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The Bladen Review 2022

The 8th edition of BFREE’s annual magazine is now available in an interactive format online at Issuu! Get the latest news from the field station and learn about exciting research, conservation and education projects taking place in and around the rainforests of Belize. 

Highlights of the 2022 magazine include: updates on the conservation and outreach programs associated with cacao agroforestry, the Hicatee turtle, and Science & Education Fellowship Program.

Click here to download a PDF of The Bladen Review 2022.

Special thanks to Alyssa D’Adamo for designing this year’s magazine and to Shaman Marlin for photographing the cover image.

BFREE TURTLE SURVEY

LONG TERM TURTLE SURVEY IN THE JUNGLE

Join the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) and the Turtle Survival Alliance’s North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (TSA-NAFTRG) to participate in a long-term population monitoring project for freshwater and terrestrial turtle species located within BFREE’s Privately Protected Area in southern Belize. The BFREE Privately Protected Area is a 1,153-acre reserve that adjoins 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.

Participants will be supporting researchers in the second annual survey of a 10-year long-term monitoring project to provide basic demographic and population information. Turtles will be captured using various methods, including hand capture and baited traps, and will be given unique identification marks and injected with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags for future identification. You’ll be joined by herpetologists and experts in the field from both the US and Belize. In 2021, the BFREE and TSA-NAFTRG Team marked, measured, and safely released 272 turtles. Turtles found included White-lipped Mud Turtle, Tabasco Mud Turtle, Scorpion Mud Turtle, Mexican Giant Musk Turtle, Central American Snapping Turtle, Furrowed Wood Turtle, and the Meso-American Slider – representing seven of Belize’s nine freshwater turtles.

We look forward to you joining us in Belize for the June/July 2023 BFREE and TSA-NAFTRG Turtle Survey in the jungle!


DATES

June 30 – July 10, 2023 – OPEN

Spaces are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Deposits will be accepted beginning January 30, 2023. Participants are required to book their own transportation to BFREE, including international airfare to the Philip Goldson International Airport (BZE) and domestic airfare to Savannah (INB).

REQUIREMENTS

  • Able to hike between 5 and 10 miles a day in 90-degree weather with 100% humidity.
  • Able to lift and carry 40 lbs. for periods of time.
  • Willingness to get dirty and to put long days in.
  • All participants are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

CONTACT

Questions, please contact Eric Munscher, Director of the Turtle Survival Alliance’s – North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (TSA-NAFTRG) at

emunscher@turtlesurvival.org

ITINERARY

  • Day One: Arrive at BZE by 1:30 PM, fly to INB at 3:30 PM (exact flight time to be updated in 2023). Transportation provided from INB to the BFREE Field Station. Settle into rooms and unpack before dinner.
  • Day Two: Tour the BFREE Facility and familiarize yourself with the various trails and facilities. Free time to relax and swim in the crystal-clear water of the Bladen River or explore one of BFREE’s many conservation initiatives, including the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC), a captive breeding facility for the critically endangered Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii, locally known in Belize as the Hicatee.
  • Day Three – Ten: Turtle surveys throughout BFREE’s 1,153-acre private reserve. Turtle surveys will primarily take place on the ground. There will be one or two days of river surveys but most data is collected on land.
  • Day Eleven: Breakfast followed by transportation to INB for a domestic flight back to BZE.

COSTS

The costs are $1,600 per participant.

Cost Includes:

  • Double occupancy in BFREE’s newest accommodation, the Hammock, which features an open-air veranda connecting six private rooms. Linens, pillows, and blankets provided.
  • Three chef-prepared meals per day.
  • Guided night hikes and tours of BFREE’s conservation programs
  • Round-trip 4×4 transportation from Savannah Airport (INB) to the BFREE Field Station and back on the day of departure.
  • Fees paid to this program not only support your participation in critical turtle research for Belize but also have a direct impact on the country’s next generation of conservation leaders. Funding from this TSA-NAFTRG-BFREE research program helps to support Belizean participation in scientific research at BFREE.

REGISTER

Space is limited for this incredible opportunity; make your deposit today to secure your spot. Deposits are due by April 3, 2023. The final payment is due by May 1st, 2023. To register for this program, read the Booking Terms and Conditions on the next page.



BOOKING TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Participants must agree to all terms and conditions of booking before registering for this program. This program is coordinated by the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE).

Covered Costs.

Participation in the 2023 Turtle Survey at BFREE is $1,600 per person. These covered costs per person include accommodations, meals, and guided tours of BFREE. Program Fees Do Not include the following: international airfare to BZE, roundtrip domestic airfare with Maya Island Air to Savannah (INB), soft drinks and beers, COVID-19 Tests or travel insurance, gratuities/souvenirs – at your discretion.

Deposit and Final Payment.

A $500 USD Non-Refundable initial deposit will secure your spot on the trip, or you may choose to pay in full. The remaining balance is due 60-days before the retreat start date. Failure to make payment by the applicable due date may forfeit your booking on the trip and be treated as a cancellation. If a booking is made less than 60-days before the trip start date, the full amount must be paid at the time of booking.

Payment Schedule.

The $500 deposit is due for all participants by April 3, 2023. Final payment for Participants is due by May 1, 2023. Payments should be made at www.givebutter.com/turtletour

Cancellations.

Cancellations made by participants should include a formal refund request sent by email to reservations@bfreebz.org. According to the outline below, approved refunds by BFREE will be returned to the participant.

  • Refund requests more than 60-days before the program start date will receive a full refund minus the $500 deposit.
  • Refund requests more than 30-days before the program start date will receive a 50% refund minus the $500 deposit.
  • Refund requests less than 30-days before the program start date are non-refundable.
  • Cancellations 30-days or less to the program start date due to events directly relating to COVID-19, specifically international travel restrictions and border closings, will receive a 50% refund minus the deposit.

BFREE is not liable for additional costs incurred due to cancellation, including flights, lodgings, activities, meals, etc. BFREE strongly recommends that all participants purchase travel insurance (medical, COVID-19 coverage, and trip cancellation) to protect you in case of any unforeseen emergencies. BFREE shall, in its sole discretion, have the right, upon written notice to the participant and without further liability, to terminate a program. Participants will be refunded following the Cancellation policy outlined above. BFREE is not liable for any loss or damage suffered by you, including but not limited to the loss of the Deposit and/or Full Payment, as a result of a Force Majeure Event and/or the cancellation of a Program due to a Force Majeure Event.

Travel to BFREE.

International flights should arrive at the Philip Goldson International Airport (BZE) no later than 1:30 PM on the first day of the program. On the program’s final day, international departure flights should not depart BZE before noon.

COVID-19 Policy.

All guests must adhere to the Government of Belize’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols at the time of their visit to Belize, as well as those from the departure destination. BFREE is not liable to cover or absorb losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Cancellations 30-days or prior to the departure date due to events directly relating to COVID-19, specifically international and university travel restrictions and border closings, will be refunded 50% of the program’s total cost minus the deposit.  All visitors to BFREE are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Info Session.

Turtle Survival Alliance and Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education will host an informational virtual meeting in 2023 for all
confirmed Participants prior to survey. Meeting Date: TBA

Freshwater and Terrestrial Turtle Survey – Year Two

by Eric Munscher

This year, we, members of the TSA – North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (NAFTRG), had a team of ten people fly down to trap turtles on the BFREE private reserve in southern Belize. If you have never been to Belize, I highly recommend it. The country is beautiful and the people are wonderful. Working with the people at the BFREE Field Station on this project has been so much fun.

This is our second year of a planned 10-year survey of freshwater and terrestrial turtle species on BFREE’s 1,153-acre private reserve. Last year, we identified several species range extensions and caught seven of nine freshwater and terrestrial species known in Belize. The survey is valuable information not only for the TSA, NAFTRG and BFREE, but for the country of Belize where very little data exists on many of these species.

During the first 12 days we caught 221 turtles representing 8 species. The holy grail capture of this trip was finding our first Narrow Bridged Musk Turtle (Claudius angustatus), which is a really cool and understudied species of musk turtle. One that is not known from southern Belize. We ended up catching a dozen including some juveniles and a hatchling indicating a viable breeding population.

Our team also helped kick off a new grad student project for Collin McAvinchey who will be staying in Belize for most of the month of July tracking Tabasco Mud turtles (Kinosternon acutum). Collin’s project started off slow due to weather conditions. Finding adult Tabasco Mud Turtles was more of a challenge this year than last year. Still the data he is gathering is surprising and amazing. As of yesterday, he is now tracking ten of these turtles all over the rainforest. For a mud turtle they seem to act more like box turtles….

I am really looking forward to generating our first manuscripts from this work and seeing Collin’s thesis come together. I’m also excited to return next year! A valuable and exciting part of this program was the opportunity for citizen scientists to contribute to a long-term dataset. There will be opportunities next year for additional participation.

Thanks to an amazing crew Arron Tuggle, Madeleine Morrison, Nicole Salvatico, Stephen Ross , Tabitha Barbree Hootman, Luke Pearson, Becca Rádio Cozad, Georgia Knauss, and Collin McAvinchey. Also to the BFREE team: Thomas Pop, Barney Hall, Jonathan Dubon, Heather Barrett, Jacob Marlin, and many others, thank you for all of your efforts and hospitality and making this project such an early success! Finally, thanks to Tyler Sanville for supporting our travel logistics and to Eddie Pop who kept us well fed and always ready to get back out into the field.

To read more about last year’s survey, read Under the Shade They Flourish: Beginning A 10-Year Study in Belize published by SWCA Environmental Consultants and TSA-NAFTRG Survey at BFREE.

Agami Heron Study

Since 2016, I have served on the Agami Heron Working Group. This is a group of scientists and conservationists from throughout Central and South America working together to better understand a very secretive and therefore under-documented bird. My role is to ensure that we collect and submit annual nesting data on a small colony of Agami herons. Because the lagoon acts as nesting habitat for Boat-billed herons and Anhinga, we include them in our observation data.

In order to minimize disturbance of the colony, we make infrequent, short visits to the lagoon. Our goal is to determine if nesting has begun for the Agamis. The Boat-billed herons and Anhingas generally nest earlier in the year – March through May. Around the time that they finish their season, individual Agami herons begin to arrive and appear to investigate the area but do not stay.

In late June or early July, pairs of Agamis arrive and begin rebuilding their nests. They use the same nest trees and often the same nests as the Boat-billed herons. They do not appear to use the Anhinga nests which are usually situated higher in the nest tree.

Data Collection

The instructions for documenting the Agami nesting habits are straight-forward, but the timing of their nesting always has made the process a bit tricky. Our data collection begins when the birds are on the nest; however, we can’t visit too frequently. So, it is sometimes difficult to identify the most accurate start date. When we observe the birds on the nest, we document the date, number of nests, number of birds, and other habitat data and then quickly and quietly depart. We return ten days later to do another count.

When eggs begin to hatch and hatchlings grow, we continue to our count: focusing on number of eggs and number of hatchlings. We also look for evidence of parental care, possible predation, and growth stages. At the end of each successful year of data collection, reports are submitted to the Working Group for review.

About the Agami Heron Working Group

The Agami Heron Working Group established an action plan for the conservation of the Agami Heron in 2015. The plan can be accessed in EnglishFrench or Spanish. The Group will continue to provide an information exchange and coordination point for those interested in research and conservation of the species. 

The cacao nursery at BFREE

Each year the cacao nursery at BFREE is restored and prepared for the new planting season. Any old plants or trees are removed and fresh liner is laid, the area is weeded and trimmed, and damaged poles are replaced. Additionally, the nursery was expanded to hold more bags and the irrigation system was modified for more efficient watering.

Soon after those preparations were made, came the task of filling thousands of nursery bags. Lucky for us, ARCC participants showed up just in time to help fill bags with a sand and soil mixture. Because of them, a huge job became much more manageable.

BFREE Cacao Fellows are assigned to the management of the cacao nursery, so Mark Canti has replaced Lenardo Ash as caregiver to the young cacao and shade trees. Once bags are filled and put in place, Mark waters and fertilizers the soil to prepare for seed planting. In the coming months, he will be responsible for ensuring the successful growth of the nursery trees.

Shade trees are just as important to this project as cacao trees, so both short-term and long-term shade tree seedlings are included. Therefore, five varieties of short-term shade trees were planted: Pigeon Pea, Plantain, Bananas, Erythrina and Madre de cacao. Long-term shade trees include Bribri, Jobillo, two species of Barbajalote, and Mahogany. We continue to search the property for other types of seedpods and saplings.

New Rearing Pond at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center

Designed to study the reproductive biology and to determine if the Central American River turtle could be bred in captivity, the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center opened in 2014 and was met with immediate success when, in the summer of 2015, the first seven hatchlings emerged. This was followed by five hatchlings in 2016, 84 hatchlings in 2017, and 179 in 2018.

The extrusion welder was used to join hard plastic pond liner

The HCRC originally included two large breeding ponds, an overflow pond and several rearing tanks. The small rearing tanks at the center quickly reached capacity and HCRC staff identified an urgent need to provide the necessary space and improved environment for the 2018 hatchlings and the soon to arrive 2019 cohort. After much discussion, it was determined that converting the overflow pond into a large rearing pond for hatchlings and juveniles was the most cost effective and quickest solution to housing all the expected hatchlings now and in the foreseeable future.

We secured funding from Oklahoma City’s Zoo’s Care Grant Program and from Zoo New England to begin pond modifications. Additional support was provided through funding for supplies offered by Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2018 and the purchase of a very important piece of machinery was made possible thanks to proceeds from the Turtle Survival Alliance’s 2018 fundraising auction.

Pond modification was slow to get underway due a very wet rainy season. However, during February and March construction took place and 140 turtles were placed in their new home in April. The rearing pond (Pond C) is forty-feet in diameter and approximately six-feet deep at the center. A six-foot perimeter fence will encircle the pond and fresh water is provided by solar powered pumps which were already in place at the facility. We will modify Pond C in the coming months to include a floating island and the planting of food trees and grasses as has been done in Ponds A and B. Our hope is that the facility will offer a healthy environment for all hatchlings produced at the HCRC until they are ready for release into the wild.  

Thanks to the Turtle Survival Alliance for their continued partnership on the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. Thanks also to project sponsors: Oklahoma City Zoo, Zoo New England and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

New Rearing Pond at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center

Designed to study the reproductive biology and to determine if the Central American River turtle could be bred in captivity, the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center opened in 2014 and was met with immediate success when, in the summer of 2015, the first seven hatchlings emerged. This was followed by five hatchlings in 2016, 84 hatchlings in 2017, and 179 in 2018.

The extrusion welder was used to join hard plastic pond liner

The HCRC originally included two large breeding ponds, an overflow pond and several rearing tanks. The small rearing tanks at the center quickly reached capacity and HCRC staff identified an urgent need to provide the necessary space and improved environment for the 2018 hatchlings and the soon to arrive 2019 cohort. After much discussion, it was determined that converting the overflow pond into a large rearing pond for hatchlings and juveniles was the most cost effective and quickest solution to housing all the expected hatchlings now and in the foreseeable future.

We secured funding from Oklahoma City’s Zoo’s Care Grant Program and from Zoo New England to begin pond modifications. Additional support was provided through funding for supplies offered by Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2018 and the purchase of a very important piece of machinery was made possible thanks to proceeds from the Turtle Survival Alliance’s 2018 fundraising auction.

Pond modification was slow to get underway due a very wet rainy season. However, during February and March construction took place and 140 turtles were placed in their new home in April. The rearing pond (Pond C) is forty-feet in diameter and approximately six-feet deep at the center. A six-foot perimeter fence will encircle the pond and fresh water is provided by solar powered pumps which were already in place at the facility. We will modify Pond C in the coming months to include a floating island and the planting of food trees and grasses as has been done in Ponds A and B. Our hope is that the facility will offer a healthy environment for all hatchlings produced at the HCRC until they are ready for release into the wild.  

Thanks to the Turtle Survival Alliance for their continued partnership on the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. Thanks also to project sponsors: Oklahoma City Zoo, Zoo New England and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Land Snail Workshop at BFREE

Dan and Judy Dourson led a two-day workshop in the new BFREE classroom

The first workshop on the Land Snails of Belize was led by biologists, Dan and Judy Dourson, and took place at the BFREE field station in late February. The workshop’s goal was to give participants an understanding of which snails can be found in southern Belize and to train them to identify land snails with the help of  the materials that the Dourson’s created. These materials include the newly published book “Land Snails of Belize: A Remarkable Chronicle of Diversity and Function” and the associated Field Identification card.  

Students used Field ID cards to begin to identify snails

The course was designed for tour guides and educators and therefore focused on the importance of land snails in the environment, described why they matter in Belize, and also provided great examples of how to use snails in short lessons. During this hands-on workshop, the group searched for, collected, and learned to identify and sort snails.

Participants included NGO representatives, tour guides and interested members of the public. These included: Morgan Lucot, Sipriano Canti, Christian Bech, Jaren Serano, Marten Ack, Andres Chen, Rousana Romero, Marleni Coy Emillian, Joaquin Obando, Andrew Choco, and Leanne Knox.

Special thanks to Leanne Knox for providing transportation to the BFREE Field Station for workshop participants.

Due to the interest in this course, BFREE and the Dourson’s plan to partner to create future workshops on Belize’s lesser known creatures in coming years. Stay tuned!

Land Snails of Belize: A Remarkable Chronicle of Diversity and Function,” is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to use Amazon Smile to support BFREE while shopping online. The associated Land Snail Field Identification Cards are available for sale at the Belize Zoo and the BFREE field station.

Identifying Land Snails 

Searching through leaf litter to find and collect snails

 

 

Land Snails that were previously collected

Participants of the 2019 Land Snail Workshop at BFREE

 

Team Hicatee Competes in La Ruta Maya

By Jaren Serano

The La Ruta Maya 2019 Belize River Challenge is considered one of the most gruesome races in Belizean history and it is the longest canoe race in Central America:  a four- day event covering over 180 miles of Belizean river. Paddlers from all corners of the country and internationally converge at the banks of the Macal River – the starting point of the race.

La Ruta Maya means “The route of the Mayans.”  This route was used by the ancient Maya for quicker access to the coast and, in the mid-1600s, by loggers to move logwood to the coast. On March 9, 1998, the La Ruta Maya was conceptualized by Richard Harrison of Big-H Enterprises when he launched a new brand of purified water. Since then, the race has evolved into an annual competition that brings together people from all over Belize and also raises consciousness about various environmental issues happening around the country.

Tom Pop, Scottie Trevino, and Rony Jimenez paddled for Team Hicatee during La Ruta Maya

This year BFREE decided to join in the action and partnered with Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic (BWRC) to create Team Hicatee. The primary reason for our participation was because this four-day river event is a major time when Hicatee turtles are harvested heavily for human consumption. We believed having a race canoe titled simply “Save the Hicatee” in this historic race  would be a strong message and a great platform to raise awareness for this critically-endangered species.

Team Hicatee consisted of three paddlers: Scottie Trevino, Rony Jimenez, and Thomas Pop of BFREE. Although this was Team Hicatee’s first time to compete together, they placed 31st overall and 3rd in their respective category (Mixed Category- one female and two males).

When asked about the race, Tom had the following to say: “It was tough and challenging but a very fun race. I did it for conservation to raise awareness for the Hicatee. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t travel that 180 miles.”

Team Hicatee placed 31st overall and 3rd in their category.

“This race is important because it helps locals to be more aware of the different conservation  issues around the country and it shines a light upon these issues.”

“Team Hicatee gave a challenge even though it was our first time, at the end of the day we were competitive. And I felt that my goal of raising awareness was completed because at the start of the race people didn’t even recognize us as competitors. But as the four days progressed we started hearing on-lookers yelling from the banks of the river “Go Hicatee Go!”  and that made me feel even more happy. They didn’t have to know who I was but the fact that they recognize our canoe and acknowledge that we were Team Hicatee made me feel like a proud conservationist.”

Back of Team Hicatee t-shirts  

We at BFREE would like to extend a special thanks to Derric Chan of Friends of Conservation and Development (FCD), and Justin Ford, Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC), for their coordination and support of Team Hicatee.

Spring ’19 Hicatee Health Assessments

 

Team Hicatee Spring 2019

During the early March Hicatee Health Assessment, a total of 214 turtles 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. Because oviposition takes place between the months of November and February, it was also relevant to check for the presence of additional eggs. 

Prior to the Health Assessments beginning, a small team of volunteers arrived to help prepare the site. The team cleaned hatchling tanks and moved the 140 hatchlings from the 2018 cohort from the soft release cage where they had been housed since December. They were placed there during the coldest months of the year because the water in Pond A maintained higher temperatures than in the smaller, above-ground tanks where they live during warmer months. Hatchlings were counted and given a quick check before being transferred back to the tanks where they acclimated until their assessments a few days later.

The three day processing started off with adult turtles being netted from the pond A, then placed in their respective holding area awaiting assessment. On day two, Adult turtles from Pond B was then netted and assessed. Day 3 commenced with a scanning of both pond perimeters for nest cavities which showed signs of eggs. Followed by the assessment of hatchlings from the 2018 cohort. Results from this year’s spring health check are still under analysis.

Cayle Pearson and Sarah Cristoff of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens isolated several adult male turtles to collect additional data that will help them troubleshoot issues relating to the Hicatee turtles held in captivity at their facility.

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, Cayle Pearson, Supervisor of Herpetology, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and Sarah Cristoff, Veterinary Technician, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Heather Alford, Missy Belmer, Laurie Haven, Doris Dimmitt, Rodney Dimmitt, Tim Gregory, and Emily Gregory. We would like to express our gratitude to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for their financial support for this spring’s Hicatee health assessment.

The Hicatee Conservation & Research Center is a joint protect between BFREE and Turtle Survival Alliance. The bi-annual Assessments help ensure the health of captive animals at the HCRC and also contribute to our ongoing research of these critically endangered turtles. #savethehicatee