By Mark Canti
The astonishing characteristics of sundews are unbelievable to me. During two research trips with Dr. Rob Naczi of NY Botanical Garden, I learned a lot about plants, especially sedges. I was introduced to carnivorous plants and found them fascinating. I was shocked to learn that while walking around, we have been stepping on a lot of different species of exciting plants!
The Sundew was one of the common plants I saw in the field and it caught my attention because of the uniqueness of its survival skills. It is a variable perennial plant (meaning the plant can adapt to any environment and that the plant will grow, die out and grow again). I learned a lot of the basics of this plant in the field and, because of my interest, I continued my research after returning from my most recent research trip.
According to the International Carnivorous Plant Society, Sundews are generally about 4 cm in diameter. An individual leaf is about 5 mm long and 4 mm wide with erected scapes from the center of the plant about 8 cm long. The sepals have hairy glands that secrete sundew glue and the plant colouration ranges from pale green to deep red. It has approximately six pink or white small flowers that are constantly self-pollinating. Sundews have almost 200 different species making it one of the most diverse of all carnivorous plants.
Sundews capture their prey from glistening drops of dew at the tips of the hairy-like tentacles on their leaves. A healthy plant can have a hundred dew drops which makes it look gorgeously dainty and beautiful, but it is a sticky death trap for small insects. They have the ability to move or bend their tentacles in contact to respond to their edible prey. When an insect is trapped, it either succumbs to death through exhaustion or through suffocation as the fluid from the plant releases encloses, and blocks the opening of the insect exoskeletons. Death usually occurs within 15 minutes. (Photo credit left: internet image)
Meanwhile, the plant has trapped its prey, the plant secretes enzymes that will dissolve the insects which will free the nutrients that are trapped within its body. Eventually, the nutrient mixture is then absorbed through the leaf surfaces to be used by the rest of the plant.
This is a plant that is common throughout the country of Belize and can be found in wet pine savannas. Discovering Sundews made me realize that many of us in Belize have no idea how extraordinary nature can be. This experience made me curious to learn about the multiple thousands of plant species that exist in this country.
As the Cacao Fellow for BFREE’s agroforestry program, I have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of nature. As someone who loves Belize, I’m dedicated to protecting our beautiful environment by understanding and appreciating the natural world around us. This research has taught me about the significance of each organism’s existence and its essential role in maintaining the environment.
Brittnacher, J. (2017, July). Drosera spatulata Species Complex. International Carnivorous Plant Society. https://www.carnivorousplants.org/cp/taxonomy/Droseraspatulata
By Roxanna Chen
BFREE in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) facilitated a cacao research project at the BFREE’s Field Station in May 2023. The primary objective of the collaboration was to co-design and enhance post-harvest practices and methods for Criollo Cacao which is intercropped and shade-grown in several experimental plots within the property. Criollo is a Spanish term that means “of local origin” or native. Criollo beans are usually white to pale pink in color, and it is a pure cacao variety.
The four-day project was made feasible by several participants including the Crioco staff, myself as BFREE’s Advanced Cacao Fellow, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville student researchers and professors. The project involved a variety of activities that ranged from harvesting ripe criollo pods to pod-cracking and bean extraction, to fermenting and data collection. The collaboration commenced with the Crioco staff playing an instrumental role in the cacao field specifically in teaching the students how to appropriately harvest pods. This activity is considered a crucial first step for good quality and fermentation because the pod must be mature, healthy, and not damaged. Good quality also means good chocolate!
Thereafter, I taught the students our recommended methods for pod cracking and bean extraction, as well as fermentation set-up and preparation. The students were very hands-on and did not hesitate to share useful ideas and information regarding data collection during fermentation and the application and usage of instruments. The exchange between both partners was mutually beneficial for everyone involved.
The student researchers received many first-hand experiences; these include the ability to differentiate the four criollo phenotypes grown at BFREE, harvesting and extraction of cacao beans from pods and most importantly getting practical during fermentation. Additionally, as the advanced cacao fellow, I became more knowledgeable about fermentation chemistry and terminologies and was exposed to multiple lectures on basic food components relating to Food Science and its applications to cacao.
Thank you to everyone from UTK who participated in making the project a success. Professors: Dr. DeWayne Shoemaker, Dr. Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry, and Dr. Kevin Moulton Student Researchers: Holly Brabazon, Celeste Chadwick, Amber Gunter, Laura Whaley, and Madison Fomich.
Two new faces greet BFREE visitors in 2023. We are happy to introduce Pedro Witz, Office and Hospitality Coordinator, and Mario Teul, Tour Guide and Educator.
(Header photo of Mario Teul with students from Kutztown University by Chris Habeck.)
Pedro Witz was born in Puerto Barrios Guatemala in 1987. Shortly after, his parents migrated to Belize where they made it a home. In 2008 Pedro graduated with an associate degree in Business Administration with concentration in Finance from the University of Belize. He began working for the Toledo Cacao Growers Association in 2008 as a Financial Controller and then moved up to Project Coordinator. In 2016 he was working directly with the cruise line in the hospitality sector where he gained much experience in the tourism industry. He then went back home where he worked five years as a secondary education teacher at the Julian Cho Technical High School. During that period Pedro obtained a Pedagogy Certificate in secondary education from Galen University.
Pedro’s interests in helping young adolescents at risk and his passion for sports has made him an inspirational and motivational figure for many youths in Toledo District. He believes all is possible and everything happens for a reason. Pedro began working for BFREE in January of 2023 and is happy to be a part of a wonderful and dynamic team who values and protects the precious wildlife of the Belizean magical tropical rainforest. He is the Office & Hospitality Coordinator, and his role is extremely important in making the stay of guests and visitors a most memorable one. Pedro takes pride in his new job.
Mario was born in San Miguel Village but grew up in Blue Creek Village. He attended the Toledo Community College in Punta Gorda Town and later attended the University College of Belize (now known as the University of Belize). As a young kid, Mario spent a lot of time outdoors and fell in love with nature. His first job as a Field Biology Assistant with a conservation organization called Programme for Belize increased his love for Belize’s flora and fauna. A few years later he
was hired as a Site Supervisor for an International research, conservation, and education project based out of Wisconsin, USA in collaboration with the Belize Zoo.
Mario taught Primary School for a few years but since nature is his passion, he quit teaching and went into full time tourism. He worked for several resorts mainly leading guided tours throughout Belize. Given his knowledge of Belize’s avifauna world, he was contracted by Belize Audubon Society to customize a Basic and an Advanced Level Birding Curriculum to teach upcoming tour guides about the Birds of Belize. Mario is currently the Tour Guide/Educator at the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education located at the foothills of the beautiful Maya Mountains in Southern Belize.
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
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 email@example.com.
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”
Vermont Commons School Educator, Social Studies Department Chair and Research & Service Program Director, Mark Cline Lucey is no stranger to Belize or the BFREE Field Station. Having first met BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, during his junior year of college while studying abroad in Belize. Mark returned several years later to live and work from the BFREE Field Station. In 2004, Mark joined the team at Vermont Commons School and soon after, he and Vermont Commons School English Instructor, Jennifer Cohen, began bringing student groups to Belize. Mark and Jennifer are passionate advocates for both Belize and BFREE having traveled with more than five student groups over the last ten years.
Mark and Jennifer both have an intimate knowledge of the players, wildlife, cultures and the developmental and political issues facing Belize. This depth of knowledge and understanding shines through their incredibly informational and inspiring field courses year after year.
We are so fortunate to work with many educators like Mark and Jennifer who are deeply invested in their students as well as the BFREE mission. Together we strive to inspire students to be global citizens, who care about their environment and recognize their role to take positive action.
Check out Mark and Jennifer’s group of incredibly smart and talented students and receive a glimpse of a BFREE field course through their eyes by watching this student made short-film documenting their trip to Belize in January, 2017:
Can chocolate save the rainforest? BFREE has been exploring this question for many years, beginning when our certified organic shade-grown cacao demonstration farm was planted in 2006. Since then we have worked diligently to provide educational opportunities and support for those interested in learning more about the benefits of shade-grown cacao. We have offered workshops and training programs for local farmers which have provided Belizeans with the tools necessary to grow sustainable and successful crops. BFREE along with students of UNC Wilmington have co-produced ‘The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook.‘ This handbook is a resource manual for anyone interested in growing cacao in Belize.
Due to its high value and its success as an understory crop, cacao is proven to be a great alternative to other forms of agriculture in the tropics which generally require clearing of tropical rainforests and heavy input of agrochemicals. Therefore, we have been promoting shade-grown cacao as a method for restoring the forest canopy and to help improve the lives of local farmers by offering higher income and healthier working environments, while also maintaining and expanding rainforests, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. Growing chocolate is a win-win; it’s good for the environment and can improve farmers’ livelihoods.
Cacao Pod photo credit: Graham Byers