Belize Manatee Conservation

  • Caye Caulker, Belize District, Belize

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.

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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.

Frontier Frontier logo

  • Caye Caulker, Belize District, Belize
  • Duration:

    Less than 3 months
  • Time commitment:

    A lot (10+ hours/week)
  • Times of day:

    Mornings Afternoons
  • Days of week:

    Weekdays
  • Schedule:

    Flexible schedule
  • Extra details:

    Fee required
  • Appropriate for:

    Groups
  • International volunteer options:

    International volunteers welcome

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