Belize Manatee Conservation

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1. In Brief

Nestled in Central America on the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize lies at the centre of the Mesoamerican "biodiversity hotspot". Pristine subtropical forests provide a refuge for wildlife and conceal ancient Mayan ruins, whilst the warm clear waters of the Caribbean lap sandy Cayes offering access to the world’s second longest barrier reef and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; renowned for its spectacular snorkelling and diving.

Infused throughout is the country’s culture influenced by Belize’s Afro-Caribbean roots, creating a fabulous laid-back atmosphere.

‘No shoes, no shirt, no worries’ is the infamous motto for the Cayes off the east coast of Belize. Throughout your volunteer experience you will have the opportunity to discover famous barrier reefs and marvel at an extraordinary array of colourful reef fish, sharks, rays, sea urchins, anemones, octopus, sea turtles and manatees, who feed on deep green sea grass beds, the worlds underwater grasslands. In your free time, you can also explore this exquisite, undisturbed underwater world as you learn to dive off the Cayes of Belize or dive the world renowned Blue Hole.

Your primary focus on this project will be surveying the population, behaviour and habitat of the West-Indian manatee. Manatees in Belize are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN red list and their numbers are declining rapidly. This species is at risk from habitat disturbance and degradation, pollution, climate change and increasing tourism. Whilst recording manatee sightings and behaviours, in relation to human disturbance and various environmental factors, you will explore, map and monitor vast seagrass beds for the benefit of the manatees and other species that rely on these habitats. 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.

Your days will be eventful; the work will be challenging, rewarding and fun. You will have the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the conservation of this rare and elusive species, whose numbers are rapidly declining. Results from this study 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. This work will also allow for awareness programmes to be created with local stakeholders and businesses, further protecting these vital populations.

 

  

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS

  • Snorkel in pristine ecosystems
  • The chance to survey populations of rare and elusive manatees and their vital sea grass habitats
  • Soak up the relaxed Caribbean atmosphere while take part in a long term marine monitoring and conservation project
  • Make lifelong friends and return with incredible stories, photos and memories
  • Gain PADI dive training and qualifications in your free time (extra cost applies)
  • Opportunity to dive in some of the world's best dive sites (e.g. Blue Hole, Turneffe Atoll, Half Moon Caye, Lighthouse Reef, and many more)

Please note: the peak manatee season begins at the end of May and ends in October; sightings outside of this period are expected to be less frequent, but the vital work on the sea grass habitats continues year round

FAST FACTS

Location Belize
Activities Snorkelling regularly (weather permitting)
Survey the abundance and behaviour of local manatee populations
Explore, map and monitor vast seagrass beds
Explore pristine coral reefs and their diverse array of fish and marine invertebrates, whilst assisting with surveying
Opportunistic cetacean and shark sightings
Work with local Belizean partners and conservation organisations 
Work with local schools on marine biology topics and beach cleans
Contribute to the Cayes Management Plan and the overall Belize National Resource Management Agenda
Transport Airport pickup and transfer to the project site is provided for free if you arrive on the 1st Monday of the month.
If you want to join the project at any other time, you can book an airport pick up and transfer from Frontier for an additional $120USD / £95GBP.
Accommodation Beach camp at our research station on Caye Caulker
 

WHAT'S INCLUDED

Before you go Pre-departure support
Travel & medical advice & documentation
Equipment advice
Discounted medical kit
Free Frontier t-shirt
UK residential briefing weekend including food, accommodation and training (extra cost applies)
In-country Food
Accommodation
Airport pickup (for first Monday of the month arrivals), alternative start date possible
Internal ground transfers & in-transit accommodation (first Monday of the month arrivals) alternative start dates possible
Local orientation and training
24-hour international HQ back-up
Vocational academic diploma or certificate qualification in Tropical Habitat Conservation available
Dive training courses available once in country. Dive training for PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water price includes PIC cards, PADI membership, and use of Frontier project equipment and diving equipment including tanks, regs, BCDs, weights and compressor.
Dive training PADI Open Water available at extra cost to be paid in country (subject to availability) 
Dive training PADI Advanced Open Water at extra cost to be paid in country (subject to availability) 
Discounted further dive courses: PADI Emergency First Response, PADI Rescue Diver, and PADI Divemaster qualifications (subject to availability)
 

QUALIFICATIONS

A variety of qualifications are available on many of our projects. For example, BTEC certificates and diplomas on our Group conservation projects and TEFL certificates and BTECs on most of our teaching projects. You may also be able to gain a CoPE to support your university application. For more information on these qualifications, please see the qualifications section of our website or ask your volunteer advisor.

2. The project

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.

        

Sample Itinerary*

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.

3. What to expect

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I ARRIVE?

Volunteers arriving before 2pm (local time) on the first Monday of the month will be welcomed by a Frontier representative at Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport. From here it's a short minibus or taxi ride from the airport to Belize City where you will then transfer to the project site via water taxi and be introduced to the Frontier-Belize programme.

You will meet the staff, receive some initial briefings, including an introduction to the science programme and techniques used, as well as health and safety lectures, so make sure your medical kit is complete and start reading your safety and medical briefs.

At the end of your stay we will transfer those of you who are on the monthly program back to Belize City from the camp in time for you to head back home or continue on your independent travels. If you are joining for less than 4 weeks you will make your own arrangements to return to Belize City at the end of your stay, from where you can continue your own independent travel or return home.

Independent travellers arriving on dates other than the first Monday of the month can arrange a separate airport collection (extra cost; $120USD / $180GBP) by contacting the camp staff in Belize.

WHERE WILL I BE STAYING?

During the project you'll live in the beach camp alongside other Frontier volunteers and staff. We aim to provide you with a unique and memorable living experience. The Frontier camp was constructed by Frontier volunteers working with local craftsmen, using traditional building techniques and locally sourced environment-friendly, building materials and tents. The camp which is situated in a clearing on the beach has been designed to blend harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. Camp life is very simple, unsophisticated and fun.

You will be staying in tents or locally built huts, your "shower" will be a jug or a bucket of water and you cook over an open campfire: so prepare for the basic, virtually footprint less, unencumbered lifestyle! On occasions you may have to journey further to reach a remote survey site, then you will stay in a "satellite camp"; basically a mosquito net pitched on a distant beach.

WHAT WILL I BE EATING?

Food on camp is simple and nutritious and consists largely of locally sourced fresh vegetables and fruit, rice, beans and noodles, all of which are purchased from nearby communities thereby helping to support the local economy. Luxuries such as chocolate, peanut butter and drinking chocolate are available in Belize City, so make sure you stock up before heading to your field camp or at nearby stalls accessible only by boat on weekends.

Part of your role on camp will be to help with the cooking. Creating spectacular meals over an open campfire or baking bread in the campfire oven will become second nature: so get your cookbooks out now and start thinking up recipes! Also, with luck you'll be invited to local feasts and festivals – a great way to engage with local communities and discover local cuisines and cultures.

4. The reviews

THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME  | 1 Jun 2017
I have been in Caye Caulker with Frontier Belize for two months now and I already feel l...

Read more


BEAUTIFUL CAYE CAULKER  | 23 Mar 2015
The trip and program were great. Caye Caulker is beautiful and the work we did (snorkel surveys, ...

Read more


A CAREER BREAK IN BELIZE  | 19 Jan 2015
I was looking to do something meaningful during my career break, apart from just seeing more of t...

Read more


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5. Gallery

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6. Extras

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

The Frontier-Belize camp is fun and in your spare time you'll have opportunities to swim and snorkel, play football against the unbeatable local side or try out beach volleyball. Alternatively you may enjoy a traditional Saturday night themed camp party, play backgammon, poker or chess, or join in a camp quiz night. After a long hard day of snorkelling you may prefer to relax with a drink and sway in the camp hammock, or sit around the campfire and chat to your new friends.

You will have weekends to enjoy the local culture, excursions, hostels and restaurants on Caye Caulker or the wider area of Belize. Local tour operators offer the chance to dive at the famous Blue Hole, learn to kite surf, windsurf and sail or relax on locally built boats on sunset tours. These can be organised in country via the Frontier-Belize staff. Alternatively you can travel back to the mainland to visit the renowned Belize Zoo, famous Xunantunich Mayan ruins or lush tropical forests. 

Modern conveniences

Caye Caulker

  • ATM
  • Bars / cafes
  • Bicycle hire
  • Daily sailing excursions
  • Hostels
  • Internet cafe
  • Supermarket
  • Western style restaurants

Belize City - 40 minute water taxi at your own cost

  • Attractions; Belize Zoo, Museum of Belize, Belize Tourism Village, Government House
  • Banks / ATMs; Heritage Bank, Atlantic Bank, Belize Bank, First Caribbean International Bank, and ScotiaBank
  • Bars / cafes
  • Bureau de Change
  • Cinema
  • Dentists
  • Hairdresser
  • Hospital
  • Internet cafe
  • Local and traditional restaurants
  • Medical clinic
  • Pharmacy
  • Post office
  • Supermarkets
  • Western style restaurants
  • Western Union

7. Dates and Costs

COSTS

1 week $1,545

2 weeks $1,895

3 weeks $2,295

4 weeks $2,695

5 weeks $3,045

6 weeks $3,445

7 weeks $3,795

8 weeks $4,195

9 weeks $4,595

10 weeks $4,945

20 weeks $8,195

Extra Week $495

DEPARTURE DATES

First and third Monday of every month

Alternative dates available on request

DURATION

You can join this project for a minimum of 1 week

WHAT'S INCLUDED

Before you go

  • Pre-departure support
  • Travel & medical advice & documentation
  • Equipment advice
  • Discounted medical kit
  • Free Frontier t-shirt
  • UK residential briefing weekend including food, accommodation and training (extra cost applies)

In-country

  • Food
  • Accommodation
  • Internal ground transfers & in-transit accommodation (for volunteers arriving on the 1st Monday of the month before 2pm & joining for 4+ weeks)
  • Local orientation
  • Project training
  • Project equipment & materials
  • Dive training PADI Open water (2 weeks) to be paid in country (US$400 - subject to change)
  • Dive training PADI Advanced open water (4 weeks+) to be paid in country (US$400 - subject to change)
  • Advanced dive courses available
  • In-country emergency support
  • 24-hour international HQ back-up

AIRPORT INFORMATION

Nearest airport(s): Belize City Goldson Intl Apt (BZE)

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

Flights

Flights are not included in our trip costs. However, we have partnered with an experienced and professional team of travel experts to help our volunteers find the best flight deals for their trips with us. This travel specialist operates in the tailor-made, long haul multi-stop travel market, arranging complex airfares and transfers for independent travellers. They provide expertise, security and a vast product range along with a Travel Butler service which is a single point of contact and support whilst you are overseas.

We recommend that you obtain a quote using the following contact details rather than book online, as our partner will offer you the most competitive fares. To receive your quote or to seek any advice for your flights, please contact our dedicated team of travel experts on 0800 082 9994 (or +44 800 082 9994 outside the UK) or email frontier@flightcentre.co.uk .

Visas

For fast, efficient and up-to-date visa advice please contact our recommended visa consultancy partner:

Depending on your destination country and your country of origin, you might require a visa. Please see the appropriate country consular website for details or contact our affiliate visa consultancy service. Please note that your visa will usually start on the date that you enter the destination country regardless of when it was issued. Please check with the relevant embassy or high commission. If you are purchasing your visa or paying entry/exit fees in-country you will probably need to pay in US Dollars. If you have any questions please consult the relevant embassy or high commission. Please check the visa information regularly, as changes often happen without warning.

Insurance

You'll need to buy appropriate travel insurance covering your participation on the project. You won't be able to go without the right travel insurance so double check to avoid disappointment. Please make sure that you're covered for the whole duration of your trip – from the day you leave the UK to the day you return. It's also best to get your travel insurance at the same time as paying the deposit for your project. Depending on your policy, this will cover you for any unexpected cancellations.

Your insurance should include the following:

  • Medical cover, including medical emergencies and medical evacuations (up to USD$3,000,000 / GBP£2,000,000);
  • Personal liability (up to USD$1,500,000 / GBP£1,000,000);
  • Cancellation and curtailment of your trip (up to the value of your project contribution).

If you are going to be scuba diving you should get coverage for scuba diving up to 30m, including hyperbaric therapy treatment (unlimited). You should consider obtaining insurance to cover you for any additional activities which you plan to do during, before, or after your Frontier project. We recommend that you obtain cover for your baggage and personal effects.


LEGAL STATEMENT
Frontier Partner Projects and Frontier group projects are run in partnership with in-country NGOs, small community based organisations, local research institutes, academic organisations and conservation agencies. Project descriptions and information are supplied directly by our partners or field staff and are accurate at time of publishing.

We aim to keep information up to date and accurate, however, the nature of our projects and in particular the fact that they are constantly evolving and developing in response to changing needs means that project activities, travel schedules, tour itineraries and daily timetables can change overnight and without notice.

8. How to apply

To apply for this placement, click on "Apply Now" below. Fill in the short application form and one of our advisers will then call you back to answer any questions and make sure this is the perfect placement for you. Applying doesn't cost a penny and you won't pay anything until you're completely happy and you're ready to reserve your place.


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