Happy 50th Birthday, Jacob!

Jacob Marlin 16th Birthday

BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin admiring his chocolate snake cake on his 16th Birthday.

Jacob Marlin is a person driven by his passion for a calling. At an early, this calling drew him outside into the parks, waterways, and wild areas of his hometown, Washington, DC. He would spend days, nights, and weekends riding his bike, lifting rocks, searching for snakes and other wildlife in places most people avoid. Excited by what he found he would, with great care for the animal, collect these living treasures without limitation or concern for this unorthodox obsession. He looked at the world creatively and logistically; his socks became snake bags, his closet a multitude of terrariums and cages designed to hold his ever-growing collection.

Jacob’s passion for snakes and other herps paved his way to a future in the zoo field. He landed several zoo jobs managing reptiles and amphibians and was becoming well-respected for his work. Yet, just as he was at the crux of what could have been a long and successful career managing herpetological collections, his calling pulled him away. Simultaneous to this work and the building of a massive and impressive venomous snake collection, he was searching for a pristine and sacred piece of Earth to preserve, to protect, to call home. His quest led him to Belize after resigning from his job, selling and lending all of his snakes and other possessions, and deciding to say goodbye to the possibility of a conventional way of life.

Nearly 25 years and many setbacks and adventures later, BFREE exists and is thriving.  Not just as Jacob’s private residence in the rainforest of southern Belize although, it is that. BFREE is a field station, empowering and employing local people while also training them to be conservationists and scientists; teaching and inspiring students from Belize and abroad while also encouraging them to become stewards of their environment;  engaging buffer communities in environmental education programs and encouraging them to think more broadly about their impact on their home lands; informing and including local decision-makers in conversations about the management of Belize’s natural resources; and hosting and supporting researchers while they embark on studies that could have a long-term positive impact on the flora and fauna of Belize.  BFREE is also an international organization with a growing US presence and the potential to reach farther and impact more world views.

With the power of a life driven by a mission and a calling, Jacob invites us (all those who know him and BFREE as well as those who have never met either) to join him on his journey. He has not chosen to take the path alone and instead opts to include, encourage, inspire, inform and challenge each of us to participate in the pursuit and to carve out our own paths that will sustain the Earth’s sacred and wild places.

As he gets older and we get older, our human needs and desires chip away at the structure of the few remaining sanctuaries left on this planet. Because of this, we need voices like Jacob’s and places like BFREE to remind us that we too can protect and preserve and inspire.

Happy Birthday, Jacob! We can’t wait to see what the next 50 years bring.

Chocolate and Beer Tasting with BFREE

Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, described cacao-based agroforestry and the chocolate-making process to Gainesville community members.

Over 100 supporters joined BFREE on April 21st to help us put the FUN in fundraiser. BFREE hosted “BIRDS, CHOCOLATE & FORESTS: CONSERVATION EFFORTS CONNECTING THE US TO CENTRAL AMERICA,”  in Gainesville, Florida, the home of the US for BFREE office. The event took place at First Magnitude, one of the most loved craft breweries in the area; they have a passion we can all get on board with, “great beer and great community.”  In addition, local food truck, Cilantro Tacos joined the effort by donating ten percent of their nights sales to BFREE. A silent auction with bid items ranging from bagels to acupuncture was supported by many incredible donors and was a highlight of the event.

fm event

BFREE volunteers, Wendy Wilber and Juliana Carrillo, greeted event supporters.

The BFREE chocolate offered for tasting was made with 100% organic, shade-grown, fine flavor, single-origin beans. The beans are grown in cacao agroforest at BFREE where, once harvested, they are fermented and dried in the sun. The beans for the fundraiser were brought to Gainesville where they were handcrafted in small batches.  

While chocolate, beer and tacos can make any event successful, the true spotlight was the message which fueled invaluable conversations about the connection between birds, chocolate, and forests. Deforestation threatens the nearly 600 species of birds that call Belize home and cacao-based agroforestry can provide an organic, wildlife- and environmentally-friendly alternative to other types of agriculture. Therefore, BFREE is working to convert degraded land to cacao-based agroforestry for the purpose of expanding migratory bird habitat and protecting Belize’s rich, biodiverse rainforest.


Belize is home to one of the last undisturbed rainforests left in the world and the largest continuous tract of tropical rainforests north of the Amazon. We believe that the key lies in the connection between birds, chocolate, and forests.

If you are interested in learning more about the work that BFREE is doing to promote cacao- based agroforestry or would like to make chocolate from bean to bar please contact us at contact@bfreebz.org.

BFREE would like to extend a special thanks to all of the silent auction donors for ensuring the event was a hit: Adventure Outpost, Alvaro Toledo, Bagel Bakery, Kirk and Gloria McDonald, Lauren Schaer,  Leonardo’s Pizza of Millhopper, Liz Getman, Michael and Janice Carrillo, Sami Gabb, Theresa Rizzo, Wendy Wilber, Wild Birds Unlimited of Gainesville. Another big thank you to Cilantro Tacos and First Magnitude Brewery for supporting both our mission and event.


BFREE depends on the support of individuals like you. To purchase a BFREE t-shirt, hat or to make a donation please contact us at contact@bfreebz.org






Dr. Stewart Skeate Awarded Grant to Develop Research at BFREE

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Stewart Skeate of Lees-McRae College was recently awarded the Whalen Master Teacher Grant to develop a research project at BFREE.

Dr. Skeate has been bringing groups on field courses to Belize for the past eight years and in 2015 became a member of BFREE’s education committee. The committee was charged with creating long-term educational and research projects and data sets for student groups visiting the field station. Dr. Skeate’s interest was to formalize a tree fruit phenology study that he has implemented in the past with student groups at BFREE and to develop a large mammal survey using camera trapping techniques.

Dr. Stewart Skeate and students from Lees-McRae College during their 2014 field course

Dr. Stewart Skeate (standing third person from left) and students from Lees-McRae College during their 2014 field course

On December 1st, Lees-McRae College announced Dr. Skeate as the grant recipient. The article was posted to their college website and is included in part below. Please follow the link to the website below to continue reading.

Dr. Stewart Skeate Awarded First Whalen Master Teacher Grant

Dr. Skeate, professor of wildlife biology and coordinator of the Wildlife Biology Program at Lees-McRae College, has received the Whalen Master Teacher Grant to fund student research projects for the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE). As a scholar involved in tropical research for many years, he understands the challenges and is working to improve the student experience.

“Ecological research projects require data input over a long period of time, and unfortunately, spending long periods of time at a tropical research station is challenging for faculty and students,” he said. “The goal of this project is to develop long-term, collaborative studies that create opportunities for visiting students to contribute their findings during a brief stay at the BFREE field station.” Continue Reading the article here. 

Congratulations, Dr. Skeate! We are thrilled with your success!

Jaguar was caught on camera during one of Dr. Skeate's field courses.

Jaguar caught on camera during one of Dr. Skeate’s recent field courses.

Protected: Day One at BFREE

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