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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.

2019 Field Season Wrap Up

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

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

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

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

2019 BFREE Field Course Group Photos

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

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, MA

Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia

Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL 

Flagler College, St Augustine, FL

Independence Junior College, Independence, Belize

Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska

PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS

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

BFREE Receives Porras Conservation Award

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

BFREE PRESENTATIONS AT THE 42nd IHS SYMPOSIUM

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

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

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

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.

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.

17 New Species of Land Snails Discovered in Belize

17 New Species of Land Snails Discovered in Belize

By Dan and Judy Dourson

The beautiful country of  Belize, known to the rest of the world for its stunning reef and adventure tourism, has a new claim to fame as home to seventeen new species of land snails! This information was uncovered thanks to a long-term study by Malacologists (scientists who study snails) Dan Dourson, Judy  Dourson, and Ron Caldwell. Along with  several well-trained Belizean biological field technicians, the  trio have been searching the leaf litter, epiphytes, deep caves,  sinkholes, and the remote sections of the Maya  Mountains for more than a decade. They have added new species of land snails to  science and many new land snail records for Belize.

Judy and Dan Dourson pose for a photo in Placencia, Belize.

The study began when husband and wife team, Dan and Judy Dourson, came to the country to assist BFREE in 2006. Dr. Ron Caldwell joined the Doursons through his affiliation with Lincoln  Memorial University in Tennessee.

So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about discovering 17 new species of snails? When the Doursons and Caldwell began surveying Belize, only 24 species of land snails were reported. Their research has added 135 species, a staggering 558% increase in land snail biodiversity for the country.

Even though snails rank as one of the most numerous and speciose groups of organisms on Earth, they remain largely unstudied. As a result, little is known of their importance in ecosystems. Land snails, like most invertebrates, suffer from being in a conservation “blind-spot”.

Every expedition into the Maya Mountains has yielded spectacular finds for the team. A 2016 National Geographic-Waitt Foundation Grand-funded and UNC Wilmington-led expedition looked at the functioning of a tropical ecosystem from the bottom up by studying the links between Harpy eagles (a top predator) and land snails who occupy the bottom of the food web. The links between these two divergent organisms were established by documenting Harpy eagle food that consumed land snails. The study also found two new species living at the bottom of a 100-meter deep sinkhole in the middle of the Bladen Nature Reserve. As a result, the Maya Mountains is considered to be one of the most important land snail regions in Central America and may exceed other areas of comparable size in terms of numbers of species and endemism.

The team’s long-term research resulted in the development of the first field guide for the region, Land Snails of Belize, A Chronicle of Diversity and Function and the first comprehensive publication since the early 1900s for Central America. The book includes species accounts and range maps for all 158 species. Many of the 17 new species described in the book were named to honor Belizeans and other conservationists.


Seventeen New Species to Science and Described from Belize (2018)

1 Hairy Lucidella Lucidella caldwelli Named in recognition of Ron Caldwell’s important contributions in land snail research in Belize.

 

2 Checkered Cone Drymaeus tzubi Named in honor of Belizean, Valentino Tzub of San Jose, Toledo District, one of Belize’s top biological field technicians. Valentino discovered many new land snail records and several new species to science including the recently described Eucalodium belizensis of southern Belize.

 

3 Rosy Marauder Euglandina fosteri In honor of award-winning wildlife filmmakers, Richard Foster & Carol Farneti Foster whose work has increased understanding of the natural world including the never before filmed interactions of Sibon snakes and land snails.

 

4 Blue Creek Shaft Pseudosubulina juancho In honor of Juan Cho, for his contribution to the environment by promoting and utilizing sustainable organic agricultural practices in the Toledo District of Belize to produce organic chocolate.

 

5 Montane Splinter Rectaxis breweri Named in honor of Steven Brewer, an extraordinary and passionate botanist who has spent countless hours exploring and cataloging Belize’s outstanding plant life.

 

6 Bladen Cave Snail Opeas marlini Named in honor of Jacob Marlin who has dedicated most of his life to passionately protecting the crown jewel of protected areas in Belize, the Bladen Nature Reserve.

 

7 Belize Cave Snail Leptopeas corwinii Named in recognition of Jeff Corwin, a conservation biologist who conducted research at Blue Creek Cave for a Master’s degree studying Central America bats and continues to educate the public about the natural world through his outstanding wildlife films.

 

8 Macal River Cave Snail Lamellaxis matola Named in honor of Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo for her dedication and perseverance in protecting Belize’s abandoned wildlife and commitment to education about the incredible wildlife of Belize.

 

9 Blue Creek Cave Snail Leptinaria doddi Named in honor of Frederick Dodd, founder of International Zoological Expeditions (IZE) who had the foresight to purchase and protect the wild jungles surrounding Blue Creek Cave, the only known location for the globally rare Blue Creek Cave Funnel.

 

10 Smooth Quill Brachypodella levisa Levisa is Latin for smooth.

 

11 Hairy Phora Thysanophora meermani Named in honor of Jan Meerman, an extraordinary Belizean biologist whose work to create a database for wildlife in Belize has been an invaluable resource.

 

12 Mountain Gloss Miradiscops striatae Striatae means striate in Latin.

 

13 Hillside Gloss Miradiscops youngii Named in honor of Colin Young in recognition of his outstanding work in the field of conservation and biology in Belize.

 

14 Bladen Gloss Miradiscops bladenensis Named in honor of the Bladen Nature Reserve, the “crown jewel” of Belize’s numerous protected areas.

 

15 Maya Mountain Rotadiscus Rotadiscus saqui Named in honor of Ernesto and Aurora Garcia Saqui for their extraordinary contributions to conservation, Mayan cultural preservation, art and alternative healing in Belize.

 

16 Ornate Crystal Chanomphalus angelae Named in honor of Dan and Judy’s daughter, Angela Dourson Christensen, a woman of uncommon courage and genuine honesty for which they are deeply proud.

 

17 Oak Ridge Teardrop Cecilioides  dicaprio Named in honor of American actor Leonardo Dicaprio for using the medium of film to bring attention to the challenges facing our natural world and planet and promoting sustainable tourism in Belize.

 

 

 

 

Hicatee Awareness Month

We are thrilled to announce this October as the First Annual Hicatee Awareness Month! 

To kick off the month, the Turtle Survival Alliance, BFREE and Wildlife Film Productions will be releasing an exciting documentary providing a rare glimpse of the critically endangered hicatee turtle on October 2, 2017.

‘Hope for Belize’s Hicatee: Central American River Turtle,’ is a 16-minute natural history film produced by Emmy-award winning wildlife filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster. The critically endangered Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), known in Belize as the Hicatee, has been intensely harvested for its meat. The film highlights the cultural significance of the hicatee in Belize, the environmental pressures propelling it toward extinction as well as the current work being done in Belize to save the species.

Make sure to save the date and begin telling your friends and family now! Once the film is released, we encourage you to host a viewing party at your home or in your community.

A Volunteer Toolkit will be made available in late September on the BFREE website. The Toolkit will include materials and info sheets for you to use at your viewing party. It will also include many ways to partake in the Hicatee Awareness Month.

Save the Date: 

October 2 – On World Habitat Day, ‘Hope for Belize’s Hicatee: Central American River Turtle,’ film will be released. Begin gathering your friends and family for viewing parties and send us photos of your events #SaveTheHicatee!

October 17 – National Hicatee Day in Belize, show your support from around the world and send us your #Shellfie wearing something green!

October is sure to be a turtley amazing shellebration

We will continue to share updates on Hicatee Awareness Month, please follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and our new Hicatee Center page on the BFREE Website!

 

 

 

Funding for the film was generously provided by Columbus Zoo & Aquarium Conservation Fund.

The Bladen Review 2017

The fourth 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 and educational projects taking place in and around the rainforests of Belize.

 

 

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