A field activity for student groups studying the Bladen River at BFREE and beyond

Author, Amy Treonis, Department of Biology, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA

Map of Monkey River Watershed, showing potential study sites

Introduction: The Bladen River is one of the most spectacular features of the BFREE field station, offering countless opportunities for ecological research.  The Upper Bladen watershed flows through the tropical broadleaf forest of the Bladen Nature Reserve, arriving at BFREE in a remarkably pristine state.  From there, the river flows downstream into the Monkey River and ultimately empties into the Caribbean Sea at Monkey River Town. The river flows through a landscape that is a mosaic of protected and agricultural lands, including cattle pastures, banana plantations and subsistence farms (i.e., milpa). Replacement of riparian vegetation with agriculture has destabilized soils in many places, resulting in increased erosion and sedimentation throughout the watershed. Ultimately, this impacts both wildlife and people that depend on the river’s health.  The river’s course has also been affected by natural events, such as Hurricane Earl in 2016.

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2017 BFREE Field Courses

BFREE 2017 Field Course Season wraps up this month with 172 students and instructors visiting the Field Station from as far as Scotland and Alaska. Eleven courses in total, including two junior colleges and one primary school from Belize, all traveled to our small slice of paradise off the Southern Highway.

BFREE field courses are each uniquely developed by the lead instructors and BFREE staff. Courses are created to reflect each school’s curriculum and goals. While each group is different, visitors to BFREE share many similar challenging and rewarding experiences.

Upon arrival to Belize, each group is welcomed at the airport by a BFREE Tour Guide. If you have the pleasure to be greeted by Nelly Cadle then you know you are in for a treat! Nelly’s experience, knowledge, and passion for her country and work are hard to match.

The hike from the Southern Highway to the BFREE Field Station is a memory hard to forget. Traversing several distinct habitats, each with unique plants and animals, leads you to the Bladen River, towering cecropia trees, and your final destination — The BFREE Field Station.

While at BFREE, groups not only learn about the various ongoing program work but have the chance to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with first-hand experience supporting BFREE’s conservation initiatives. Students have the opportunity to visit the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC), a breeding and research facility for the critically endangered hicatee turtle as well as the 15-acre cacao and coffee agroforest, home to over 12,000 cacao trees.

Assigned by their instructors, many students are tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data while spending several days working on independent projects.

Students may choose to participate in various field experiments such as conducting river studies in the Bladen River, setting up small mammal traps for the Small Mammal Community Study or surveying selected plots in the Fruit Phenology Study.

In addition to the BFREE Field Station, many groups incorporate a marine component, learning about the second largest barrier reef system in the world, snorkeling from various islands around Belize.

There is nothing quite like traveling to a remote field station deep in a tropical rainforest to create memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

On behalf of all of us at BFREE, we would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the instructors, administrators, students, and parents that helped make the 2017 BFREE Field Season one of the best yet! We can’t wait to see you all again!

If you are interested in visiting BFREE, whether it be a student group, family vacation, solo adventure or interest in volunteering, we would be thrilled to have you! Contact BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville at for more information.


2017 BFREE Field Courses 


For even more Field Course information check out these links below: 

University of Richmond Story Map

Click the link above to visit the University of Richmond’s Story Map put together by the fourteen students that visited BFREE this year.

Vermont Commons School Video: Belize is Our Classroom!

Vermont Commons School creates a compelling video documenting their trip to BFREE, check it out on YouTube: Belize is Our Classroom! 

Volunteer with BFREE

BFREE is now looking for volunteers to work with HCRC Manager, Tom Pop and the nearly 70 newly hatched hicatee turtles. Visit the link below for more info!

BFREE flickr Page

Find even more photos from the 2017 BFREE Field Course season on flickr!

Slideshow on Student Alumni Facebook Group

Watch all the group photos from 2017 in this slideshow on the BFREE Student Alumni Group Page. If you are a student alum, be sure to follow along!








10 Tips for a Successful Trip!

thumbnail_10-tips-bannerPreparing 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!