of the most Belizean dishes of all, stew chicken!


Saturday, 23 May: Panades


Sunday, 14 June: Rice and Beans


Saturday, 11 July: Stew Chicken

VIDEO WILL BE ADDED AFTER 11 JULY!

Follow @BFREEBELIZE on Facebook and tune in for the upcoming cooking class on Saturday, 11 July at 10 AM Mountain Time (Belize) / Noon Eastern Time to join Nelly in making Stew Chicken.


Check out more cooking with BFREE videos on our YouTube Channel!


Un-Belizeable Land Snails Activity

Land snails in Belize can be found in a variety of habitats.  They are important food for many birds that live in Belize including currasow, crested guan, and other larger birds.  Coatis and other mammals also eat land snails. 

Biodiversity:  The health of an ecosystem can be determined by the different kinds of land snails found in an area or it’s biodiversity. Read the introduction of the attached card to learn more about the importance of land snails in Belize. Download Land Snail Diversity of Belize card here.

Citizen Science: Participate in our on-going research of the land snails of Belize by going out in your backyard or neighborhood to search for land snails.

Because this is the dry season, you will likely not find many live snails but that’s okay!!  You don’t need live animals to figure out what species (kind) of snail they are.  All you need is the shells.

Activity: HOW TO LOOK FOR AND COLLECT LAND SNAILS

Snails like moist places (but not too wet!) where plants are growing. 

  • Get a stick and use it to scrape leaves and sticks at the base of plants and trees.
  • Look around the edges of concrete buildings (snails like calcium for building their shells and can often find it on concrete).
  • Pick up as many shells as you can.
  • Take the shells back to your house and if you have a ruler, measure the length of the snails (using millimeters or mm).
  • Use the attached card to figure out which group of snails they belong to.
  • Write down your answers.
  • Abundance:  Count how many of each type of snail you find.  Make a graph to show your results.

Finally, if you have a phone that takes pictures, take pictures of your snails along with what you think they are and send them to contact@bfreebz.org or post on Facebook and tag @bfreebelize!

Download Land Snail Diversity of Belize card here.

Bringing BFREE to You!

Read a full update from BFREE on the latest during COVID-19 here: https://mailchi.mp/225f4bd263bf/bringingbfreetoyou-2447813

For most of us who remain home, trying our best to flatten the curve, cabin fever can set in quick. Many of you have reached out daydreaming about swimming in the Bladen River or hiking the BFREE boundary line. In response, we have decided that if you can’t be at BFREE, then we will bring BFREE to you!

Over the next month, we will be sharing a new educational resource or activity every day on social media. Activities you can do on your own or with kids, as well as videos of virtual hikes at BFREE, the wildlife, the scenery, cooking classes, challenges, meditations, and so much more!

Our goal is to bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes! Be sure to share your creations or participation with all of us online using #BringingBFREEtoyou


Day One, March 23: Make bird feeder with an upcycled plastic bottle!
“Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!”  is the theme of this month’s celebration of Migratory Birds at BFREE. For our first educational activity, let’s make our own bird feeders out of recycled plastic bottles. Reusing your single-use plastic is just one way we can reduce pollution harmful to wildlife. 

Check out this link for ideas on how to upcycle your plastic bottles:
http://www.bystephanielynn.com/2012/04/25-things-to-do-with-empty-plastic-bottles-water-soda-bottle-crafts-saturday-inspiration-ideas.html

Make your own hummingbird nectar for your upcycled feeder using 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Recipe and directions by Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute:
https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/hummingbird-nectar-recipe


Day Two, March 24: Imagine you’re a bird meditation

Day two, Bringing BFREE to you with a short meditation created for all ages. Take a deep breath and imagine you are a bird. Close your eyes as you listen to the words or keep them open to take a virtual tour of the BFREE garden. The bird meditation was created to help bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes during these uncertain times.

Read by Nelly Cadle, inspired by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology BirdSleuth curriculum. Filmed at the BFREE Biological Field Station & Privately Protected Area in Belize. BFREE is sharing daily educational resources, activities, and virtual experiences from our Field Station in Belize over the next month. We are in this together, #stayhome


Day Three, March 25 : Collect Leaves and Compare!

Day Three, Bringing BFREE to you with a short outdoor activity. If you can, take a walk outside and collect a few leaves from non-harmful plants. Sort them by size, color, and texture. Now compare. What did you collect? Can you name the type of trees or plants they came from?

Taking a moment to be in nature can help reduce feelings of anger, fear, and stress. It not only makes us feel better emotionally, but it contributes to our physical wellbeing, reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the productions of stress hormones.

Will you join us in this short exercise to get outside in nature?

Here are some leaves we collected today at BFREE. What did you collect? Share your images, #BringingBFREEtoyou

Our goal is to bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes! Over the next month, we will be sharing a new educational resource, activity, or virtual experience from BFREE every day on social media. We are in this together, #stayhome.


Day Four, March 26: Time-lapse drive to BFREE

Day four, virtually bringing BFREE to you with a time-lapse of the drive from the Southern Highway to the BFREE Field Station and Privately Protected Area along the 6-mile entrance road. The road begins in open savannah, later oak-pine scrub, and moist tropical broadleaf forest. About 3/4’s of the way into the entrance road the truck passes by the Bladen Nature Reserve observation post. Filmed by Alex Birkman, BFREE Intern in July 2019.

If you can’t be at BFREE, then we will bring BFREE to you!


Day Five, March 27: Belize Culture and Heritage!

Day five, Bringing BFREE to you with the theme, BELIZE! Take a moment to dive into the incredible culture, music, and history of Belize. 

The Belize Living Heritage website was developed by the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) of the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) in partnership with local communities, living heritage practitioners, cultural organizations and other stakeholders. Educators and parents can find learning activities and sample lesson plans based on living heritage. 
Click the link below and you will find word search and coloring pages to download for kids. 

http://www.belizelivingheritage.org/ich-education

Click ‘Resources,’ then ‘Cultural Celebration Series’ to find videos of celebrations around Belize. Click ‘Our Inventory,’ to find descriptions of culinary, dancy and craftsmanship traditions. More information on integrating living heritage in educational lessons can be found here: http://www.belizeanstudies.com


Day Six, March 28: Lizards!

Jacob Marlin holds a juvenile Old Man Lizard or Helmeted Basilisk which he found on a walk at BFREE last week.

Helmeted Basilisks have some unique behaviors to scare off predators. First they use camouflage—they can resemble lichen with spots forming on their skin when resting and can change color rapidly. They can freeze their body and become completely still. Next they compress their body, erect their crest, expand their gular (throat) pouch and bob their head. By doing this, they hope to appear bigger and deter the predator. If all else fails, they will attack and bite ferociously!

Learn more about cool lizards like this one and other wildlife by visiting  https://eol.org/pages/35565  

Our goal is to bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes! Over the next month, we will be sharing a new educational resource, activity, or virtual experience from BFREE every day on social media. We are in this together. #bringingbfreetoyou 


Day Seven, March 29:

Day seven, bringing BFREE to you with educational materials from USFWS Migratory Birds. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate migratory birds! Visit their website 3billionbirds.org for more resources.
 


Day Eight, March 30:

Day 8, Bringing BFREE to you with bird masks! These DIY masks can be made with just about anything you have on hand, such a fun way to get creative. If you need some inspiration, listen to the “imagine you’re a bird” meditation we shared last Monday and then make a mask based off of what you imagined! Or check out the endless how-to’s online such as this one: https://www.paperchase.com/the-journal/bird-craft-mask/

This video is from Church of Christ Primary School in Independence Village when BFREE visited a few weeks ago to talk about World Migratory Birds Day and the effects of plastic. After making their bird masks the class played the migration game where students played the role of a migrating birds and tried to reach their final destination but were faced with obstacles similar to the ones birds face including glass windows, cats, kids with stones and hurricanes, all played by their classmates.


Day Nine, March 31:

Day 9, Bringing BFREE to you with backyard birding! It’s the last day of our celebration of migratory birds for the month of March.

To celebrate, take a moment to step outside and appreciate the sounds and sights of our feathered friends around you! If you’re new to bird watching you can start off with a notepad and pencil. Take a few minutes each day to write down what you hear or see. If you’re ready to take it a step further, download the free Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
 
In the app, you can enter the size, color, and location of your bird-is it on a branch, on the ground or on a fence post. The app then generates a list of options to help you identify your bird!
If you take a moment to step outside and go bird watching today, share a photo with us 

Day Ten, April 1:

Happy April 1st! Day 10, Bringing BFREE to You with one of the most relaxing and peaceful videos taken in the Bladen River at BFREE by a visiting graduate student, Emily Buege.
 
If you’ve been daydreaming of days spent cooling off in this river, sit back and turn the volume up for a meditative like experience that will take you straight to BFREE. Featured fauna includes black belt cichlids, blue-eyed cichlids, firemouth cichlids, false firemouth cichlids, yellow belly cichlids, tetras, mollies, machaca, a neotropical river otter, invasive African tilapia, and others. The neotropical river otter makes a quick appearance at 3:30 (with slow-mo instant replay!)
 
Thank you Emily for this incredible video! #BringingBFREEtoYou


Day Eleven, April 2:

Day 11, Bringing BFREE to You with a Facebook Live reading of The Adventures of Herbert the Hikatee, written by Gianni Martinez, a teacher in Belize City. BFREE’s Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle will be reading the book from her home in Belize! Please join us at 1PM in Belize (noon PST/3 EST) for this fun storytime! #bringingbfreetoyou #savethehicatee


Day Twelve, April 3:

Day 12, Bringing BFREE to You with hicatee activities! If you joined us for our live storytime reading of Adventures of Herbert the Hikatee yesterday, continue the turtle theme today and watch the 16-minute short documentary, “Hope for the Hicatee,” read more about this critically endangered species in the Fact Sheet, or if you have access to a printer, print out the activity sheets for kids.All of our Hicatee resources can be found here:https://www.bfreebz.org/hicatee-conservation-educational-resources/


Day Thirteen, April 4:

Day 13, Bringing BFREE to You with outdoor gardening! We have been busy at BFREE over the last week building raised garden beds and planting a vegetable garden outside the Dining Room. Next time we see you at BFREE we will have fresh vegetables aplenty!What a great time to use things you already have to make your own indoor or outdoor garden! Check out the links below for inspiration.

Planters: https://craft.theownerbuildernetwork.co/2015/03/19/plastic-bottle-planters/

Seed Starter Pots:https://www.diyncrafts.com/10038/repurpose/recycle-plastic-bottles-into-self-watering-seed-starter-pots

Vertical Gardens:https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/02/urban-vertical-garden-built-from-hundreds-of-recycled-soda-bottles/


Day Fourteen, April 5:

Day 14, Bringing BFREE to you with Nature Relaxation to get your morning started off right!
Is there anything more relaxing than nature sounds and videos? Our Deputy Director, Heather Barrett, took this short video of a Liana seed blowing in the wind while birds sing in the background.
I only wish this video was an hour-long so I could play it to fall asleep to!


Day Fifteen, April 6:

Day 15, Bringing BFREE to You with a hike to the Agami Lagoon. Nelly Cadle, BFREE Field Course Leader takes us on a hike along the Agami trail at BFREE. Sounds of howler monkeys and boat-billed herons make this virtual hike almost feel like reality! Will you join us for a hike at BFREE today? #BringingBFREEtoYou


Day Sixteen, April 7:

Day 16, Bringing BFREE to You with Tom and Heather talking coconuts! Tom explains that they each have a distinct flavor depending on the age of the coconut. Tom’s favorite? The one that tastes like Sprite! Sit back and take a virtual trip to BFREE with Tom and Heather today, you can even pretend you have a coconut in your hand!


Day Seventeen, April 8:

Day 17, Bringing BFREE to You with Nature BINGO! If you can safely access outdoor space, we encourage you to have some fun in the sun today! Inspired by our friend, Ms. Mallory Adventures all you need is a piece of scrap paper and a pencil to make your own at home BINGO card. Use Ms. Mallory’s word bank to help think of what to fill in the squares. Or, just print a pre-made BINGO card directly from her blog post: https://mallorylindsay.com/my-backyard-adventures-activities/2020/3/17/nature-bingo?rq=bingo

Check out the hand made BINGO card BFREE made today, don’t forget to fill in the center B-FREE space! Share your BINGO card activity with us for a chance to win a BFREE Bandana.


Day Eighteen, April 9:

Day 18, Bringing BFREE to You with wildlife! The BFREE Privately Protected Area adjoins what is now considered 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. We are so fortunate these animals share their home with us as we work to protect wild spaces for generations to come.  Today, we are bringing BFREE to YOU with a small compilation of wildlife shots taken at BFREE.


Day Nineteen, April 10:

Day 19, BFREE Bandanas! The “BFREE IN THE JUNGLE” bandanas were such a big hit last year that we ordered more to have available to all our guests this year! With visitation coming to a halt, we have a small surplus that never made their way to Belize. If you are in the US, you can support BFREE by making a donation of $25 through the link below and we will mail you a bandana. https://www.givecampus.com/campaigns/5619/donations/new?donation_type=generalUse it as a makeshift face mask or just wear it around your neck at home to pretend you are sweating in the jungle! These are uncertain and difficult times for many of us, your contribution will support BFREE’s staff and program work immensely! Thank you! **Shipping in the USA only. If mailing address is different from billing or you have any notes or questions, send an email to contact@bfreebz.org**


Day Twenty, April 11:

Day 20, #BringingBFREEtoYou with a great book! We miss the hammocks in the dining room being full of students and visitors curled up with a book to read. So today, we are sharing a favorite among BFREE staff, The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Using research and personal investigations, Williams explores how our separation from nature impacts our lives and our mental health. She considers all five senses when describing how people across the planet connect with nature. And she uses herself as a test subject and has many adventures as a result.

Fun fact from her book: As little as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce test subjects’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Increase nature exposure to 45 minutes, and most individuals experience improvements in cognitive performance.

#Stayhome but also if you can safely, #takeawalk


Day Twenty one, April 12:

Bringing BFREE to you, with chocolate bread! Join us in the BFREE Kitchen with our chef, Edwardo Pop. Today, we are making chocolate bread with cacao grown and processed right here at BFREE! You can bake along with us, a recipe card with ingredients and directions are shared at the end of the video. Happy baking!


Day 22, April 13:

Bringing BFREE to you with our chocolate story! The cacao trees at BFREE are extremely special because one of the varieties growing here is the only known 100% pure criollo variety to exist in the world.

Recently discovered deep in the rainforests of southern Belize lies a remnant population of ancient wild Cacao trees. Based on the advice of cacao experts, beans from the wild trees were submitted for genetic testing to the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP). The results determined that this could be the original chocolate tree, 100% pure Criollo parentage, grown and revered by the ancient Mayan Civilizations, and one of the few pure wild cacaos known to exist on the planet. In 2015, the beans were given the designation of “heirloom fine flavor” by HCP, only the 11th chocolate in the world to receive such an honor. 

These discoveries were especially exciting to us because of the inherent conservation value – the variety of cacao appears to require environmental conditions that incentivize tropical forest conservation. A high percentage of shade and a structurally diverse forested environment provide natural ecological barriers to disease and cross-pollination, and are likely the conditions necessary for productivity; ultimately correlating a high-value crop to a diverse and healthy rainforest habitat. As a result of this discovery, BFREE began a project to preserve and propagate this rare and wild ancient heirloom fine flavor cacao while investigating its economic, social, and environmental benefits. Propagated from these wild trees grown under a variety of different conditions, BFREE has over 15 acres of cacao growing in an agroforestry environment, where wildlife like Jaguars, Tapirs, Howler monkeys, Harpy eagles, and Scarlet macaws make their home. 

Since this designation, BFREE has become an active partner with HCP.  Virtually visit BFREE and learn more about our chocolate story with this incredible short documentary made by HCP.


Day 23, April 14:

Bringing BFREE to you with a climb to the top of the Bruce Cullerton Memorial Observation Tower at BFREE. Located about a ½ mile from the kitchen the tower is a 112’ foot galvanized steel observation tower. It’s the perfect place to witness the forest come alive at sunrise, observe and photograph wildlife, conduct research, or just take in a sunset over the Maya Mountains.

Film created by Alex Birkman. Alex first visited BFREE as a student on a field course with Western Michigan University in 2018, he later returned as a volunteer field assistant in 2019.


Day 24, April 15

Bringing BFREE to you with turtles! Researcher, Day Ligon manages the Turtle Ecology Lab at Missouri State University and began research in Belize last year to understand the feasibility of determining population estimates of Hicatee turtles in the wild. Just before the government-issued shelter in place order that put their research on hold, Day along with Denise Thompson and turtle biologist, Donny McKnight visited BFREE. Donny explored the Bladen River and a couple of creeks within the property. He was thrilled to find six White-lipped mud turtles Kinosternon Leucostomum in a small pool left in an otherwise dry creek bed. He was even more excited to note that two of the six turtles had notches on their scutes meaning that they have been caught previously by biologists and were marked for identification. We believe they were marked by students of Ben Atkinson’s 2018 field course from Flagler College. Photos were taken and shared with Dr. Atkinson for review before the turtles were released back into the creek where they were found.

The adult size of White-lipped mud turtles is 6 to 7 inches. They are generally found in quiet, peaceful areas in marshes, lagoons, swamps and ponds that have dense aquatic vegetation and soft sandy bottom. They are not limited to water and can be found strolling on land.


Day 25, April 16:

Many of us are finding comfort in journaling and writing down our thoughts and feelings about these truly strange and difficult times. Here is a short writing prompt to help you record your memories of today and a reminder to get up and stretch your legs! 

Wherever you go, there you are prompt: Get up and stretch your legs, take a walk or a jog, inside, outside, wherever you can, for as long as you have time for. When you get back fill in the following: 

While on my walk around ________ (the block, kitchen, neighborhood, etc), I saw _________, I heard __________, I tasted __________, I heard ____________, I smelled ______________, I thought about  _______________, I learned  __________.

Photos of hummingbirds Deputy Director, Heather Barrett took while on her walk at BFREE. There are at least four species that have been enjoying the Malay Apple Tree lately, providing plenty of entertainment and excitement for those working from the office.  #BringingBFREEtoYou


Day 26, April 17:

Bringing BFREE to you with wildlife! This short video is a compilation of wildlife spotted at the BFREE Field Station and Privately Protected Area in southern Belize. BFREE owns and manages 1,153 acres of tropical rainforest that lies within one of the largest contiguous tracts of rainforest in the western hemisphere. Here, we are fortunate to see all sorts of animals including harpy eagles, howler monkeys, coatis, and so much more!


Day 27, April 18:

Day 27, Bringing BFREE to You with snails! This one is for our friends in Belize and is brought to us by biologist Dan and Judy Dourson, authors of the book, Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains – a Focus on the Bladen Nature Reserve.

A fun citizen science activity for all ages! Click the following link for a blog post to learn more and download the Land Snail Diversity of Belize card: https://www.bfreebz.org/un-belizeable-land-snails-activity/


Day 28, April 19:

Bringing BFREE to you with a cooking class! One of our student’s favorite breakfasts at BFREE is a Belizean specialty called fry jacks. Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle takes us to her kitchen in Belize for a Facebook Live cooking class showing us all of the steps to make these delicious, fried doughnut-like treats!


Bonus activity: The Belize Birding Network has selected today as Belize Big Day! From your home, farm, or wherever you are record the birds you see and submit your checklist and location to eBird.org. If you’re new to birding and want some help identifying what you see check out our post on Day Nine, March 31 to learn about the Merlin Bird App. 

You don’t have to be in Belize to participate, let’s see how many birds the BFREE Community can record today!


Day 29, April 20:

Bringing BFREE to You with a story from Canti, BFREE Head Ranger, and Protected Areas Manager. Canti says, “Our ranger team continues to be on the ground throughout the quarantine and are being very careful to practice social distancing measures and good hygiene. We believe that our role as a privately protected area makes us key to keeping our area and the surrounding Maya Mountain Massif safe from incursions. Our concerns are not isolated to our property. We understand that we are connected to a much broader area. We are near the top of the Bladen River which feeds into the Monkey River. Downstream from us – communities and farms utilize this same river. We are all responsible for being good stewards of the river and the forests. 

In the weeks and months since COVID-19 has reduced operations country-wide, we have noted that people at home without jobs are starting to move around in order to hunt, log, fish, and extra other valuable resources. Actions like these only provide temporary benefits to the individuals extracting the resource for themselves. Over the long-term, these actions have devastating impacts on the watershed and the flora and fauna that our country needs to remain a healthy place benefiting our planet. We must all recognize the role that we all play and try to make it a positive one. 

As Park Rangers, we are establishing and refining protocols now for hygiene, for monitoring wildlife, and for active patrols to manage fire and incursions. We plan to continue these adapted protocols well beyond anything that happens today. We remain true to our mission. We are on the ground making choices for today that will allow all of us and our country to have a healthy future.”

Thank you BFREE Rangers for the incredibly important work you do!


Day 30, April 31:

Bringing BFREE to You with a tour of our Cacao Discovery Center just after a cacao harvest. Join BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin and BFREE Cacao Staff as they show the many steps necessary to go from harvesting cacao to fermenting the beans. Eat more heirloom fine-flavor chocolate!

Kicking off the Field Season

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.

SUNY Potsdam Student Group Photo

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.

Birdwatching with IJC

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.”


Ranger Training at BFREE

The new year started off on the right foot with a workshop for BFREE park rangers in Basic Navigation
Skills. Dr. Rob Klinger, BFREE Board Member and Ecologist, spent a morning teaching concepts and
methods associated with navigation using compasses. Because BFREE park rangers are required to
patrol all areas within the 1,153 acre privately protected area, this training is essential for their
confidence in navigating the property with authority. Sipriano Canti, Marcos Kuk, and Pedro Teul made
up the team of rangers who participated in the day-long workshop.

Rob Klinger and Marcos Kuk using a compass in the BFREE Classroom.


After completing the morning’s lessons and testing their abilities, Rob moved the team into the field
where they were able to immediately put their knowledge into action. The rangers joined biology
students from Kutztown University in the 100-meter square cacao grid where they verified the accuracy
of coordinates for the small mammal community study before students placed each trap. This attention
to accurate positioning ensures the grid of 100 flagged points don’t shift with the use by each class
which in turn helps guarantee that the data collected is as consistent as possible over time.


The BFREE park rangers benefited greatly from the workshop and from the efforts of Dr. Klinger. We, at
BFREE, would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Klinger for offering this important and timely training.

Designing a Chocolate Bar Package: Semester-long Project with UNCW

As an organization whose mission includes a strong focus on education, we are always excited
for opportunities to collaborate with high school and university classes in semester-long
projects.

Last fall, we were privileged to work with a class of aspiring graphic designers at the
University of North Carolina Wilmington, ART 360. Led by Ned Irvine, Associate Professor of Studio Arts
and Coordinator of Digital Arts, the group of 11 students, individually created concepts and
designs for a unique graphic identity and packaging for a forest-friendly chocolate bar.
Students were required to research BFREE, our conservation work and the craft chocolate
industry in general, after which US for BFREE staff participated in several “Client Meetings”
throughout the semester. During these meetings, the students asked questions, presented idea
boards and mock-ups in order to move toward their final design.


Many great ideas and impressive designs were generated and it was fascinating to navigate
through the multi-tiered process of developing a package. We aren’t quite ready to release a
final version so stay tuned. Thanks to the students in ART 360 for your creativity and
enthusiasm and special thanks to Ned Irvine for taking initiative on this project!

PHOTO: Students from UNCW ART 360 class pose for a photo.

Birds, Chocolate, Forests, and Allegheny College

Allegheny College students pose for a photo at BFREE during the Birds, Chocolate, Forest Field Course in May 2019. 

Written By, Beth Choate, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Environmental Science and Sustainability
Allegheny College

BFREE’s Birds, Chocolate and Forests course provided students with a real life example of the complexities of conservation within the rainforests of southern Belize. Through interactive demonstrations and presentations, field research and experiments, day-excursions, conversations with all members of the BFREE team, and exploring the surrounding environment, students developed an understanding of the relationships not only between birds, chocolate, and forests, but people as well. The complicated web of relationships that exists among efforts to conserve biodiversity and livelihoods is something we speak often about in our Environmental Science and Sustainability courses at Allegheny College. In our introductory course for the major, we make it clear to students that you will not find the solutions to environmental problems in a book. Each problem is unique and requires individuals who can critically examine the issue to devise a unique and thoughtful solution. The 2-week experience with our BFREE guides was a perfect compliment to this concept. In a country where people rely on the natural resources of the surrounding forests to provide them with medicines, food, and fertile land for agriculture, it quickly became clear that you couldn’t simply tell people to stop using the forest. BFREE  provides a unique solution: conserve the forest and grow a cash crop within the understory in an effort to conserve birds and other organisms, as well as livelihood. Jacob spoke with us about ongoing efforts to ensure that methods of cacao agro-forestry were fully understood so that local farmers could create successful farms and provide for their families demonstrating that BFREE is thinking about the sustainability of their program. The complexities of conservation also became apparent when learning about the Hicatee turtle, talking with Ernesto about traditional Mayan culture, and spending time on the coast in Placencia. This course was the perfect compliment to what we are saying in the classroom:
solving environmental problems is complicated.

Students from Allegheny College spend time in the BFREE cacao nursery. The group received hands-on experience in what it takes to make chocolate, from seed – to bean – to bar!

In order to solve those complicated problems, one must be curious, flexible, and have excellent communication and intercultural skills. Many of our students had minimal experience traveling outside of the US and very few had been submerged in a culture different to their own. When students are outside of their comfort zone, they are forced to adapt and push their own limits. It is through experiencing this unknown, whether it be using compost toilets, learning to fall asleep to the sound of howler monkeys, or discovering just how difficult harvesting cacao in the jungle can be, students were forced to overcome new challenges. After reading their final journal entries, many of our students surprised themselves. They learned that they are capable of much more than they ever thought possible. Through conversations with the BFREE staff and local Belizeans we met during the trip, worldviews were expanded and communication skills improved. For many students, this was the highlight of the trip, getting to know individuals with completely different life experiences than themselves. From an educational perspective, this is impossible to teach in a classroom or while simply touring around. BFREE provided an excellent experience for students to be completely submerged in the Belize culture, all while learning in a completely new environment.

A pile of roasted cocoa beans lay on the table. These beans have a thin, papery shell around them which needs to be removed. The students are cracking the beans open and the shell is removed in a process called winnowing. The lighter shells are blown away with fans, leaving behind pieces of pure cocoa bean, known as “nibs”.

2019 Field Season Wrap Up

We are wrapping up another incredibly rewarding year of hosting field courses at the BFREE Field Station. 2019 brought seven colleges and universities from the US and one from Belize. Altogether, just over 100 students and 20 instructors spent between 4-10 nights at BFREE. They could be found immersing themselves in the jungle hiking both day and night, working on independent research projects,  learning about the critically endangered hicatee turtle, tasting cacao fresh off the pod, swimming in the river, snacking on johnny cakes, and searching for the elusive Harpy eagle. 

Most field courses require students to work on independent research projects in order to receive an introduction to environmental field methods through hands-on learning. Students gain a basic understanding of field methods necessary to discuss and research various environmental issues. Some will come prepared with a question in mind before they arrive at BFREE, however, for many once they arrive with one sweeping view of the jungle, the possibilities of research are endless. Below are just a few examples of the independent research projects students worked on this year. 

  • 1. Are howler monkeys most active at dusk or at dawn?
  • 2. Does the height of the tree determine the size of its buttress?
  • 3. Will the trees near the river or a waterbody grow taller than the ones that are not near a waterbody?
  • 4. Will a foreign liquid throw the leafcutter ants off their trail?
  • 5. Does the higher density of insects/food source in an area coincide with a higher density of birds in that area?

A special thanks to each of our instructors that make our Faculty-Led Field Courses a success. We look forward to having you back next time! 

2019 BFREE Field Course Group Photos

The University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, N.C.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, MA

Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia

Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL 

Flagler College, St Augustine, FL

Independence Junior College, Independence, Belize

Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska

PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS

We would love to see the photos you took during your time in Belize. Please share them via social media on             Instagram @bfreebz or by email to contact@bfreebz.org. 

BFREE Receives Porras Conservation Award

  It’s not often international wildlife conferences hold their annual meeting so close to home. Fortunately, the International Herpetological Symposium (IHS) chose Belize City as the base for their 42nd gathering and we are so glad they did!    The International Herpetological Symposium (IHS) provides a forum for the dissemination of information and research pertaining to the natural history, conservation biology, captive management, and propagation of amphibians and reptiles. The symposium provided a valuable opportunity to showcase the herpetological conservation taking place in Belize.    BFREE Staff, Jacob Marlin, Heather Barrett, Tom Pop, and Jaren Serano, attended the conference and presented on various topics. Dr. Marisa Tellez of the Crocodile Research Coalition also provided local perspective on conservation in Belize and several student presenters from southern Belize’s Independence Junior College highlighted research questions and projects pertaining to reptiles and amphibians in the country.    At the close of the conference, BFREE was given the Porras Conservation Award. This award is granted in recognition of lifelong achievements in and contributions to field biology. The award is presented to a speaker (or – in this case – an organization) who has demonstrated that their work represents exceptional accomplishments in the field that benefit herpetological conservation. We are pleased and honored to have our work recognized in this way.  

BFREE PRESENTATIONS AT THE 42nd IHS SYMPOSIUM

Jacob Marlin, BFREE Executive Director, provided the keynote presentation. “The Herpetofauna of Belize, 30 Years of Observations, Myths, Facts and Hot Spots”  

Heather Barrett, BFREE Deputy Director, presented “Awareness Messaging as a Tool for the survival of the world’s most endangered turtle family”  

Jaren Serano, BFREE Science and Education Fellow, presented “Turtle or Fish? Investigations into captive management and reproductive biology of the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys Mawaii), at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center, Belize”