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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Preparing to study abroad can be a hectic time, you’re about to jump into a new environment with a different culture and it may be your first time out of the country. Don’t sweat it, BFREE is here to help. With our ten tips for a successful trip you are bound to have an amazing and unforgettable time in Belize.
1. Write it out
- Write letters to family and friends, or journal about the trip. Jotting down your thoughts is the best way to remember your adventure for years to come!
2. Stay hydrated
- This is not only important for your health, but for your mentality. You want to stay alert and ready for everything coming up, you won’t want to miss a second!
3. Get to know your group
- This not only includes the other students on the trip, but also your group leaders, BFREE staff, and the people of Belize. Make some new connections, you never know what new friendships you might make!
4. Stay in tune with your body
- Feeling tired? Take a break. Feeling sick? Let someone know. Listen to what your body tells you, it’s pretty important!
5. Be adventurous
- You’re in a new country, try something new. Face your fear of heights, taste food you’ve never seen before, and don’t be afraid to get dirty!
6. Spend some time alone
- Everyone says you truly find yourself when you study abroad, so take some time and you might just find something amazing.
7. Ask for help
- You have an endless support system while you’re in Belize. If you have questions or need a little bit of guidance reach out! There are people there for you.
8. Respect and embrace change
- Life in Belize is very different than here in the United States. Be prepared for these changes and embrace them!
9. Listen carefully and have fun
- The staff and guides have so much information they want to share with you to ensure you are safe and you have a great trip. So stay tuned in and have fun!!
10. Get excited
- Traveling abroad is an incredible opportunity, dare we say life changing. This unforgettable experience is unlike any other, so get excited! We can’t wait to meet you!
BFREE’s documentary film, “Wings of Hope,” was selected as a finalist in Finland’s Wildlife Vaasa – International Nature Film Festival. Created by Emmy-award winning filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster of Wildlife Film Productions, and produced by Carol Foster and Jacob Marlin of BFREE, the film is about the re-discovery of wild Harpy Eagles in Belize. “Wings of Hope,” is being considered for a Special Award in the category of “Best Ethnographic Film (Man & Nature)” and will be judged against 15 other finalists from countries including Ghana, Nepal, Russia, Serbia, Peru, Italy, India, Estonia and the USA.
This year, Vaasa Wildlife Festival received a total of 922 submissions from 83 countries, which was a new record for the festival. From that original submission, 218 films from 54 countries were selected to be shown in the festival and to compete for awards. Submissions come from film companies, TV companies, production companies, independent producers, filmmakers, festivals, TV- broadcasters and journalists, as well as from newcomers and established professionals.
About Wildlife Vaasa International Nature Film Festival
Wildlife Vaasa International Nature film festival is located on the West Coast of Finland, and has been held in the city of Vaasa every second year, since 2002. Since its conception, it has grown in stature receiving commendation from participants, delegates, media and the public world-wide. The upcoming 8th biennial edition of the festival will take place from September 28 to October 2, 2016. The competition aims to raise public awareness , as well as to participate in a global dialogue about Nature and The Environment. Therefore, only Nature and Science documentaries related to Nature and produced after 2013 were accepted in the competition. The festival’s special themes in 2016 are ENERGY & GLOBAL WARMING. Wildlife Vaasa Festival is the only film festival of its kind in Scandinavia.
About “Wings of Hope”
In 2015, BFREE released, “Wings of Hope,” a film chronicling the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize. The film details the history of the BFREE and UNC Wilmington initiative born from this discovery – the Integrated Community-based Harpy Eagle and Avian Conservation Program. This 20-minute documentary is rich with breathtaking footage of adult and juvenile Harpy Eagles and other wildlife and vistas found in the pristine tropical forests of the Bladen Nature Reserve. Over the seven year duration of the project, the Fosters followed project trainees William Garcia, Liberato Pop, Alejandro Cholum and Thomas Pop as they work to learn about and ultimately save this rare bird and its diminishing habitat.
“The story captures the essence of BFREE’s mission. I think of it as a model for integrating science, education and conservation.” Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE.
In August and September 2015, the film was shown in schools and community centers throughout the Toledo District of Belize in order to raise awareness of the significance of continuing to protect wilderness areas like the Bladen Nature Reserve and the greater Maya Mountains. Over 1,100 people were reached during those events.
Liberato Pop of Bladen Village was one of the project trainees and is featured throughout the film. In recent years, he has worked all over Belize doing bird research using expertise gained from his years of experience as an avian technician for the project. Mr. Pop, along with Mr. William Garcia of Trio Village, represented BFREE and answered questions about their work during film showings in 2015.
Mr. Pop says of the film, “As an Avian Technician at BFREE, I am very excited about the Harpy Eagle film and the work we have done. I think that many students and parents were interested to learn about the value of what we have in our protected areas.”
Project trainees include: Abidas Ash, Alejandro Cholum, Alan Romero, Frank Perez, Henry Perez, Liberato Pop, Macario Coy, Marlyn Cruz, Pedro Pop, Roni Florian, Sipriano Canti, Thomas Pop, William Garcia, and Wilfred Mutrie
BFREE hosted 210 students and instructors through our field courses this season. Groups came from the United States and from within Belize to engage in hands-on learning. While at BFREE, students were introduced to on-going conservation projects at the field station like the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center and the cacao and coffee agroforest. Some students took the opportunity to participate in the Small Mammal Community study established in 2015 and just introduced to field courses this year. They also participated in hikes and river walks to get a feel for the rainforest. For those who stayed long enough, instructors assigned independent projects in which students were tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data – often presenting results on their last evening at BFREE.
When exploring other parts of Belize, students visited banana plantations, participated in cultural homestays, snorkeled at the Belize Barrier Reef, and saw wildlife up close at the Belize Zoo. See below pictures from the first half of the field season.
Visit our Flickr feed for more images!
“Eat Locally: Think Globally” led by Amy Treonis and Elizabeth Ransom, University of Richmond
“Biology “ led by Glenn Johnson, SUNY Potsdam
“Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Belize” led by Sara Ash, University of the Cumberlands
“Tropical Ecology” led by Farley Brown and Charlotte Rosendahl, Sterling College
Sterling College leads Golden Stream students in a science experiment. Pic by Nelly Cadle
“Biology” led by Kelly Mahan Etcheverry, Canterbury High School
“Protected Areas in Belize,” led by Abigail Parham Garbutt and Godfrey Arzu, Independence Junior College, Belize
“Wildlife Biology,” led by Sean Collins, Lees McRae College
“Tropical field Biology,” led by Sean Werle and team, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Univ of Massachusetts students implemented independent research projects. Pic by Sean Werle
“Tropical Ecology,” led by Matthew Brady, Keene High School, New Hampshire
“Tropical Biology,” led by Paul Pickhardt and Gregory Smith, Lakeland College, Wisconsin
“Tropical Biology,” led by Maarten Vohhof, Western Michigan University