International Herpetological Symposium 2019 in Belize

Next June, the International Herpetological Symposium (IHS) will held at the Best Western Plus Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize City.  The mission of the IHS is to provide a forum for the dissemination of information and results of such research pertaining to the natural history, conservation biology, and captive management and propagation of amphibians and reptiles. Each year the IHS is held in a different location and is hosted by a Zoological, Herpetological, or Herpetocultural institution.

BFREE staff are scheduled to give several presentations and to participate in the conference which will take place from June 19-22, 2019.

Recent BFREE Volunteer and Wildlife Enthusiast, Brett Bartek, on the Bladen River

The International Herpetological Symposium in partnership with the Belize Zoo and the Crocodile Research Coalition are offering scholarships for young, Belizean wildlife enthusiasts to attend. The application can be found here.

For attendees looking to explore more of Belize either before or after the Symposium, there are several opportunities. BFREE is offering a post-symposium volunteership to work alongside the critically endangered, Central American River Turtle at our Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. This immersive opportunity is from June 24 – June 28 (1-week) or June 24 – July 5 (2-weeks). Volunteers will assist in all aspects of animal care for the captive population of adult turtles, juveniles and hatchlings. Email, tsanville@bfreebz.org for more information. 

Prior to the workshop, there is an exciting wildlife-focused 8-day Field Trip which includes three nights at the BFREE Field Station. Activities will include an in-depth tour of the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center and lots of hikes (both day and night) to search for cool reptiles and amphibians!

 

Soaring with Solar

After 23 years of BFREE being an off-the-grid solar powered field station, nothing has changed, except now we have a centralized 7.5 kw state of the art solar system which is 7 -10 times more productive and has energy storage capacity more than 20 times what was on-site before. The system also has a backup autofunctioning natural gas generator for times when the sun just isn’t shining.

The system was designed by Rick Groves of Clean Energy Events based in Wilmington, N.C., USA, and Jacob Marlin. Additional design and technical assistance was provided by Wes Gubitz, as well as Marco Valle of Pro Solar Engineering based in Belmopan, Belize.

The installation took place during the first week of March. Pro Solar staff installed the photovoltaic panels, batteries, inverters, and controllers as well as the backup generator while Jacob Marlin, Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr, plus all the staff of BFREE  laid wire and set up breaker boxes at various locations around BFREE. Of course, there were weeks of prep work in advance with BFREE staff digging trenches and pouring cement footings for the installation of panels, a cinder block and cement generator house, and a power house that houses all of the electrical components (the brains of the system).

During the week of installation, everyone around the field station stepped up to help. Even students from Lees-McRae College pitched in during their field course when it was time to pull wire across the garden. After the installation, Pro Solar Engineer, Marco Valle, returned to BFREE to offer an afternoon training session on renewable energy and maintenance of the system for staff. 

In the coming months, power will continue to reach additional buildings around the field station and all visitors will begin to benefit from this important and timely upgrade. This includes more lighting, fans, charging stations, and a multitude of other improvements to the infrastructure of the field station.

BFREE wishes to express much gratitude to Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr for their hard work, and positive attitude to ensure the installation went perfectly! The Pro Solar team was extremely professional and skilled. The resulting system has surpassed our expectations and we are thrilled by the immediate and obvious benefits to all station users. 

Special thanks to Dr. James Rotenberg and students in his Fall 2016 Environmental Studies class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. They created an initial design for the solar system as part of their semester long project on sustainability.

Soaring with Solar

After 23 years of BFREE being an off-the-grid solar powered field station, nothing has changed, except now we have a centralized 7.5 kw state of the art solar system which is 7 -10 times more productive and has energy storage capacity more than 20 times what was on-site before. The system also has a backup autofunctioning natural gas generator for times when the sun just isn’t shining.

The system was designed by Rick Groves of Clean Energy Events based in Wilmington, N.C., USA, and Jacob Marlin. Additional design and technical assistance was provided by Wes Gubitz, as well as Marco Valle of Pro Solar Engineering based in Belmopan, Belize.

The installation took place during the first week of March. Pro Solar staff installed the photovoltaic panels, batteries, inverters, and controllers as well as the backup generator while Jacob Marlin, Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr, plus all the staff of BFREE  laid wire and set up breaker boxes at various locations around BFREE. Of course, there were weeks of prep work in advance with BFREE staff digging trenches and pouring cement footings for the installation of panels, a cinder block and cement generator house, and a power house that houses all of the electrical components (the brains of the system).

During the week of installation, everyone around the field station stepped up to help. Even students from Lees-McRae College pitched in during their field course when it was time to pull wire across the garden. After the installation, Pro Solar Engineer, Marco Valle, returned to BFREE to offer an afternoon training session on renewable energy and maintenance of the system for staff. 

In the coming months, power will continue to reach additional buildings around the field station and all visitors will begin to benefit from this important and timely upgrade. This includes more lighting, fans, charging stations, and a multitude of other improvements to the infrastructure of the field station.

BFREE wishes to express much gratitude to Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr for their hard work, and positive attitude to ensure the installation went perfectly! The Pro Solar team was extremely professional and skilled. The resulting system has surpassed our expectations and we are thrilled by the immediate and obvious benefits to all station users. 

Special thanks to Dr. James Rotenberg and students in his Fall 2016 Environmental Studies class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. They created an initial design for the solar system as part of their semester long project on sustainability.

Belize Represented During COP23

Climate change has been felt by many as extreme weather events have already devastated many Caribbean nations this year. It is more important than ever that globally, nations are working together to combat global warming. Belize was no stranger to these discussions as last week concluded the 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Bonn, Germany. The world’s nations met to discuss an end to global warming and strengthening the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement was adopted during COP21 and written by 197 parties outlining plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions with a goal of keeping global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius.

While the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, making it the only nation unwilling to join, the rest of the nations in attendance at COP23 were busy working towards solutions and progress.

Belize’s Omar Figueroa, Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development was in attendance. While in Germany, Figueroa said, “We cannot afford to ignore the devastation that Climate Change has on people. Confronting Climate Change challenges requires swift, collective and cohesive actions of our governments, local leaders, civil society, the private sector and each individual.

In addition to Figueroa, Dr. Lennox Gladden, policy coordinator for Belize’s Fisheries, Forestry, Sustainable Development, the Environment, Climate Change and Solid Waste Management Authority moderated a side panel titled, “Building Capacity of Tackling Regional Climate and Sustainable Challenges.” The panel highlighted multi-stakeholder approaches to implement climate action, looking at case studies from India, Taiwan, and Belize on best practices, risks, and lessons learned.

In conjunction with COP23, Belize was also the host to the World Youth Conference, “Globally Running in 2030, Becoming Sustainably Strong” held in Belize City. For the very first time, this conference was held in the Caribbean Region and Central America. Over 250 national, regional and international youth leaders met for four days of panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and musical and cultural presentations on various community, national and international youth-related issues and sustainable development.

Belize’s representation during these critical global meetings is necessary. As the population and tourism in this small Caribbean nation grow, more resources are needed to support more people. These growing needs have had a negative impact on deforestation rates as protected areas are chipped away for natural resources and land cleared for agriculture and development.

While BFREE works towards sustainable solutions to protect tropical rainforests, we can’t do it alone. We are thrilled to see a strong representation by Belize during last weeks COP23 and are excited to continue working towards more solutions and progress in protecting our climate and forests.

 

Students from a “WYC ’17” during the World Youth Conference held in Belize City in November, 2017 . Photo from: The San Pedro Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 

Belize Represented During COP23

Climate change has been felt by many as extreme weather events have already devastated many Caribbean nations this year. It is more important than ever that globally, nations are working together to combat global warming. Belize was no stranger to these discussions as last week concluded the 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Bonn, Germany. The world’s nations met to discuss an end to global warming and strengthening the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement was adopted during COP21 and written by 197 parties outlining plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions with a goal of keeping global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius.

While the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, making it the only nation unwilling to join, the rest of the nations in attendance at COP23 were busy working towards solutions and progress.

Belize’s Omar Figueroa, Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development was in attendance. While in Germany, Figueroa said, “We cannot afford to ignore the devastation that Climate Change has on people. Confronting Climate Change challenges requires swift, collective and cohesive actions of our governments, local leaders, civil society, the private sector and each individual.

In addition to Figueroa, Dr. Lennox Gladden, policy coordinator for Belize’s Fisheries, Forestry, Sustainable Development, the Environment, Climate Change and Solid Waste Management Authority moderated a side panel titled, “Building Capacity of Tackling Regional Climate and Sustainable Challenges.” The panel highlighted multi-stakeholder approaches to implement climate action, looking at case studies from India, Taiwan, and Belize on best practices, risks, and lessons learned.

In conjunction with COP23, Belize was also the host to the World Youth Conference, “Globally Running in 2030, Becoming Sustainably Strong” held in Belize City. For the very first time, this conference was held in the Caribbean Region and Central America. Over 250 national, regional and international youth leaders met for four days of panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and musical and cultural presentations on various community, national and international youth-related issues and sustainable development.

Belize’s representation during these critical global meetings is necessary. As the population and tourism in this small Caribbean nation grow, more resources are needed to support more people. These growing needs have had a negative impact on deforestation rates as protected areas are chipped away for natural resources and land cleared for agriculture and development.

While BFREE works towards sustainable solutions to protect tropical rainforests, we can’t do it alone. We are thrilled to see a strong representation by Belize during last weeks COP23 and are excited to continue working towards more solutions and progress in protecting our climate and forests.

Stakeholders Discuss the Future of the Cacao Industry in Belize

Participants gather in a circle for an open discussion during the Forum in San Pedro Columbia.

On  20th July 2017, the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) along with Ya’axché Conservation Trust hosted the first Belize Cacao and Agroforestry Forum, entitled “The Future of the Cacao industry in Belize,” at the Church of the Nazarene Medical and Education Center in the historic village of San Pedro Columbia, Toledo District.

The Forum brought together nearly 50 participants representing the NGO community, cacao farmers, community leaders, and government representatives in what proved to be an extremely positive event.

Located near the Bladen Nature Reserve in Toledo, BFREE has been hosting and sponsoring workshops, symposiums, and forums to promote the conservation and maintenance of Belize’s rich biodiversity, its tropical forests, watersheds and abundant wildlife for the last 25 years. This forum took shape in response to our current research and work, which focuses on using cacao-based agroforestry as a way to expand the edges of rainforests and protect the wildlife who inhabit the area.

The Forum had two primary goals; bring together a group of stakeholders in order to share information, discuss challenges and explore opportunities for collaboration and compile information regarding the cacao industry in Belize for inclusion in a regional cacao website, CocoaNext, which will be launched later this year by the Cocoa Research Centre at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.

Forum goals were achieved as information was shared and opportunities for collaboration were considered. The group represented an exceptional diversity of experts with a wide breadth of knowledge and experience representing in Belize’s cacao industry making for focused and informative discussions throughout the day.

With the success of the Forum behind us, participants are already looking forward to the future. The shared desire resonated – that Belize and, particularly Toledo, will continue to become an important player in the local, regional and world Cacao Market and that this growing industry will benefit local farmers, local businesses, Belize’s economy, and most importantly future generations.

BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin welcomes the participants of the first Belize Cacao and Agroforestry Forum on Thursday, July 20, 2017.

The Forum speakers included:

  • •  Ms. Antoinette Sankar of the Cocoa Research Centre, at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago. Ms. Sankar provided fantastic overview and history of the Cocoa Research Centre as well as need and purpose for the regional cacao website that will be launched later this year.
  • •  Mr. Wilber Sabido, Chief Forest Officer of the Belize Forest Department. Mr. Sabido spoke of the Forest Department’s position on cacao and agroforestry.
  • •  Mr. Densford Mangar, Ministry of Agriculture Toledo Extension officer. Mr. Mangar presented a national perspective of cacao in Belize.
  • •  Mr. Pablo Mes, Program Coordinator for Maya Leaders Alliance. Mr. Mes described traditional Maya lands rights and land use in Belize.
  • •  Mr. Johnson Ical from Trio Village and Mr. Martin Chiquin from Indian Creek Village both provided the group with an overview of a small farmer’s viewpoint.
  • •  Mr. Gustavo Requena, Community Outreach and Livelihoods Director of Ya’axché Conservation Trust. Mr. Requena described how agroforestry bridges livelihoods as well as on protected area management and adaptation to climate change.
  • •  Mr. Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE. Mr. Marlin presented how cacao agroforestry may conserve and restore biodiversity.

Hyla and Jacob Marlin along with Antoinette Sankar of the Cocoa Research Centre pose for a photo before the Forum in BFREE’s cacao nursery.

BFREE would like to thank each of the speakers and the participants for their dedication to a healthy and sustainable future for cacao in Belize. Special thanks also to BFREE Deputy Director, Heather Barrett, BFREE Operations Manager and Cacao Demonstration Farm Manager, Elmer Tzalam and BFREE Board Member, Gentry Mander who helped make the event a success.

Funding for the Forum was provided by Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, on behalf of the Nyanza Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council – comprised of the Service, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

If you would like to know more about the Forum, would like to be involved or have any questions, please contact us at: contact@bfreebz.org

 

 

2017 BFREE Field Courses

BFREE 2017 Field Course Season wraps up this month with 172 students and instructors visiting the Field Station from as far as Scotland and Alaska. Eleven courses in total, including two junior colleges and one primary school from Belize, all traveled to our small slice of paradise off the Southern Highway.

BFREE field courses are each uniquely developed by the lead instructors and BFREE staff. Courses are created to reflect each school’s curriculum and goals. While each group is different, visitors to BFREE share many similar challenging and rewarding experiences.

Upon arrival to Belize, each group is welcomed at the airport by a BFREE Tour Guide. If you have the pleasure to be greeted by Nelly Cadle then you know you are in for a treat! Nelly’s experience, knowledge, and passion for her country and work are hard to match.

The hike from the Southern Highway to the BFREE Field Station is a memory hard to forget. Traversing several distinct habitats, each with unique plants and animals, leads you to the Bladen River, towering cecropia trees, and your final destination — The BFREE Field Station.

While at BFREE, groups not only learn about the various ongoing program work but have the chance to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with first-hand experience supporting BFREE’s conservation initiatives. Students have the opportunity to visit the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC), a breeding and research facility for the critically endangered hicatee turtle as well as the 15-acre cacao and coffee agroforest, home to over 12,000 cacao trees.

Assigned by their instructors, many students are tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data while spending several days working on independent projects.

Students may choose to participate in various field experiments such as conducting river studies in the Bladen River, setting up small mammal traps for the Small Mammal Community Study or surveying selected plots in the Fruit Phenology Study.

In addition to the BFREE Field Station, many groups incorporate a marine component, learning about the second largest barrier reef system in the world, snorkeling from various islands around Belize.

There is nothing quite like traveling to a remote field station deep in a tropical rainforest to create memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

On behalf of all of us at BFREE, we would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the instructors, administrators, students, and parents that helped make the 2017 BFREE Field Season one of the best yet! We can’t wait to see you all again!

If you are interested in visiting BFREE, whether it be a student group, family vacation, solo adventure or interest in volunteering, we would be thrilled to have you! Contact BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville at tsanville@bfreebz.org for more information.

 

2017 BFREE Field Courses 

 

For even more Field Course information check out these links below: 

University of Richmond Story Map

Click the link above to visit the University of Richmond’s Story Map put together by the fourteen students that visited BFREE this year.

Vermont Commons School Video: Belize is Our Classroom!

Vermont Commons School creates a compelling video documenting their trip to BFREE, check it out on YouTube: Belize is Our Classroom! 

Volunteer with BFREE

BFREE is now looking for volunteers to work with HCRC Manager, Tom Pop and the nearly 70 newly hatched hicatee turtles. Visit the link below for more info!

BFREE flickr Page

Find even more photos from the 2017 BFREE Field Course season on flickr!

Slideshow on Student Alumni Facebook Group

Watch all the group photos from 2017 in this slideshow on the BFREE Student Alumni Group Page. If you are a student alum, be sure to follow along!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latest Hicatee turtle hatchlings for the HCRC

 

Hicatee hatchling by Carol Foster

Hicatee hatchling by Carol Farneti Foster

On May 6 and 7, four Hicatee turtles hatched under the watchful eyes of wildlife filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster, who documented the exciting events. They captured this amazing footage. The Fosters’ were contracted by the Turtle Survival Alliance and BFREE to produce a short documentary film in order to to improve local awareness and appreciation for the uniqueness and the plight of the Hicatee across its small range of southern Mexico, northern Guatemala and Belize. The film will focus on the turtle’s status in Belize and will describe its rapid decline due to over-hunting (for the purpose of human consumption), and will highlight current conservation efforts.

Ten eggs were laid by an adult hicatee at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center on December 14, 2015. Seven were deemed viable and four were transferred to the Fosters’ residence outside of Belmopan for incubation at a constant temperature of 29 degrees celcius in hopes of producing females. The rest of the clutch remained at BFREE for incubation at ambient temperature. After 149 of incubation at the Fosters’ residence outside of Belmopan, four turtles emerged – tiny and healthy.  This was 44 days sooner than last year’s seven hatchlings, which emerged after 193 days of incubation at ambient temperature!  We are still waiting for the remaining two viable eggs from the December 14 clutch to hatch.

Initial funding for the film is being provided by the Columbus Zoo and the Houston Zoo.

The Bladen Review – 2015 Edition!

The third publication of BFREE’s annual magazine, The Bladen Review, is available online in an interactive format on Issuu! Get the latest news around the field station and learn about exciting research projects taking place in the rainforest of Belize.

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

To download a PDF version of The Bladen Review click here .

Cacao-based Agroforestry Handbook

Now in its 3rd year, the Belize Cacao-based Agroforestry Project (BCARP) is on the path to broadening its reach by producing an illustrated guidebook to be distributed around the country.  The BCARP seeks to expand habitat for over-wintering neotropical migratory birds and other wildlife by converting environments such as farmland and secondary growth forest to wildlife-friendly agroforests with cacao as the dominant understory.

Cacao grows under the shade of the forest at BFREE.

Cacao grows under the shade of the forest at BFREE – pic by Heather Barrett

To date, this BFREE project has helped farmers in the nearby agricultural community of Trio Village to plant over 20,000 trees. Support has been offered in the form of training, labor, materials, and extension services. From the very beginnings of the project, interest in cacao and organic farming far surpassed BFREE’s expectations, in spite of the great desire to continue to expand by adding more farmers to the project, it also exceeded the financial and human resources dedicated to the project.

Always up for a challenge, BFREE decided a handbook illustrating specific methods could be one valuable component of a larger effort to address the ever-growing interest in cacao. Working with Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, BFREE board member and professor, BFREE engaged students at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington to help with the development and design of the handbook.

Nine graduate students in Dr. Rotenberg’s class, EVS: 530 “Graduate Tropical Environmental Ecology,” embraced the opportunity to produce something lasting and useful to farmers. Over the fall semester, the team worked to vet and compile resources for the handbook content. The clear priority was to design a guide specific to Belize that was thorough and complete yet simple to understand and illustration-based rather than text-heavy to account for varying levels of literacy and language.

cover art

The handbook will be filled with simple and clear illustrations to supplement and enhance written material.

In December, the team presented their final products to BFREE. Both students and staff were thrilled with the results; the handbook was attractive, comprehensive, clear, and included both English and Spanish translations. Unanimously, the group agreed the handbook was a great beginning and the next step was fine tuning.

Elmer Tzalam, BFREE Cacao Farm Manager, and Gentry Mander, recent University of Florida graduate and long-time BFREE collaborator, along with other BFREE staff, edited the handbook content and compiled recommendations for a final version. Those edits were given to some of the former EVS:530 students – Sara Marriott, Katherine Weeks, Danielle Frank, and Carmen Johnson – who eagerly accepted the opportunity to work with BFREE to complete the project. We anticipate publication of the handbook this autumn, and distribution in Belize immediately following.

We are most grateful to Dr. Jamie Rotenberg and his students: Karissa Bearer, Johanna Colburn, Lindsey Cole, Danielle Frank, Evan Gruetter, Carmen Johnson, Bretton Little, Sara Marriott, and Katherine Weeks. Their investment of time, energy, ideas and enthusiasm helped to spur on this meaningful project. 

Partial funding for BCARP is provided by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, along with co-trustees from the State of Massachusetts and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.