BFREE joined the TSA for a live video chat from Belize where we shared the latest from the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center. This included an up-close look at the critically endangered adult and juvenile turtles as well as a surprise appearance from babies hatched that day.
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.
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
Last week, BFREE Deputy Director, Heather Barrett, traveled to the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) in the Cayo District of Western Belize to retrieve twelve of the HCRC captive-born Hicatee turtles. They had been cared for at the BWRC by Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, DVM, and her team and the turtles were in good health overall. While they could have stayed for longer observation and data collection on this unique species, Corona changed it all. The recent shutdown of tourism, which provided a large portion of the non-profit clinics income as well as hands-on assistance from interns was combined with being an essential business that continued to offer services. Then came the spread of dry season fires throughout Belize and the annual baby season (which is high season for wildlife orphan intakes)… and “anybody healthy had to make space for more critical cases”. Just like the human hospitals had to do for COVID patients, Dr. Isabelle, therefore, requested BFREE to retrieve our turtles to make room for those animals with more serious health conditions.
Injuries to wildlife during a fire may include burns, injuries from falling out of trees, or having things fall onto them while escaping, or maybe less severe stresses that can still prove fatal if not addressed – like smoke inhalation and dehydration. Some animals just need access to water, food, or shelter, until their natural environment recovers. The BWRC received animals with all of these conditions. On the day that the Hicatee were retrieved, there were kinkajous, turtles, a howler monkey, squirrels, opossums, and snakes – escapees from the fire or orphans for unknown reasons. One kinkajou had fled the fire with minor burns only to climb an electrical pole where it grabbed a live wire and was electrocuted.
The BWRC’s mission is to support wildlife conservation efforts; domestic animal health and welfare; and the veterinary profession in Belize through medical services, education, research, and collaboration. Their work is big and growing all the time but they try to stay focused on their mission. In addition to the fire victims in the clinic last week, there were also confiscated animals and animals that were neglected or abused by their owners.
Jacob Marlin first met Dr. Isabelle in 2011 when the Hicatee Conservation Network was being formed and she first visited BFREE and the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center in 2015. Because of her valuable insight and a keen interest in helping to conserve this amazing species, she was invited back to participate in all subsequent Hicatee Health Assessments and has been a strong partner ever since.
Dr. Isabelle has been the lead Belize veterinarian evaluating our captive population of Hicatee for over four years. She attends two Hicatee Health Assessments per year to determine the health and reproductive status of our growing population of turtles. Just like baby humans, our hatchling and juvenile turtles are especially vulnerable to sickness caused by temperature changes, nutritional deficiencies, or other stressors. For this reason, when our young turtles are failing to thrive, Dr. Isabelle takes them to the clinic for several months to give them the additional veterinary care that will help them recover. This also gives her the opportunity to monitor them in order to gain a better understanding of their needs over time.
In the four years that BFREE has partnered with the BWRC, we have been impressed by their commitment to wildlife like the Hicatee and to educating Belizeans and visitors from abroad. As their partner, we would like to advocate for their campaign to fundraise for operational expenses during this trying time. With the halt of all veterinary trainees from abroad due to travel restrictions from Covid-19, the BWRC has lost a critical revenue stream. Like many organizations in Belize and worldwide, they are struggling to make ends meet but don’t want to furlough any of their small but critical staff when animals are still in need of daily care.
BWRC is thankful for any and all kind words, supplies or donations via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com or post on Facebook and tag @bfreebelize!
Robert Naczi, Curator of North American Botany, New York Botanical Garden
On the morning of 7 January 2008, my students from Delaware State University and I hiked from BFREE to the savanna in Deep River Forest Reserve. Our goal was to establish plots and identify all sedges within these plots in order to test hypotheses about the effects of disturbance upon the savanna’s most diverse floral elements, members of the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae). Sedges are grass-like plants that dominate many habitats (including savannas), provide food and shelter for wildlife, and furnish nutritious forage for cattle. Previous research had revealed great numbers of sedge species in the savannas of Deep River Forest Reserve, an extensive protected area bordering BFREE’s southern edge.
Because many sedge species inhabit the Deep River savanna and they usually grow intermingled, our work was demanding, and time passed quickly. Soon, we realized it was time to make the 2-mile hike back to BFREE for lunch. However, as I rose from our last plot, I noticed in the distance a habitat that was unfamiliar. A scan with binoculars revealed a shallow, gently sloping depression dominated by grassy plants. Typical-looking savanna with scattered pines and shrubs surrounded the vegetationaly distinct depression. I was intrigued, had the students look through the binoculars, and asked if they wanted to take a few minutes to explore the place. They enthusiastically agreed.
Shortly, we arrived. Exuberant at the prospect of exploring a new spot, the students bounded into the habitat. In a moment we were immersed in a place unlike any we’d seen in Belize. It was magical! Tall grasses grew very densely there, and some towered over us. Although the ground was wet and standing water was present in a few places, we did not sink far into the soil as we walked through the place. Soon, I found a narrow trail crowded with tapir tracks. Best of all, sedges were abundant. In fact, the most abundant sedge was one that I didn’t recognize. Discovering an unexpected sedge added to the excitement of exploring an unexpected habitat.
Study of plant specimens at New York Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, and U.S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution lead to no matches for the unknown sedge. My systematist colleagues did not recognize it, either. On a later field trip, I discovered a second, but much smaller population of the unknown sedge on Mountain Pine Ridge, Cayo District. Analysis of DNA sequences indicated the unknown sedge was unique. We concluded it was an undescribed species, and recently published the name Rhynchospora belizensis for this new species in the online edition of the botanical journal Brittonia. Hard-copy publication is scheduled for the March 2020 issue of Brittonia.
Belizean Beaksedge appears to be a very rare species that grows only in Belize. Fewer than 500 plants are known from the two small populations. Fortunately both occur in protected areas. Nevertheless, it is of conservation concern, ranked Vulnerable according to criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Belizean Beaksedge is also biogeographically significant because it is the only one of a group of closely related species that occurs in Central America; the rest grow in South America.
BFREE played a key role in the discovery of Belizean Beaksedge. Proximity of BFREE to the study site allowed for extensive exploration and ultimate discovery of the small population within the savanna—a true “needle in a haystack.” Help from BFREE staff was critical, too. Jacob Marlin showed me the Deep River savanna and suggested I study its sedges. All of the BFREE staff have been very supportive and provided much help along the way. The kitchen crew even held lunch for us the day of discovery, though we showed up quite late (and hungry). I am most grateful to the entire BFREE community for their support. I am also grateful to the intrepid students who accompanied me in discovering the new species.
Belizean Beaksedge is the second new sedge species discovered and described from savannas in the Deep River Forest Reserve adjacent to BFREE. In December 2012, colleagues and I published Rhynchospora marliniana, Marlins’ Beaksedge, from this savanna. We named this species for the Marlin Family to honor their steadfast dedication to biological conservation.
Between February 28th and March 1st, a total of 341 turtles (45 adults in the breeding population and 296 captive hatched animals) were assessed at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC). The primary purpose of the spring health assessment was to perform a basic exam of the overall health of the captive population at the HCRC, to look for follicles and eggs in breeding-size females and to PIT-tag animals.
Ultimately, we would like all turtles at the HCRC to be identified using a scute notching system and also a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag. A PIT tag is a small radio transponder that contains a specific code, which allows individual turtles to be assigned a unique 10 or 15 digit alphanumeric identification number. Unlike acoustic tags that actively send out a signal, they are “passive” and do not require a battery. Rather than the tag transmitting a signal, the tag scanner (or reader) sends out a radio frequency and when a tag is within range, it will relay the identification code back to the receiver. The lack of a battery is the greatest advantage of the PIT tag since it allows for the production of much smaller tags that can be used on smaller organisms, which should last the life of the turtle.
As in past assessments, two days were dedicated to measuring, giving health checks and ultrasounds to adult and subadult turtles. A day and half was dedicated to PIT-tagging all of the captive born turtles in the 2018 cohort as well as the ones from the 2017 cohort that had yet to be tagged.
We were thrilled to have a great group of return volunteers from last year’s spring assessment, as well as new participants from Jacksonville Zoo, Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, and recent graduates of Independence Junior College in Belize. The team worked tirelessly over three days to ensure that every turtle received the attention it needed.
We were grateful to receive support and assistance from the following participants in our spring health check: Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, Veterinarian at Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC); Glendy Delcid, BWRC; Cayle Pearson, Supervisor of Herpetology, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens; Meredith Persky, Veterinarian, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens; return volunteers, Doris Dimmitt, Rodney Dimmitt, Tim Gregory, and Emily Gregory; and new volunteers, Jesse Rope, Jonathan Dubon and Ajay Williams
We would like to express our gratitude to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for their continued financial support spring health assessments at the HCRC and to the Turtle Survival Alliance for supplying the PIT tags and associated equipment. Finally, a special thanks is in order to Doris and Rod Dimmitt for supplying Tom Pop with new waders to keep him warm and safe from leeches!
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:
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:
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.
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 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.
Day Ten, April 1:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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!
The beginning of the year means the start of a brand new field season for BFREE. Kutztown University helped kick-off 2020 with an incredible group of 15 students and two instructors ready to embark on a two-week adventure in Belize. The group arrived on New Year’s Eve and spent the evening with Ernesto and Aurora Saqui in Maya Center Village where they participated in a traditional ceremony to welcome in the new year. From there the group spent eight nights at BFREE giving them enough time to really make the jungle feel like a home away from home. In addition to the week-long stay at BFREE, the group ventured to the coast for three nights in Placencia. We were excited to partner with our friends at the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) for a presentation led by Dr. Marisa Tellez, Executive Director, and Co-Founder. The group joined Dr. Tellez and a local boat captain for an evening on the water looking for crocs. This was a great opportunity for our group to learn more about research and educational outreach taking place in southern Belize.
The next group to arrive was from SUNY Potsdam. Led by Dr. Glenn Johnson, the group spent an entire week at BFREE. They developed independent research projects which is one of the main activities for our field courses. The students generally spend their first day at BFREE thinking of a research question before starting to collect data. Below are a frew of the research projects that stuents have worked on so far this year.
- Are insects attracted to different colors at different heights along the observation tower?
- What is the dragonfly diversity at BFREE?
- Are insects more attracted to cow dung or tuna?
- Are leaf cutter ants more active in the day or night?
A highlight of SUNY Potsdam’s time at BFREE occurred on their first morning with a tapir sighting along the Bladen River. The group was just finishing breakfast when they got a call from Head Park Ranger, Sipriano Canti, who spotted. Everyone was able to arrive in time to watch the Tapir as it slowly moved along the rivers’ edge. Students also had the opportunity to learn the traditions of basket-weaving using Jippy Joppa palm with Ofelia and cooking on the fire hearth with Edwardo.
Last weekend we hosted our first student group from Belize in 2020. Led by Natural Resource Management teacher, Ms. Abigal Parham-Garbutt, Independence Junior College brought a group of 37 including instructors and students from Accounting, Agribusiness, Information Technology, and Natural Resources Management departments. Ms. Parham-Garbutt first visited BFREE in 2006 as a student herself when she was enrolled at the University of Belize. In 2011, she brought her first student group to BFREE and has continued to do so ever since. Students learned about the majestic Harpy Eagle, Central American River Turtle (Hickatee), Cacao based Agroforestry, small mammals, fruit phenology, migratory and native birds, insects, and snakes. Ms. Parham-Garbutt said, “Experiences like these are certainly one of the best ways to engage students in understanding how the forest works, how people can co-exist with nature and how blessed we are in Belize.”
Join BFREE in the great world-wide celebration of migratory birds during the entire month of March!
Below are educational resources and additional information for you to use in your classrooms. We encourage celebratory events throughout the month of March such as educational presentations, cleanups, and other habitat restorations as well as bird walks, and creative art activities
Classroom Activity Ideas:
- Host or join a trash clean up, this can be done around your school, in your community or along the beach! Bonus challenge, have class competitions to collect the most trash or create an art project with the plastic collected.
- Download the bird count and bring your class outside to record data from around your schoolyard.
- Have a school-wide plastic-free challenge week. Challenge your students to go a full week without using any single-use plastic at school!
- Host a movie party, watch Wing of Hope, Yochi, or Birds of Belize to get to know more about the incredible birds in our country.
- Share Migratory Bird Day in Belize on social media! Share the Facebook banner or post on Instagram and tag @bfreebz so we can see your activities!
- February 22: “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution” Presentation to students of Natural Resource Management from Independence Junior College
- March 1 – 31: Join BFREE in celebrating World Migratory Bird Day in Belize the entire month of March
- March 4 – 6: BFREE presentations and activities for Primary and High Schools in Independence Village
- March 14: Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) and Next Gen Croc Club will host a beach clean up in Seine Bright
What is World Migratory Bird Day:
World Migratory Bird Day in the Americas is coordinated by the organization, Environment for the Americas, which promotes bilingual educational materials and information about birds and bird conservation. Environment for the Americas celebrates the migration of nearly 350 bird species between their nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Now in its 26th year, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) has grown from a one-day event to hundreds of projects and programs year-round and encourage individuals and organizations to join them in selecting their own date to celebrate WMBD. BFREE has selected the entire month of March to celebrate WMBD in Belize and we invite you to join us!
We are inspired by the phase-out plan to ban single-use plastic in Belize that became effective on 15 January 2020. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Immigration, Hon. Goodwin Hulse, signed into law the Environmental Protection (Pollution from Plastics) Regulations, 2020 that is set to reduce plastic and styrofoam pollution through the phasing out of single-use plastics in Belize as a control measure to protect the terrestrial and marine environment from harmful plastic contamination.
With this in mind, we at BFREE are celebrating WMBD by embracing the message, “Protect birds: Be the solution to plastic pollution.”
We invite you, our partners country-wide to join BFREE in tackling the challenges of plastic pollution in the environment by sharing with your classrooms the many ways that plastic can harm birds and by offering some ideas for ways that we can reduce our use of plastic items.
The Truth Behind Plastic Pollution:
Since plastic was introduced in the 1950s, an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons have been created. Only about 9% of plastic materials are recycled, leaving more than 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics in landfills or polluting the environment. “One of the main types of debris in the marine environment today is plastic. We know fishing gear, plastic bags, bottle caps, utensils, and other plastic pieces are entangling and being ingested by birds. Plastics harm birds in marine environments, as well as other habitats. As human use of plastics grows, so too does the amount of plastic pollution that invades most ecosystems around the globe. “Plastic debris such as fishing line poses a serious risk of entangling birds, which can entrap them and cause serious injury,” says Dr. Susan Bonfield, Director of Environment for the Americas. Migratory birds also have a high risk of directly ingesting plastics. It’s been estimated that 80% of sea and shorebirds have consumed foam, pellets, thread, and other items. In addition, small bits of plastic, known as microplastics, pose a hazard to birds and smaller organisms throughout the food chain due to the toxins they concentrate in the environment.
The Spectacular Journey of Birds:
In addition to raising awareness about issues important to bird conservation, World Migratory Bird Day is also a celebration of the spectacular journeys that migratory birds take as they travel between nesting and non-breeding sites around the world. Global partners at the Convention on Migratory Species in Bonn, Germany recognize that “World Migratory Bird Day joins our voices as one for the protection of the birds we share. With raised awareness of threats such as plastic pollution to birds, it is our opportunity to take action by making changes that help birds, whether personal or more broadly.” Although WMBD is traditionally celebrated in Canada and the U.S. on the second Saturday in May, in reality every day is bird day, and programs, festivals, and other events occur throughout the year, whenever it works best for organizers—and the birds. “Ultimately, the goal of WMBD is to connect people to nature through birds,” says Miguel Matta, WMBD Coordinator in Latin America.
The Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) operates a biological field station in the rainforest of southern Belize. Our mission is “to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize.” We strive to successfully integrate scientific research, environmental education, conservation, and create sustainable development opportunities for alternative livelihoods for Belizeans.
About Environment for the Americas:
WMBD in the Americas is coordinated by Environment for the Americas, which provides bilingual educational materials and information about birds and bird conservation throughout the Americas. Their programs inspire children and adults to get outdoors, learn about birds, and take part in their conservation. To learn more about migratory bird habitats, download WMBD educational and promotional materials in Spanish and English, and search for activities planned in your area, visit http://www.migratorybirdday.org/.
Miguel Matta, Latin America World Migratory Bird Day Coordinator, Environment for the Americas, Boulder, CO, USA. Email: email@example.com
BFREE is located in the headwaters of the Bladen Branch of the Monkey River, a large tropical river that
discharges to the Caribbean Sea south of Placencia. Despite the pristine character of the headwaters
the Monkey River watershed has been home to Belize’s banana industry for nearly 100 years, with
particularly intensive cultivation since the early 1980’s. The banana industry brought clearing, roads,
laborer settlements, squatters, intensive gravel mining, fish and wildlife harvest, deforestation and
introduction of non-native species. One of the most striking outcomes of 40 years of watershed
exploitation was the disruption of sand delivery to the mouth of the Monkey River, which resulted in
partial destruction of one of Belize’s great historical villages, Monkey River Village, to beach erosion.
The crisis at the river mouth is a reflection of degradation along the entire river continuum, with nine
other communities suffering from reduced river flow, toxic pollution, depleted fish and game, and poor
In response to the crisis, BFREE partnered with all communities in the watershed to form the Monkey
River Watershed Association. MRWA is a community-based organization working to conserve and
restore the integrity of the entire Monkey River Watershed and ensure that it continues to provide a
multitude of benefits to watershed residents and the coastal ecosystem. MRWA’s first success after
registering in 2017 was to secure a US$50,000 grant from the United Nations Development Programme.
The funds were used to pilot test inexpensive beach protection structures in front of Monkey River
Village and write a “roadmap” for restoration of the Monkey River watershed. One hundred and sixty
feet of sand filled “geotubes” have since been installed in front of the most threatened properties,
leading to 30 feet of beach growth for the first time in decades. The roadmap itself was completed in
April 2019. In addition to identifying reduced sand delivery to the coast from upriver—not sea level
rise—as the likely main cause of the beach erosion problem, the roadmap also defines restoration goals
and actions needed to achieve the desired states of the river and the shoreline. BFREE will continue to
support MRWA with fundraising in the months and years ahead, and remains committed to protection
of the Bladen Nature Reserve and connected protected areas which provide water and sand to all