WHAT DOES THE PROJECT DO?
Although Belize is distinguished from its neighbours in being the only country in the region with a British colonial heritage, it also has strong ties to Latin America, as well as to the Caribbean. With one foot firmly planted in lush interior forests and another foot in the laidback and colourful Caribbean Sea, Belize’s animal and plant life are the stars of the country, thanks to conservation efforts from national and international bodies.
The Belizean government is now working with national management partners and international conservation and aid agencies to protect the county’s invaluable biodiversity. As a partner, Frontier work alongside the Belizean Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, with long term aims to protect and conserve key marine and terrestrial hotspots. This is achieved through local conservation awareness, scientific monitoring & research, community support programs and implementation of protected areas co-management plans, and Frontier volunteers are an integral part of this effort.
Record marine biodiversity
To aid decision making and implement protected area co-management plans that are designed to protect the countries important marine life, Frontier partners in Belize require baseline data on marine habitats and associated species, and long-term monitoring programmes to meet both national and international protocols. In order to protect specific species it is necessary to determine current population levels and monitor changes in that population, along with determining the driving forces behind potential changes.
The West Indian manatee is reliant on marine seagrass habitats along the coast of Belize, however, key areas of this habitat are currently outside of designated marine protected areas. It is hoped that with data collected on the population and behaviour of this species and the health of its habitat, that we can extend protections to safeguard this species and many more who share its underwater world, whilst raising awareness within the local community of their ecology and conservation.
Through snorkel surveys you will assess the abundance and behaviour of the local manatee population whilst you explore, map and monitor vast seagrass beds. You will also have the opportunity to survey and monitor coral reef habitats, populations of reef fish, commercially and ecologically important invertebrate species, and may even get the chance to monitor local shark populations. Frontier uses standardised marine survey methodology, as well as incorporating vital local knowledge. Your results will be used to apply further protections to the manatee and the seagrass meadows that they rely on, and encourage restoration work within the seagrass meadows, without which, they will continue to decline.
Other activities include surveying mangroves, a vital buffer against storm surges caused by cyclones and an important part of the coastal ecosystem, opportunistic sightings of cetaceans, sharks and rays, beach clean ups, forest restoration work and monthly surveys of conch and lobster.
Belizean culture & communities
Working alongside the Belizean people will give you an insight into their colourful and laidback culture. Community work may include environmental education in local schools to explain Frontier's work, and interviewing local communities on their awareness and knowledge of the local marine reserves, particularly with regards to boundaries, zones and rules and the levels of involvement of local stakeholders in decision-making.
WHAT WILL I BE DOING?
Soak up the chilled out, Caribbean atmosphere of Belize whilst taking part in a long term and sustainable marine research and conservation programme. The Frontier Belize programme is run in association with the Belize Fisheries Department. This research and conservation project aims to provide the local communities, stakeholders and government bodies with the baseline biodiversity data they need to increase and implement management plans for the future protection of this pristine marine ecosystem. As many manatee feeding and breeding sites currently lie outside of marine protected areas, Frontier’s data collection on the manatee and it’s habitat will enable stakeholders and government bodies to make scientifically sound decisions on the conservation of this species and will help raise awareness among the local community on manatee ecology and conservation.
To gather the data needed you will undertake snorkel surveys using underwater line and belt transects, active searches and behavioural methodologies. Your activities will involve locating, mapping and monitoring the health of the extensive sea grass beds. You will survey population abundance and behaviour of the local manatees and will also get the opportunity to study reef fish and invertebrates, and may even get the chance to survey the local shark, ray and turtle populations.
Whilst snorkelling in this Caribbean underwater world, you'll also see an extraordinary array of animals, from colourful reef fish species to nudibranchs, sea cucumbers to cushion stars and spiny urchins to octopuses. By the end of your project you will be knowledgeable on manatee ecology and conservation, capable of identifying a wide range of colourful and patterned reef organisms and have developed your conservation skillset considerably. Although the work is intense and challenging, you'll get immense satisfaction from having made a valuable contribution to the conservation of this marine environment.
Volunteers who join the project for less than 4 weeks may not be able to participate in the full range of project activities and surveys, but will still be able to make a valuable contribution to the work. You will return home with an increased knowledge and awareness of marine ecosystems and their inhabitants, vast numbers of photos, lots of new friends, a wealth of fascinating stories and extraordinary memories, alongside knowing that your work has contributed to the conservation of the West Indian manatee and 1000’s more species that call this marine environment their home.
You'll find your team to be a fun, dynamic mix of ages and experiences, with members who all share a passion for travelling in developing countries and conserving nature. The project staff will be a friendly and welcoming group who are highly experienced in their research field and many of whom will have been Frontier volunteers at an earlier stage in their career.
7:00 a.m. – Breakfast at the volunteer house, prepared by the volunteers!
8:30 a.m. – Volunteers leave camp by boat to either carry out snorkel surveys of manatees and sea grass habitats or undertake skills training (survey and ID techniques). Some training activities will take place on camp.
12:30 p.m. – Volunteers break for a packed lunch (lunch prepared by volunteers when at the project camp)
2:00 p.m. - Volunteer work at the project camp for the afternoon; beach clean-ups, camp duties and maintenance, skillset training and development, surveying sites close to camp and many other activities depending on the project focus at the time.
5:00 p.m. – The working day comes to an end. Volunteers are free to catch up on anything, plan for the next day’s work and socialise.
6:00 p.m. – Dinner at the Volunteer house prepared by volunteers!
7:00 p.m. - Socialising… party on a Saturday!
*This itinerary should only be considered as an example of the kind of activities and timescales to expect. Actual itineraries may vary depending on the season and the requirements of the project.